By Dapo Akinrefon
Governor Theodore Orji is in the second term of his stewardship of Abia
In the second half of his stewardship, Orji has generally been acclaimed to be working hard to cover up for the lethargy and crises that characterised the governance of the state in the first term before he championed the liberation struggle that disentangled the governance of the state from the hands of the hitherto prevailing political cabal.
In this interview in Umuahia he speaks of his aspirations, the challenges he has been faced with and the legacies he is expecting to bequeath to the state. Excerpts:
Looking back at what has transpired since you became governor, at what point did you decide it was time to part with your immediate predecessor?
There is only one thing that is permanent in life and that is change. When your interest goes contrary to the interest of the people, when what you want is not what the people are looking for, when you want to make the people to cry instead of making them to laugh, then there must be a time when the change will come.
For me, I did not have any problem with my predecessor or with anybody in the state. I was elected to supervise the transformation of the state and not to serve any individual or group of individuals.
The electorate invAbia Stateare greater than individuals or group and I decided to take sides with the majority who elected me to serve them. You see, I never had any problem with him, the problem was what the stakeholders of Abia State who felt alienated from their state, who felt that they have been driven away from their state, and also the people who felt that their needs were not being attended to, who felt that nobody was listening to them.
So they began to call for a change, they came here and began to voice their displeasure at what had happened and the need to change the way things were being done.
The real owners of the state stood up and said enough was enough and I had to listen to them. It was not me that shouted for liberation. It was the real owners of the state that insisted that the only thing that would pacify them is to be liberated from those who have been denying them the dividends of democracy. They said they wanted to part ways with those who did not want them to have a say in the way their state was being administered.
So I had to go with them, I never had any problem with anybody and up till today I still don’t have any problem with anybody. I challenge my predecessor to mention one single offence of mine to him when he decided to rubbish my image.
I am the governor ofAbiaStateand the state has 17 Local Government Areas and my business is to make sure that everybody is happy and that is exactly what we are doing here.
After restoring peace in the state following the embarrassing period of kidnapping, would you describe that period as the darkest period of your political career?
No, I saw it as a challenge because the people were concerned. That is why when I go to Aba and I hear some of the talks going on there, I just say to myself, where was this ‘Enyimba, Enyi’ when kidnappers were ravaging the area. Most of those who are making noise now all ran away, they abandoned their houses and ran toAbujaandLagos. But we were resolute in our determination to end the reign of terror and that was what we did in conjunction with the federal government.
This is why the people are very much at home with me because they saw that I did not abandon them when it mattered most. I remained and together we fashioned the best solution to the problem and today there is peace in Abia. There is not only social peace but there is also political peace.
You see that all the stakeholders are always around and have been giving their advice on how to make the state better. The state does not belong to one individual, it belongs to all of us and this is what they have been yearning for a long time and when they could not achieve it when they were not allowed to make their input in the governance of their state, they started talking of liberation, this is what happened here.
Yes, we have restored
peace, it was a situation that made Abia a pariah state. People were running away and leaving their houses and property, nobody wanted to have anything to do with the state and those that remained behind were always living in fear.
But today, it has become a thing of the past, businesses are springing up everywhere especially in Aba, don’t mind what you are hearing from some few people, the real people living in Aba are very happy because they know what happened and what we did and they know that life is better now than what it was before and this is what gives me joy.
We are still investing heavily in security because we understand the meaning of insecurity, we have been there before and we know what it did to us.
So we are not going to allow such a thing to happen here again, and that is why we are always on top of the situation. We have purchased several vehicles for the security agencies and we are working with them to maintain peace.
That is why all the awards we have received have all been tied to what we have been able to achieve in the state. We are not making noise about all these things because they are the things we must do for our people.
Abia people are very loving and hospitable and hardworking, all they need is the opportunity to present them the conducive environment and also carry them along and that is the kind of leadership we have provided and they are happy.
What would you describe as your greatest achievement?
Returning peace to the entireAbiaState, giving the people a say in the government that they elected me to be their servant, seeing that all the stakeholders inAbiaStatecan now come together and speak with one voice on what concerns the state.
These are monumental achievements that will remain indelible and which would constantly be referred to in a long time. As I told you before, the stakeholders were all scattered everywhere because they were alienated by the government in their state, they were never allowed to speak and the state was alienated from what was happening at the centre, the state was losing what others were gaining.
