Tribute: An evening in Calabar with Late Surgeon Commander Stanley Odii
By Kelechi Okoronkwo
I had a single, yet remarkable encounter with Late Surgeon Commander S.O Odii. One day in 2012, I was nominated to attend an official meeting in Calabar. That would be my first visit to Calabar. I told a brother in Abuja that I was going to Calabar the next day. And he retorted almost with a reflex, “You are going to enjoy your trip to Calabar. Dr. Odii is in Calabar. I’m sure you know him”. He did not imagine that any Ugwulangwu man would not have met Dr. Odii. I had to defend myself. I told him that I had heard a lot about Dr. Odii but I had never met him; and that I was almost certainly sure that Dr. Odii would not know me.
The brother assured me that he would inform Dr. Odii that an Ugwulangwu man would be “in his territory” the next day. I spoke on the phone with another brother in Abakaliki and informed him that I would be in Calabar the following day. The man in Abakaliki asked if I knew Dr. Odii. He assured me too that Dr. Odii would make me comfortable and perhaps take me round the town; that Dr. Odii was a kindred spirit. I had read and heard that Calabar people are good with food, hospitality and entertainment. My appetite was already whet with the testimonies. I was eager to meet the Dr. Odii every tongue was talking about and experience Calabar.
I was in Calabar the next day. By 3pm, I got an SMS signed off by Odii Stanley, simply. He did not add titles to his name; that made my first impression of him–humility. In the SMS, he welcomed me to Calabar and assured me that he would come to my location later in the day and pick me up. Towards 5PM, he called to inform me that he was at my location.
Going by testimonies I had heard about Dr. Odii, I expected to see a man so huge and intimidating; he would come with a barrage of military escorts, blaring sirens from sophisticated SUVs; and he would not even speak Igbo let alone speaking Ugwulangwu dialect. I had advised myself that the moment the Dr. Odii would show up, I should better prostrate towards him, lying flat on the floor to assure him of my complete loyalty; after all, he is a high-ranking naval officer, a senior medical doctor and an extravagantly popular persona.
In a few seconds, someone completely unassuming and almost diminutive sauntered in and called my name, Shadrach. He spoke Ugwulangwu dialect, beaming a zestful smile from a dentition which was a pure advertisement for a minor overlapping dentition. He greeted my colleagues and told them that I was his younger brother; that he wanted to take me round the town. After a few banters, they excused us and we left in his car. He was warm and jocular.
For some moments, as we meandered from one street to the other, I felt that the town was a bit sleepy. He read my thoughts and said to me: “My brother, don’t mind these people. Very soon, this town will be busy. There are good things to experience in this town if you are patient for a while”. I laughed heartily to deny what I felt. In a few minutes, we drove into an alfresco sit-out in a street close to the Government House. Just as we had sat and prepared to place orders, a call came into his phone. It was the man in Abuja. They spoke at length, cracked jokes and laughed hard. When he dropped the call, Dr. Odii, still laughing, told me that the man in Abuja begged him not to overfeed me with different things the way Dr. Odii used to overfeed him; that there were things my brain would not absorb. We laughed and I told him that I would only consume the things I knew and at the volume I could contain them. At once our spirit connected. It was like we had been friends for ages.
For a long time, we cracked jokes and laughed. We talked about both serious and unserious issues. We moved from one nice location to another nicer location. He was ready to make me experience Calabar city. When the evening was running into the night, he took me to a hotel he trusted and informed the Management that I was his brother and that they should take adequate care of me. Then he left me and returned to his family. The following day, I returned to Abuja.
Late Surgeon Commander Stanley Nwakaego Odii was a thorough-bred member of the Nigerian armed forces. He was an intelligent, kind and hospitable military officer. He was a trailblazer, the foremost Naval officer from Ugwulangwu community. His dispositions were never a fluke. We had hoped that he would rise steadily and one day become the Chief of Naval Staff and help attract government attention to my community. We hoped and prayed. But God has a better plan; He rather called Odii to rest at a young age of 40s. He passed on in the morning hours of Monday, July 12, 2021 in a government medical facility in Calabar during a brief illness. His burial has been scheduled as follows: Wake-keep on Friday, September 3rd, 2021 atn his compound in his country home, Amene Mgbom Ugwulangwu in Ohaozara Local Government, Ebonyi State; Burial on Saturday, September 4, 2021 in his compound. It is unfortunate that we talk about Dr. Odii with past tenses so soon. However, we take solace in the quality of life he led on earth and pray to God to grant him eternal rest and give his family, friends, colleagues and associates the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss.
Kelechi Okoronkwo, a Nigerian, writer and Public Relations Executive sent this piece from Abuja.