In a country where the parameters for bestowing awards can be very tenuous if not blatantly unscientific, the latest by the Abuja chapter of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) on Senator Hope Uzodinma, chairman of the Senate Committee of Customs, Excise and Tariffs, as “the best senator of the year 2017” could generate some heated debate. This is because the NUJ, though couching its decision in very flattering language, did not say how his performance exceeded those of his peers. But that is in the nature of things here. We are not exactly the most rigorous of people; a trend that explains the premium we place on sentiments over empirical evidence and objective facts.
Yet, that downside of our analytical behaviour does not in any way detract from our ability to make sound judgments when the need arises. In the instant case, I make bold to say that Hope Uzodinma’s meteoric climb of the political ladder did not come by happenstance. The road to the NUJ award had been paved by hard work, unquestionable patriotism, uncommon courage and a commendable covenant with the people.
It is not always that I have agreed with Uzodinma’s political moves. For instance, in 2003, we clashed over his decision to run against the incumbent governor of Imo State, Chief Achike Udenwa who was seeking a second term. Like many Imo indigenes and that included many from his Orlu senatorial zone, I felt that his entry into the gubernatorial race was wrong for, at least, two significant reasons. First, there appeared to be some consensus that Achike Udenwa was doing relatively well and, as the first civilian governor of the state in the post-military era, needed more time to consolidate. Second, both Udenwa and Uzodinma were from the same Orlu Senatorial zone hence any disruption of the flow would automatically truncate the unwritten yet accepted rotational principle that was spearheaded by political icons such as Chief Dr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Engineer Charles Ugwu, Chief ID Nwoga and the late Senator Emeka Echeruo. In retrospect, I wonder if I was not extremely politically naïve; it ought to have dawned on me that, in reality, power is never given, you just have to take it! So, even as 2019 approaches, it is clear that power will be taken, not given. That is a matter for another day.
The preceding story is simply to illustrate a quality that has propelled Uzodinma to political prominence, first, in Imo State, and subsequently in Nigeria as a whole; that is, his tenacity and unflagging commitment to any project or principle. Uzodinma has carried his doggedness to the legislative sphere. Two incidents stand out, among many areas of his principled intervention. First, as chairman of the Senate committee on aviation, Uzodinma spearheaded the effort to sanitize the country’s aviation sector by confronting corporate malfeasance on two fronts: to stop the foreign airlines operating into Nigeria, notably British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, from ripping off travellers from the country and to enforce extant safety regulations that airlines were flouting with fatal consequences.
The battle was made more formidable because, as it turned out, Uzodinma’s committee was up not just against the foreign airlines but highly placed Nigerian public functionaries who had a more than passing interest in the fares being charged. Up till now, no satisfactory explanation has been offered as to why Lagos-London passengers should pay almost double the fare charged on the Accra-London route. But that is Nigeria for you. The second was to institutionalize effective corporate governance in the sector, with safety topping the list of areas that could not be compromised. It is perhaps to the credit of his committee that airplanes are no longer dropping from the skies, a trend that inflicted so much pain and misery on many families.
Of recent, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Customs Tariffs & Excise, Uzodinma’s insistence that the Federal Government should not be denied legitimate revenue through an unholy alliance between unscrupulous importers and some unpatriotic government agencies, was turned into an object of blackmail, by those who stood to gain from the activities of economic saboteurs. Uzodinma stood his ground, guided by the principle that the anti-graft crusade of the Buhari Administration merited bi-partisan support. As it stands, the nation has been saved billions of naira by that singular effort.
Why should these be celebrated any way? There are at least two reasons. For one, it should be noted that Uzodinma represents the quintessential legislator. He is active; some will say hyper-active. He is not a “siddon look” senator. He does not shy away from debates and pursues the legislative agenda with great passion and zeal. His commanding presence, his passion and the forceful logic whenever he has the floor is as enchanting as it is persuasive. To wit, he does not only intervene in other people’s bills and motions. He has proposed 10 bills and over 10 motions of his own since he was elected to the Senate six years ago. For another, many of his oversight functions touch on very sensitive national issues. Take for instance, the controversial issue of the swindling of the nation by shipping lines, importers and their collaborators in government agencies. Not a few legislators would have chickened out when the heat in the kitchen became overbearing. But that is not Uzodinma’s style. If the national interest is at stake, if equity and justice are at risk, if the progress of his constituents demands personal sacrifice, you can trust Hope Uzodinma to remain in the kitchen to slug it out. That is called commitment.
On the issue of effective representation of Imo West (Orlu), I will leave that to those who elected him. However, if people empowerment is a barometer for measuring the effectiveness of a legislator, it is my considered opinion that Hope Uzodinma will rank way ahead of many of his peers, past and present. I know this for a fact: people empowerment is at the centre of Uzodinma’s cosmos; it is his second nature! Highly sociable, Uzodinma craves to satisfy the needs of people, especially jobs.
I think that the honour bestowed on him is indeed well-deserved. His speech on the occasion, a speech that had all the unmistakable imprimatur of a nationalist and patriot and a foremost crusader for equity and justice, deserves special treatment. As the most ranking senator from Imo State, he should see the award not just as an endorsement of his activities but a summons to deepen his activities in the Red Chamber, aware that greater national challenges lie ahead. At his age, he still has many years of service to render to people and country.
For effect, that appears to be the verdict of his colleagues who, a few months ago, had appointed him chairman of the Southern Senators Forum, a body that had been moribund for some time. It is only logical that the group of senators, which has some former governors as members, could not have bestowed that honour and responsibility on just anybody. Herein lays the import of the NUJ award. The distinguished senator does not need to be reminded that, to whom much is given, much is also expected and that the reward for hard work is more work. That is the real import of the NUJ award.