Controversy might even be his middle name but you cannot just ignore former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu. He cannot be missed in the crowd no matter the size. He came into the consciousness of the nation in 199 when he was sworn-in as the second executive governor of Abia State on the platform of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP. He was soon to be one of the most popular governors, either for the right or wrong reasons. He took on the then President Olusegun Obasanjo and between the two it was a fight to finish. A self-made man, even before his foray into politics, he has his hands on so many business pies and that was where a vindictive Obasanjo chose to hit him. He targeted most of his business and practically grounded them. Slok Air readily comes to mind. Since he left office eight years ago, Kalu has returned to his business but he remains in the consciousness of the nation. He failed in his attempt to go to the Senate as he could not get the ticket of his party but he remains a strong party loyalist and he believes Nigerians should give President Goodluck Jonathan another chance. In a recent chat with Adedayo Adejobi, a vintage Kalu discusses his life, guiding philosophy, his marriage, life outside the Government House, his relationship with former President Babangida and Obasanjo and how the later ruined his businesses
Nigeria is at crossroads at the moment and it’s evident that there are issues in terms of governance, wanton corruption and terrorism.
We are no longer fools that people will come few days to the elections to campaign and hoodwink the populace. In the United States, the presidential candidates will comes two years ahead of the elections and explain to people their manifesto.
On the dilemma of insecurity, it’s new in our eyes. Remember when it started I shouted. It started in a Catholic church and now it’s gone beyond Anglican, Pentecostal. The bombs and bullets are killing everybody. They don’t care about colour or religion. I think we are not prepared as a country for terrorism. Let me also say that the country is refusing to bring strong characters to govern and give leadership to the country.
A leader must like the people he wants to lead. He must be committed at heart to the people, understand the common economy, justice, rule of law, thinks about the people and have substance. A leader must see and forecast the economy of tomorrow. The problem is that Nigeria has economic problem. It’s only when we solve economic problems we’ll now have political stability.
As a governor, you had a resolve not to allow criminals overrun your government, do you not see a strong loophole in President Jonathan’s administration?
There are definitely loopholes and he fighting to close the loophole. He is not denying that there is a problem. He cannot work alone to close the loopholes. Unfortunately, people are sabotaging his efforts in closing these loopholes in the name of politics.
What’s the latest after your failure to clinch a ticket to enable your Senatorial ambition come to fruition?
I filed paper in the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and I withdrew the paper when I found out they had given T.A Orji all the delegates. There is no need to waste my time. I give thanks to God because I don’t know what God saved me from by withdrawing from the race. I am not desperate, although I would love to give service to the people of Abia State and Nigeria. My work as governor reflected my heart for Nigeria through the Enyimba Football Club comprising Muslims and Christians, Hausas, Igbos and Yoruba in the field of playing bringing results. Same hold sway for the businesses I own; they reflect the true frame of mind. My face knows no Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa. I consider competence in all I do. And this is the problem of Nigeria. Nigeria has to be able to arise from being partial to being competent. Our leader should focus on what the people need. A leader should have conviction before having advisers. Nigeria doesn’t need a strong man to lead but someone who will be as humane as President Jonathan, although with strong advisers. If he wins again, all of us will get involved to re-direct the level of government and participation because governance is about making business decisions, investment, economy, expansion, amenities, roads, rails and infrastructure. There is nothing wrong in owing. Brazil borrowed, but they used theirs to develop infrastructure and do great things. So it’s not at waste. But Nigeria borrowed and squandered the money. It’s not the right way to go.
If I was in President Obasanjo’s position, I wouldn’t pay back that loan. I would pay penalties, service the loans and use same to develop electricity, transport and key sectors of the economy and then offload them in the stock exchange. You cannot have five major international Oil and Gas companies in Nigeria and not harness them. You’ll tell them: I’ll provide you 80% asking them to invest 20%. If the federal government had from 1999 till 2004, put $2billion on the table and ask Exxon Mobil, Addax, Chevron or Shell to put 10% of them, asking them to be partner leaving the management of the refinery to them. After about 10 years, the Nigerian government will offload about 80% in the stock exchange so that all Nigerians will buy stock and Exxon will still hold their stock and manage the refineries, we will not be importing fuel. We can then go ahead to ask them to give 10% percent of their profit to Agriculture or sectors that need development.
When you look at the nooks and cranny of our country, you’ll see Chinese and Indians there. This is how liberal our country is. And they are not as liberal as we are in China or India.
People say there is some sort of discord between you and Governor T.A Orji. What is your relationship with him?
