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By Peter Ogbonna Eze
A person may be a blessing to himself and his immediate family. At other times, he may be a blessing to a close set of beneficiaries, such as his kinsmen. Rarely do we find a man who is a blessing to his people, his country, the African race and his generation. Such a man stands tall in all seasons. I ask myself what gift one can give a man who God has been blessed with almost everything for his birthday. A man who has given much more than what he has received. Indeed, the biblical injunction holds true: Blessed is the hand that waters for it shall be divinely watered also.
Can one in a short piece effectively express his sincere feelings about a man who, just like an eagle, has consistently kept soaring higher? April 21 of every year is a special day for many, but particularly, it is a special day for an Igbere born philanthropist and politician, a devout Christian, a Forbes-listed billionaire, a man of conscience and courage, who has contributed to the growth and development of the society having remained true to his principles and positions under all climes and at all times, as he marks his birthday.
The list of the former Abia state governor (1999-2007) and Forbes-listed billionaire’s achievements is impressive. It is an inspiration to millions of people, endearing him to many as a role model and pride of Africa.
It is also almost ten years since he served government actively. If today is considered an appropriate time to take stock, it will be recorded that Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu has excellently passed his first 57 years test of history. He is still very relevant, he is still listened to. Or, to put it more bluntly, he has doggedly remained a man for all seasons.
This is harder than you might think. Kalu is revered by many – not just because of what he has done in the past but because of what he is today. The fable of the lion and the gazelle says that “every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will perish. Every morning also, a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle: You must outrun the other or you perish.” Orji Kalu is either a Lion or a Gazelle. Being a lion, he started outrunning the gazelle at 19 and still counting. As a gazelle, at 57, he has continued to outrun the lion. He has continued to jump and pass the hurdles. Kalu has undoubtedly achieved the impossible, leaving no stone unturned. Over time, he has proved to be more powerful than commonly understood. His accomplishment, even before emerging as a governor at 38, is enigmatic, as he set a record. Prominent among them is bagging a national honour at 25.
In the history of mankind, only very few people have had the courage to translate their dreams into reality. There is no denying that Kalu, through hard work and perseverance, has done a good job of making himself rich. According to Forbes’ latest rating, he is worth $1.1 billion
Orji Kalu, in 1999, was welcomed with both hands by indigenes and non- indigenes when he took over the reins of power in his state. The revolution he began, which focused on insecurity and infrastructure challenges, endeared him to the hearts of the people. He was soon given a new name by citizens, ‘soro uzor, mara uzo’. Abians demonstrated their love for Kalu when they overwhelmingly re-elected him in 2003.
Kalu, in his days as governor, certainly had some grandiose ideas – and the zeal required to accomplish them. He aspired to make government compassionate and give hope to the hopeless. He empowered all classes and ran an open door policy. His humanitarian initiative was responsive to the needs of Abia people and corresponded with their expectations. His achievements were notable. Despite leading in an era of rising governance costs, lean resources and persistent political persecutions, it was still possible for his administration to meet the very high expectations.
The People’s Enyimba could point to many achievements in his tenure. He attacked education from the root and embarked on a long term plan for quality education.
Besides his enduring legacies in every sector of Abia state’s economy as governor, is also his simple, uncommon personality. Unlike some of his contemporaries who relish unnecessary brigandage of officialdom, or who have allowed themselves to be carried away by the exaltation of their office, using expensive official cars, Kalu radiates simplicity both in appearance, utterances and actions. He remains the only governor who, throughout his eight-year tenure, rode in buses.
In today’s age of political gridlock in Nigeria, the case of Orji Uzor Kalu, as much as that of any of his kind, could illuminate a way forward. A closer look at the political life and career of Kalu reveals an inspiring record of a lofty thinker, an ultimate political operator, a strategist and a master pragmatist who geta things done in time but eventually gets misunderstood.
At 57, Kalu personifies an eagle. He embodies rare courage and selflessness that distinguish him from the pack of other leaders. He is not just a consummate politician but an embodiment of courage who oftentimes snatches victory out of the jaws of sure defeat. His fearless pursuit of whatever he believes to be right, even when it is unpopular, makes him an uncommon hero.
At times, I query why some people want to tarnish Kalu’s hard-earned reputation. It is with anguish bordering on physical pain that I must condemn the persistent poisonous attempts to ruin Kalu’s image using the nation’s ant- graft agency over unfounded serial allegations. But for the then action governor, neither the vagaries of time nor the propaganda of his adversaries can dim his value and position.
In the past, he has had daunting challenges which, to many people, looked insurmountable and were capable of drowning him in the murky waters of Nigerian politics. But, he has always risen up to the challenges to prove skeptics wrong.
Kalu’s continuous principled stand on matters of governance and the economy has earned him admiration and critics alike. Those who know him well would attest to the fact he is not likely to slow down on this, even as he turns 57 today. He believes that a man must stand for something. Otherwise, he falls for everything. As a title holder of ‘onunaekwuruoha’, the Igbere first son believes truth remains a necessary ingredient of justice, and that justice must be done irrespective of its cost.
The Barna Zaki of Lapai has a reputation for being fearless. Just as history will never forget the popular dual citizenship bill he sponsored as a member, House of Representatives in 1991, of which many are benefitting today, so shall history definitely make its own judgment of Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu.
Few politicians achieve consistency-Kalu did. Fewer still can point to a physical impact in the lives of thousands- Kalu can point to the lives of millions, directly and indirectly. Definitely, Kalu will be remembered very long after others are forgotten. He is still the man of the moment. He will, in my view, be seen as the last hope for a new united Nigeria.
Peter Eze is Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu’s Personal Assistant.