Businessman, politician and former Abia State Governor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, is on a new crusade: To produce a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2015. In this interview, Kalu explains why he believes Ndigbo have a genuine case. Excerpts:
For about two weeks, you were out of the country. What was the trip all about?
I go sometimes to look around both as an independent businessman and to just see what is happening in other African countries. This is mostly for business and to continue preaching for unity among the Igbo and the Nigerian people living elsewhere
Which of the countries did you actually visit, and would you want to relate your experiences in those countries?
I was in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Togo, Congo and I partially headed to Namibia and Angola.
Did you meet with Nigerians in these countries?
Yes, what I tried to do in every place I went was to meet Nigerians in the Diaspora, talk to them and find a way of buttressing the issue of unity of our country and to see how we can continue finding friendship.
Looking at the national scene, would you say you are satisfied with the way the country is presently; politically, security-wise and so on?
I know that there are lots of problems in the country and security has not been very good. Economy has not been good too because it ties with the security. Honestly, I have not been encouraged by the way the security system of the country has been and I believe that a lot has been said and done on this. The security situation has been a very big problem and on this I guess that all hands must be on deck because the country is drifting.
In your opinion, what have we not done right, and what do you think should be done?
It stems from people in government not consulting widely. People in government are not doing the right thing to make sure that the security situation is right by engaging in wide consultation.
In view of this, how would you now assess the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan?
No, I am not going to assess him now. I have said it times without number that President Jonathan has told us to give him up to 2013. Honestly, I am going to give him up to this time of 2013 if God gives us life and good health. I will assess him openly but I will write privately before I will assess him in public.
One major issue today about 2015 is that of producing a President of Igbo extraction from the South-East. But northerners are saying that after Jonathan, it is their turn. How do you think this is going to play out?
But even you as a journalist, doesn’t your conscience tell you that it is the turn of the Igbo people to govern? It is about conscience. We are not going to fight the northerners or to fight the westerners. We are not going to fight anybody. We are only negotiating and begging to see that justice is done. Part of what is happening in Nigeria is injustice and you see some of these sects like the Boko Haram, in my opinion and the opinion of the United States, are not terrorist groups. They are just a group that came as a result of injustice. If justice is done to all, there will be no problem. I believe that the northerners in their wisdom will want to talk to us and to have something with us. This is because it is really our turn to be president, we will do the work.
People are saying this is not the first time that the Igbo will bid for president. That the problem has always been a kind of a lack of cohesion and unity whereby many candidates are presented at the same time and not putting their house in order. How do you want to overcome this?
Where have you seen unity? When Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to be president, was there any unity in the South-West? When the late Umaru Yar’Adua wanted to be president, was there any unity in place? It pains me when people want to hang any name on the Igbo people. Many Igbo people are qualified to be president and many will come out like many people were qualified in the South-West when Obasanjo wanted to be president. Many people came out including the late Chief Bola Ige and Chief Olu Falae. They are Yoruba people, they are not Igbo. They came out to challenge Obasanjo and later on Obasanjo prevailed. When Yar’Adua wanted to be president there were so many candidates including Atiku, Buhari, are those Igbo people? Don’t say that Igbo has no unity. Yes, there are some cracks but we are patching them. This is what the newly formed Njiko Igbo is working on seriously, to foster unity among our people.
Who are those with you in the group that you are championing? Would you want to mention some names?
Let me tell you this, every Igbo man anywhere, unless an Igbo man that is insane would not be talking about an Igbo being president. Every Igbo man directly or indirectly is a member of this organisation Njiko Igbo. Let nobody deceive you, every Igbo man, including those dancing around the powers-that-be. Even those who come out to criticise. People are hungry, they can criticise, ‘we don’t want president’. But deep in their minds, they know that what I am speaking about is the right thing to be done. And that is what is going to be done.
You have been championing the cause of the Igbo and have been fearless in airing your opinions. Once you believe in something, you say it. Can we say you want to run for president in 2015?
