By Law Mefor

“Never call a man good until he is dead,” Chief GC Oranika (aka Ochendo) once told me. Even though we were not related by blood, he was my buddy, mentor, protector, benefactor, and even uncle. Nobody would have made up something to indicate Oranika was a good man now that he had passed because he had a practically seamless life. If any individual could be considered good, he was.

Even though we both hail from the ancient Abatete town in Anambra State, I had never met him in the village. When I came to the federal capital territory of Abuja as a Corper, I learned about him and had the opportunity to meet him in person. My rendezvous with him was scheduled by yet another Abatete great son, Chief JMC Otata. Then, my elder sister, who is currently residing in the US with her family, was employed at the NYSC, courtesy of Ochendo Abatete.

After spending a month in camp for the NYSC orientation, we were mobilised for our main task of compulsory one-year service to the fatherland. I was sent to the State House, which wasn’t such a pleasant experience. I reported to the State Chief of Protocol (SCOPE), who was kind enough to receive me warmly but expressed doubt about the potential value that a Corper with no prior diplomatic experience might provide to his office.

His office was quite delicate, as it was only a few meters from the office of General Ibrahim Badamassi Babangida (IBB), the then head of state of Nigeria. As I didn’t have a car, I had to walk a considerable distance to get to Scope’s office from somewhere near the Federal Secretariat. The experienced diplomat, Scope, didn’t think he needed to say out loud that he didn’t need me. He probably wanted me to see things for myself to sort myself out.

I was exhausted after going through the ordeal for perhaps two or three weeks. I wasn’t meant for the State House. Simple! I returned to the NYSC FCT Secretariat to let everyone know that I was not going to stay at the State House, especially my sister. Though disappointed, she recognised my situation and unique challenges and backed my quest to change the posting.

The problem was figuring out where else to fulfil my primary assignment as a Corper. I was staying at the NYSC orientation camp in the interim since I was not also able to find accommodation at the State House. To give them time to find where to stay, Corpers who were unable to obtain accommodation were permitted to spend a temporary period at the NYSC FCT Orientation Camp by Alhaji Bala, the director of NYSC FCT.

I visited my elder sister’s place that weekend. It so happened that our oldest sister, who was in Abuja also, was there. I made every effort to justify my need to leave the State House.

Then, as if realising we had been missing the answer the entire time, our oldest sister said, “Let’s see Chief JMC Otaka. He is a close friend of the DG, Chief GC Oranika.”

As a young lad in my twenties, I had seen Chief Otaka not from a distance and knew him also by reputation back in the days in the village. He was a friendly man who passed away about ten years ago. That most eventful evening, when we visited him, was a pivotal moment. With Abuja like a construction site then, Otaka ran a block industry that prospered in Nyanya.

Chief Otaka was delighted to have me visit. He joked, “So, you are the popular law?”

I could only smile out of courtesy because it was a rhetorical question. I wasn’t in the mood for banter, either. Then, after taking a sip or two of the beverages that Chief Otaka so kindly offered, our oldest sister brought up the topic that had brought us all together. In response, Chief Otaka noted that he understood it wasn’t all a social call, saying something like the toad not running in the daytime for nothing.

“So, where does he have to serve?” Chief Otaka asked, addressing the issue frontally.

“He serves somewhere, but…”

“I know that, but the government house is not working out for him now.” Otaka cut in impatiently.

“Yes, sir!” My elder sister, who was seated quietly, encouraged us to be more straightforward and businesslike and not to spend time on courtesies. “He was posted to the Aso Rock State House but he is finding the place so difficult.”

With a wide smile, Chief Otaka stated, “He has a place to serve. In FCDA, GC Oranika will fix him unless he doesn’t like FCDA.” My eyes lit up with a glimmer of hope.

My sisters and I looked at each other. Before then, my immediate senior sister had benefited from Chief Oranika’s generosity. Oranika secured a job for her with the NYSC. However, Chief JMC Otaka was the one we thought had the key to reaching Ochendo, as he was his Man Friday.

“Nwoke,” Otaka spoke to me in the collective name of the men, conclusively saying, “Come out early tomorrow; let’s go see GC, and he will fix you.” These comforting words lifted my spirits and took a generous sip of my drink as Otaka changed the subject matter completely. I was in severe need of a place for primary assignment to process and receive my monthly allowance (Allawee, as we called it).

I arrived early, and shortly after, Chief Otaka dressed, and we left for the Federal Capital Development Authority’s (FCDA) director general’s office even before Chief Oranika arrived. Casting a sidelong glance at me in my Corper’s uniform, he stood to find out what had attracted Chief Otaka to his office so early after the initial exchange of pleasantries.

He was escorted inside his inner office by Chief Otaka. There were already a lot of people in the ante office who required the DG’s help. Chief Otaka emerged shortly after and beckoned for me to come. I entered the Director General’s magnificent office. The amiable and smiling light-skinned man who had entered earlier was seated behind the enormous table with the Nigerian flag in full display.

“That’s him. GC. Law is our younger brother who is serving in Abuja with the NYSC but has no place for his primary assignment.”

