Godwin Adindu extols the democratic credentials of Governor Theodore Orji
There are many English synonyms for the word “icon”. But, for a quite significant reason, the one that seems to attract me, in the context of this piece, is the word “idol”. The word “idol” to me as an African and an Igbo man resonates with my spiritual essence. Idol as a spiritual construct exists and lives in my cosmology. My supernatural worldview is an anthology of spirits and idols who daily interfere in the affairs of men.
The carved wooden idol of Amadioha in my late grandfather’s bedroom was an attempt to conjure the image and presence of the almighty God. My grandfather and his generation captured and appreciated the overwhelming power of God from the imaginary powers of the wooden totem. God was nearer to them in the physical presence of Amadioha. They talked to him directly, worshiped him by incantations and libations. They were pious, sincere and godly and were true to the light they received.
Thus, the wooden carving was just an image of the original. It was a living being bearing the semblance and characteristics of God. My grandfather spoke to it in complete personification of God. He captured the beauty of God, his omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence in the sweet lyrics of the incantations. He observed a sacred liturgy and approached Amadioha with reverence. The wooden image , contrary to the Whiteman’s derogatory of Africa, was not an act of savagery but an icon of God captured in their own cultural experience.
Indeed, it is from this background that I enter into an appreciation of the symbolism of the honour conferred on Chief Theodore Orji, the Executive Governor of Abia State by the Champion Newspapers group last week in Enugu, the regional capital of the South East. Champion newspapers, in their independent wisdom and judgment, conferred on Governor Orji the award of the Icon of Democracy. The Governor is the second recipient of the Newspaper’s leadership award. The first being Professor George Obiozor. The award is instituted to recognize Nigerian leaders who have excelled in leadership. For the Chairman of the occasion, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur,National Chairman of the ruling PDP, “The choice of Ochendo is apt because he has enthroned liberty, freedom and progress which are the cardinal tenets of democracy”
In the lexicon of my cultural identity, I call Ochendo the “idol” of democracy. By “idol”, I borrow from the African religious experience, to try to convey the idea of symbolism and representation. By the award, Governor Orji comes to represent the very epitome of the noble ideals of democracy. He has been put on the pedestal as a true democrat and as a practical representation of the ideological construct which democracy evokes and which is summarized in that time-honoured simplicity of definitions: government of the people by the people and for the people.
Just as the idol represents the finest of God and stands as a signifier of God’s presence, Governor Orji is standing today as the signifier of true democracy. He is the practical image, in words and deeds, of the ideal. Democracy is people-centred. It is all about the people. It is a form of representative government. One can only appreciate the honour of the award from the knowledge of the recent political history of Abia State. Before the revolution of Governor Orji, Abia was a dynasty ruled by one family. During this time, there was a class distortion and a class destruction wherein the elite became endangered species while goons became the ruling class.
The question is, did Abia State have democracy? The answer is no. It was a captive era when everybody was subjected to a humiliating voyage that involves swearing an oath of allegiance before a shrine , not to the state, but to Kalu, the mother and the entire Kalu family.
In this mission of democracy, Governor Orji yanked off power from the stranglehold of this deadly dynasty and returned it back to the people. All over the world, the displacement of tyrants is an onerous and dangerous task. Dangerous because it involves a life-and-death struggle. In this case, the Governor has been up against an entrenched dynasty made up of not only Kalu and his family but an army of hangers-on who has been empowered for twelve years and equipped with money and guns.
The Governor has had to contend with the ferocity of the anger of these men who have found the priviledge of power and was not willing to relinquish it. This class of touts who were empowered found Governor Orji as a threat to their colony.
With power back to the people, Orji is running a true representative government where the people are allowed to decide. 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.
Democracy also caters for the welfare of the people. Today, with a paltry N3.5 billion monthly federal allocation, from where the Governor pays a monthly salary bill of N2.5billion, he has been 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.
In the area of the minimum wage regime. Abia State under Governor Orji is 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 is also one of the few states that immediately paid the ASUU agreed salary structure for universities. Governor Orji also went beyond the Federal Government prescribed N18,000 minimum wage for civil servant and followed the NLC standardized salary regime and has been N21,100 since December 2011.
With this record of performance, it is self-evident that Orji is truly the image of the ideal of democracy just like the idol is the image of God. This is the reason for my choice of word, “the idol”.
• Adindu is the President-general of the Abia Renaissance Movement (ARM)