Ex-Gov. TA Orji: Model Democrat and Political Leader
By John Okiyi Kalu
Early in 2014, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, who was then the Deputy General Manager of Abia State Environmental Protection Agency (ASEPA), was busy keeping Aba clean when a group of Aba Landlords met with then Governor T. A. Orji to consult with him on the choice of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP’s Governorship candidate for the 2015 election which was zoned to Abia South Senatorial District.
The landlords, along with elders of Aba City, told the governor that he needed to consider the DGM who introduced innovative measures to clean up Aba without much noise.
They assured him that, if he selected Dr. Ikpeazu, he would be able to fix Aba, which was finding it difficult to recover from the devastating effects of Osisikankwu’s deadly activities that not only ensured businesses shut down in numbers but also that businessmen fled from Aba in droves and frustrated contractors and others who were working on different projects in the city leaving it for dead.
They told Gov. Orji, popularly known as Ochendo Global, that Ikpeazu was humble, had good family background and was a hardworking core Aba boy who would make him proud.
Pronto, Ochendo summoned the DGM, who was then preparing to lead the campaign of his kinsman and political associate who was among the few much more experienced politicians angling to occupy Government House using the umbrella ticket.
Among them were Dr. Uche Ogah and Dr. Alex Otti, both from Old Bende axis of the state, who were publicly known to be close to Ochendo and seen by many as frontline aspirants from that axis.
Others were H.E. Acho Nwakanma and Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, among others, from the Old Aba division of the state who were equally touted as possible successors to Ochendo, along with Rt. Hon. Uzor Azubuike seen then as Ochendo’s man in Abuja.
After a brief meeting with Ochendo, who sought to know more about him, the anxious Ikpeazu, who didnt know why he was summoned, highly impressed Ochendo with his educational history, politics, family and work background, yet, Ochendo did not show his hand.
He chose to allow greater consultations with all the major stakeholders across the state. Indeed, Ikpeazu left the meeting without any clue on why he was summoned even as Ochendo continued his quiet investigations. He needed to find a successor that would succeed indeed.
In due course, a group of Ukwa/Ngwa political leaders led by the highly respected Chief Emmanuel Adaelu brought Dr Ikpeazu again to Government House, Umuahia in what was termed then as “one million-man match” to present him to Ochendo as their consensus choice for the PDP governorship candidacy for the 2015 general election.
The rest is history as Dr Okezie Ikpeazu went ahead to win the 2015 governorship election in Abia State and was subsequently re-elected in 2019 after beating Dr Uche Ogah and Dr Alex Otti by landslide margins.
Ochendo himself won election as Senator representing Abia Central Senatorial District in 2015 and again in 2019 having emerged unopposed at the PDP primaries of 2014 and 2018 respectively.
Indeed, Ochendo was possibly the only PDP Governor in 2015 to have won senatorial seat and at the same time worked so hard to ensure that his preferred candidate emerged Governor.
Shortly after the swearing in of Ikpeazu in 2015, many political pundits within and outside the state who were familiar with the unsavoury relationship between Governors and their Deputies in the political history of the State predicted that Ikpeazu would fall out with his predecessor within 6 months of assuming office.
When they waited and that didn’t happen one year after, they decided to sponsor all kinds of propaganda and divisive lies to ensure that the state was enmeshed in needless political wars even while they were also busy creating legal and other political distractions for the new Governor and his government.
In fact, one of them later admitted to writing petitions to Federal Ministry of Finance and the National Assembly to stop Governor Ikpeazu from obtaining needed financial support from the World Bank to accelerate his Aba urban renewal programme.
When that didn’t work, they started writing petitions against the Governor and his predecessor to sundry agencies in order to create as much distractions and division as possible for him and other stakeholders in order to put the State’s progress in reverse gear.
Throughout these plots and counter-plots, Dr Ikpeazu refused to bulge but instead told newsmen during an interview in 2016 that he was inaugurated in 2015 to ensure better life for the people and not to fight his predecessor or anyone.
Indeed, he told his close aides that he intended to ensure he was the first ever Governor of the state who didn’t fall out with his predecessor or his Deputy, and insisted on respect for all former Governors of the state. He went ahead to keep a good relationship with his Deputy, an act that is today the envy of all in Nigeria to date.
On his part, Ochendo refused to interfere with his successor’s activities as Governor and also refused to nominate cabinet officials even while under immense pressure from his kinsmen and political associates to do so.
Those who met with him to ask for introduction notes to the Governor later recounted that he told them to go and meet the incumbent as he was busy with his work as a Senator and could not be both Senator and Governor at the same time.
He reminded them of what he went though in the hands of his predecessor and vowed not to cause his successor to experience same.
In fact, Ochendo was to be later recognized in 2020 by the National Assembly as the highest performing former governor in the National Assembly with the most bills including that of the NCDC which is among the foremost institutions fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.
Aside from periodic attendance of political meetings in the state, Ochendo is hardly seen around the Government House in Umuahia since he left office.
After such political meetings, he usually retires to his private home to meet with his constituents and conduct other businesses related to his current position as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigerian.
In many published interviews and public appearances, Ochendo has expressed solidarity and pride in the fact that his successor is performing very well in office.
“Every father desires to have his child do better than him and I am happy that Governor Ikpeazu who is my political son and successor is doing better than me in infrastructure renewal and promotion of small and medium scale enterprises in the state”, he told journalists in Umuahia recently.
The above speaks to the fact that a man who is able to support a successor that excels has excelled, too, because one has to possess great leadership acumen in order to inspire excellence.
It is also important to note that every administration is unique in its own way and that no two administrations anywhere in the world can ever be the same.
On his own part, Governor Ikpeazu who has never hidden his love and gratitude to the Ochendo family for supporting him during the 2015 and 2019 elections said recently that while he owed gratitude to God for the modest achievements recorded on his watch, he would forever remain grateful to his predecessor for giving him space and peace to navigate through the murky waters of statecraft in the past 6 years without any form of interference.
It must be noted that the good relationship between Ochendo and his successor has worked to positively change the Abia development narrative and ensure that the state is rated as the most peaceful in Nigeria.
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Only those who are still bitter against Ochendo for not agreeing to “sell” the PDP Governorship ticket to them in 2014 are not happy with the prevailing peace and development in the state.