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OpinionsFor The RecordsThe Choice Before Peter Odili:Why We Are In This Mess

The Choice Before Peter Odili:Why We Are In This Mess

Fidelity Bank Plc

It was supposed to be the First inaugural Lecture of the Alumni of the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria Nsukka, Enugu Campus. In fact, it was. The elite ‘club’ had chosen one of their own, Dr Peter Odili, CON, to take the first shot as the Guest Lecturer. So, the Organisers asked Dr Nkemka Jombo-Ofor to get Odili for the task.

Odili is eminently qualified. And, he has made them proud.

A two-time Governor of Rivers State, Odili also is the Proprietor of the high profile PAMO Clinics & Hospitals  Port Hacourt.

As an icing on the cake, he founded Nigeria’s first privately-owned University of Medical Sciences, PUMS.

So, asking him to deliver the First Inaugural Lecture was a well thought-out idea.

But, his first reaction was to say no. And, he had no problem telling his audience why. He said he was not the best graduating student in his class of 1977; had, to his shock, failed a class, and had to go through the humiliation of repeating, and so, found himself in the same class with his juniors.

But this revelation was a tip of the iceberg. The organisers asked him to feel free and choose a topic on his own.

He did.

He made his choice of a topic. The choice took his audience through the choices he made in life, and how such choices shaped his life.  Some of them were hilarious, yet, made a lasting impact on his life.

For instance, being an only child/son of his mother in a polygamous home, he came home one day from school, to see a fair girl, about his age, sitting by his mother. His mother had chosen her as was the case then to be her son’s wife.  The young Peter revolted. He refused to enter the house or eat unless the fair lady left. She did. And Odili wondered how he could have met his lovely wife, Mary, if he hadn’t made that choice to send the fair lady away.

Then, he opened the ‘pandora box’ of other choices. His life as a cook, a house boy, an indigent student, and a labourer at a Construction site.

And there were harder bitter- sweet choices One of  them, diving into the strange world of politics.

From the first line of the lecture, there was no dull moment. He delivered an unputdownable paper which, both, at once, kept his audience on edge, and had them clapping and reeling in laughter. But, all went away pondering how the choices they made in life either shaped their lives positively, or negatively. And, the lessons of life.

Following, excerpts from Odili’s paper, delivered on 19th  September,  2019, entitled: The Confluence Of Choices In Life

 

“THE CONFLUENCE OF CHOICES IN LIFE”:

By Peter Odili, CON.

An inaugural lecture is about a geneological journey through life’s vicissitudes, challenges, losses and wins in various battles, in pursuit of final victory in the intellectual academic war of “learning more and more about less and less”.

Or the pursuit of success, fulfillment and happiness in one’s chosen aspiration in life.

Life’s journey is a long distance race which length is unknown, nature and character of the roads uncertain. There are many crossroads and turns but no road signs. The traveller has to rely on his or her natural instincts as compass and navigator in making the CHOICES along the way.

To eliminate the elements of abstractness from the topic, I have, therefore, chosen to focus on the journey that I know, and can claim some modicum of authority in. Since life’s journey is subjective to each individual, you can only therefore claim authority over your own.

The roads, routes, vehicles and circumstances may be similar, but the decisions and CHOICES we make along the way make the difference.

The coming together of the critical CHOICES I made in my life is what this topic is about. Life’s journey runs through many ‘Rivers’ and the point where bodies of water meet is the CONFLUENCE. These “Rivers “that ‘Bob Marley’ sang about in his ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ – are the CHOICES we make in life.

I started making my CHOICES pretty early in life. I was the only child of my mother in a polygamous home of four wives. As was customary in those days, mothers of only sons in polygamous homes would arrange early wife or (wives) for their sons, so as to procreate as many as possible and, compensatorily, gain advantage for their kitchens in the next generation of the family. This was the mentality of mothers then. I came back from school hungry one fateful afternoon in 1956 and found a strange light complexioned little girl, about my age, sitting with my mother.

After the usual greetings with my mother, I asked who the little girl was and, my mother said – “she is going to be your wife”. I instantly got lividly angry, walked away to a remote part of the back house, and refused to talk to anyone, refused to eat or get into the house. I embarked on a sit-down and hunger strike from that afternoon till nightfall; until I was assured the girl would be sent away the next morning. She was sent away the following morning.

