I will quit politics in 2023 —Ex-Abia governor, Senator Theodore Orji

Senator Theodore Ahamefula Orji is representing Abia Central Senatorial District at the National Assembly. In this interview by NANNA NWOGU in Umuahia, the former governor of Abia State speaks on some issues after the state and the country as well as his plans for the future after active politics.

There are predictions about fuel scarcity this year because of the activities of herdsmen, killing of farmers and destruction of farmlands. There is a bill on food security, which you sponsored, and which has been passed by the National Assembly but nothing has been heard about it. What is the situation now?

It has not been signed into law. Bills have many stages. After passing through the Senate procedures, it has to go to the president for assent after the Senate and the House of Representatives have concurred on it. The bill has passed that stage and is now awaiting assent.

 

Given the likelihood of food scarcity this year, what would be your advice for the president?

You don’t force the president to sign bills but we believe that he will sign it because it is a good bill. There are many bills on his table and he takes time to review them before putting his signature.

 

We live in a time when most politicians are affected by what has become known as the sit-tight syndrome. But recently, you said publicly that in 2023, you would not be bidding to return to the Senate. Do you still maintain that stance?

Of course, I don’t speak from both sides of my mouth. When I say something, I try to keep to my word. I said that by 2023, I would quit politics, elective positions and I will do that. I pray that all of us will be alive to see it. I feel it is the right thing to do. You don’t dominate a place forever. You stay there; you don’t want to quit; you don’t want to make room for the younger ones. There is a bill that we passed in the in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, the not-too-young-to-run bill. How do we implement it? It is through things like what I have done. I have stayed two tenures. I stayed the first four years in the Senate and I am making the second one now: eight years. That is okay for me. I will step aside and then the young ones will have a chance as my movement will create a space, the vacancy, in Abia Central Senatorial District for somebody to aspire to be senator. If I decide to remain there, no person will come and I will continue to be there. This world is a stage: you play your part, move on and another person will come. That is how it should be. I decided this; no person prompted me. It is my decision that in 2023, I will leave elective position but I will be a kingmaker. I will stay here, mentor people, advise them and show them the way. That is my policy.

 

If Abia Central insisted on you as their representative, what would you do?

I would plead with them to leave me alone, state the reason and I know that they will appreciate it. Many of them have been coming to say, ‘You said you are leaving politics. You are not going anywhere; you are staying’. I have been pleading with them, spreading the news so that they will see my reasons not because they don’t love me, but because they love me very well. As governor, they voted for me for the first four years and voted for me for the second four years. Which other way would they show that they love me? They have shown that they appreciate me. I will take it cool and explain to them. Those people who are urging me to remain there are the people I am creating a chance for; those who are interested in politics.

 

You initiated a bill on NCDC even before the outbreak of COVID-19. Have the letters of the bill been reviewed?

That bill is one of the best that we have today. It is an inspirational bill. This is because it came to me and no person prompted me. When NCDC started, it had no legal backing that would warrant it to compare favourably with similar organisations in other places. This is because it was not backed by law. They are working and the best thing is to give them that legal backing so that they can speak authoritatively, interact and go for funding that will help us. We foresaw what was coming and the president didn’t waste time in signing it into law. Today, you can see the advantages of that bill. NCDC has been established and it has done very well. Now the organisation has a solid condition of service. It is now a structured organisation. NCDC can now seek help from international donor agencies and those who will help the organisation will know that the organisation is backed by law and help us. So, I am happy about that bill that I sponsored.

 

Although you are not from Abia South Senatorial District, you took the Abia Polytechnic Bill to the National Assembly. The bill is now with the president for signing into law. What are your expectations from the president on the bill?

The bill is a very important one and that was why I sponsored it. It is a polytechnic whose structures are all on ground. We are only calling on the Federal Government to come and take over the running of the polytechnic in terms of paying salaries and other things. It is less expensive for the Federal Government than building a new polytechnic and it is the hope of all Abians that the Federal Government takes over the polytechnic. In the first instance, we don’t have any federal polytechnic in Abia State and there is a federal policy that each state must have a federal polytechnic, a federal college of education and a federal university. We have a federal university in Umudike. We don’t have any federal polytechnic or federal college of education. The one in Arochukwu is local. So, that was what prompted us to sponsor this bill, hoping that it would sail through without much problem. But, you see, this is Nigeria. Every person started sponsoring bills, wanting a university, polytechnic and other institutions. So, it became too much. Again, the Federal Government has to look at the cost of all these bills. When you sign a bill into law, you take responsibility. However, our own has gone through all the rigours that you have in the Senate and in the House of Representatives and they have concurred because of how important that bill is. It has gone to the presidency and that is where it is right now. People have been talking but the president has been signing such bills in batches. So, we believe and hope that the batch that will contain ours will get to the president and he will sign it before he leaves office.

