He had set out in life desiring to be a District Officer like his father, never contemplating to go into politics, much less becoming a governor. He lived in the sublime as a civil servant, though nature had taken him round in high echelons of society as he was a permanent secretary, Chief of Staff, governor before he proceeded to the Senate. Chief Theodore Orji, an only child, recalls his mother’s death after the war as the lowest moment of his life. He shares the story of his life with Charles Ajunwa and Ahamefula Ogbu. Excerpts
You appear chubby and more relaxed now. What is responsible for this? Is it that the work in the Senate is less?
No, no, no, the work in the Senate is not less but you have to pattern your life in order to survive; take care of yourself, take care of your health so you can live long. I don’t let things worry me unnecessarily; I don’t worry any person and I don’t want any person to worry me. I have a relaxed mind, do my job under the relaxed atmosphere; I don’t bother about what people say about you, don’t fight any person and let them not fight you, so why won’t you relax? That’s it.
Did you prepare and angle for leadership or was it thrust upon you?
Well, if you say that you prepared yourself for leadership, yes, a leader must be prepared, once you go to school, once you are literate, you have gone to secondary school and university; these are leadership tutorials. So, if you talk about preparation, I will say yes. From the family background also, of course, you are a leader in your family, so if you can lead your family very well, you can also lead the outside family very well, which is the society. Even if you are not prepared for leadership, once it is entrusted to you, you will learn it and you will lead.
How and where were you born?
I was born in Amaokwe Ugba, Umuahia North Local Government. I attended St. Michael’s Primary School, from there to secondary school at Santa Crux in Umuahia South; from there I branched to Holy Ghost College, which is in Imo State for my higher school and from there to the University of Ibadan, graduated and came out.
What was the most indelible experience you had as a child?
The most indelible experience I had as a child while growing up was that I was alone; the only child, not just the only son or daughter, the only child of my mother. I know what it means; that made an indelible mark in me as a lone child and I tried as much as I can with the help of my mother to manage the situation and fit into the society and do well. It is not easy to be an only child with no person guiding you except maybe your mother. As an only child, you are overprotected.
Were you a troublesome or very obedient child?
I wasn’t troublesome. All along, I have been an obedient child but that does not mean that you will not revolt sometimes when your parents annoy you. Show them you are an only child and they will come and beg, pamper you, especially when you want to get something from them, you brag as an only child and they will bring it to you. On the whole, I was not stubborn; I didn’t give my parents trouble.
What has been your most joyful moment so far in life?
I think one of the most joyful moments in my life was when I graduated from the university. It gave me happiness that I am now a graduate like I have arrived. There are other ones also that gave me joy but this was the greatest moment in my life, after all the hassles, going through the university with the struggles, I was able to graduate without any problem. I graduated smoothly and went for the NYSC, it gave me joy.
You appear to have many upsides in life. What are your regrets?
The greatest regret I have had in life was when I lost my mother because this is a woman who loved me more than her husband. My mother loved me more than her husband because as the only child she had, she poured all the love on me and I never lacked because my mother had the wherewithal. She gave me all, education, pampered me, did all but immediately after the war when I hadn’t anything, when we came back from the war, there was sickness everywhere, cholera and all that and the thing came and I hadn’t the opportunity to fight to save her life because I was incapacitated. I was just a student, I wasn’t doing anything and I had nobody, no senior, no junior, it was only me, before I could render any help, she was gone. That’s the saddest moment I have had in life, the saddest moment in my life till this day.
Could that be the reason you married early?
Of course, marriage was my first project in life and it was my mother who was behind everything. As an only son, you don’t know tomorrow, he may die or I may die also without leaving any legacy like a child or children, so that was the first project I faced and today it is paying me.
How did you meet your wife?
I met my wife when she was in primary school; that was when this idea of marrying came to me through my mother and we monitored her. My mother was monitoring and mentoring her because my mother had a lot of love for my wife, mentored her from primary to secondary school, from where we started.
Do we say your mother recommended her to you?
Not that my mother recommended her to me; I have my eyes to see what I want but my mother was the backbone who encouraged me. The mistake you make is to go and marry somebody your mother does not like. Because of the love I had for my mother when I knew my mother was interested in my wife, the thing pushed me on.
What were the qualities that attracted you to your wife?
