“Train up a child in the way he should grow and when he is old, he will not depart from it’, so says the popular Bible scripture. For the family of Senator Theodore Ahamefula Orji, this scripture rings true. Over the years, his nature and passion for giving have been passed down to his children, who have picked the gauntlet and are running with it.
This much was evident at the recently held Senator T.A. Orji Annual Scholarship Awards, which incidentally was its sixth edition. His son Ugonna Orji, who was visibly present, as well as his other siblings-
Speaker Abia State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Chinedum Orji, Mr. Chiemeka Orji, Mr. Chika Orji, and Mrs. Nneoma Ararume (Nee Orji), had made sure the scheme did not die, rather it increased exponentially.
Over 600 students have so far benefitted from the scheme, which has been running over the past six years with the number of beneficiaries increasing annually.
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Sixth Edition Scholarship
At the International Conference Centre in Umuahia, venue of the scholarship bequeathing, guests and beneficiaries thronged the massive hall. Coincidentally, the centre was built by Senator Orji when he was the governor of the state.
According to the federal lawmaker, the sustenance and expansion of his annual scholarship programme was aimed at building capacity of youths to prepare them as future leaders.
At the event , 241 students from Abia Central studying in various universities across the country were given scholarships worth N24.1 million and according to the former Abia governor, it was not enough to keep saying that youths are leaders of tomorrow without giving them quality education to prepare them for the future leadership role.
“We have to encourage those growing up by giving them good education. I want them to be responsible people in the society by graduating in various professional fields, including Medicine, Engineering, Law, among others. This is a legacy I want to leave behind,” he said.
The two term senator, who was accompanied by his wife, Mrs. Mercy Odochi Orji, urged the beneficiaries “to make us proud by coming out in flying colours” thereby carving out enviable identity as products of Ochendo scholarship scheme. Orji also thanked his wife and children for rallying round him through their individual supports to ensure that annual scholarship scheme sees light of the day
In his remarks, the state Governor Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, commended his predecessor for the “great sacrifices” he has been making to give Abia youths bright future by sustaining his scholarship programme.
The governor, who was represented by his Deputy, Sir Ude Oko Chukwu, noted that the most striking aspect of the scholarship scheme is that no political motive is attached to it. This is because Senator Orji has already stated unequivocally that he would not be contesting for any elective position after completing his second term in the red chamber in 2023.
He urged the students to reciprocate the gesture of their senator by being serious with their studies by shunning anti-social behaviours like drug abusive, “so that you don’t destroy yourself and destroy the society.”
Earlier in his address the Chairman of the occasion, Professor Uche Ikonne, described the former Abia governor as a lover of people which is the reason he has been engaged in doing things that give happiness to the people.
He said that Senator Orji has “already planted a culture of giving in his family and it is generational”, adding that the former governor has recognised education as the biggest legacy one can give hence his involvement in scholarships.
Ikonne, who is the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the Abia State University Uturu (ABSU), urged the recipients of the scholarship to recognise the fact that Senator Orji “is building your future” and maximise the opportunity.
Also, to thrill the teeming guests, Kcee the Limpopo crooner mounted the stage while singing his popular songs. He soon veered to his recent releases on cultural praise, which got the hall dancing. However, it was Veteran Nollywood actor, Chinwetalu Agu, that got the hall into a frenzy. He sent the crowd cracking with his popular slogans, eliciting a thunderous ovation. Afterwards, the beneficiaries were awarded their respective grants.
Although 240 beneficiaries were picked initially, at the end of the day, 241 persons benefitted. THISDAY checks revealed that the extra person that was added was a widow who had come with her daughter with hopes even though they did not make the list. Her hope paid off as her daughter joined others to receive the educational grant.
The breakdown of the beneficiaries were 141 males and 100 females. While 91 students were from Abia State University, 48 were from Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, 28 from Abia State Polytechnic, 11 from Imo State University, 13 from Ebonyi State University, seven from University of Nigeria, Nsukka; 14 from Federal University of Technology, Owerri; eight from University of Lagos, two from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, five from University of Abuja and 12 from Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ebonyi.
In an interview with THISDAY, Amarachi Grace Nwankwo, a 300-Level Computer Science student of Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike (MOUAU), was overjoyed. In addition to the scholarship award, she also won a brand new laptop for being the first applicant to register online for the sixth edition of the scholarship.
Sharing her journey she said: “It has not been easy for me at school. My mother has been managing to train me. This scholarship will help me a lot. The laptop they gave me is a big surprise. I shed tears on the stage. I never expected to win a laptop.
“After I was invited to the office of the Ochendo Scholarship programme at Ogurube Layout, Umuahia, I thought it was a scam. I didn’t even know the location of Ogurube Layout in the capital city. In fact, my sister even asked me not to go fearing I might fall into the hands of scammers, but a friend encouraged me to go and give it a try since I had already applied. On getting to the scholarship office, I saw other students who came for the interview and it was then that my doubts and fears disappeared.”