 

Recently, one of your kinsmen, B. B. Apugo, alleged in the media that you were a corrupt person. Why haven’t you reacted to the allegation?

I don’t respond to people with low intellect and literacy. The man you just mentioned is an illiterate. I say it everywhere I go and he knows that very well. I challenge him to show us his primary and secondary school certificates and his university certificate. When he shows the certificates, we will go and verify if they are authentic. I don’t waste my time talking to such people. He is shouting corruption. If you are being investigated, does it mean you are corrupt? He is even the person who has a case with the EFCC in Umuahia High Court for land grabbing. The EFCC went to his house and arrested him and took him to Enugu. Have I been arrested before? The EFCC is doing their normal job: investigation. When they investigate you and they find that there is something, they take you to court. He is already in court. He frustrated the building of the Central Bank of Nigeria, claiming that it was his land and that was when I was governor. I wanted the CBN built here and I went to his house and he brought out documents from everywhere. I paid him up to N500 million. That was when he withdrew his thugs. The thing is that the man thinks that no person can challenge him. We are challenging that bad aspect of his life: land grabbing. That is the sin that brought him before the EFCC. I am his nightmare and I will remain so. I am in court with him on the media interview he granted on this same issue. I don’t know what is wrong with him. Let him tell me how many people he has given scholarships or uplifted in Ibekuland.

 

You are called the father of equity for being instrumental in the power shift to Abia South. What is your take on the power shift in the state as 2023 approaches?

Since this debate started, I have not said anything but that does not mean that I don’t have something to say. I have kept calm so that it will be less controversial. In other states, the issue of power shift is controversial.

 

How did you get the Federal Government to make the recent pronouncement on Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene Road?

I am not the only person that played the role and it was to make the Federal Government aware of the bad state of the federal road. I will not claim that I did this and did that. Other people might have played different roles in bringing it to the consciousness of every person that we have a very horrible road. Even Ekpenyon, the former deputy governor of Akwa Ibom, said something about that road on the floor of the Senate. The role I played is to bring the situation to the consciousness of the Federal Government.

 

You established some primary health centres in your district and said you had plans for more. What is happening to the ones already established?

These are my constituency projects and I have one at Ukome, another at Umuariaga Ikwuano and others, but those ones are outstanding. We have others. You can never be satisfied with primary healthcare, neither will you be satisfied with schools, but you have to add to the ones that you have so that it will be robust. As a senator, these are my constituency projects which I attracted to Abia State. It will not be left like that. After building, it will be equipped and handed over to the state government to bring in staff that will manage the place It will work, but the important thing is to have the structure on the ground so that you will remember it every time, even if you don’t have immediate staff, once the structure is there, people will talk and the state government will be forced to use that facility. There are others. There is this eye centre that we have that is doing a lot of work. Those who have eye problems have gone there and we have been able to give sight to those who lost their sights. They are seeing today. The latest is this woman from Ossah (Umuahia North Local Government Area). She wasn’t seeing at all. The doctor examined her and saw that it was redeemable. They did laser surgery on her and she started seeing. This is real and she is there.

 

You have been, at various times, rated high at the National Assembly on the number of bills you sponsored and motions you moved. How do you feel about the feedback?

People have seen it, are seeing it and writing about it everywhere. This is factual and not propaganda. I am doing these things with passion. My constituency projects are there for anyone who wants to see them and I am happy about it. I don’t go about blowing my trumpet. I did this, I did that. It is not easy to raise a bill in the Senate. I have been doing that since I got there. I have been doing that consistently: bills and motions.

 

Recently, you were nominated as the best senator of the year via an online poll. That should make an impact on you.

It is the same thing. I am excited and happy. I didn’t ask anybody to do that. The online medium, on its own, conducted an investigation and saw that the facts were there. The online medium did a very diligent job which every person applauded. That is how it should be. So, I am happy about it.

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