Chief Oranika, to my surprise, got up and shook hands with me. I couldn’t figure it out. I bowed in humility, taking his hand in both. It was a lesson in humility that my heart took a picture of and has been a constant reminder to me while dealing with my inferiors.

Chief Oranika said to me, “How is Abuja treating you?”

“It’s rough, sir. You were the Special Guest of Honour at our passing-out parade days ago. You represented the Honourable Minister. I was a co-MC at the event, sir.”

“That’s true,” he said, sitting and reclining. “Youth Service is an important aspect of the training to prepare you to give your best to your country. So take it seriously.” He asked me about my family and village in Abatete. He said he was probably in the same Umuofu Age Grade as my uncle. Today, members of that age group average 90 years of age.

As we were still conversing, Chief Oranika introduced us to a man dressed in Agbada who walked in, saying, “Dr. Zawa, meet my younger brother, a Corper. Put him somewhere.”

Dr. Aboki Zawa greeted me, “Corper shun!” I gave him a mock salute to their glee.

Chief Oranika left us to see the minister, Lt. General Jerry Usuni who had replaced General Naski no longer ago.

Dr. Zawa shepherded me to his office, where I learned he was the director of personnel. Following a brief conversation, Dr. Zawa sent for another person, who happened to be Mr. Sunday Ogu, the DG’s Protocol Officer.

“DG wants us to fix his brother, who is here for NYSC, and your office is about the best place to keep him around,” Dr. Zawa said.

“Who am I to say no if that is what my oga and the DG want?” Mr. Ogu said, enthused.

The two big men chuckled, and Mr. Ogu nodded for me to follow him. When we got to his office, he waved me to a small table by the corner, where I installed myself on the empty seat. My primary assignment as a Corper has started; the rest will follow. A ton of load was removed from my young shoulder.

That was how my NYSC problem was resolved by Ochendo.

I worked diligently with Mr. Ogu. Within that year, in 1993, the Abuja Christian Pilgrims Committee was established to take care of the FCT Christian Pilgrims under the DG’s office with Mr. Sunday Ogu running it. The FCT Christian Pilgrims Committee was later upgraded to a board to be at par with the FCT Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, and Mr. Jimmy Olumi took over from Mr. Sunday Ogu in 1994 as executive secretary. The office was still in the DG’s office while suitable accommodation was sought.

I had completed my NYSC by then, and Chief GC Oranika approved employment in FCDA as a personnel officer and was posted to the Christian Pilgrims Welfare Board. I went to the Holy Land of Israel for the first time in 1994 as an official for this posting.

On February 14, 1994, I got mail from the Government of the Federation’s Secretary’s office, according to my schedule for receiving and sorting mail. The letter announced Chief GC Oranika’s retirement from his position as director general of the federal capital and from service. As needed, I passed the file to Mr. Ogu, who shook his head ruefully. Within an hour, the news went around and threw FCDA into a mournful mood.

“I am only going into retirement,“ Ochendo consoled the forlorn staff. “My doors remain open to you.”

Alhaji Aliyu was then appointed in the substantive position of DG replacing Chief Oranika, succeeding Mr. Peter Okunromade, the PRS director, who had earlier been appointed in an acting capacity.

Many people, regardless of language or creed, from all over the country received assistance akin to mine from GC Oranika. Since his retirement, I have kept a very tight relationship with him. Many stayed in touch, including myself, frequenting his home to seek his sage advice and guidance. His house, like promised, was always open, with his wife, Ugodie, a willing chaperone.

Chief Oranika was the first federal permanent secretary to move to Abuja. Others shilly-shallied. He came with General Gado Nasko as a minister, whom he met at the Federal Ministry of Trade, where he (Nasko) was also a minister and Chief GC Oranika a director. The duo developed Abuja to host the seat of power, including the Aso Rock Villa and made the FCT ready when IBB relocated the State House and seat of power from Dodan Barracks in Lagos to Abuja.

At that historic moment the military president was received in Abuja, IBB described Chief Oranika as “a quiet achiever,” perhaps the best tribute ever for Ochendo.

Numerous traditional titles were bestowed upon Chief Oranika by people from all across Nigeria, but the one he treasured the most and proudly wore next to his name was Ochendo, which he acquired from his hometown of Abatete. In Igbo, the name Ochendo simply means “the protector” or “the shade.” In living out the deeper meaning of Ochendo, Oranika was a large canopy behind which many sought refuge. In retirement, he became a charity and philanthropy personified. He gave hundreds a life and cleared a pathway for them to live a meaningful life.

Farewell, Chief GC Oranika, Ochendo Abatete, my mentor and brother knight of St. Mulumba, Papal Knight Rt. Hon. Chevalier, Distinguished member IOD, Anya ghalu Igwe Abuja, Onwa Idemili, Aka n’achi mba Umuawulu, patron of arts, and more.

Your work and our treasured memories will carry you on now that you have made your last bow and departed from this life. You left huge footprints on the sands of time, having made your time on Earth so sublime.

Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought;; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor.

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