About two years ago, I had the enviable honour of being invited by my university family, the Jackson School of Journalism, University of Nigeria, to a town-and-gown event at the Department of Mass Communication.
I was one of three alumni invited to the cross-fertilization of ideas with students and lecturers of the department I left in 1991. I considered it an even bigger honour when I realised that I was on the same bill with two other more accomplished Jacksonites, Chido Nwakanma and Emeka Oparah.
At the end of the two-day event, I was ambushed with an invitation letter for my publisher, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu (OUK). They wanted him to be the guest lecturer at a bigger event the following year. As the bearer of the letter told me, it was unfair that Kalu would be visiting other universities and institutions, delivering one incisive lecture after the other, but never coming to help “restore the dignity of man” in the country’s first indigenous university.
I declined taking the letter on the ground that I might not see Kalu before the event would hold.
That was their first shock. Kalu simply invests in a business, seeks out the best possible hands to run it and moves on to something else – only waiting to see your books at the level of the board. All he ever seems to care about is that jobs are created and people are earning their living there – and there’s transparency and good corporate governance. But that’s story for another day.
Back to UNN.
I obliged my ambushers with Kalu’s forwarding address, even though they insisted on my keeping a copy of the letter, in case I met him earlier.
I wouldn’t know what became of that programme but, suffice it to say, I did not see Kalu until last February, when he attended the 2016 Sun Awards. I saw him again last month at an event organised by the New Telegraph.
So, when on December 4, 2017, OUK filed out with the Sultan and Zenith Bank’s Jim Ovia to be garlanded with an honorary doctorate, I was not surprised. The university had been following Kalu for sometime. It was not one of those degrees given to the highest bidder, or to curry favour from serving government officials.
It was a recognition, and an encouragement, for Kalu’s unrelenting soldiering for country and state. For humanity. For the masses. For Ndigbo. For peace and development. For truth and justice. For equity. For peaceful co-existence. For ethnic and religious tolerance. For a united Nigeria.
It is probable that Kalu is fighting for all these (and more) at the same time, that his politics often confounds the naïve. So, one is invariably confronted with the ever-present question: what does Orji Kalu want? The answer is simple: Kalu wants a better Nigeria. A Nigeria that guarantees equitable opportunities for all. A Nigeria where the Igbo are not treated as second-class citizen. A Nigerian enterprise where every tribe is treated as a core investor and no tribe is permanently treated as reserve bidder.
Any other thing OUK does (whether excellently or innocently poorly) is merely in pursuit of the above-mentioned goals. But it takes an informed and dispassionate mind to see through it all. Haters and rabid partisans will never see it.
That is why every time one comes across any of those ill-informed criticisms of Kalu, usually on the social media, one’s mind immediately races back to what Prime Minister Harold Macmillan once said about his own son, Maurice, who had published a very scathing letter in The Times, slamming the father’s government.
The Prime Minister said: “I have never found, in a long experience of politics, that criticism is ever inhibited by ignorance.”
In other words, people would criticize, even if they know nothing about the subject matter.
But then, knowing that many of the social media lynch mobs are on the payroll of avowed political opponents of OUK, I soon dismiss their usually convoluted rantings as the desperation to justify their pay cheques. For, as Upton Sinclair, an American author, once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon him not understanding it.”
The University of Nigeria, in honouring Kalu, has refused to be blinded by parochial partisan interest that often sees us throwing the baby away with the bathwater. The citadel of learning has simply celebrated what it sees as one of the best of Igboland. By celebrating Kalu, UNN has reminded Ndigbo to keep their eyes on the ball in Nigeria’s political calculus and not be distracted by eggshell egos or proponents of the politics of exclusivity.
The South East must, as a matter of urgency, begin to project leaders who have not only built bridges across national divides, but are also marketable outside of Igboland.
That is why one was particularly alarmed at the mindless dirty politics of the last governorship election in Anambra State.
I cringed severally at the mud that was being thrown at otherwise respectable Igbo leaders, just because of the governorship of one state. It was tortuous when one saw how the sterling profiles of the likes of Peter Obi were being dragged in the mud. Rubbished with an avalanche of unverified (and unverifiable) allegations, just because he identified with his party’s candidate.
Painfully, Obi is one of about half a dozen politicians of South East extraction who have managed to build appreciable alliances across the country, and in whose direction we’d probably be looking in the event of Igbo presidency in the future.
It is an exclusive class that also has the likes of Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu and, believe it or not, Rochas Okorocha. Yes, not too many eggheads of the South East would readily agree to that, but the undeniable fact is that the names of Orji Kalu and Rochas Okorocha (before the recent erections and other misadventures) resonate a great deal in nearly all parts of Northern Nigeria. And, the last time I checked, the North has not stopped playing a critical part in deciding who becomes President of Nigeria.
That is the supreme irony of political leadership. It does not necessarily fall on the persons with the most impressive academic certificates. It is about the masses – and numbers. If it were to be otherwise, Muhammadu Buhari would not be President today. And if it were to be left to your village people alone, I doubt if Obasanjo would have ever become President in 1999.
So, as Ndigbo continue to make permutations for Igbo presidency in the nearest future, the authorities of the University of Nigeria may well be telling us something with the honour they bestowed on Kalu penultimate weekend.
I hate to call him a detribalized Nigerian. Kalu is simply a Nigerian. A hero and protector of his people – and their interest.
Kalu is a man who puts his money where his heart is. I still recall the conversation I once had with one of the founding fathers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on the formative years of the party. He told me of how Kalu and Atiku Abubakar were shouldering the cost of transporting and accommodating several key leaders and members of the then new party to crucial meetings in Abuja, how it was they who secured and paid for meeting venues, meals and other logistics. At a point, this equally strong politician who later became governor of one of the North West states said he was forced to ask Kalu to ensure he ran for office when the campaigns began. It was then that Kalu, who had already been in the House of Representatives, told him he would try his hands on the party’s ticket for the Abia governorship. At that time, many of those fighting today to stop Kalu in Abia State were utterly insolvent, relying on Kalu’s benevolence to feed, pay school fees and fuel their cars. In fact, a few of them had their first good car directly purchased by Kalu. Suddenly, the same people now turn round to tell their gullible social media hirelings that all the money with which OUK bought vehicles for them as far back as 1992, was stolen from Abia State treasury (which Kalu never got to control until May 29, 1999).
Having left the PDP, Kalu has transferred the same passion to the All Progressives Congress – no half measures. That is what those who don’t know him well do not seem to understand.