No, no, I am not talking about presidency. I am talking about the unity of our people. I am talking of oneness of a tribe, a tribe that has given so much to Nigeria and Nigerians as a people. I am talking of a tribe which fought genuinely for independence, a people who despite the civil war were able to reunite immediately among the Nigerian people. Because in every place you go, you see Igbo and that is the hallmark of the Igbo man. Our strength is that we are in Birnin Kebbi, Osogbo, Ilesa, everywhere. Anywhere you don’t see an Igbo man, run away, nobody lives there. We have given colour, honour, everything to this country. The country should for once give us honour by conscientiously agreeing to give us the presidency.
Another issue that is paramount is that of constitution amendment. National Assembly members have been moving round but many people are saying there are some things that need to be put in perspective first. They have been agitating for Sovereign National Conference (SNC). Should it be SNC now or constitution amendment? What is your take on this?
There is nothing wrong with the constitution we are practicing. The only thing to be amended there is to give the South-East one state more. If you want to amend the constitution today, we should amend it to have one single House. Abolish the Senate so that we have only the House of Representatives. A country that uses 25 per cent of her national budget to service 400 people in the National Assembly is criminal. The legislature should be on part-time, non-residential, if we really want to move forward. No legislator should take more than N1.5 million a year as allowance. Let the real people go and make law for the people and let the real people be accountable to the people not to themselves. The economy will collapse if care is not taken. Who is going to bell the cat, the masses? I believe that instead of going about talking about constitution amendment, these legislators should talk about hunger, insecurity that are holding the people of Nigeria. To me I am not impressed with a constitution amendment. I am thinking more about what to do to evade poverty and bring prosperity to the economy.
How do you think the South-East can go about getting an additional state to equal what the other geopolitical zones have?
This is just one of the injustices done to the South-East. We have been begging and we will continue to be begging. We are negotiating with the other parts of the country to reason with us. Yes there was a civil war but the war has ended and we must come together. We are one country and we will continue to fight for its unity.
Would you then say the fact that the South-East doesn’t have the same number of states as other parts of the country mean punishment for their role in the civil war?
What else do you think it is all about? I am surprised that the South-East has given so much to this country called Nigeria. We spilled our blood, nobody is talking about reparation to people that were killed during the civil war. They took our belongings as abandoned properties. They took everything and changed our money to 20 pounds and what else have they not done to us? I believe that justice should be given to us
Talking about the civil war, Professor Chinua Achebe did a book recently, There Was a Country. The book stirred controversy in the country. He made some assertions that there was deliberate starvation of the Igbo during the war. Apart from that, he spoke about properties that were seized during the period too and said there was a deliberate attempt to pauperise so many Igbo people. As a statesman, how do you see what he said vis-a-vis comments from the South-West leaders in response to his claims?
It is just the politicians trying to create wave where there is nothing. What Chinua Achebe has done is that he has written his opinion which I guess is what he feels is correct. Phillip Effiong just said that he is going to write his own memoir. These people saying yes or no, I don’t understand. War is not a bazaar. In war, you fight with everything you have. Although killing civilians is not part of what you are expected to do, however, at all times of Chief Awolowo’s life, he had never denied that he did not do what Chinua Achebe said. But politicians should stop using it as a political tool.
Recently, some politicians went to Abuja agitating that you should not be allowed to return to the PDP. For a state you have done so much for, one was surprised to know that such a thing could have happened. Why did you think they didn’t want you back in PDP, a party that you were a foundation member?
That shows you the type of politics we are playing now. I never told anybody whether privately or in public that I wanted to go back to the PDP. But if I want to go back to PDP, it is my civic right. I had never told anybody whether in private or in the open that I wanted to go back to PDP. I think these leaders should focus on their leadership … on the job we have given them to do. Aba, Umuahia, Ohafia are disaster areas. I expect these people in government to focus on leadership and stop dancing around the groove. They should be accountable to the people. When I was governor, I was accountable to the people. I have no regret being governor of Abia State. If you give me the opportunity, what I did for the people, I will repeat them.
They should be able to beat their chest and work for the people. I am not in a contest of popularity with anybody but I want the judgement of the people to prevail. The people are the best judge on earth. Only the people and God can judge anybody.