I know that if I didn’t make the decision to react the way I did – my whole family life would have been a totally different story today. (How would I have come to have Mary as my only wife and only Mother of my only 4 wonderful kids.)

Three years after (August 1959) this event, my dear mother died in a road traffic accident at Ngo-Okpala Bridge en route from Oguta to Aba. I was in standard 5 in St Michael’s Catholic Primary School Oguta II.

After the burial ceremonies, my father asked me which of the other wives I would like to stay with I CHOSE to stay with none of them but instead, CHOSE to go to Onitsha to stay with my elder brother, Fidelis, who had just started work as a clerical officer, after passing his Cambridge certificate examination from Stela Maris College, Port-Harcourt. This decision afforded me the opportunity to pursue my dream of going to Christ The King’s College (CKC), Onitsha, for my secondary school education. And so, after successfully finishing my standard five in December 1959, I moved over to Onitsha, and joined my elder brother, Fidelis, for my standard six in January 1960.

In that one year, I functioned as his cook, steward, house boy as well as a standard six pupil. In the same year I sat for the entrance examination to Christ the King’s College (CKC.), Onitsha, Government College Owerri, and St. Patrick’s College Asaba. I passed the three exams and CHOSE C.K.C., whose result was the last to be released, but which had always been my ‘dream’ secondary school over the years.

I must state here, unequivocally, that C.K.C played a most significant role in making me who I am today. I would have been a different man if I had chosen any other school. In my 4th year, five of us were offered the opportunity to sit for the school certificate examination. I requested to be exempted from participation in football and athletics to enable me prepare competitively for the arduous task of seating for the WASC exam in the 4th year.

The school authorities refused my request on the grounds that I was a key member of the school’s 1st XI team as well as the Athletics Team. I CHOSE to forgo the offer to attempt the WASC in Class four. The other four made 1st Division – none was involved in sports. I am not sure my result would have been good enough for Medicine if I had attempted, and still carried on with sports. I sat for the exam in my 5th year and passed with Division one, and remained the soccer/athletic star and, got an automatic offer for Higher School in the College. I CHOSE Physics, Chemistry and Zoology to pursue my dream for medicine, even though my results were better suited for Engineering.

As was the clandestine practice then, in 1966, I surreptitiously sat for the entrance exam to the University of Ibadan, passed, and was given admission to start in September, 1966. The Civil Crisis was building up, and people had started gravitating to their homes. I had to make a decision and, I CHOSE not to go to Ibadan at a time Easterners/Midwesterners were returning home. Who knows what would have happened if I had decided otherwise?

The civil war broke out in July 1967. I was Senior Prefect/College Captain in CKC at the time. The Regional Military Governments had asked people to go back to their places of origin. My home, Ndoni, at the time, was administratively in the Midwest, even though located on the eastern bank of River Niger. I was a Midwest Government scholar but, most of my relations lived in the East, so I CHOSE to stay back in the East, and became both a victim and a beneficiary of most of the knowledge and experiences that WAR can give to those who survive it. My dream for Medicine, however, did not die with the war. My biggest loss was my father’s death.

In post-war 1970, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) naturally became a preferred CHOICE over University of Ibadan, having lost 4 years as a result of the crisis. I became a member of the October 1970 class of Pre-Med students that had to do one session at the Nsukka campus. I was an indigent student as a result of the war that claimed my father, and a beneficiary of  General Yakubu Gowon’s intervention in 1970.

We successfully made it to Enugu campus at the end of 70/71 session. I resolved to end my indigency status at the end of the 71/72 session by arranging to go abroad during the long vacation, and worked as a labourer at a construction site in Zurich. The entire trip cost me 30 pounds (borrowed money). I came back after eight weeks of labour, as a rich student, having earned 9SFr/Hr working nine hours/day – five Day week, for eight weeks.

I paid off the loan, on return, paid off my school fees and was ready for the next long vacation. But the greatest thing that happened to me in Enugu Campus was the opportunity of sighting my life partner, falling in love with her at first sight without her knowing, shadowing her for three and a half years, before speaking with her for the first time. We bonded, instantly, on meeting and have remained so till date. 44 years on.

