Emmanuel Ugwu writes that the recent conviction of Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State and Senate Chief Whip for corrupt enrichment was a big surprise, not only to his followers, but those familiar with his political trajectory over the past two decades If there was anything Orji Uzor Kalu desired most after his failed presidential bid in 2007, it was to be a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Thrice he contested for the office and thrice he failed. But on his fourth attempt during the 2019 general election, he finally succeeded though under questionable circumstances, which the election tribunal saw and nullified the mandate.
But on appeal, Kalu got back the mandate to represent Abia North senatorial district in the Senate. Luck fell on him during the distribution of principal offices in the Ninth Senate as he was made the Chief Whip. However, this life time ambition appears to be short-lived. Instead of sitting in the Senate to make laws for the good governance of the nation and the for the interest of the people he represents, the former governor has now found himself in the correctional centre (prison) at Ikoyi, Lagos.
Kalu’s journey to prison was linked to the sins he committed during the eight years he held sway as chief executive of Abia, God’s own state. Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) successfully proved a case of graft against the former governor after 12 years of legal battle. Justice Mohammad Idris of federal high Lagos found Kalu and his co-defendants, Jones Udeogu and SLOK Nigeria Limited guilty of frauds involving N7.65 billion of Abia state money, siphoned when he was presiding over the affairs of the state. Kalu got a total of 133 years for all the 39 count charges, but he was sentenced to 12 years concurrently.
It was a protracted legal battle that dragged to the Supreme Court, as Kalu at the initial stage insisted that he had no case to answer, an argument he lost at both the appellate and apex courts and was ordered to return to the high court to face trial.
The conviction of the Senate Chief Whip was a big surprise, not only to his followers, but those familiar with his political trajectory over the past two decades. The former governor is reputed as somebody who knows how to navigate his way to get whatever he wanted. So the general believe was that he would emerge from the court trial unscathed. This thinking was reinforced when he joined the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) as the party’s national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, had publicly announced that whoever joined the party was entitled to have his sins forgiven.
Not one to lurk in the shadows, Kalu elected to outdo others in praise singing for President Muhammadu Buhari and supporting every policy and action of the federal government even if such policy was unpopular in the Southeast geopolitical zone, where he comes from. For instance, the RUGA programme which was roundly rejected by the leaders and the people of the Southeast was embraced by the Senator and he was indeed canvassing for its acceptance. He even boasted that he had set up a cattle colony when he was governor.
He was roundly condemned and feasted on in the social media for displaying his ignorance of the difference between a cattle market which he established at Lokpa in Umunneochi local government and RUGA. The former governor also courted controversy when he took it upon himself to become intelligence officer, announcing to the whole world that he knew where the leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu was hiding and how he left Nigeria.
While he was doing that to please Mr. President and the northern oligarchy, Kalu attracted derision in the Southeast for expressing his willingness to betray his brother in order to be politically correct in the eyes of the ruling party. His utterances on national issues became a source of irritation and embarrassment to Ndigbo, even his own supporters.
The question agitating the minds in Abia is how on earth Kalu found it very convenient to sink his hand very deep into the state coffers and scooped such a huge amount of money only to leave behind a huge infrastructure deficit. There was a high expectation when Kalu emerged the governor of Abia in 1999 at a young age. He was the second democratically elected governor after the state was created in 1991 and he was expected to lay a solid foundation for the development of the state.
The first elected governor, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu was thrown out of office before he could implement any programme when the military seized power and dismantled all democratic structures. So, Kalu had the onerous task of bringing exponential development to Abia and setting a standard that every other governor coming after him would not go below. He had ample time of eight years to do that but he disappointed. There was no government house when he came and he built none. Rather he stayed in the rented property that was originally meant to serve as temporary government house.
There was no secretariat and Kalu as governor did not see the expediency of building one for Abia. The ministries were scattered across the state capital, some operating in makeshift structures. By the time he left office, the capital city of Umuahia was still a glorified village and Aba, the commercial city was crying for roads and drainages to save the city from perennial flooding. It was during the administration of Senator Theodore Orji that Abia finally got a befitting secretariat but he did not complete the government house project before he left office.
