Former Abia State Governor Orji Kalu
Former Abia State Governor Orji Kalu has been on the political sidelines for some time. But he says he is now working on a plan to restore the weight of his native South-east in the Nigerian political equation. After leaving Government House, Umuahia in 2007, he had unsuccessfully contested for the presidency. Last week at his Victoria Island residence in Lagos, Kalu sat down with Vincent Obia to discuss his new preoccupations since leaving the governorship throne and how he plans to rekindle the Igbo presidential dream
No Hard Feelings
Former Governor Orji Kalu held sway in the South-east state of Abia between 1999 and 2007. As governor, Orji, 52, was not just in government, he was in power. But soon after he left office in 2007, like other godfathers, he also fell out with Governor Theodore Orji, his successor and former chief of staff, whom he had virtually single-handedly installed against all odds.
Kalu says there is no love lost between him and the governor; though he refused to be drawn into comments on Theodore Orji and some of the allegations levelled against his administration by the present government in the state. He says he does n’t want to take issues with the governor.
“I was just a mere messenger of the people and I left happily. This is why I’m saying I never lost anything. As governor for eight years, I was just a messenger of the people and nothing has changed. This is the house I had been living in even before I was governor, and I have not changed the house or the chairs.
“I’m not going to discuss the governor. I’ll leave that aspect for the people of Abia to decide. I have tried since I left not to discuss him, whether privately or publicly. It has been a strong cause of my life not to discuss him. I leave that discussion to the people of Abia. The day I handed over to him, I told him to govern with his conscience and this is the same thing I’ve continued to say.”
T.A. Orji Lied
Asked to respond to the allegation by his successor that the main source of disagreement between them is the present government’s refusal to sell some property of the state in Lagos and in Kalu’s native Bende to him, Kalu had absolutely no difficulty denying the claim.
“It is not true. This I can answer you straightaway. There is nothing like that.
“We were building a university at Igbere and the university people asked the government to lease the Umunnato General Hospital, which I refurbished when I was governor and nobody is using till today. It’s overgrown with weeds. You can send your correspondent in Umuahia to go and look at it. So they asked him to give them 50 years lease; lease with payment. I am not going to make any profit from Igbere – to the best of my knowledge.
“Why should I ask him to sell property to me? I was governor for eight years when they were doing privatisation. This is a man I told that there was no need to sell government property. If I wanted to buy government property, I could have bought it. But it wasn’t my desire.
“I have been living in this house at Victoria Island since 1986. I have my office at Apapa since 1986.”
Kalu debunks the governor’s allegation that his eight years administration left virtually nothing in terms of infrastructure in the state. “I know that the allegation that nothing was done during my tenure is wrong. Almost all the roads in the state were constructed in my tenure. The Umuahia-Aba road (old road), the Obehie-Azumiri road, the Lokpanta-Udeato road, the Ebem-Ohafia road, all were constructed in my tenure. When I was governor, the Aba roads were motorable. I don’t want to talk about these things. I want the governor to lead the people with his conscience. Conscience is a wound, only the truth can heal it. People are seeing today, they are not seeing tomorrow. I want Nigerians to start seeing tomorrow.
“Go back to your archives. Obasanjo made me the Action Governor for that regime on account of the Aba roads that I constructed. He came to Aba and campaigned on those roads. Anywhere in the world, roads are maintained every two to three roads, if not, they will collapse. I cleaned up Aba.
“Nobody has given me credit for all these things because I fought the federal government. I’m the only politician that his businesses were taken. Obasanjo killed my businesses here. He was out to ruin me because I challenged him over Third Term. What have I done to these people? I had helped them in the past.”
Exit from PDP
Kalu blames his exit from the Peoples Democratic Party on former President Obasanjo’s alleged intolerance. The former governor who was elected in 1999 on the PDP platform left the party to form the Progressive Peoples Alliance in the latter part of his second term. He bemoans the poor attitude of Nigerians to politics.
“I didn’t leave PDP; Obasanjo virtually drove me and Atiku away. I was de-registered by Obasanjo. I give God the glory; I don’t feel any harm because everything we do is vanity.