Would you like to reveal what caused the quarrel between you, Ogbulafor, Abaribe, Nwogu and Chukwumerije?
I have never quarreled with these people before. There is no personal quarrel even with the governor. I can’t remember of any. If they can remember of any, they can tell me or the nation. My conscience is clear.
The governor is a person you practically installed in the Government House when he had some problems. He wasn’t even around when the election was held. Maybe he was still with the EFCC at that time but he came in and you stood by him. Could you really tell us what actually happened between you or you don’t want to make it a public thing?
That shows the character of the man. It is not me you should be asking. It is the man that is carrying the burden, not me. I have no thought of ever offending him, but I give thanks to God at all times. No matter what I have done to this man, for what I did for him, I expect him to find a forgiving heart to me than the way he is doing. I have no regret on what he is doing. That is what God said would happen. We are here, we are for the people and we cannot but be for the people. Our most fundamental issue is speaking the truth and the truth would never lack in our mouth. Leaders are speaking with both sides of their mouths now. To me I don’t know what I have done to the governor. If he feels I have done anything to him, he should throw it open to the Nigerian people and let them be the judge. Let the Abia people be the judge. In my conscience, my last discussion with the governor was that he had not done anything for the people, that he should not run for a second term. That is the truth and I have no regrets in telling him that because it is the right thing to do.
Would you say that is the crux of the whole problem? That he said he wanted to go for a second term and you are opposed to him going?
There is nothing else. He said it to people, in newspapers. He said it before the election that I stopped him not to go for a second term. I told him not to go and that is the truth. He wasn’t lying then so he should be able to tell the people the truth.
You are a successful businessman. You were successful before you came into politics. One wonders why you are bothering yourself with so many national issues. What really drives you?
Well, I am an Igbo man, a Nigerian. If you look at my face, you’ll see the face of a true Nigerian. I am bothered and I think about my children and the generation that will follow them. What would I say that we have left as a legacy? Why I am bothered is for us to enthrone a transparent and qualitative leadership. That is what it’s all about. How many times do I eat and how much food do I eat? If you have taken a la carte and I have taken fufu or pounded yam, it is the same. I am not hungry? You that have taken big food, a la carte, and me that has taken pounded yam are on the same pedestal People think of acquiring and acquiring without a solution. You have been in this house in 1993-1994. This is the same house I am living and I have not seen anything change in my life but I thank God I served as governor. But I lost a lot going for the governor of Abia State.
In what ways did you lose?
I lost all my businesses by government policies, the Airline, the banks, everything you can think about. I am the only politician who has taken a deep brunt, of course, of playing politics. Others acquire in politics. We give thanks to God.
You have been pushing for a president of Igbo extraction in 2015. Are you conversely saying that Jonathan should not go for a second term?
Is Jonathan an Igbo man?
He has not said he is going but the constitution says he can go. Many people are saying he should go but you are calling for a president of Igbo extraction in 2015 and he is not an Igbo. So you are saying he should not go for a second term?
If he wants to go with an Igbo man, he can come out; it is a free society. I cannot ask Jonathan to go or not to go. I am only telling you that it is the turn of the Igbo. I am not in a position to tell him to contest or not. It t is not my duty. My duty is that as a political figure from the South- East, mine is to fight for my tribe. I have no other job to do than to defend my tribe and the people of Nigeria. That is my job. I cannot stop talking about national issues, things that can benefit the ordinary man or things that would change the society.
Recently, INEC de-registered some political parties. Some of them are accused of not winning any seat in any election and of not having offices in Abuja. Some are saying that winning election should not be the only yardstick to de-register the parties. They are even planning to go to court. As a politician, someone who had founded a party, what is your view on this?
Attahiru Jega is very right. What I think would come, Jega has started it. Jega has to reform the political process because I expected this from Jega. He is a man with high discipline and I don’t expect anything less than what he is doing. He should show Nigerians and the world that we cannot have sixty something parties here. I like to see 12, 13, 14 parties and possibly in the next five or eight years, it should go down to five. You cannot manage the ballot papers today. With 13, 14, 15 parties you can to have one sheet, manage the ballot paper and put in your votes.