Some commentators have pointed out that the N7.65 billion could have been channeled to the development needs of Abia instead of ending in the private pocket of one person. But Kalu’s apologists contend that the money could have been saved from his security votes which is legitimate as governors are not required to account for the security votes they collect every month. If the money was taken from security vote it’s still not justifiable! The internally generated revenue of the state was largely unaccounted for as revenue sources were shared to family members and cronies. The perceived overbearing influence of his mother in government and distribution of political patronage made Kalu’s critics to refer to his government as “Mamacracy”.
Though Kalu’s conviction has taken place in the administration of Buhari, his travails was actually ignited during the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo, his sworn political foe. Kalu was a thorn in the flesh of the then President Obasanjo, always peltering him with scathing criticisms and checkmating every of his political moves, including the botched third term bid. Kalu proved a hard nut to crack as Obasanjo exerted federal might to crush him politically in Abia to no avail. Kalu dumped the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) formed the Progressive Peoples Alliance(PPA) about 10 months to the 2007 general election.
In the governorship poll of 2007, there was no stopping Kalu as he defied federal might and outsmarted Obasanjo and PDP to retain control of Abia state as his anointed successor Theodore Orji was elected governor on PPA ticket even while in detention at Kirikiri prisons. When it seemed improbable that Orji would not be sworn into office, Kalu again outmanoeuvred his traducers and made sure that PPA was fully in charge of Abia government. Obasanjo just couldn’t take all that and had to hit back at Kalu one way or the other using the EFCC. Kalu, unfortunately played into the hands of his political foes by providing the rope with which he has been hanged. The Otta chicken farmer must be enjoying his last laugh.
Kalu’s failings in governance was largely veiled by his charisma and likeable personality. His achievement in football also contributed in making people overlook his shortcomings. It was during his administration that Enyimba International Football Club of Aba became the first Nigerian club side to win the CAF Champions League and followed it up back-to-back. He built a cult followering that still regards him as “action governor” even when Obasanjo, who gave him the title had confessed that he was deceived. Obasanjo had affixed the action governor label on Kalu when he came to inaugurate some roads in Aba, only for the said roads to collapse in less than six months due the poor quality of the road projects.
In all this, Abia in general is the loser. As things stand, the money which the former governor took from the state treasury won’ t be returned to the state. The court has ordered that Kalu’s company, SLOK should be sold off and the proceeds given to the federal government. Abia has lost in every aspect. The money which should have been used for the development of the state was stolen and when it is recovered the state could not lay its hands on the money.
In Abia North senatorial district which Kalu represents in the Senate there would be no representation while Senator Kalu remains in prison. His constituents are already expressing their concern over the unfortunate development. A former aide to the embattled senator. Chief Amah Abraham has said that Abia North cannot afford to lose its seat in the Senate hence the need for Kalu to resign and make way for election of another senator.
Abraham, a former chairman of Arochukwu local government who also served as political adviser in Kalu’s administration, urged the imprisoned senator to be courageous enough to put the interest of Abia North above his own by resigning from Senate.
He said: “If he (Kalu) goes to appeal he will only slow down the wheel of progress as that can drag on for about another year.
“The implication is that Abia North will have nobody at the senate to follow up projects for the zone in the budget.
“But if he feels he likes Abia North he should willingly resign so that Abia North will not be without a representative at the senate. And he may enjoy the sympathy of the people while pursuing his appeal as a private citizen.
“If he makes Abia North to be without a senator it shows he does not love them and is only after his personal interest.
In Abia North senatorial district which Kalu represents in the Senate there would be no representation while Senator Kalu remains in prison. His constituents are already expressing their concern over the unfortunate development. A former aide to the embattled senator. Chief Amah Abraham has said that Abia North cannot afford to lose its seat in the Senate hence the need for Kalu to resign and make way for election of another senator