Senator Theodore Ahamefule Orji, who represents Abia Central in the National Assembly, in this interview, toldCharles Ajunwa that he was over pampered by his mother as an only child. He also opened up on the circumstances that thwarted his dream of becoming a reverend father, as well as the qualities that attracted him to his wife, among other issues never before made public
Having served as governor for eight years, how did you feel the very first day you stepped into the National Assembly as a Senator?
I felt happy first and foremost. I felt happy that I was able to achieve the feat of coming to the National Assembly. But it wasn’t easy. It was a position that was keenly and hotly contested, but I won. So I felt happy and I thank God that I have been elevated to the position of a Senator. And this is a position that brands you with a title that is permanent to you until you die. Yes, I was governor and they called me His Excellency. But this His Excellency will one day vanish. It’s only those who like you who will be calling you His Excellency, but as a Senator it is a permanent name. When you see me you know that I’m a Senator and you continue calling me a Senator. So that is an achievement, I felt happy coming to the Senate.
But I also felt like a fish out of water because this is an entirely new terrain for me. And I have to start early to adjust because if you don’t adjust it will be difficult for you. So you have to overgrow and try to throw away all those Excellency things and fit into the system. Once you have that in mind, you will succeed here. So that is the way I felt, I felt happy and I felt that I’m in a new terrain and I started adjusting.
Many say that Mother Nature has been so kind to you. How do you feel about your accomplishments so far?
Well, I believe every person has his own destiny. Once you are born in life God destines you and if you are hard working and you follow God’s destiny you will achieve your goal. When I was growing up there was no time I thought I will be governor. Honestly speaking, God has so blessed me that I have gotten those things I never expected I will get in life. I never thought I will be governor. I was a civil servant and I was following the dictates of my father who said what he wanted me to be was a permanent secretary. And after achieving that, I was ready to go and rest until destiny came. This window of being a governor opened. It was the work of God; it opened and I went into it and succeeded. I succeeded not only for the first tenure, I succeeded for second tenure and did eight years. Some did four years but I did eight years. Despite all constraints God was there for me. And after doing those eventful eight years as a governor, I made up my mind to go into retirement and rest.
It was still my people whom God pushed and used. The people of Abia Central came and started persuading me. They said no, you are not going to retire. You will still go to the Senate. And they showed it practically. The Senate form was bought by my constituents, they helped me with the campaigns by talking to the people. Even though it was keenly contested, APGA was there, APC was there, all the other parties were there wanting to go to the Senate but I excelled. I won and today I’m here. So I give thanks to God for the elevation that He has given me. I’m always grateful to God and to the people who have helped me to this position and that is why I don’t play with them. I don’t play with the people! Honestly speaking, if wishes were gold I will do all that they want, but because of constraints of finance and other things I try my best to satisfy them. And when I do that I say ‘please manage this.’ Even now that I’m in the Senate they still think that I’m governor, bringing up requests that should be sent to the governor to me, and I tell them ‘look my position has changed, I’m no longer governor, I’m now a Senator, give me the request of a Senator because I can no longer carry the request of a governor.’ Some of them are listening, some don’t want to listen. They tell you it’s you that we know. So these are the tasks I’m carrying, I remain grateful to God and to every other person who have remained with me right from the time I was governor.
Recall that I won my governorship election in detention and it’s still historical. Tell me in this Nigeria who has won governorship election from detention! I won it in detention, does that not show you that I’m popular. If you doubt it go and lock up yourself in prison and contest election and let us see. That shows you that I’m a man of the people. I won my governorship election from prison and it is historical. Mention how many governors that have won elections from detention, I’m number one and the only one. Since I came into politics I have never failed any election. What does that show? It shows that I’m on ground and my people they love me.
What are the qualities that endear you to the people?
Well, I don’t know but everybody must know the qualities which he or she sees in me even though they tell me ‘you are humble, you are not arrogant, you listen to people’s complaints, when they are talking you listen to them, you don’t show off, you don’t behave as if you are governor, you don’t behave as if you are a senator, you reply all my text messages’. That is what they tell me. I think these attributes are rare attributes that one should get and when you have it and you are in politics you will succeed. They will come and tell you that they have seen politicians who don’t even read their text messages. They will come and tell you as governor when we send you text message you will reply. These are things they tell me, I didn’t manufacture it. And this is what I try as much to do to be in touch with them. And I recommend this to all politicians.
What was your growing up like?
I was the only child of my mother. I came from a polygamous family, so that doesn’t mean that my father didn’t have other children from other wives. My mother was the second wife of my father and I remain the only fruit that she had. Therefore, I was overpampered, especially by my mother. That is why you see that I am not an extrovert. I’m an introvert because of my upbringing. They pampered me, they gave me what I needed, which was within their capacity. Anything I asked for they gave it to me. They gave me education, which was rare to come by at that time, to the university level. It wasn’t easy. I was the first graduate in my community. Go and find out. The record is there.
Like I told you, I followed what my father wanted me to be. He said ‘go to the civil service’. That was because my father was one of those who interacted with the government when he was a paramount chief. So he interacted with the District Officers (Dos). The DOs are the permanent secretaries today. He said ‘look this is what I want you to be’ and I followed that and achieved that in the service.
I had a clean record in the service before I entered into politics and I have a clean record in politics, not minding the blackmail and propaganda which you know is rampant in politics. So I enjoyed my life as a young man growing. As a youth growing I had most of the things I wanted. I wasn’t extravagant; I didn’t want things that I’m not supposed to have. But I was comfortable and I managed my life, and till now I’m still managing my life, managing the way I want to live. I don’t live the life of pretence; as you see me, you see me in my real self. I don’t pretend. So I thank God for the life I have lived, I thank God for my family that have supported me, my wife who has supported me all along, my children that have supported me and my friends and relations, who have supported me all along. When I’m in trouble they cry with me, when I’m rejoicing they laugh with me.