INEC should think about voting for everybody in one day. They must put the logistics so that voting must be in one day. In America, in every country you go to, all the legislative, parliamentary, governorship, presidential elections hold in one day. You must not give any party advantage again. They should be able to do all elections same day. In one sheet of paper you vote for governors, for president, for the house in America, even the same day they vote for judges. Jega should think about that and reduce m,.this expenditure. They are killing the opposition parties and other people because once they bring in money to pay agents in one day and that election is over, the next election they would not have money.
Some of the parties, ACN, CPC and ANPP, want to come together to form a mega party to challenge the PDP. Do you think this is the way toward getting power from the PDP?
Let me go back on INEC. It needs to stop government officials from going to counting centres. INEC should stop those who have no business there. They should only have the agents there. Look at what happened in Ghana, only the agents were there. At the local government headquarters; you see a local government chairman because he is in government, he would come and pursue all the opponents and they would rig the election inside the house. INEC must ban every government official from the counting centres.
On the merger of ACN and CPC, it is constitutional so let them continue their discussion. I am not a member of any political party today so I am not competent to discuss merger of ACN and CPC.
Why are you not a member of any political party?
I am fighting for the unity of the Igbo and if I am a member of any party, I would not have the ability to do this work I am doing for the Igbo. Because in Njiko Igbo, whether you are in PDP, CPC, PPA or APGA, they are all members so I don’t need to belong to any party for now as a coordinating soul. If I decide to play partisan politics in future, I may declare for a political party. For now, I am not a member of any political party. It gives me a straight head not to say I am supporting Jonathan or I am supporting Buhari, Babangida, Atiku, Bola Tinubu or Orji Kalu. For now, they are all my friends and I want to maintain it that way.
You seem to be very close to your mum and people have always said so many things, that she has an undue influence on you. Would you want to speak about most of the things that they had said … like that there is nothing you even do without consulting your mum?
That is not the truth. Every child including our Lord Jesus Christ is close to his mother. Every human being who wants to be successful must be close to the mother. All those things they said are fallacies; that my mother was staying in Government House. My mother never slept in the Government House for one day. The governor of Abia today knows this is the truth. Yes, I have a personal relationship with my mother but she never interfered in any job I did as Governor of Abia State. I take full responsibility for all that I did as governor. When there was political division, those who wanted to be this, to be governor and so on spread the rumour. Of all politicians in Nigeria, I have strong character among all of them. Whatever I say I don’t want, I don’t want it. Nobody can make me succumb. X-ray these politicians very well, you will know that they are gangsters. They are not real people. They are not what they said they are. I continue telling people, if I wanted money, I could have been with President Obasanjo. True or false? I could have been with him because it was the easiest way. He was the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I said no we don’t want this to happen. That is how people should behave. When they were here and were saying Abacha must stay, it was these same people who were saying Abacha forever. There were a few of us who said no, we don’t want Abacha to succeed himself. But those of them that are in government, in power, they are a recurring decimal in government.
I want, from early next year for people to trace their wealth. Let everybody who has been in government trace how he bought his house, how he acquired his money. Let us target their banks from African Continental Bank to Cooperative Bank to Commerce Bank, Allied Bank, to all those banks. Let them bring the bank statements; you will find out that 98 per cent of people who live in this country and have something to do with government are fraudulent. You will see that they have not made any money except in government.
You mentioned something about Obasanjo. Have you reconciled with him?
Reconciliation is a gradual process. Every wound would have to heal. I have no problems with him. I never have personal problems with him. I have always had problems based on issues. I was his best boy. He made me action governor of Nigeria and I am still his best boy up till tomorrow. Because I know wherever he is, he remembers what I discussed with him. He knows I am genuine. I never deceived him for one day as a president. Even my mother was always asking me about him, whether I kept in touch with him, greet him, so I don’t have problem with him. He is my father. Apart from that, I want to keep my mother happy
•This interview was first published in the National Mirror of Sunday, December 12, 2012