Orji (right) presents a certificate and seed grant to one of the beneficiaries of the empowerment training. While chairman of the occasion, Chief Chukwu Nwachukwu watches

As part of his efforts to impartially distribute the dividends of democracy, the Senator representing Abia Central, Theodore Orji, recently empowered hundreds of his constituents, writes Solomon Elusoji

On a day when the sun shone brilliantly and the clouds darkened and let out torrents of rain, February 20, hundreds of people gathered at an open field behind the constituency compound of Abia Central Senator, Theodore Orji. A circle of canopies, under which people huddled under, had been erected. The presence of glistening, new Keke Napeps and piles of fertiliser bags were also unmistakable.

Even before the Senator arrived, the energy coursing through the crowd was incredible; group of dancers invaded the mini-arena created by the circle of canopies and rent the air with songs and the rhythmic jiggle of their bodies.

The occasion was the culmination of a series of empowerment programmes set in motion by Orji, whose credibility among his people continues to soar.

Part of the empowerment was the training of some 20 youths and women in Mechanised Agriculture. The training had lasted for two weeks at the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation (NCAA) in Ilorin, Kwara State. The first week was theoretical while the second week was practical, hands-on. After the training, each one of them received the sum of N100,000 as a seed grant.

“We believe that they will soon begin to apply what they learnt,” a member of the committee in charge of Orji’s empowerment scheme and the current Commissioner for Public Utilities and Water Resources in Abia State, Hon. Chidiebere Nwoke, told THISDAY.

There had also been another empowerment training at Kolping Society which lasted for a week and was carried out by Juasu Power Solutions. A bunch of resource persons had been involved and 63 women and youths had received training in soap-making, barbering and hairdressing, poultry and fish farming. Each of them were also entitled to a sum of N100,000 as seed grant. Then, another batch of 73 persons were also trained at the National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike. The aim, originally, was to train only 60, but due to popular demand, the number was increased by 13. Each of them, too, were entitled to a sum of N100,000.

Also, as part of the empowerment programme, 30 pieces of keke and 600 bags of fertiliser were distributed to people in Abia Central, a senatorial zone which covers six local governments in Abia: Isiala Ngwa South, Isiala Ngwa North, Osisioma, Ikwuano, Umuahia North and Umuahia South.

“This is the busiest constituency office throughout the federation,” Nwoke said. “There is no doubt about it. Even the constituency office of the Senate President has not been this busy. Just last month, 60 students were awarded scholarships here. So we are believing that he (the Senator) will continue this way and come 2019, he will get back to the Senate. Everybody is happy with him.”

Spotted for upgrade

An highlight of the February 20 empowerment day was when a 31-year-old cripple, Francis Aririguzo, was spotted by the Senator’s wife, Chief (Mrs.) Mercy Orji and she ordered that a wheelchair be brought for him. The crowd roared in excitement at the gesture and Francis, who had been propped on a wooden stool, was in a kind of shock. “I came here to see Ochendo and then his wife surprised me,” Francis told THISDAY. “I am lost for words. I am so happy today. They have done something that will make me never forget them.”

The father of one, who makes a living as a shoemaker, said the wheelchair will now afford him a higher degree of mobility and comfort. “I could not afford to buy a wheelchair, but with this one, I can drive myself around,” he said, grinning from ear to ear.

Leading by example

When Orji, clad in white traditional attire and a red cap, took the stage to deliver a short speech, the crowd stood on their toes.

“What we are doing today is not new to this zone, Abia Central Senatorial District,” he said. “We are trying to empower our people by all means, so that they will be useful and live a gainful life. And that is the essence of governance. The people remain the centre of everything we are doing.

“And once God has blessed you with anything, whether it is with position or money, remember that God has given you those things so that you can impact on those who are less-privileged than yourselves: you don’t pocket everything into your pocket and go away. And that is what we are doing in Abia Central and the example I am trying to set: if God has blessed you, bless another person; if God has impacted on you, impact on another person.

“These things which are distributing today, anybody who gets it, his life is uplifted by one-inch or one per cent. If we give you Keke Napep, it will help you; if we have trained you in Umudike or give you fertiliser, you will use it and there will be an increase. This is why we are doing this – to increase productivity – we are not doing it to show off.”

Orji’s foray into the Senate, while still less than three years long, has been a hugely successful one. The former Governor has managed to sponsor some 20 bills, with the last two being a bill that compels the federal government to take over Abia State Polytechnic and the College of Education in Arochukwu, to ease the burden on the state government. He has also moved and passed a plethora of motions, including one that calls for improved security at the railway stations.

Also, by virtue of being a Senator, Orji, who is fondly referred to as Ochendo by his people, has attracted several projects into his constituency, from the construction of roads and boreholes to the donation of infrastructure equipments such as electricity transformers. “There is no local government in Abia Central that we have not touched,” Orji said.

He also reminded the enthusiastic crowd that the projects he has embarked on as Senator were not done in a vacuum. “We are doing all this to supplement and complement the efforts of the state governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, who is doing his best to change the face of Abia,” Orji said. “Because he has done well, I will join others to endorse him for a second term.”

Man of the people

As 2019 approaches, understanding Orji’s appeal among his people is not a mysterious phenomenon. Over and over again, the Senator has proved that he is a staunch advocacy of ‘People Democracy’ through the equitable distribution of public resources.

“Today’s occasion is a very befitting one for Abia Central,” an Abia statesman and Chairman of the Day, Chief Chukwu Nwachukwu, said during his speech. “The zone has had so many people in position of power but Ochendo is a very rare one. There is no vacancy in Abia Central come 2019.”

Several youth groups were equally on hand to cheer Orji on the day. The General Commander of Otakwe Youth Initiative, Tony Otuonye described Orji as a “credible candidate” who keeps to his words. “He is a man with a robust personality,” he said. “He knows that politics is not a one man show and he is performing in the Senate. So if PDP refuses to give him ticket to run for the Senate in 2019, we will protest by supporting another party.”

Another youth group leader who spoke to THISDAY was the Coordinator of Concerned Abia Youths for Good Governance (CAYGG), Ikechukwu Okoronka, who could not contain his joy while being interviewed. “We are happy, that’s why we are here, he said. “We appreciate his youth empowerment and community development programmes which has benefited a lot of our members. We have never had it so good.”