Mountains Before Theodore Orji


Having served honourably in his first term as Senator, Theodore Orji, the lawmaker representing Abia Central Constituency, is set to face new challenges in the Ninth Senate, where he chairs the Committee on Privatisation. Charles Ajunwa writes

In June 2016, Theodore Orji, fondly called Ochendo by his supporters, was rated the third most productive Senator of the Federal Republic after sponsoring three motions which resulted in resolutions of the Eight Senate. 

One of the resolutions made on January 30, 2016, mandated the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) to publish reports of its investigations into the causes of air accidents in the country. The second resolution was made on January 13, 2016, and it caused the Senate to pass a resolution calling on the Federal Government to immediately set up the Public Procurement Council in accordance with the 2009 Public Procurement Act. The third resolution, which was made on October 4, 2016, was on the need to check indiscriminate rock blasting in the FCT and other parts of the country, in accordance with international best practices.

 Senator Orji had also sponsored nine bills, some of which had been passed while others were awaiting final touches. The first was SB. 71, “A Bill For An Act to Make Provision For Freedom From Hunger and The Right to Adequate Food Of Acceptable Quality, Right Of Every Child to Basic Nutrition and for Connected Purposes.” This Bill was passed on the floor of the Senate on Thursday, October 13, 2016.

 Another one was SB. 72, “A Bill For An Act To Repeal The Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission Act, Cap 117 Laws Of The Federation Of Nigeria And Re-Enact The Nigerian Investment Commission To Provide For The Creation Of An Attractive Incentive Framework And A Transparent Predictable And Facilitating Environment For Investment In Nigeria And Related Matters.”

 There were others related to national planning, protection of the environment, offshore activities, political engineering, disease control, local manufacturing and agriculture. His footprints were all across the Eight Senate.

 So it was no surprise when Orji was returned in the last election as the Senator representing Abia Central Senatorial District. Apparently building on his previous experience as Governor of Abia for eight years, he had been able to convince his constituents that he was the right man for the job. 

 Last June, the Senate announced its list of Chairmen of Senate Standing Committees and their Deputies and Orji, who was deputy chairman, Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development in the Eight Senate, was mandated to command the Privatisation Committee of the Ninth Senate.

 The Coalition for the Advancement of State Transformation (CAST) hailed the appointment as a befitting confirmation of Orji’s sterling leadership qualities. “Senator T.A. Orji’s leadership qualities have never been in doubt since his days as a civil servant where he rose to the pinnacle of his career before becoming the Governor that laid the foundation for the peace, fairness, justice, equity, progress and prosperity of Abia State,” the group said in a statement.

 But how will Orji bring his leadership qualities to bear on privatisation in Nigeria? Senate committees, traditionally, perform oversight functions; they invite public and non-public officials pertaining to their jurisdiction, to answer questions and clarify muddy details; also, they go on field trips and hold meetings with relevant stakeholders to, essentially, keep the actors involved in making and executing government policies on their toes. This October, Orji was reported to have held an interactive session with the Minister of Power and Heads of Parastatals on Power, a sector that will largely determine how well Orji succeeds in this new role. 

 Privatisation is a hydra-headed issue in Nigeria. On one hand, public institutions have a reputation for corruption, but the process of selling-off public property has also been criticised for its lack of transparency and capacity for even greater corrupt practices. The merits of privatising institutions that produce public goods – such as transportation, power, water, security – is a topic that has divided (and continues to divide) economists and policymakers. Orji’s task, as he engages with stakeholders, will be to navigate the nuanced nature of the issues with a keen eye for the public’s interest and the good of the Nigerian nation.

 Historically, one of the biggest success stories of privatisation in Nigeria is the telecommunication sector, which has grown to become one of the most competitive and fastest-growing in Africa. On the flip side, the privatisation of the power sector has been riddled with problems and is still under review. Orji, in his capacity as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Privatisation, will play a pivotal role in how the privatisation problems in the sector are resolved.

 Another sector that should attract Orji’s attention is solid minerals. With the federal government’s focus on revenue diversification away from oil, the mining of other minerals apart from crude oil will continue to take on increased significance in national discourse. No doubt, private sector capital will be useful in developing the sector; but it is essential that appropriate checks are carried out before deals are signed, taking into consideration the environmental, economic and social factors of resource exploration, excavation and refinement.

 Beyond his duties on the Privatisation Committee, Orji has to continue the numerous constituency empowerment schemes that marked his first four years as Senator. Hundreds of students benefited from his scholarship schemes and many more from his business empowerment programmes where he distributed vehicles, generators, cash, among other things, to entrepreneurs in need of them. 

 Orji equally undertook numerous infrastructure projects, some of which included the electrification of Umuhute Azueke autonomous community, Umuahia North L.G.A.; the electrification of Ahiaba Okpuala Community, Isiala Ngwa North L.G.A.; the electrification of Nvosi I, Amaku Community in Isiala Ngwa South L.G.A. of Abia State; the delivery of 500/11/KVA transformer to residents of Uwalaka Street, Enugu Road, Awkuzu Street, Awolowo Street, Chidiebere Nwoke Street, Amuzukwu layout, among others. In his second term, his constituents are bound to expect more of the same. Will he deliver?

If his staunchest supporters are asked, there is no doubt that Orji will be a success at the Ninth Senate: he has the pedigree. But the challenges before him remain no less difficult.