In 1973, I had my first exam shock by failing to pass my second MB at first shot. It was a humbling and devastating experience. I had to make a decision to either seek admission abroad, or swallow the humiliating bitter pill of repeating the year, and

becoming classmates with my juniors.

CHOSE to stay back and fight back. The experience made me a different and stronger man, and prepared me for the unknown future.

As we approached graduation, one started considering career options. Even though I had a lot of predilection and passion for Paediatrics, I made up my mind to head for Private Practice.

That CHOICE was informed by my perception that the public/Government sector did not seem to appreciate, or value the important role Doctors played in society. I wasn’t ready to embrace the end of frustration our seniors were grappling with at the time. I felt the private sector will enable me apply myself, and exercise the freedom for self actualisation.

Before our final exams in Medicine and Surgery, my new State – Rivers, (since the creation of 19 States by Gen. Murtala Mohammed in 1975), had sent a team to recruit prospective House Officers of Rivers origin from the universities. We got provisional offers of employment as early as March, 1977. On graduating in June, I rushed down to PH, and drove to the then General Hospital.

Between the gate and the Casualty Department, I made up my mind that it was not a place for my internship and quickly headed to Benin City where the interview for House officers was scheduled for the next morning. I got to Benin by 9pm. The following morning, I arrived at the UBTH and decided right from the gate that that was the place I should start my professional career. I passed the interview, and started my House job in July, 1977, in UBTH with colleagues like Amb. Dr. Emeka Okeke, Dr. Emeka Aroh, Late Chuks Nwankolo et al.

Barely one month as a House officer ,I was blessed with the gracious approval of my late Father-in-law, Eze B.S.C. Nzenwa, to wed my Dream-Gift & Love, Mary, who was then a youth corper in Abeokuta. The options were – “wait till you have settled down, economically, as a young doctor, or do it now”. We CHOSE not to wait and, on the 26th of August 1977, we became husband and wife. The entire ceremony had five people in attendance and cost us N280, only – food and drinks, in the one room apartment at the House officers’ quarters for my colleagues,, inclusive. We are in our 42nd year of blissful marriage, blessed with four wonderful children and eight grandchildren, still as in love as ever. By God’s boundless Grace,. our first child, Adaeze, is a proud alumna of this College, and a Fellow of the West African College of Physicians.

At the end of the internship, I was lucky to be retained for my NYSC in the Department of Psychiatry in UBTH. At the end of the NYSC year I had two offers, one as a Registrar in the Department of Psychiatry and, Residency programme in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.

CHOSE to turn both offers down and decided to go home to PH. I took up employment as a staff of a private Medical & Dental Clinic in PH.

It was my intention to work there for a few years and, pick up some experience but for some non-professional interference to a professional action taken by me. I drew the attention of my then boss to the issue. When it became obvious that the necessary corrective steps were not forthcoming, I voluntarily resigned out of principle, “A non-Medically qualified person should not tell a Doctor how to respond to a Medical emergency“. I CHOSE to leave for the unknown, rather than swallow what ran against my principle.

This became the stimulus that triggered the conception of PAMO Clinics. I politely turned in my premature resignation and informed my boss that I was going into private practice. I went further to assure him that I was not going to touch any patient, or corporate client, that I got to know while working at his Clinic. I kept faith with that pledge.

Faced with the complication of the premature resignation and the regulation that a young Doctor could not practice on his own until he had attained 5 years post qualification, I secured the consent of Chief Dr. Ene Henshaw of blessed memory, an old boy of CKC, who was a retired Director of Medical Services in the Rivers State Government, to open a practice under his supervision.

That became the birth of what came to be known as PAMO Clinics. PAMO – an acronym formed from PETER, ADAEZE, MARY, OTHERS/ODILI. Adaeze was our only child at that time in history (but we knew others were coming). Chinelo, Peter Jnr and Njideka followed in that order.

The CHOICE was to set up a practice that would be built on sound professional and ethical foundation that would render high quality service, that would treat patients with dignity, and not lay emphasis on pecuniary gains.

