Emmanuel Ugwu, Umuahia
For those cynics who express misgivings about former state governors that continue their political career in the Senate, the performance of Senator Theodore Orji should make them have rethink. There are still several past governors who entered the red chambers not to “enjoy their retirement or sleep” but to continue to serve the people they represent and the nation in general. Senator Orji is one of such.
As he turns 69 on November 11 the fire of serving the people is still burning in the former civil servant, who reached the zenith of his career before he joined politics. He had the honour and privilege of serving as the third democratically elected governor of Abia State between 2007 and 2015 when he got the mandate to represent Abia Central senatorial district in the National Assembly. The man fondly called ‘Ochendo ‘Global and ‘Papa Ukwu’ (Big Daddy) of equity and fairness in Abia politics has lived up to expectation in the legislative arm of government at the national level. Right from his first tenure Orji has never been anonymous. His visibility in contributing to debates, moving motions and sponsoring bills in the Senate was so glaring that the manufacturers of cynical remarks parodying former-governors-turned-senators were left dumbfounded.
Senator Orji went to the Senate and set a record: He sponsored 14 bills and five motions in his first tenure. It is a feat that had not been achieved by any federal lawmaker from Abia and perhaps other states in the history of democratic representation at the federal legislature. Having set this record it is likely that Orji would continue to hold it in the nearest future or perhaps break it himself in his second tenure in the Senate. Therefore when the 2019 election season came around, it didn’t come as a surprise to political watchers in Abia when the people of Abia Central Senatorial district demanded encore from their senator. They translated their request to the renewal of Senator Orji’s mandate in the National Assembly election of February 23, 2019.
That confirmed the popular saying in Abia polity that “one good term deserves another”. But this triumphant statement usually rankles the opposition and for good reasons. If they credit the incumbent with good performance how will they convince the electorate to give them mandate? That was why, even with his outstanding performance, the opposition candidates still fiercely engaged Senator Orji in a stiff contest to oust him from the Senate. But with the majority of the people behind him the opposition candidates were trounced at the polls with their ambition ending up as wild goose chase.
On September 10, 2019 Orji second term senatorial mandate was affirmed by the National/State Assemblies Election Petition Tribunal in Umuahia. The panel with Justice Adeyinka Adebirigbe as chairman unanimously agreed that Ochendo’s second term senatorial mandate was properly given by the people of Abia Central comprising Osisioma, Isiala Ngwa North, Isiala Ngwa South, Ikwuano, Umuahia North and Umuahia South. His main challenger, Senator Nkechi Nwaogu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was told that she had no reason to be shouting wolf when there was none.
The former Senator, who is now the pro chancellor, University of Calabar failed to prove any of the grounds on which she wanted the tribunal to void Ochendo’s mandate. After trying their best the opposition candidates have come to realise that it’s an uphill task trying to push Orji aside because the Abia Central senator is firmly rooted in the people he serves through his sterling performance in the federal legislature as well as his empowerment and welfare programmes that directly impact the lives of his constituents.
Aside from being popularly called Ochendo, Orji is also called the People’s Senator. This is because the intetest of people are at the centre of all his sponsored bills and motions as well his empowerment and welfare programmes for his constituents. The 14 bills he sponsored can rightly be referred to as pro-people bills. The bills are all pertinent to the needs and welfare of the people, a measure of his responsiveness and alertness to the goings on in the society. The bills have relevance to the social and economic well being of the people. Take for instance the famous Food Security Bill 2015 which is for an Act to make provision for freedom from hunger and right of every child to adequate food of acceptable quality and to basic nutrition.
With this bill government would be compelled to provide quality food to Nigerian children as part of its primary responsibility. The deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) Bill 2015 (SB 78) is another pertinent bill. This unique bill was initiated by senator orji with the aim of checking crimes, apart from resolving paternity issues in cases involving a child with disputed or doubtful parentage. The bill when passed and signed into law would make it easier for security agencies, especially the police to fight crime as the identity of suspects being investigated for crime could be determined through the DNA samples. Therefore the establishment of a person’s guilt or innocence can be done without much time wasting and wastage of resources.
Another significant bill from Ochendo is the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council Act Cap N117. 2004 (Repeal and reenactment) Bill which objective for the creation of an attractive incentive framework and a transparent predictable and facilitative environment for investment in Nigeria and related matters. Therefore the bill will compel government to give the fullest support to foreign and local investors thereby creating employment opportunities for the teeming youths in the country.
Senator Orji is equally concerned about the health of the people hence his sponsoring of SB 256, which is for an Act to provide for the establishment of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) and for, matters thereto. Perhaps the adage which says that prevention is better than cure was running through the mind of the Abia Central Senator when he came up with the bill.
Senator Orji believes so much that the much talked about dividends of democracy would make no meaning if the beneficiaries are not in good health condition. This underlines his philosophy that good health should rank above social amenities. That was why during his tenure as governor he built specialist hospitals and diagnostic centre, modern eye clinic as well as dialysis centre.
Even after leaving office as governor Orji’s pro-health disposition has not waned as evidenced by his continuous sponsorship of Ochendo health programmes whereby his constituents receive free medical care. It was through such medical interventions that treatment of eye diseases with laser machines was introduced in Abia. He made it possible by funding the installation of a state of -the- art lacer equipment at a private hospital in Umuahia where his constituents go for free eye checks and treatment. “If one is blind, he will not see the tarred road,” he said in justifying his interest in improving the eye sights of the people he represents in the National Assembly.
Orji is impressed with the success of his free eye care programme which has recorded over 1,000 beneficiaries since last year when it was launched. It was easy to measure the success of the programme as the Abia Central senator has been receiving emotional phone calls from the beneficiaries, especially old people. “It means we are growing( in efforts to provide good health for people)”, he said with satisfaction, assuring that the free eye care would be expanded to include people from outside Abia and eventually put an end to medical tourism by Nigerians, who travel abroad to receive eye care services.
The former Abia governor said that providing people good health is a legacy he was very keen to bequeath to the people because “as a politician (in a privileged position) I have to give back to the society”.
“It is from my heart,” Orji said, adding that the free healthcare programme would be expanded to take care of people with diabetes and hypertension problems.
Senator Orji is equally keen to help youths in his constituency to channel their talents and energy for positive endeavours. Annually over hundred Abia youths are given scholarships to pursue various academic programmes in tertiary institutions. Many others have been trained in various skills and equipped to start making a living with their acquired skills. Orji is geared to do more. He has vowed to continue doing his best for humanity and to leave legacies that would stand the test of time. There’s no stopping him.