Inclusivity for Special Needs Students
Another highpoint about the selection of beneficiaries was that this year, three special needs students were added.
Speaking to THISDAY, Chioma Precious Ekoro, a 400-Level, Guidance and Counselling, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, who is visually impaired said: “I got to know about the scholarship programme through a friend who was a beneficiary. Although I’m already in the final year of my university programme, the scholarship award will help me a lot. I have some debts to settle which I incurred along the way and I still have a semester to run before I graduate.
“Things have not been easy for me all along. Apart from financial problems we also face problem of discrimination among fellow students because of our condition. Ochendo has made us proud. The money will help us a lot. We are really happy.”
Another special needs student, Joy Ogbonna, a 200-Level, Psychology student of UNN said: “I heard about the scholarship on radio. I believed it was for real, that was why I applied and luckily for me I came out among the successful applicants.
“As visually impaired persons, we spend more than other students. Apart from buying books, we buy other materials and gadgets that we need in our studies. This scholarship money will help me a lot to take care of the things I need. God has been faithful to me all these years. This scholarship is one of such ways God has been helping me.”
For Ukiro Chizaram, a 300-level student studying Special Education, her sojourn to further her education against all odds and selection for the scholarship have just been by the grace of God.
She said: “I applied for it. It’s just by God’s grace I got it.” On how she has been coping financially before she got the scholarship, she said, “It has been so difficult for me. But all is just on God and the help of other people.”
For the orphan, she has been coping with the help of other people, which explained her joy over the scholarship. “This scholarship will go a long for me more, especially the writing of my project and other things.
“I am studying Special Education and what I have in mind is teaching. When I am done with school, I will go into teaching. I hope to pass my knowledge to the world and in any inclusive school.”
On how her journey into the special needs world started she said: “When I was growing up, I noticed I had short sightedness. All of a sudden when I woke up from sleep, I found out that I couldn’t see again. I was 14 years old at that time. So from then till now, I have been managing It.”
Passion to Empower
Afterwards in an exclusive interview with THISDAY, the senator divulged what gave birth to this initiative, which is in its sixth year. He said: “It is my passion to impact people, especially the youth, that brought about the scholarship scheme. I’ve grown to know that innovation is the best empowerment you can give to any person. If I wasn’t empowered educationally I don’t think I’d reach this height now in this world. Therefore, I want people, especially youth, to ascend to the apex of their ambition.
“And the easiest and surest way for them to do it is through education. That’s why I embarked on this project so we can help to uplift those who don’t have the resources to train themselves or to be trained to become something in life. When somebody is trained or educated, he is disciplined and he knows how to handle affairs in the world, in his family, and everywhere. From history, you also know that education is the greatest empowerment you can give to any human being. That’s why I like it and I’m doing it.”
On how he intends to sustain the venture he noted that “I said it before that even when I retire – I’ll retire in 2023 – my children are already taking up the legacy. They will sustain it for me. I have children who are also passionate about what I’m doing. This last one that we did now which I know what it costs us, all my children were involved. The speaker was involved. My daughter, who is not here, was involved. Chinedum, Ugonna, Chiemeka and Chika, then Nneoma and my wife were part of it. They all contributed and then my friends and relatives put in to make sure this became a success. And today you see it was a very big success and we hope that next year will be better. As the year is progressing it will be better. That’s what I believe.”
Given that he has vowed to step down from active politics in 2023, one would wonder why he is still carrying on with the scholarship scheme despite not having any future political ambition.
On this he said: “That’s my passion to continue touching lives. 2023, I’ve said I’ll make way for the younger generation to ascend. I can’t be a senator for life. So I’ll make way now so somebody else will fit into my shoes and represent Abia Central. I’ll support the person very well. Life is like a stage; when you come, you play your part and go, then another person will come and play. You can’t be a permanent actor or else people will get tired of you. I decided long ago that by 2023 I’ll retire from active politics.”
Tackling Drug Abuse in the East
One of the menace bedeviling the South-east is drug abuse. Speaking on this, the senator said the (National Drug Law and Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) boss, Buba Marwa must be encouraged so that drugs won’t flow into Nigeria.
” It’s difficult to stop it outright but you’ll make sure it doesn’t come in. If it comes in, it’ll be very minimal. When the drugs don’t come in, our youth won’t see drugs to take. But we advise these boys and girls on scholarship, they won’t involve themselves in that kind of thing and start behaving like lunatics. Who would like to be a mad man? Nobody. You’ve gone to the university to face education. Get the education first, get the certificate even if you don’t get job immediately, the job will come one day. You don’t go there and start involving yourself in other drugs that’ll be injurious and harmful to your health. You may take it and not notice the effects, but the after effects is what you’ll suffer.
