“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Ghandi
Senator Andrew Uchendu is arguably amongst not many Nigerian politicians that leave their gates open to the high and low; the strong and weak; the good and bad; the fine and ugly, et al, any time and any day. Each weekend, as soon as he returns from Abuja, his Port Harcourt residence becomes transformed into a temporary abode for not a few people, sprouting from diverse pockets of mortal interests.
Astonishingly, the good senator does not just end it at leaving his gate open for all and sundry to stroll in, he takes it a notch above expectation, by painstakingly attending to each and everyone who comes into his ever-busy house, whether he invited them over or not. In fact, I can say without mincing words, that he sacrifices at least, fifteen minutes, out of his regularly packed up schedule, in order to have a word with anyone he sees sitting, standing or walking around, in his house.
Enter his communication etiquette: I am indeed humbled by his humility and I can boldly say, without the fear of contradiction, that Senator Uchendu is one of the few public office holders in Nigeria, that can take all manner of phone calls, or that calls back, once he is through with whatever engagement that made him miss any call in the first place. He also promptly responds to all meaningful text messages, mails and invitations. Even at his age, the amount of energy that he dissipates into the never-ending reel of public service beats my restless imagination.
After observing this enchanting attitude of his towards the masses for a while, I was compelled to enquire from him how he was able to imbibe and maintain this utopian-like posture, more especially, as a Nigerian politician. His answer was quite simple and philosophically loaded at the same time: “My attitude towards my fellow humans, stems from my background. I was once a commercial canoe paddler and I learnt from that venture that leadership is simply service to humanity, and nothing else,” he said.
Barely ten legislative days after he was sworn into office, Senator Uchendu, who represents Rivers East Senatorial District in the National Assembly, could not hide his passion for humanity in the upper legislative chamber. Burdened with a burning desire to assist young Nigerians in gaining tangible socio-economic, as well as socio-political relevance in a society that made him all that he is today – like he would always say, he raised a motion in the Senate that sought for a downward review of the post qualification experience that requires prospective chairmen of the Governing Council of the National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism, NIHOTOUR, to hold half a century post-qualification.
Speaking on the floor of the Red Chamber, Senator Uchendu argued that the current twenty five years post qualification experience criterion for the appointment of a chairman of the Governing Council of NIHOTOUR, should be reduced to fifteen years. He said his position is that it would give Nigerian youths the opportunity to participate in the management of the Council’s affairs. Other senators who attended the day’s sitting unanimously consented to the motion saying it was timely.
Stephen Oleli Amadi, a Rivers man who was wrongfully dismissed from the Nigerian Prisons Service, NPS, after thirty good years of meritorious service, is amongst the many who have benefited from Senator Uchendu’s humane disposition. Stephen, having severely suffered eleven terrible years of acute depression resulting from both financial and emotional maladies birthed by his dismissal from a job that had gulped a sizeable portion of his prime years, made a bold step by taking advantage of the ‘open gate policy’ of the Rivers East Senator.
One fateful day, on his way out after attending to countless visitors, Senator Uchendu in his usual manner, took a quick survey of the nooks and crannies of his house to ascertain if there was anyone that he had not attended to, and that was how he met Stephen – the prison officer who was unduly sacked from office. Irrespective of the fact that he was hurrying off to a very important meeting, the senator waited and patiently listened to the visibly distressed man, as he narrated his sad ordeal. According to Stephen, on February 9, 2006, he was hastily sacked by his boss because a certain prisoner escaped from prison custody on a day that he (Stephen), who was then a Chief Superintendent of Prison (CSP), was not supposed to be on duty.
After listening to Stephen’s touching story, Senator Uchendu firmly assured him that he would ensure that the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, wades into the matter. He then handed everything over to me and instructed that I should ensure that a properly drafted petition of the subject matter accompanied him to Abuja the following morning, and that, I did, with all pleasure. True to his word, Senator Uchendu presented the matter on the floor of the Red Chamber, after which Senate President Bukola Saraki, forwarded same to the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges, for further investigation and consideration.
The amount of resources, energy and time, that Senator Uchendu commits to the issues of those that we sinfully refer to as common or ordinary people, is legendary. As a young man, I believe that my relationship with Senator Uchendu is not a fluke, but a predestined fate, comprehensively designed by the grand architect of the universe, to ensure that I catch a glimpse of what an embodiment of humanity really looks like.
Solomon Okocha is the Media Aide to Senator Andrew Uchendu and he writes from Port Harcourt
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