Governor Theodore Orji
By Godwin Adindu
Two years after the liberation of Abia State, after the revolution that conquered the ancien regime, it is time to put Governor Theodore Orji on the scale. It is time to march the light-bearer of the people’s mandate to the dock for cross examination. It is time to assess the grand march to freedom, to review the journey so far. How has Abia fared in the hand of the liberator? What is the experiential feel of the people in the new life of freedom?
Indeed, the month of May is a month of reckoning when our nascent democracy is put on trial for self-defence. The May 29 Democracy Day anniversary is now crucial to our political history. It is not only a day of celebration but more importantly a day of stock-taking. Just as every individual’s story is different and particularly so also is the story of states and nations. For Abia State, it is a long walk to freedom, a struggle of emancipation. Like Plato’s allegory of the cave-dweller where the cave inhabitant marches through darkness in search of light, the story of Abia democracy under Orji is a complex trajectory through bondage and then liberation
Monuments are great legacies and great footprints in the sands of time. They are marks of noble leadership. Orji has concentrated energy in building a galaxy of legacies in Abia. But, in my personal evaluation, his greatest legacy for which posterity must sing eulogies is his deed of gift of freedom to the people of God’s Own State. For, as Voltaire, the French philosopher of the Enlightenment, noted, freedom is the parent of all the needs of the human spirit.
Today and 24 months in the second saddle, Orji is confidently stepping out to the market square to show himself approved a workman who does not need to be ashamed. For a people who have seen the two sides of tyranny and then freedom, they are better witnesses in this open trail of the Ibeku man. They are better judges and jurists in this open court of public conscience. Under Orji, there are no more tin-gods and tin-mother-gods in Abia. Nobody goes to Igbere or Nweke Street or anywhere to prostrate before human deities of power. The word “Okija” is totally obliterated from the Abia social and political lexicon.
Throughout the campaigns in 2011 and at the inauguration, Orji spoke about his covenant with the people. He expressed determination to break off from the past, to lead Abia out of the doldrums. True to his words, he has led a successful revolution of the mind. The mental orientation towards politics and power in Abia has changed. Power is no more a matter of a cult of brotherhood headed by one family. Nobody carries a cow to any godfather to pay obeisance. Unlike in the past where people made pilgrimages to Igbere, Orji enthroned true representative democracy where all Abians of every hue and colour could have a chance to serve.
In Abia today, it is the communities and the constituencies that make nominations for commissioners and other political offices. The advisers and assistants are appointed based on merit, track record and competence. Today, meritocracy has been restored as against mediocrity. In the past, it was a case of class distortion and class destruction wherein the elite became endangered species while goons and layabouts became the ruling class.
Another great legacy of value is the stability and harmony that Orji has brought into the Abia polity. Starting from his administration, he has served with only one team in the last two years. In the days of bondage, there would have been more than 10 dissolutions or reshuffles of cabinet by now. Destiny thrust into his hands a society that was visibly at war, a state that was highly polarised, where the parties were at daggers drawn. Precisely, he inherited war. But, he did not go the way of the Mosaic – an eye for an eye. He did not amass arsenals for a return fire. He chose the path of Mahatma Gandhi – truth, peace and reconciliation.
He embarked on a mission of reconciling the state. He threw out an olive branch and threw the door of Government House open. In the new air of freedom, the exiles returned home, the old fugitives returned home to embrace their erstwhile foes. The political war-farers laid down their arms and all, in one collective spirit, enlisted into the new vision of Abia. This was how the governor came to be the first National Peace Ambassador.
Indeed, as Orji stands at the market square this month to give account of his stewardship, one issue will be very pertinent. And that is that the first primary duty of government is the maintenance of law and order. This should be the mother of all assessments, the most paramount indices for measuring successful leadership. How has Abia fared under Orji in terms of law and order? Abia, undeniably, has been an oasis of sanity. Orji’s Abia is standing tall in the federation as a model state in terms of law and order and social harmony. And this was not legislated into existence but a product of committed and pragmatic action.
In the midst of a country gripped by violence, where bloodshed either by accident or by deliberate organised crime make the headlines everyday in the papers, Abia State has remained an isolated case of a sort of heaven on earth where peace reigns and where residents sleep with their doors wide open. And, I emphasise again, this did not come by fiat neither by providence but a product of judicious and strategic governance. Orji toiled day and night, tasked his brain and mind to attain this state for his people. Thus, Orji is the builder of a new Abia of law and order.
Orji has also run a legacy regime. This regime is about catering for the welfare of the people in terms of infrastructural renewal and provision of social amenities. Today, with a paltry N3.5 billion monthly federal allocation, from where he pays a monthly salary bill of N2.5 billion, he has been able to build legacy projects, like the world-class Conference Centre in Umuahia, the new four-storey Secretariat Complex, the new Government House, the Abia Diagnostic Centre in Umahia and Aba, the new High Court building, new modern offices for the Broadcasting Corporation of Abia, and a host of other monumental projects. The roads in Aba and Umuahia have been transformed.
In the power sector, there has been a revolution in Umuahia and its environs where Orji deployed about N1.5 billion to execute a power evacuation work from the federal government installed 132/133 kVA power facility at Ohiya. The power is evacuated to other distribution points at Oboro, Afara, Ikwuegwu, Obowo and the Umuahia environs. Today, in Umuahia, electricity supply has been improved by nearly 100 percent and this has engendered a new life in Abia.
It is farming season in the east and Orji has launched an agricultural revolution. There are Liberation Farms spread across the 17 local councils of the state. They are expected to employ about 10,000 workers when fully operational. Already, 50 Abians are working at the Okeikpe farms, the plot project of the liberation farms where plantain is being bred.
In the area of the minimum wage regime, Abia State under Orji was one of the first five states that started paying the Consolidated Medical Salary Structure early in 2011, ditto for the Consolidated Health Salary Structure for health assistants, health officers, vet officers, agric health officers, nurses and doctors. In the same vein, Abia was also one of the few states that immediately paid the ASUU agreed salary structure for universities. Orji also went beyond the federal government prescribed N18, 000 minimum wage for civil servant and followed the NLC standardised salary regime and has been paying N21, 100 since December 2011.
This is but a brief testimonial for the Abia liberation, the vindication of the liberator. At the market square, Like Paul of Tarsus, Orji would stand on the podium, his hands spread out to the heavens, and say: I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.
–– Adindu is the President-general of the Abia Renaissance Movement (ARM)