This situation gave rise for the liberation struggle, if you go and ask them, they will tell you. They are all there and still alive, go and ask them, they demanded for the liberation of the state and I was the arrowed head because I was the one they elected to champion the struggle.
Also everywhere you go in the state, there is peace, you can walk the streets at anytime of the day and night and feel secured. You can now sleep with your two eyes closed, your business can thrive because there is no longer molestation. So these are monumental achievements. You have also seen the legacy projects we are doing, the New Government House.
Where we are sitting now
to hold this interview is the guest house of Emeka Omeruah, it was not built by the government. This has remained so since Abia was created in 1991.
If you go to other states, you see the Government Houses and the Governor’s Lodges, but here almost 22 years after creation, we are still in a rented apartment. The stakeholders also lamented about this and we now agreed that it was time to take this reproach away.
If you go to other states, you see International Conference Centres, but here the Michael Okpara auditorium is the only place where all government functions are held and it is not enough to contain a good number of people, not to talk of the state of the infrastructure.
So the new conference centre which will have a capacity for 3000 persons will give the state a good standing to host conferences and other international events. These are legacy projects that touch my heart and which I intend to complete before my tenure ends. These are projects that I would like to be remembered for after I have left office.
Are you worried that these criticisms have continued to trail your administration in spite of all these efforts?
As I told you earlier, these criticisms do not bother me as long as I am doing what my people want. They are the ones that elected me as their governor and they have continued to express their confidence in me.
So long as what I am doing is what the people want, I can not be distracted. I have a mission here and that mission is to transform the state. That is the uppermost thing on my mind, that is what I think about everyday. If the criticisms are right, I will look at it and see how I can reflect on it to better the lives of the people, but if it is a destructive one, I simply gloss over it and move on.
What we have achieved so far is in line with the desires of the people that gave me the mandate. That is why I always refer to the stakeholders because these are people who understand what is on the ground. They come to suggest this and that and I know that they are speaking for their people because every stakeholder must have people who also speak to them in their communities.
So when they suggest it, we try to see how we can do it because it is what my people want. So let them talk and let us continue to do what we have been elected to do and make the people happy, let all the stakeholders continue to work together and let Abia continue to experience peace. That is all that matters.
Is your determination to transform Aba not one of those political speeches?
No, not at all. We have never joked withAba. Everything we promised to do inAbawe have started some, completed some and will continue on the others.Abais very important to the success of the state, just like other places here. We just commissioned the Okagwe/Ohafia road.
You need to visit that road to see what we have done and how happy the people are. The road had remained impassable for years, but today the people are happy that it has been completed. We have completed the Nunya/Isuikwuato road, that is the road most commuters go through toEnugu.
So as we are working inAba, we will also be working in other parts of the state. Since you came into Umuahia, you may have noticed that there is a change in the area because the electricity supply is steady. What we are enjoying in this office now is electricity from the national grid not generator. We evacuated power from the Ohiya sub station and power is now steady in the state and artisans are now working everyday and making brisk business.
Abacannot be left out. Before Christmas you will see what we are going to do inAbawith the 16 roads that have already been awarded. The contractors will soon move to site and the area will witness a change.
Abais very dear to my administration because of the neglect the place has suffered in the hands of previous administrations, even though some of them
You must have noticed that we have fought refuse to a stand still with the many compactors and roll-on roll-off trucks we purchased and sent to the area.
It is no longer the dirty commercial city it was known for before we came on board. So we are working inAbaand by the time my administration will be signing off in 2015,Abawill have a lot to remember my government.
What will you want them to remember you for?
They will remember me as one governor who did not play politics with their well-being.
They will remember that I was one governor who promised to transform the infrastructure of the area and kept to my promise, that I was one governor who put a stop to the incessant flooding in the area by opening up the gutters so that water can flow freely into the Aba River, that I was the governor who ensured that refuse did not overtake the city again, but used everything at my disposal to keep the city clean, that I was the governor who ensured that insecurity which was the hallmark of the city was resisted and made the people to sleep with their two eyes closed.
So there will be a lot thatAbapeople will remember me for.
They will remember that I was the governor who never collected any shop from them to give to my family members and deprive the genuine traders from having their own and that I was the governor who never borrowed a dime from any stock market to put all these things on ground, but worked out the transformation by cutting my coat according to my cloth.
These are facts on the ground and they are incontrovertible, they are empirical.