The practice was started with a loan of (N6,000) six thousand naira from Union Bank. I used N4,800 to rent the flat of four rooms and the balance of N1,200 to scantily furnish, equip and make the Clinic functional as well as engage the two staff I needed to start off _ (an auxiliary nurse and a cleaner). The tiles for the floor of the clinic were laid by me, personally, on my knees. That is the historical foundation of PAMO Clinics that metamorphed into Pamo Clinics & Hospitals, and in less than 24 months acquired a property next door, demolished the existing bungalow, and built a 25-bed purpose-designed hospital by December 1982.

Since then, Pamo Clinics & Hospitals has employed over 100 Medical Doctors, including consultants in various specialties (Nigerians/expatriates) full-time and part-time, as well as general practitioners, many of whom are products of this College. A lion is the current Chief Operating officer.

PAMO was conceived not to be dependent on the founder, and that’s what has made PAMO a sustainable practice to date. One of the early employees of PAMO was a trusted Lion who, in 1985, I entrusted the clinic to, and left for my D.T.M.& H in Liverpool.

As soon as I took off to Liverpool, this colleague set up his own practice, diverted PAMO patients to his new practice, but was showing up, daily, for lunch at PAMO, and continued to collect his monthly salary from PAMO. Patient attendance crashed from 120/Day to 25/Day on my return from Liverpool.

CHOSE not to fight, or curse, the colleague. Instead, I prayed and handed the matter to God and in less than three months of my return,  PAMO was back to its former form and vibrance with more patient -attendance and patronage.

In 1988, I secured a Savannah Bank approval for a loan to expand Pamo to a-75 bed hospital. Just before we were to consummate and draw-down, the then 1BB-Administration announced the Transition programme for return to democratic rule.

A delegation led by late Chief J.O.S Ezebalike from Ihuowo in the then AHOADA Local Government Area of Rivers, came to  request me to present myself for the election to the Constituent Assembly.

After weeks of going & coming, I was literally drafted for the contest. I was torn between the expansion of PAMO Clinics and the venture into a non-partisan political contest. I CHOSE the latter, dropped the programme for PAMO expansion, and the Savannah Bank loan. I contested and won the election to the Constituent Assembly, defeating two other contestants who, today, are both professors ,but not of Medicine.

We were at the Constituent Assembly for one year – June 1988 to June 1989, chaired by the Late Justice Anthony Aniagolu. At the end of the Assembly, a draft constitution was produced, and political parties formation started. After a lot of twists and turns – two parties were announced – Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC).

CHOSE to align with the NRC. In 1991, I was nominated to run as a mate for the Governorship election, and we won the election, and I became the elected Deputy Governor of the old Rivers State. We were sworn-into office on 2nd January 1992 and the military sacked us on the 18th of November 1993, after 22 months. His Excellency, Dr. Okwy Nwodo, suffered the same fate. On the 20th of November, 1993, I CHOSE to go back to my consulting room at PAMO Clinics, and my staff/patients were excited, and happy to have me back, some in utter disbelief. I was none-the-less a very angry man for allowing myself to be distracted from my beloved practice into a most unpredictable adventure, and ended up being unceremoniously sacked. What a waste of valuable time, I thought. In less than five months the new military administration of General Sani Abacha, announced another transition programme and called for a Constitutional Conference.

Again, my people came calling, and countered my reluctance with the argument that the political success the area had achieved with my last outing will be lost if I refused to go back. So once again, I CHOSE, albeit painfully, to contest for the Constitutional Conference of 1994. I won resoundingly and, again, led the old Rivers State delegation to that conference. I became the Chairman of the State & Local Government Creation Committee of the Conference. The draft constitution produced became the frame work of the current 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It included the 13% derivation principle based on a motion I moved for 25%, on behalf of the South South delegates. Again political party formation commenced after the conference, and after a lot of ‘hocus pocus’ – five parties were announced. One was obviously the “anointed” party, but I CHOSE another, the Democratic Party Nigeria (DPN).