I don’t have anything personal against him. He knows that I never offended him. From day one I handed over to him, I told him to rule us with conscience. I have prepared the video footages to show Nigeria soon. When he came out of Kirikiri, the night he slept in my Lagos house, he made a comment. I called one of the staff and told him we had made a mistake. He heard me bluntly and that is the truth.
So after one year, I called him not to run again because you have no clue what governance is all about. He went back and started quarrelling with me two weeks after being sworn in. He told people I wanted to take money from him and that was why I am not working. Has he worked till date? He told them he liberated them. I ask him, from whom? I am the most liberal democrat in the East of Niger because I don’t bear grudges against anybody. I am forthright, I forgive and move on. I am a child of circumstance, change and feel concerned about the society that’s why I am always thinking of opening new businesses to employ people. I do not think of keeping money to feed. Go to Aba and you’ll see the new recycling factory I just opened. It has employed over 1,000 youths. I think tomorrow. I am very simple. Even when I have private jets I can use, I prefer flying commercial planes so that I maintain friendship and sight of Nigeria.
In your viewpoint, what is your assessment of T.A Orji?
I cannot assess him. Instead, I‘ll allow people of Abia to assess him. Because if I asses him, you might not believe me.
You are one man with close ties with General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. How is the relationship now?
It’s a very good relationship and this is how you know the character of a man. When you parley with someone who was President and after his Presidency he’s remained a true friend and I remain loyal to him.
How did it all begin?
I was introduced to him by his cousin in Maiduguri. Kiari Hammed who used to work with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). And the friendship has grown. We are friends till tomorrow.
For you to have maintained a relationship with such a controversial figure, what did you find in him?
The qualities are simple. Honestly, I never told him lies before. I don’t deceive him. If former President Babangida is wrong, I go to his house and tell him you didn’t do this thing well. He might get angry for a few minutes, but he knows it’s the truth. And these are things President Obasanjo never tolerated. I see that when also he was President. He hired the best hands to run the government because you can see the quality of Ministers he had. Leaders should not be afraid of hiring strong people to work for him because it brings quality leadership. When a leader hires someone who is not strong in character, they can’t achieve much. You can see the crop of people Babangida worked with. The likes of Prof. Jubril Aminu, Dr Rilwan Lukman, Kalu Idika Kalu, Prof. Akinyemi and Prof Babs Fafunwa amongst other very strong characters. So, when you see these kinds of leaders, it shows hope. People should stop bringing third-rate Nigerians to run Nigerian economy. The country needs tough men who will serve and not rob the country blind.
In your definition, who is the ideal Nigerian?
A Nigerian should be someone who loves everyone no matter the tongue or religion. If I am given an opportunity, I’ll abolish all the local governments. People should stop filing forms to say the local government they come from. It’s a violation of our constitution. It’s not supposed to be there. Every federal and state form should do away with where you come from and religion.
The governorship race is next after the Presidential elections. And your state is obviously relevant in the scheme of things. Who are you endorsing for the governorship seat?
As far as I am concerned, only three people are contesting the governorship seat; namely Alex Otti, Chikwe Odensi and Ikpeazu. Stakeholders will decide who will rule them, because I don’t want to be seen as partisan.
What do you see as the future for Nigeria after the elections?
The future of Nigeria would be growth. We need to plan for growth. If the President is going to focus on internal security, generation of more electricity, infrastructure so that we can have foreign direct investment.
Does it mean it can’t be stolen or they don’t steal such monies and more?
There is stealing going on. People are stealing and it is not right between Man and God. To take public funds is not right. I say it every day. This stealing cannot be stopped overnight. A leader needs to stand his grounds. When I was in Abia, I said I would not take bribe. No contractor can say I took bribe. I have never transacted any business with any of my commissioner, including the Chief of Staff. Apart from the security votes, I didn’t steal and didn’t allow anyone else to steal. If anybody has given me money in Abia, let him come out and say so. This is the beauty of democracy. A leader must say no to money. I have many contractors I can mention by name who brought me money. I said no. Take your money back. And this is how a leader must behave. How much money do we really need in life? I work for every penny you see me with and that’s why you don’t see me give frivolously. I don’t dash the way politicians dash. Even when I was
governor, people complained.
What has life outside office been for you?
I can’t even differentiate between when I was in government and now because now I am always busy. It seems I see more people now than I was a governor.
That doesn’t seem totally true and correct, as then you had the paraphernalia of office as the Governor. But now, all that is no more…
I lack nothing.
Do not misinterpret me. I have not said you lack anything. But you no longer have the paraphernalia of office as the governor.