“So I follow in advising these children, these young ones to try to avoid anything drug, cult. Let them be on their own. You can do that in the university without anything happening to you. Some of these people taking drugs are people who are perpetual students. They don’t pass exams. Every year they repeat because they’re involved in drugs and cultism. So, every reasonable person, I believe those I gave scholarships today and those I’ve given are reasonable people because I’ve not heard any of them get involved in this kind of thing. And they’ll keep it up.”
One beautiful thing about the scholarship is that brilliant beneficiaries get a second chance to apply for another grant. Confirming this, the senator said those that have been given scholarships already that are bright ones, have unfettered access to apply again once they are qualified.
“Of course, it’s open for name at any time. Once you’re qualified, we give you once you meet the criteria for our scholarship. We have set down rules. Once you follow the rules and get it, we’ll give you. So we don’t discriminate. We don’t say you’ve gotten before. It’s for every person, every year. So if you’ve gotten this year and the money isn’t enough for you, apply next year. If you qualify, we will give you,” he added.
Going down memory lane, Chief Liaison Officer to Senator Orji, Ifeanyi Umere, said: “We started in 2015 with 60 students per year, 10 per local government. The next year was 100 and on the sixth edition we made it 241- unprecedented. It’s amazing. It’s a character of the senator- that’s what he represents. He said he was challenged when he was a kid going to school and he vowed that if God blesses him, he will devote his resources to support education.”
Giving further insight to the selection guideline, he said:
“Simple, you must be a constituent of Abia Central Senatorial District and its local government areas and you must be an undergraduate of the university. You must not know anybody who knows anybody who knows anybody. You just apply on the website and we look at your performance and results. We have brilliant and indigent students, so we combine them.
“It is not about Abia school. As far as you’re from Abia Central, you can be in University of Maiduguri or Damaturu, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you must be an Abia constituent and you must apply for the process. It is transparent. We must verify that you’re from Abia Central by your LGA and then check your origin and that’s it.
On post evaluation, he said they follow up on past recipients. “At this programme, we saw those former recipients coming to appreciate the senator. We have a record so we follow them. We follow them up.”
In his vote of thanks, Chairman, Selection Committee, Chief Emma Nwabuko commended the senator, adding that what he has done was to give the beneficiaries a life line.
He said: “He has shown you how to fish. We thank him for this goodwill. This runs in the family so we are not surprised at what he has done. This investment is one of the best because he invested in the future. Look at the crowd, it because of the goodwill everybody in the family has.
“241 beneficiaries are not a joke. People are smiling home because those who would have ordinarily fallen by the way side will now have means to continue with their education. God will bless you and Osinulo (the senator’s wife) and your family for this gesture.”
Also commending the senator for the laudable gesture, the Coalition of South East Youth Leaders (COSEYL), the umbrella body of all the youth groups in the South-east geopolitical zone, said the scholarship scheme is a clear testament to the fact that the senator is a man of many parts who loves his people so dearly.
In a statement signed by its President General, Hon. Goodluck Egwu Ibem, they said: “Education is the best gift a father can bequeath his children. It is the key to a successful future and generational advancement and development of any nation. Ochendo Global has developed an academic set-up that will make our society a better place.
“We have seen how so many people who were elected by the electorate to serve them failed woefully on the mandate given to them by the people. But Distinguished Senator T. A. Orji has proved beyond every reasonable doubt that political office is about sacrifice and service to the people who elected them into office.
“So many political office holders who initiated good programmes like what Ochendo Global has done find it difficult to sustain the programme for a reasonable period of time. Ochendo Global when he was elected the a Senator to represent Abia Central Senatorial zone initiated the scholarship scheme, empowerment programmes and other people-oriented programmes without reneging still date.
“Senator Theodore Ahamefula Orji is indeed an institution who other political leaders and future inspiring leaders should emulate and learn from. What Ochendo is doing in Igboland is what Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Michael Okpara did so many years ago for the people. Senator T. A. Orji has shown that he believes in the vision and mission of our founding fathers.
“History will indeed remember Senator T. A. Orji as a man who did so much to advance the course of his people. He is a man who came saw and conquered.
“Senator T. A. Orji is directly fighting the surge of drugs abuse mainly mkpuru mmiri (illicit drugs) among our youths by sending and encouraging our youths to go school and study in order to become better persons and great leaders of tomorrow.
“A society without educated youths have no future leaders. The youths can only be leaders of tomorrow if they are educated. Ochendo Global has performed beyond human expectations in building the future leaders of tomorrow.
“Senator Orji said that he will retire from active politics in 2023 and instead of reducing the number of his scholarship beneficiaries as most politicians would have done, he increased the number of students to a total number of 240 students for the scholarship scheme. Ochendo has shown that he is a selfless leader.
“We urge other people who are in political office to emulate this great man who has done so much to better the lives of our youths, men and women in our society.”
Charles Ajunwa, Chiemelie Ezeobi and Emmanuel Ugwu-Nwogo