“As far as I am concerned, Nigerian people have not shown commitment to democracy. Look at my governor, he worked for me. He knows that I am not a money man. If he will say the truth, which I know will come out one day. If money were to be my problem, I would have followed Obasanjo because I had full access to him.
“My challenge in life is the people, not money. When anybody says I asked him not to work, the person is not being sincere. For instance, I own The Sun newspapers; I don’t interfere in their day-to-day job. I like process, I like system, and this is what most Nigerians lack because they were not prepared for leadership.
“Most people in positions of leadership in Nigeria today found themselves suddenly in the line of leadership. That is the problem Nigeria has today, people are not prepared for leadership.”
Break from Active Politics
Kalu’s exit from PPA marked the beginning of his life on the sidelines of politics. But was he also driven out of PPA? “No. I left because democracy was no longer the process of choice, but force,” he says. “People who do these things should be ready to face the consequences in future. If we want to come back to politics, it is either they do it right or everybody would be prepared to pay for it.
“It is disheartening that a lot of people who won elections are not where they have won elections. Apart from the South-west and some parts of Northern Nigeria, democracy has not taken root at all. I am disappointed. This was not what we bargained for, which made me to leave my business for politics. Nigerians, whether living or dead, will regret what is happening someday. Leadership is not about possessions, it is about the people. Once a leader cannot reconcile with the people, it becomes a problem.”
2015 and Igbo
As the country inches towards the 2015 elections, many Igbo believe it should be the turn of the South-east to produce the country’s president. But many of those who ought to lead the South-east presidency campaign appear to have a half-hearted belief in the cause. They are believed to be reading President Jonathan’s body language to see if he would be going for a second term.
But Kalu sees no sense in such wait for Jonathan. “Anybody who wants to run for the presidency should prepare to run. Why should they wait for anybody to tell them whether he will run or not. That is part of the things that are not right in our democracy.
“South-east has not been fairly treated. That is why when I see some Igbo people say they are waiting for Jonathan to decide whether he would run or not, I look at them as very stupid. Nobody should decide for anybody. As far as I am concerned, it is either you give Igbo the presidency or nothing.
“Almost 48 years after the civil war, you are telling people they are not entitled to rule Nigeria. Unless an Igbo man rules this country, the country would not be well. That is the truth because we are the salt of the nation. Whether you want to believe it or not, that is the truth. Anywhere you go in Nigeria and you don’t see an Igbo man living there, nobody lives there. So why don’t you give them the opportunity to rule their country? They have given Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, and Jonathan room to rule. Now is the South-east’s turn, it’s either the South-east or nothing.”
On the performance of President Jonathan, Kalu says he would give the president the benefit of the doubt and give him time before engaging in any serious assessment of his performance since the President had said 2013 would usher in a lot of things. “I will give the President the benefit of the doubt as he had said he would do most things and deliver by 2013. Let’s wait and see, though I have not seen anything in terms of concrete performance, especially in the areas of security and infrastructure.
“The fundamental issue is the rule of law. Any president who wants to rule this country should respect the rules and give people justice. If there is no rule of law, there will be no society. The most fundamental issue in any good society for the people is the rule of law. A minister’s son who violates traffic law, for instance, should be penalised like any other Nigerian. Political armed robbers who took the country’s money should not be allowed to walk free.
“Governance is not about gossip. Once leaders start listening to gossip, they are failures already. People must run government by what the constitution says.”
Question of Igbo Unity
He dismisses the talk about Igbo disunity, saying disunity is not a peculiar problem of the Igbo.
“Who has had unity before? When they made Obasanjo president, were the Yoruba united? When they made Yar’Adua president, were the Northerners united?
“You people should stop deceiving the Igbo. This nonsense should stop. They would say Igbo people like money, who does not like money? The election of 2011 was effectively put together by some prominent Northerners, they collected money. So who does not like money?”
Strategy to Actualise President of Igbo Extraction
On whether the South-east has a coherent strategy for the achievement of their presidential dream, the former Abia State governor says formulating such plan is his preoccupation at the moment. “I know the national appeal is there,” he says, “I am going to play a leading role within my community to organise people for what Igbo are going to do. I wanted to be totally out of politics, but I’m going to sit back in my house and be part of their planning.
