By Michael Jegede
“The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” – Albert Schweitzer
“Never respect men merely for their riches, but rather for their philanthropy; we do not value the sun for its height, but for its use.” – Gamaliel Bailey
Distinguished Senator Victor Umeh, a quintessential leader and respected political juggernaut from Anambra State has majestically glided into the sexagenarian club as he clocks 60 years on earth.
Born on July 19, 1962, Umeh, a revered philanthropist and social justice advocate, who has made enormous contributions to the sustenance of democratic governance and nation building, can evidently be said to have lived a life of fulfilment and accomplishment at 60.
His voyage in politics began in 1998 when he joined the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as a founding member and was elected State Treasurer of the party in Anambra State. In 2002, he was among the prominent Nigerians that worked together to form the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) where he emerged as the pioneer National Vice Chairman, Southeast. He later became the National Treasurer before his emergence as the National Chairman.
As APGA’s helmsman for over ten years, Umeh fought tooth and nail with dogged determination to keep the party afloat and alive in spite of the constant internal wrangling that was always tending to tear the party apart. Through his visionary and resilient leadership, he was able to take APGA to glorious heights amidst the infighting for which the party was known. Even after his tenure elapsed, he remained one of the strongest pillars of the party until he recently defected to Labour Party (LP) where he hopes to actualize his ambition to return the Red Chamber come 2023. He had diligently and competently represented the people of Anambra Central Senatorial District in the 8th Senate for a period of 17 months.
An established estate manager and surveyor, Umeh as Anambra Central Senator for only seventeen months made remarkably significant impact on the lives of his constituents, with the various people-oriented projects and programmes he attracted to every nook and cranny across the senatorial district. He was indeed a loud voice for his people, Ndigbo and Nigerians when issues of national importance were deliberated upon on the floor of the Senate.
A courageous leader, detribalized Nigerian and perfect example of a true patriot, Umeh was a stubborn fighter for justice, fairness and equity as a parliamentarian. The now stalwart of LP, a lover and promoter of peace, has never minced words in stressing the need to entrench and sustain a just and egalitarian society where all citizens are treated equally devoid of any form of discrimination.
When in 2018 names of board members of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), were submitted to the Senate for confirmation, and the Southeast and South-South were not represented, Umeh vehemently protested against the exclusion which led to an uproar on the floor of the Chamber. Notwithstanding the recommendation of the Senate Committee on anti-corruption and the position of some of his colleagues that the members should be confirmed, the astute politician strongly argued his point and insisted that the principle of federal character must be upheld. And the nominations were eventually rejected. Today, Southeast and South-South are represented on the board of the EFCC courtesy of Umeh’s doggedness.
Also in 2018, it was he who moved the very important motion on ‘Illegal Confinement of Underage Children of Nigeria Below the Age of 16 in Prisons with Adult Inmates.’ He had contended that in line with the provisions of the Prisons Regulations Act and Child’s Right Act, underage offenders and infants are not supposed to be in the same prisons with adult prisoners. The motion was rated the best for that legislative year with an award bestowed on him by the Senate Press Corps.
Many indigent students of secondary school, undergraduates and postgraduates have enjoyed scholarships from the Victor Umeh Education Foundation (VUMEF) set up in 2007 long before he became a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In 2018, over seventy students from poor background chosen from the seven Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Anambra Central received scholarships to study at any university of their choice.
Umeh didn’t fail in his pledge to continue to lend a helping hand to his people even after leaving the Red Chamber in June 2019 upon the winding up of the 8th Senate after losing in his re-election bid then. Unlike some politicians who would go into their shells and abandon the people in anger when they lose election, the Anambra Central LP senatorial candidate poised for victory in the 2023 polls, continued to offer service to humanity with a greater commitment towards youth empowerment.
He was quoted to have said in a report: “I have continued doing all that I was known for whether in the Senate or not. I have been in the forefront of fighting for the rights of our people. The great things I was doing for my people I have continued to do them.
“My scholarship schemes are still running, producing graduates in various fields. In 2018, I gave, for a start, 76 university scholarships to students from Anambra Central Senatorial District from less privileged homes. This is the fourth year and 25 of them have graduated. The remaining ones will graduate at the end of this academic session.
“I have paid all their fees despite not being in the Senate. This is in addition to over 300 students I have on my scholarship in tertiary institutions in Nigeria.”
The Obi of Dim-Ubana Village, Oraukwu in Anambra State and former Director General of Umeh’s campaign organisation, Prince Emeka Udodeme, while eulogizing his erstwhile principal at 60, said: “Most Distinguished Senator (Dr) Victor Umeh I know is a very humble man, a practicing Christian, honest, bold, courageous and a cheerful giver. He is an amiable charismatic defender of the oppressed. He is ready to sell his property to see that the children of the poor attend school. Many have benefited from his free education foundation. He is a family man. He hates lies and deceit. He hates intimidation and believes nobody can intimidate him. He is a jolly good fellow who derives much joy in the progress of others around him.”
A receiver of several awards, honours and chieftaincy titles, Umeh was a participant at the 2014 national conference, inaugurated by the then President Goodluck Jonathan, and his presence was really felt with the valuable inputs he made despite coming in late due to the leadership crisis in APGA at that time. In appreciation of his manifold contributions and efforts towards the advancement of democracy in Nigeria, he was adorned with the National Honour of Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) in 2014, shortly after the national confab came to an end.
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Happily married to Lady Prisca and blessed with seven children, Umeh, a devout Catholic and Papal Knight in the Order of Saint Sylvester, belongs to a number of professional bodies within and outside the country.
As he ascends the sixth floor, I pray God to continue to bless him, grant him the soundness of body and mind, the strength and zeal to carry on with his philanthropic deeds and kind gestures towards the downtrodden.
Happy birthday Chief, the Ohamadike Ndigbo!
Michael Jegede, a journalist writes from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja