Pat Onukwuli pays tribute to Gordian Oranika, an administrator and philanthropist

In a poignant conclusion to a life selflessly dedicated to the service of others, the world mourns the passing of esteemed philanthropist and celebrated benefactor Gordian Chukwuemeka Oranika (Ochendo Abatete). Ochendo’s life demonstrates the transformative power of hard work and discipline, and his unwavering resilience in the face of numerous challenges truly inspires. Born into humble beginnings, he faced adversity head-on from the start. However, he didn’t let his circumstances define him. Instead, he rose to dizzying heights with uncommon brilliance, relentless hard work, and steadfast personal discipline. He became a towering oak tree whose branches reached the aethers, providing succour and a lifeline and improving the lives of countless others.

In his extraordinary journey, Ochendo embodied the triumph of determination and persistence. Despite his challenges, he excelled at the prestigious Christ the King College, Onitsha, and St Andrews, one of the top universities in Scotland and the United Kingdom. These institutions, renowned for their academic rigour, were the crucibles and forges that moulded and prepared  him for his significant roles. They shaped him into a vessel of wisdom and strength, capable of bearing the weight of his future responsibilities, which he carried with dignity and forte.

Upon his return from St Andrews, he embarked on a distinguished career that would define his legacy. He first entered the esteemed foreign service, a path not chosen for its lure but for the opportunity it provided to serve. Representing Nigeria in various capacities, he showcased his untiring dedication to service and exceptional skills in fostering international cooperation. His commitment to public service, a testament to his character and the foundation of his illustrious career, left a lasting impact on those he served, making them feel the depth of his dedication.

Transitioning from the diplomatic stage to the administrative helm later, Ochendo navigated the tumultuous seas of civil service like a skilled captain steering a ship through turbulent waters. With the compass of industry guiding his path and the anchor of duty grounding his resolve, he charted a course to the pinnacle of public service. He became one of the pioneering permanent secretaries of the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) following Abuja’s formal declaration as the capital of Nigeria by the Babangida administration on December 12, 1991. His tenure as permanent secretary would mark a new chapter and era in the history of Nigeria’s Capital City, profound evidence of the transformative impact of his public service.

His enduring leadership as the permanent secretary of FCT was a game changer. He played a pivotal and crucial role in shaping the nascent Capital’s development and governance, a role that continues to shape the city’s landscape today. He implemented some of the policies that would make Abuja attractive. People of a certain age will remember that Abuja was initially a hard sell, with many resisting the idea of relocating there. The transition to the new capital was met with scepticism and reluctance as individuals and institutions grappled with the challenges of uprooting from established bases, especially Lagos, and adapting to a fledgling city.

As permanent secretary, Ochendo did not disappoint. He laid the foundation for Nigeria’s new capital city, shaping its early development with vision and dedication. Unknown to many, permanent secretaries are the invisible drivers of government machinery, steering the intricate workings of public administration. They are the unseen engines that power the vast government machinery, ensuring every cog and wheel turns smoothly to drive progress and stability. They often do not receive the recognition they deserve. However, they are invaluable and fundamentally drive national development efforts by translating government policies into tangible outcomes.

In the wake of Ochendo’s passing, we must shift our focus from merely chronicling his life to extracting the invaluable lessons embedded within his legacy. His story is not just one of personal success but a profound testimony to the transformative power of humility and the enduring impact of selflessness. At its core, this life underscored the stark contrast between uncommon altruism and prevalent self-interest. In a world often overshadowed by self-interest and material pursuits, his life inspires hope, reminding us of the overwhelming fulfilment of serving others and prioritising the collective good over individual gain. His being was antithetical to Psalm 49:6, as he did not trust or boast of his wealth, which underscores that actual value and security do not lie in wealth or possessions. This virtue calls for a humble recognition that material gains are fleeting and cannot define worth or secure a legacy.

Accordingly, despite his immense success and influence, he remained grounded in humility, eschewing the trappings of ego and entitlement often accompanying positions of power. His humility was not a sign of weakness but rather a source of strength that enabled him to connect with people from all walks of life, fostering genuine empathy and understanding. In an era marked by divisiveness and polarisation, his self-effacement is a powerful antidote, reminding us of the common humanity that unites us and the importance of approaching life with humility, grace, and compassion.

Ochendo’s essence embodies the noble virtues of the Greek gods Sophrosyne and Prometheus, authenticating the power of humility and philanthropy. Like Sophrosyne, the personification of temperance and moderation, Ochendo epitomises a balanced and restrained approach to life, demonstrating remarkable willpower and moderation in all endeavours. His modesty shone through in his actions as he quietly worked to uplift others and positively impact society.

Like Prometheus, who took fire from the gods to benefit mortals, Ochendo selflessly devoted himself to charitable causes. His dedication to humanitarian endeavours and commitment to serving others reflected the essence of true philanthropy. His acts of kindness and generosity towards people mirrored the benevolent spirit of Prometheus, serving as a witness to the power of benevolence. Therefore, his life will always be a powerful reminder of the enduring value of humility and philanthropy in a world often consumed by self-interest and material pursuits. His example calls upon us to embrace these virtues, inspiring us to follow in his footsteps and make a difference in the lives of others.

As we honour Ochendo, a veritable prism of seeing Abuja’s exceptionalism is through his vision and dedication. His strategic planning and administrative frameworks, guided by his humility and service, have been instrumental in the city’s growth and functionality. Under his supervision, Abuja blossomed into a dynamic political, economic, and cultural hub. It now embodies the aspirations and potentials of Nigeria as a whole, transforming from a hatchling city into a vibrant melting pot where the realisation of the Nigerian dream is most probable.

Therefore, his legacy of untiring service stands as a potent wake-up call, particularly for public officers entrusted with the stewardship of Nigeria’s future. His exemplary dedication to the welfare of others serves as a guiding light in a society often marred by inefficiency and neglect. As custodians of communal trust, public officers must heed this call to action, embracing best practices that prioritise the well-being of Nigerians above all else. By emulating Ochendo’s ethos of selfless service and embracing a culture of accountability and transparency, they can play a fundamental role in alleviating the plight of the suffering multitude and steering Nigeria towards a brighter, more equitable future.

 Onukwuli PhD

writes from Bolton, UK.


Related Articles