“I will plan for them and give them to go and execute. Awolowo wasn’t a president but he was a very important man in Nigeria. I’m sitting back to help give the Igbo what they don’t have: planning. I’m going to reconcile those who are quarrelling and get one of them to lead. We will get it right this time.”
He says the leaders; the candidates from the zone would emerge on their own. “But give me some months to be able to consult. The most important thing is the process that gets who would run for president. The president is just a by-product of unity. What I’m talking about is to kick-start the process. I have to go back to the drawing board, go back to the academics, traders, politicians, etc, and re-energise them to move forward.”
Is He Stepping into Ojukwu’s Shoes?
Kalu said: “I purposely kept away when Ojukwu died because his burial became an avenue for sycophancy. People who abused Ojukwu in my presence, people who never believed in him were praising him to death. I was surprised. That was why I sent a delegation to extend my condolences and I didn’t go.
“When Ojukwu was alive, they abandoned him. Most of these people who were talking abandoned him. Ojukwu’s brothers are there, they can speak because they know how close I was to him. They know I always tried to be with him at any point of his need.”
PDP Reconciliation Moves
Asked whether he would return to PDP if approached in the course of the party’s present reconciliation efforts, Kalu says nothing about PDP excites him at present. “I don’t think so. I don’t think I am talking about party politics now. If I want to play party politics, I would play it in PPA.
“People cannot always leave when the condition is not good, people should also be there to defend the situation when the condition is bad. I’m not talking party politics now; I’m talking about advising everybody in Igbo land. I want to energise the base. In the next couple of months, I would put the process in motion.”
Prosecution by EFCC
Kalu thinks the charges preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission are trumped up. “My conscience tells me that I have not done anything. I have never discussed with anybody on how to make underhand deals. What I have spent is security vote, which is not much for the size of our state. I applied it to the police and they were happy with what I did with the money. I am the only governor that is being prosecuted for spending security vote.
“Even the present governor knows that we were not making deals. Check the calibre of commissioners that I had – Awa Kalu (SAN), Lambert Mmecha, Professor Nkpa (present Secretary to the State Government), Professor Ogbuagu (currently a vice-chancellor), Onyekwere Ogba, etc. I will set up a foundation that will deal with the issue of anti-corruption.”
He adds, “I have asked the international agencies to set up a real anti-corruption outfit, let us know who the real thieves are. I’m ready to subject myself to the probe, and others, too, should come out.”
Real Legacies in Abia
“All the low-cost housing schemes in Abia State were built by my government. The Ehimiri housing estate, the two stadiums in the state, were built by my administration. The housing estate at Obingwa had been roofed before we left, even the one at Obakala, apart from the housing estate at Ubeku.
“Mind you, our resources then were lean – Obasanjo took away our 46 oil wells, which Yar’Adua returned. $650 million was deducted from the state’s allocations to repay money from the wells. I gave Abia people purposeful leadership. Go to the Federal Ministry of Finance and check how much we had from 1999 to 2007.”
Left No Debt in Abia
Against the backdrop of allegations that he left a mountain of debts for his predecessor in 2007, Kalu says, “I never left any debt for Theodore Orji as governor. I want this to be on record. I left no debt the day I was leaving as governor of Abia State. I’ve heard people say I owed banks N28 billion before I left. That is not true.
“We were only banking with Hallmark. Hallmark stopped, and we went over to Bank PHB. The day I left, the account was N1.7 billion in overdraft, because Obasanjo asked the Ministry of Finance to withhold the money. On June 6, 2007, the overdraft cleared. The documents are there for anybody to verify.
“I never owed any bank money, which some people now say Abia State is repaying. This is the first time I am coming openly to say this.”
The former governor, however, admits that he is human and might have made mistakes in the course of his leadership. “In the process of governance, I’m not saying I was perfect. Wherever I have wronged our people, I’m very sorry for wronging them. Wherever I have done well, they should also praise me for doing well.
“I’m not perfect, even Jesus Christ was not perfect. I’m human. I must have made several mistakes in Abia as a young man. I wasn’t 50 years old when I was governor. Today, I’m 50 and above. So I know more things that are right and wrong today.”