I never had any paraphernalia. You’ve seen me in Lagos many times. I go with three cars when I was governor. You would have seen me in Abia State many times, I moved with bus. I never used the Nigerian flag when I was governor. I still maintain using three cars and the same security guards.
You are married with kids. Share the experience?
It’s always a pleasure to be married. Even God said you must leave your father’s house and go to a man’s house. Family is everything. For those that don’t have family it is a pity because the greatest joy of any man’s life is his family, my family comes first, second and the last. It’s not comprisable.
What’s your relationship with your children?
How many boys and how many girls?
Four girls and one boy.
So when you see the girls, what do they remind you of and your son too?
They are just my children. I am not particular about their sexes.
When you see your children, what memories of growing up and childhood come to mind?
Nothing comes to my mind, because I am not a father of today I have children that are in their twenties. One is 23 years old another is 17 years old almost 18, another is 15 years old almost 16 as well, one is 10 years and another is 5 years old almost 6. For me, I am excited about my children and because they are my children they make me happy because I have no other people other than them. All these things you see like my houses, cars are rubbish and vanity. Have you seen any man being buried with his car or house? No! And this is why I am so simple because I know life is vanity. I tell that to my children every day. I say to them I will not leave you with anything else apart from the best education that is what you will have.
Tell me what the challenges have been?
There are no challenges if you keep to the rules. You see somebody like me, frankly speaking I don’t have records with women. I am not a womanizer; I don’t go to nightclubs. People don’t really see me in occasions. I am one person who does not believe people should spend money on funerals and occasions. I believe people should celebrate in their houses everyday with their family. And that is why you hardly see me anywhere. So life should be simple. People carelessly leave their parents to die and when they die they go to borrow money to bury them. But that is not love. I can tell you that my father left a will which was read by my younger brother who is a lawyer the day he died and we buried him the same day. We did not do any celebration for anybody. Maybe five years down the line we will do his remembrance because he died on the 20th December 2010. People have been complaining that we did not celebrate but it is the will of the man that he wrote saying no one should celebrate him; that we should use the money for charity and that we should bury him with the priest officiating.
You are the kind of man women will like to flirt around. Have you been sexually harassed before?
You see, I left governance about eight years ago and I have not held any political office since then.
But you are still in touch with the people?
I am still in touch but I have not held any political office since then and I shouldn’t be referred to as a politician. I am just a member of a political party. I am not in politics per se because I have retired from office though Theodore Orji is not paying pension. To answer you, I see every woman I meet as my sister or as my daughter. I am not saying I have not looked at women on few occasions, but I stopped doing those five years ago.
Was there any thing that made you change?
No! I just keep to myself. I have always been like this, a one man one woman man. I have never changed and I will never change but people out there do not see me that way but if you come and stay with me you will know truly that I am one man one woman. I travel with Sola, Osita, Chucks, Kunle or Ugochukwu anywhere. Sometimes they go clubbing as young guys. I finish whatever I have to do and I just go to bed. I live a very strict life and people hardly understand. Usually I don’t drink but now I do occasionally and Guinness stout is my favorite.
In your simplicity, you aint stylish. Are you?
I don’t have any style.
But you have stylish pastors as friends?
But my spiritual leader and friend, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, who for some years now prays for me and my family anywhere we are in the world. Anywhere he is in the world he will always call to pray for my family and every New Year day over the phone. He is my friend and I appreciate him because he is one of the best teachers of the bible. There are few Catholic priests that can do that. Watch him on television; he teaches like he wrote the bible himself.
When did you meet him?
Many years ago
What do you admire about him asides the bible?
He is really a true man of God
Can you say that about other men of God in Nigeria?
Yes of course. Adeboye, Oyedepo, Kumuyi, Mouka, Dr. Mike Okonkwo. T.B Joshua is a man of God too even though people say all manner of things about him. Some are genuine and some are not. I appreciate them for all they are doing, despite the fact that they are taking members of the Catholic Church and the Anglican church away. It’s Nigeria and you have freedom to attend any church of your choice. The young ones of today will tell you they prefer all these new generation churches to the orthodox churches.
Who would you call your mentors? People who inspired you. Do you have any list?
To be honest, if I tell you the people who inspired me you will be surprised.
I will like to know them?
No! I will not tell you
I inspire myself
How do you do that, through introspection?