I was elected the National Secretary of DPN and by the death of Gen. Abacha, and the subsequent transition reprogramming of the Gen. Abdulsalami Administration, I became one of the conveners of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Rivers

State and, ultimately, the Gubernatorial Candidate and first elected Governor of the New Rivers, Bayelsa State having been created out of the old Rivers State. I served as Governor of the State for 8 years and left on the 29th of May 2007, under a lot of hot air generated by my robust campaign for the Presidency ticket under the PDP.

The  four political outing CHOICES had, each, their own peculiar micro-CHOICES as a result of their unique contents and times. Time will not permit me to go into a lot of them but, it is important for me to say clearly that, distracting from medical practice as they were, I never lost sight of the need to remain focused on the yawning demands of the Medical profession and the Health sector. Whenever there was a CHOICE to be made, the winner was always the right thing and the interest of the Profession”.

A few highlights of my time as Governor in the health sector:

  • Introduction of free Medical treatment for under sixand above 60
  • Free Ante-natal care & Immunisations in Government hospitals/Health Centres
  • Free emergency Caesarean Section
  • Free emergency RTA Treatment for 48 hrs
  • Free Ante-Retroviral Treatment for HIV/AIDS patients
  • Post-graduate scholarships for Medical Graduates/Residency programme
  • New cars for all consultants in Government Hospitals.
  • Upgrade of the State Specialist Hospital Braithwaite Memorial Hospital, (now the State University Teaching Hospital).
  • Built New Regional General Hospitals
  • Renovation of the old General Hospitals
  • Over-seas scholarships for over 100 brilliant students from the rural communities to study Medicine chosen strictly on merit, a lot of whom are back and practising in various hospitals in the State.

After the political office years, I returned to Medical Practice, though in a less active capacity. I focused on rebuilding PAMO Clinics which I only visited not more than five times in eight  years as Governor (to visit hospitalized close family relatives).

The immediate post-office years were quite eventful and loaded with the pains of political intrigues, trauma and subterfuge. I will not bore this distinguished audience with the details which are very well laid out in my autobiography “Conscience and History” published in 2012.

The challenges of the post office years presented options of CHOICES just like the release of adrenaline would- “to fight  or to take a flight”.

CHOSE to fight back and the battles were many. But  the good Lord is faithful to His faithfuls. Some copies of ‘Conscience and History’ will be made available, free of charge, to all interested members of this august gathering.

The Clinic, despite a handsome turnover in eight years, for some unexplained reason, was not financially solvent enough to either welcome me back comfortably, or deal with the rehabilitation challenges that were necessitated by the then hostile State

Government-driven demolitions that affected the hospital premises. I then CHOSE to take the second loan that PAMO Clinics took in its entire history, this time from Fin Bank.

This facility played a most significant role in rebuilding Pamo Clinics and

rehabilitating me during the post-2007 vicissitudes. The right CHOICES in the deployment of the loan, which has been fully paid off, helped to restore us financially and set us on the path for economic stability and relative comfort, by the grace of God.

The Advent of Pamo University

A providential meeting of a total stranger, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, at the Abuja Airport on the 19th of Dec. 2016, and the conversation that followed, became the conception of what is today-Pamo University of Medical Sciences (PUMS) Port-Harcourt

On the 19th, Jan, 2017, the letter of intent/application was submitted to the NUC. The entire 15 steps of processing ran through its course, without cutting any corners in six months, and by the 6th of Dec. 2017, we obtained the approval of the Federal

Executive Council for what is now the First Private University of Medical Sciences in Nigeria.

The NUC issued the licence on the 19th of Dec. 2017. On the 10th Feb. 2018, we announced our commencement, and installed our Chancellor, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar and called for application by prospective students.

On the 8th of April 2018 we commenced lectures for 100 level students for the 2017/2018 academic session with 123 students, courtesy, 100 Rivers State Government scholars sponsored by His Excellency, Governor Nyesom Wike who has been an invaluable supporter, and benefactor to PUMS. By December, 2018, the first session was over and, by 9th Jan 2019, the 2018/2019 session commenced with over 250 students in the 100 & 200 level. As we speak, the 2018/2019 sessional exams are on-going, and by October, we will start the 2019/2020 session and would have caught up with the normal academic calendar of Nigerian Universities.

The applicants by UTME prospective students for PUMS, have doubled our available space and quota, by those who chose PUMS as their 1st CHOICES.

