Orji at 66: Making Laws, Touching Lives Positively

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Emmanuel Ugwu

When he became a federal lawmaker last year after serving as Abia governor for two consecutive terms of eight years, the opponents of Senator Theodore Orji thought he would end up warming his seat at the Senate, like some of the governors who had been there before him. But he was quick to disappoint his critics. He took a different trajectory to give the people of Abia Central senatorial district quality representation.

Not even his ardent critics would divest from him the passion he has exhibited not just in making laws but laws that really touch the lives of the people. For those watching the man fondly called Ochendo it would appear an arduous task for him to connect with the people. But those who knew him right from the time he served his state as Chief of Staff before ascending to the seat of governance would readily testify that the people connection has always been there.

Senator Orji’s humility in regarding any position of trust as an opportunity to serve the public has over the years endeared him to so many people. After he left Umuahia to take his seat at the National Assembly, he did not break the cord that ties him to his people. In fact, he has strengthened the tensility of the umbilical cord that connects him to his people.

Barely six months after he was inaugurated along with other distinguished senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Orji hit home to present his report card to his people. By then he had already presented seven bills for consideration and passage into law. Not one to keep the people in the dark over his activities at the Senate he toured all the six component local governments that make up Abia Central senatorial district. These include Umuahia North, Umuahia South, Ikwuano, Isiala Ngwa North, Isiala Ngwa South and Osisioma.

As he had explained the aim was to keep his constituents abreast of what he had been doing as well as the general activities of the Senate and how they would impact on the people. While he interacted with his constituents he did not lose sight of their yearnings for the other side of democracy dividends, which the effervescence governor of Ekiti state, Ayo Fayose described as “stomach infrastructure”. Senator Orji made it a point of duty to ensure that his constituents celebrated his first Christmas at the Senate with joy and happiness.

It was also during the constituency tour that he introduced his empowerment programmes to the people and the modalities of their implementation. He started first with the undergraduate scholarship scheme which is a testimony of his love for education and its ultimate empowerment potential. According to him, the underpinning philosophy is that “whoever you give education you’ve given the person a most important thing.

” The programme was kick started on January 12, 2016 with a total of 60 beneficiaries comprising 10 from each of the component local governments of his constituency. It was all inclusive as in each council area five beneficiaries were selected based on their intelligence as evidenced by the grade point average (GPA) while the other five won the scholarship based on indigence. The scholarship scheme was followed by empowerment programme for farmers and youths who had acquired vocational skills and needed assistance to start their own businesses.

Farm inputs including organic fertiliser, which was a novelty in this clime, were distributed to over 100 farmers while other empowerment items were also distributed to beneficiaries drawn from the six local governments that make up Abia Central senatorial district. The empowerment items included 20 units of 2.9Kva generators, 21 grinding machines, 20 sewing machines, 14 motor cycles, 8 tricycles, 2 buses and 15 wheel chairs for the physically challenged.

Senator Orji has stepped up his interaction with the people that gave him mandate to represent them at the Senate. At every opportunity he comes home during public holidays or recess by the national legislators he confers with stakeholders of his constituency to feel the pulse of the people on any national issue and the position he should take as their representative.

For instance, when the issue of grazing reserves for herdsmen and their cattle became a topical national issue Orji knew where his constituents stood on the matter and did not deviate from that. The Abia Central senator has a knack for empathising with people and most of his political judgments and decisions have been suffused with his ability to understand the feelings of others and then find a way to assuage such feelings.

When Abia stakeholders decided that power should go to Abia South, Senator Orji then as governor supported the idea.

After winning his second tenure to stay at Government House for another four years, Orji began to listen to the yearnings of the Ukwa/Ngwa to produce his successor. He knew they were not merely shedding crocodile tears. It was a deep seated resentment of perceived exclusion in Abia politics. Orji made a promise to right the wrong more so as the demand of the Ukwa/Ngwa people was in line with the Abia Charter of Equity, which was produced by the founding fathers of God’s own state to stipulate how power should be rotated to make room for justice, equity and fair play.

It was by no means an easy task for Ochendo to keep his promise of power shift to Abia South as they were many strong political forces in Abia North and Central who did not want that to happen. But the then governor stood his ground and courageously worked with people of like minds in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to ensure that an Ukwa/Ngwa person not only democratically emerged as the governorship candidate but went ahead to win the governorship poll.

That an Ukwa’Ngwa man in the person of Dr. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu has eventually become the governor of Abia State was a product of Ochendo’s empathetic consideration of issues.

This singular action has earned Ochendo enormous good will among the people of Ukwa/Ngwa. It was their time to reciprocate when Orji dropped his hat in the ring to vie for the senatorial seat of Abia Central. They didn’t disappoint as the three Ngwa components of the six local governments that make up the senatorial district provided the tipping point for his triumph at the senatorial election. Today in Abia appreciative people of goodwill variously refer to Senator Orji as ‘man of equity’, pillar of democracy’ ‘hero of our time’ ‘father of democracy, among other sobriquets. He has never regretted that action he took in supporting the power shift policy with Abia South as the beneficiary.

Even with the turbulence and cloud of uncertainty that have dogged Ikpeazu as a result of long drawn pre-election and post-election litigations his predecessor has remained resolute and supportive of him. His stance is fitting having left a legacy of equity, justice and fairness in power sharing in Abia State.

Born 66 years ago into an aristocratic family of a warrant chief in Umuahia Ibeku, Orji grew up as home boy, which he attributed to the easiness with which he grasps the problem of his people. After he got his B.A. degree from the University of Ibadan, the young graduate made a career in civil service. His progression took him through the ranks and to the peak of his career when he was made a permanent secretary.

His journey into the murky waters of Nigerian politics when he became the administrative secretary of the Independent National Electoral Commission (NEC), Chief of Staff and went ahead to become governor in 2007. Ochendo left office in 2015 at the expiration of his renewed mandate. He has set a record in Abia politics of becoming the first governor to make it to the Senate after serving at the executive arm of government.