You wanted to become a priest but later you changed your mind. What actually happened?
You know, I attended missionary schools. St. Michaels is a Catholic school. Santa Crux is a Catholic school and Holy Ghost College is a Catholic school. St. Michaels was primary, Santa Crux was Secondary, Holy Ghost College was higher school. It was only the University of Ibadan that is not a missionary school. So I was brought up by the Catholic people and that time that was what was in vogue. We had Irish priests and we were emulating how they were living and there was that temptation for many of us to become reverend fathers including myself. I wanted to be a reverend father but like I told you, I remained an only child. When I mentioned this to my mother, my mother said she would kill herself if I become a reverend father because it means that our genealogy would be cut short. Because, you know, in those days, mothers believed in procreation, that somebody must carry on the name of the family. And if I become a reverend father I will not marry and that means that her generation is ended. So, I reasoned with her. I said ‘okay instead of me losing my dear mother let me obey her’. And the Bible enjoins us to obey our parents so I have to leave being a reverend father. So why my colleagues at that time were struggling to go to Immaculate Seminary in Ahieke, we vied to go to the secondary school. That was what happened and that was what changed my not being a reverend.
How did you meet your wife?
I met my wife at a very very early age because you know in Igbo tradition when you are the only child, especially a male child, the first assignment you will get is to get married so that you can have children before you die. Yes, because nobody knows about death, if you die early without producing offsprings, it means your lineage is closed. So that was the first assignment I had – to get married – and I got married to my wife today and I have remained faithful to her and she has remained faithful to me till now.
What were the qualities that attracted you to her?
She is a very hard working lady, and beautiful in the first instance. She has all you want in a woman, so what else do you want in another woman? She is hard working, she is beautiful, she is obedient, she respects me, she listens to me, she cooperates with me and she is prayerful. So these are the qualities I found in her. There are people that will get a wife and she will not even listen to you, you will be telling her yes she will be telling you no. Every day you people will be blowing grammar in the house or fighting. That is not an agenda in our family.
Your marriage is blessed with how many children?
Honestly, God has blessed me richly. I have children who are grown up, responsible children not any how children. Responsible children who have excelled in education, excelled in business, who are doing good, who have not put me to shame, who have not disgraced me, who are not behaving like children of a governor or ex-governor or children of a senator. They are humble, they are hard working, they pursue their goals in life and that is what you want in any child at all. My daughter, Nneoma, is happily married. But we have a small one now that will take up the responsibility of Nneoma by looking after the mother and carrying the mother’s bag. The other ones are men who are responsible in their own disposition and they are very respectful. They are not only respecting me, they respect their elders because they were well brought up and trained. Even though they studied overseas none of them put ear ring for one day, none of them did Afro hair for one day, none of them went and brought a white woman that they will marry for one day. None of them put me into trouble there, for me to go from Nigeria to either US or London to go and start settling problems. So these are the things you look at and you thank God. So my children are responsible.
How do find time to relax after your hectic legislative duties?
Well, you must find time to relax if not you will just die early. You must find time to relax and when I go home I make time to rest. Either rest and watch television or you go on the machine exercising yourself or you lie down and take siesta and sleep. You must give yourself a break because your body is a working machine. It is like the engine of a machine; if you over work it, it will break. But if you work very well, grease and service it, it will last for a very long time. You must find time to rest; rest is essential. I’m not a businessman and I will never be a businessman. All along I have been in a regimented profession, from this time to this time you are in the office and you are back. So it’s in me and I follow that. If I go outside that and start running around like a businessman it will affect me.
Throughout your eight years as governor, you never celebrated your birthday the way other politicians do. Why?
Not only that you see that I’m not a celebration man, I’m not a party man. I’m not used to throwing parties and inviting friends. I’m not a party man, anything I do, I do it quietly. If my birthday comes I celebrate it in a very quiet way – praying to God and thanking Him. If there are friends around I will tell them today is my birthday. I even don’t like people putting advert for me on the pages of newspapers. Any advert you see on the pages of newspapers celebrating my birthday is by people on their own. So, I like doing it on a quiet side. Not only birthdays, but other things also. The important celebration that you have is to thank God for giving you what you want. To thank God for blessing you, that is the best celebration. It’s not by inviting the whole world and buying drinks and cooking food, and getting every person dancing. He is ten years, he is twenty years. If you should be humble before God and thank Him, because He is the person that has made you what you are. If there is any offering you have, you offer to God. If there is anything you want to do for God for keeping you alive you do it. When you were in Abia, you know the number of churches that I built. A typical example is the church that I built in Michael Okpara University of Agriculture. That is a cathedral. Nobody helped me to build that church, I built it from foundation till finish. That is to appreciate God for what he has done for me in life. That is just one church, there are many of them. I built for Catholic, I built for Church of Christ, I built for Anglican, and just like that, to say God thank you for all you have done to me. And I believe that is the best way of thanking God and celebrating any good thing that has happened to you.
So people who want to put advert in the newspapers for me should give that money to the motherless babies home. That money you want to use to put up advert in the newspaper, maybe N500,000, if you give it to the motherless babies home, it will keep about five children alive for one month. It’s more beneficial to me that you gave that money to motherless babies home to keep these fatherless and motherless children alive than placing an advert there eulogising me for what God has done for you free of charge. Since God has done this free of charge for you, do the same for those who are less privileged. That is my ideology and philosophy about all these.