She is beautiful, elegant, tall, intelligent, very hard working and she is a home-bred woman, very caring with a high sense of humility with the best home training.
If you were to change any aspect of your life what would that be?
I think I am satisfied with myself. God has been merciful, tremendously merciful to me, so I won’t say I want to change my life. I will not because God has piloted my life, led me to areas that I couldn’t have reached; so I am happy with myself and with God. There is no aspect of my life I will say let me change.
While growing up, what did you aspire to be in life, a governor?
No no no, there was no time I wanted to be governor; it never crossed my mind. I wanted to go to school, be a graduate; when I graduate, depending on the field of study, you come out and look for a job as patterned by my father because my father had this early acquaintance with oyibo people, these DOs (district officers), so he was in love with the job of being a district officer, that is what he said I will be and the thing stuck on my mind. I said to be a district officer I had to go to the university; that was what I pursued and when I came out of the university that was the field I pursued. I entered the administrative cadre of the civil service that is from where you become a DO. That time in the service, they send you to the local government where you start working as DO. That was what I had in my mind, I pursued and got it because I reached the climax which was the permanent secretary but God said no, I am not yet done with you, you had to advance. I am grateful to God, there is no aspect of my life that I will say I could have been this, how I wish I was this; no, I am satisfied with myself.
What drives your compassion for the less privileged?
Yes because it is the right thing to do. When I was growing up, I was privileged to have certain things at my disposal and also, I was privileged to see how the unprivileged people were treated and what they passed through. In the university, there was somebody I know who bathed with OMO, can’t buy Lux or any other toilet soap, he will put OMO in water and bath with it. If you have the opportunity to help such a person won’t you help? That is the passion I have for all these people that are less privileged because I know they don’t have the opportunity I have or have had, so how do you help them? It is to transfer some of your opportunities to them so that they can grow to your stage or to a certain stage.
What do you like in people?
It is natural. There are people who are charming, naturally have likeable qualities, you don’t run away from them. If I see you and that admiration will come. But there are people you see and you start detesting them, they have not done anything to you but when you interact with such a person and you go deeper and find out other qualities that bring out other admiration for him, these are the things. You have to be humble, no arrogance, not mouthy, allow people to discover you, not you blowing your trumpet, humility and you will be telling the truth always. There are a lot of people that tell bundle of lies, there is nothing that they say that is correct but there are people that whatever they tell you, take it to the market, it is like that, those are the things.
What puts you off in people?
What puts me off in people are the opposite of what I have said, people who are arrogant for no just cause, notice me or I die; people who don’t have any regard for their fellow human beings.
Politicians are known to keep mistresses, has it ever crossed your mind to keep one?
What am I doing with a mistress? I have a wife in the house that satisfies me in all aspects, so why should I keep a mistress? That one is an additional burden on your side, to go and start keeping a mistress and doing all these hanky panky things; something that you will be doing, when you see somebody, you will be hiding, such things are not good.
So as a chief and successful man, it has never crossed your mind to have a second wife?
What for? What do I need a second wife for? My wife has produced children for me; responsible children, male and female which is the essence of marriage so what else do I need in another woman?
How do you resist overtures from the opposite sex because it is highly probable some are coming for you?
You will be direct with them, there is no point painting words. When they come to you, you will say ‘ah no no, please carry your trouble and go.’ That is what happens, there are some girls who are desperate, they will like you, say they like you and they will come with their entire arsenal, but to show that you are a man is to resist them. When they try once, twice and they don’t succeed they will go away.
What is your most valuable life possession?
It is my life, not material things
Do you have special labels you put on in terms of fashion?
No, I don’t. In fact, my wife and my children buy things for me when they travel. They are the ones that know what is trending, they buy for me and I use but I don’t go to the market and say give me Giorgio Armani, Givenchy or that, they buy when they see my stock is depleting, they restock it.
If you were to be isolated in an island, what three items will you go with?
Food, I have to go with food to eat; toiletries to keep myself clean and wears.
Many of your admirers don’t know that you love soccer a lot. What is your best Premier League team?
If I tell you my best team, you will laugh. Tottenham Hotspur is my best team. Some will say Arsenal, some will say Manchester United. Tottenham Hotspur is the one I like because I like how they play and I like the characters that are there. Another reason is because when my daughter went overseas, she was living in that town where this football club is. So, I was going there to look at them and they won my admiration.