I like to be alone sometimes and think about life because when I was growing up, the Fulani man, Professor Jubril Aminu, told me that you can never hide the truth. Ahmadu Bello said that every other thing will go, but the truth will stand the test of time and since then whenever I am dealing with anyone, I owe them the truth. You can get angry or uncomfortable; if you are my boss I will not challenge you in public, unless a stubborn boss like the former President Obasanjo. But if I am employed I am loyal in my duties and if there is a disagreement we will close the door and settle it. But that is the height of it: you dare not criticize your boss. Obasanjo, being my boss, was a different case, he was an appendage boss because Abia State is a part of the federating unit and he did not employ me. If I was a minister to him, director of communications, chief of protocol or an ambassador to him, I will never say anything about him openly because it’s not
right. If we have any disagreement we will discuss it and if I am not satisfied with the way he is working I will call him aside and we would discuss it.
Knowing full well he messed up your businesses, do you still have an existing relationship with him?
I have not gone to greet him since I left office because he did a lot of damage to my business. He cancelled my license; he took the airline and cancelled my license and he also cancelled some of my businesses. I don’t think a normal person could have done that. I respect him because he is one of the greatest leaders of our country but he was irrational which is not good.
Obasanjo destroyed the system. He de-registered me and registered Atiku and other people without their consent. I am afraid for Nigerian people welcoming, winning dinning and/or celebrating Obasanjo. He re-echoed corruption in the political system. When I wrote to him he did not address the issues raised. He auctioned a lot of government properties.
I support Jonathan whether he wins or losses. After all, we are all Nigerians. The issues is not who wins, it’s an issue of the country being stable. I know President Jonathan will win with a slight margin, although he might not control the National Assembly. No one party will control the National Assembly. I urge Nigerians to vote President Jonathan. Even if there is a paper we failed, let them allow us repeat it. We will do well in exams. I am sure this time he will work with men of strong character in his cabinet. I want every Nigerian to come out and fight corruption. We should ban governors from making donations to churches and mosques. Nigerians should leave religion alone and face good governance.
I know there are problems in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) but they will be resolved in the next two weeks. The President, followers and party are working hard to correct this challenge. We the followers are also working to correct the mistake.
When you look through life do you have any regrets?
Well yes, sometimes I have and when I go into my room and I regret and I ask myself what have I done? I kneel down and then I pray and ask God to forgive me.
Are they things people can learn from?
Well, they are things you can learn from. There are some silly mistakes and some are mistakes you cannot avoid.
Do you want to share them?
Yes like when you go out of your way to have a girlfriend and you know it’s not right between you and God. That is why I made a decision to stop it and I have stopped it.
There are sometimes even in your regrets you say to yourself, well in this line, I am fulfilled?
Well, I cannot say I am fulfilled when I see 75% of the Nigerian population that cannot afford food, transportation, electricity, education. How can I be fulfilled when people have no jobs? I am not fulfilled. I am very ambitious to be able to make people comfortable. Sometimes, I walk and I board buses when I am in Abia State and so many places where I have been to. I use buses sometimes when I come to Lagos not even the expensive buses. So I have seen life and I believe not everything that glitters is gold. Some of them are deceitful. There were some decisions I took as a young governor that I would not have taken because I know it was not right.
Share one of the decisions you have taken and you felt why did I take this and how did you handle it?
One of the decisions was when we started dividing the autonomous communities. I was advised by civil servants and I listened to them. If was to take that decision today I would not have divided the autonomous communities. I will dare not do it because it is not the right thing to do. The civil servants would come and say people want to be on their own. We took the decision and it went out of hand and I genuinely apologised to the people of Abia State from the bottom of my heart
How do you really unwind?
It’s difficult. I see people here from 8am to 2am .You can ask Sola and my gate men. I went to bed at 2am last night
When do you wake up?
I wake up at 5am everyday
So when do you get time to rest?
I sleep 3 to 4 hours for the past 20 years no matter the part of the world I find myself. I am restless and very hyperactive with so much energy.
So what are your plans for the future?
My plan is to continue to build unity among Nigerians. Sometimes, I go on tour the North, South-west, East, and South-south. To continue to build bridges of unity, because unity is the only thing that can bind. You see today, my Foundation has been advertising on the need for people to vote and vote rightly and to follow their conscience when voting. Those are part of the things I want to be contributing. My NGO, Orji Uzor Kalu Foundation, is going also to start the message of reconciliation amongst states, brothers and sisters, friends because we need reconciliation in this country. We need to know that nobody goes six foot below with any plane, car, bicycle, pen you as a journalist must not go home leaving me and I must not go home leaving you. My decision to help INEC to disseminate messages for people to vote and protect their votes is very important.
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