Despite overachieving in education during his tenure as Governor, Senator Theodore Orji continues to boost the fortunes of Abia students, writes Solomon Elusoji

When Theodore Orji was Governor of Abia State, the state consistently excelled in the West African Examination Council (WAEC) examinations. At a point, its students were only second to Anambra State in the entire Nigeria. This was a reflection of the emphasis placed on quality instruction and infrastructure during Orji’s tenure.

So when he left power in 2015 and was subsequently elected to the Senate by his people, Orji was quick to note that there was a plethora of intelligent students, not just within his constituency, but across Abia. But most of these students struggled with the financial demands of modern educational institutions; they had the brains, the desire, the energy to pursue knowledge, but their pockets – and those of their parents and/or financiers – did not match their ambitions. Amarachi Duroha, a student of Microbiology at the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike (MOUAU) was one of such students. Because of delayed payment of school fees, she has been deprived of sitting for several examinations, leading to frustration and disillusionment in her academics.

So, in 2015, without any budgetary allocation, Orji decided to embark on a personal mission of doling out annual scholarships to some of these intelligent but indigent students. “I reasoned that the best thing to do for these youths was to give them university training because university education is important,” Orji told THISDAY in an interview. “Don’t worry about the jobs; the jobs will come eventually if you acquire the university education. Education does a lot of things, it disciplines you, it makes you to be a better citizen of the society. That is why I said let us do this to produce good citizens from my constituency who will eventually be good citizens for the whole of Nigeria , excel in life, be useful to themselves and be useful to the society.”

So every year, since 2015, ten deserving university undergraduates are singled out from each of the six local governments comprising Abia Central Senatorial District (which Orji represents at the Senate) and are each given a sum of N100,000. The process is democratic, as students are expected to register online and an impartial committee is set up to decide the worthy winners of the grant. Till date, 120 students have benefitted from Orji’s initiative and, as at the time of writing this article, they had all received their monies. Still, the numbers are set to increase.

Initially, there were doubts from some people; but when they eventually saw the reality, when the scholarship was advertised on the internet and some newspapers, when students started filling forms and went in for interviews, when the first batch of 60 students were announced, they believed.

The testimonies that have emerged from this scholarship scheme have been incredible. Ikenna Nwankwere, a 200 level Law Undergraduate of Abia State University, Uturu (ABSU), who had had extreme difficulties paying his school fees was one of the beneficiaries of the scheme in 2016. Understandably, he was overjoyed and grateful. “I feel very happy because by God’s grace, through our amiable senator, my academic pursuit will now be a reality,” Nwankwere said. “It has been very difficult, but this scholarship will be able to pay my school fees.”

For Ikechukwu Uzodinma, who hails from Umuahia North, studied Mechanical Engineering at the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede and was a beneficiary in 2015, the scholarship could not have come at a better time. “Now, I’m in my final year and it has helped to take care of my project and school fees,” he said. “I thank the senator so much for this. He has really helped lives, even when he was a governor. I appreciate him so much and pray that God will give him long-life and more prosperity.”

Ndukaku Ahaoma, who is from Isiala Ngwa North and is currently studying Accountancy at ABSU, was also one of the 2015 beneficiaries. He had heard the information for the scholarship application from a friend and had gone ahead to put in for it, although he didn’t expect to win. When he was announced as one of the winners, his joy knew no bounds. “I’m working harder at my studies so that next year I would have a good chance to maintain the scholarship,” he told THISDAY at the time.

Doris Nwamaghinna said she was “so happy” when she found her name on the list of winners, even though she had been very positive she would be selected. The native of Isiala Ngwa North, who is currently studying Civil Law at Abia State University, said the scholarship money was used to pay her acceptance fee at the university.

Orji’s interest in education is not surprising, since he was also a product of education and he is determined to give others the opportunities he had. He started his primary education at St. Michaels Catholic Primary School, Umuahia. From there, he proceeded to Santa Crux Secondary School, Olokoro in the present-day Umuahia South LGA, before moving to Holy Ghost College, Owerri. Orji then capped his educational pursuit with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English, from the prestigious University of Ibadan, in 1977.

“Yes, I’m a product of education,” he told THISDAY. “If I wasn’t educated I will not be governor. So, I want people to be educated to be governors and all. And when I was governor, I did very well in terms of education. You realised that in WAEC, we maintained the second position for two consecutive years. After Anambra State, we were second consistently for two years; we won trophies in educational competitions that we attended. We won a lot of laurels. We built and renovated a lot of schools just to maintain the tempo because education is vital.”

Although the scholarship scheme is designed as a continuous exercise, students will have to reapply every session.

“We looked at it and said we don’t have to award the money for the entire duration they are in school,” the chairman of the scholarship screening committee, Engr. Emma Nwabuko, told THISDAY. “They have to come back every session and apply, so that they will not become complacent. For a lot of people, when they receive scholarships, they will relax, because they know that at the end of the year somebody pays for their fees. So, every year, we will re-float the scholarship and make it open to everybody again, even if you have been a beneficiary previously.”

According to Nwabuko, “the senator floated the project to help the students. He is an education-friendly senator, as well as a lover of the youths. As a former governor, he also knows where the shoe pinches, because he has been in the system. And he did this without favouritism to anybody.

It is a well-organised scholarship scheme: a committee was formed from all the six local governments, sat down together, and interviewed the applicants, who had registered online. Before the winners were announced, nobody knew who was going to win. Other politicians should emulate acts like this. If God has blessed you, the best thing you can do is to help others.”