Our core objective and mission are:

To produce Doctors and other Health workers that will be different in attitude and orientation, with core values of Knowledge, Discipline and Humane service

  • Help bridge the gap in Medical education and change the narrative in tertiary education
  • Discipline for staff and students
  • All students must be in-campus (no off campus student)
  • Zero tolerance for cultism
  • Zero tolerance for drugs/vices
  • No unionism without approval
  • No student can go out of campus without approval
  • Designated visiting days
  • No sorting, and no gangsterism, to mention a few

The motto of the University is: “Excellence for the Good of all”.

PUMS is offering courses in Basic Medical Sciences, Basic Clinical Sciences,

Allied Health Sciences, and Dentistry & post graduate programme in later phases.

We are working hard to have our first set of students sit for their 2nd MB exams in April 2020 and start their clinicals immediately, as we have already signed an MOU with the RVSG to use the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital for now. We shall gradually build, and upgrade Pamo Clinics & Hospital, as the PAMO University Teaching Hospital

All this has taken a lot to happen – God’s Grace, support, cooperation from the relevant regulatory agencies, Rivers State Government, academic & non-academic foundation staff and, serious students. The Planning and Implementation Committee (P.I.C), Board of Trustees & Governing Council have worked with unparalleled passion & commitment to bring us to where we are today.

In Conclusion:

The numerous, chronological critical CHOICES made along the way through the past 63 odd and eventful years, have each, in its own peculiar way, contributed to shaping the course and outcomes at various stages. When you bring all together you have a CONFLUENCE OF CHOICES.

Do all CHOICES made in life turn out to produce successes? Obviously no, otherwise, I would not have had to go through the sad experience of a so-called Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The differences lie in the numerous factors that motivate the CHOICES made by the individual. No two individuals are the same. As a believer in God and a practicing Catholic. I believe that the Creator has made sure that each person He has created has his/her destiny and path cut out, uniquely, for him/her, and non can hijack the path or destiny of another and sustain it. If you are in doubt about this, then try and alter your DNA.

It is, therefore, absolutely important to try to know yourself and be who you are at all times. You cannot be someone else because your destinies are not the same. Be content with being who you are, and lean to carry your own load if you want to succeed.

What drives your aspirations and motivations? Your guess is as good as anyone else’s and, also ,depends on your beliefs, environment and circumstances. These factors generate the crossroads that present the CHOICE options. But ultimately the CHOICE is yours always. Your CHOICE is subjective, to push back or runaway- the CHOICE is yours always.

A few factors guarantee, or influence the correctness of the CHOICES we make:- Providence, Destiny, Knowledge, Values, Principles, Self-Discipline.

For the out-going generation  ,it’s not late for us to rethink and reprogramme some of our approaches and strategies. Yes, time may not be as much on our side as it used to be, but better late than never. Remember, when a man ‘wakes up’ is always his morning. But we have a moral responsibility to bequette some of the ideals we inherited from our teachers and predecessors to the next generation. This, we can do by counselling and showing exemplary leadership wherever the opportunity presents, and standing up against what is wrong in our professional arena of operation or in society.

The “If you can’t beat them, join them” principle is escapist and, not a solution. That’s what has gotten us to the mess we are witnessing today.

For the next generation, the future is yours to make, unmake or coast along the present path. You must, therefore, seize it, own it and make it what you want it to be, deploying the lessons learnt from the past. “The mediocre with character is a better success asset to society than the genius without character“. You must, therefore, strive to be guided by God, apply the right values at every point of critical CHOICE making, as you grow.

Don’t be distracted by the crowd, or peer group, tendencies. Bear in mind that the world makes way for the man who knows where he is going.

CHOOSE your destination. CHOOSE the route that will enable you choose the appropriate vehicle. Invoke the will to go on in pursuit of your objective. Maintain disciplined focus on your objective, and work hard. “Trust God but lock your door”.

Don’t spend more time praying instead of working hard to succeed. Remember that “to work is to pray” “Laborare est orare” as the saying goes in Latin.

Your contribution will certainly help make a positive difference to humanity.

“The fulcrum of societal success, harmony and well-being is the confluence of the right CHOICES we all make in life.

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