From Okey Sampson, Bende
DR Orji Uzor Kalu (OUK) needs no introduction in the political and business firmaments of the country. The astute businessman and former governor of Abia State is the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) candidate for the March 5 Abia North senatorial rerun election. In this interview, he speaks on why he wants to go to the Senate and other issues.
In the course of your campaign, you went round the whole of Abia North, what’s your impression?
Like you rightly pointed out, I went round 110 points, 98 political wards, and some special areas I stopped by. My impression is that since I left as governor years ago, the electricity I left for them is still what they are using, the roads I built for the people were the only ones that are still there, the free education I gave the people is no longer there, the free medical service they used to get, is no longer there. Things have got more difficult for the rural and poor people. My intention had always been that I will like to bridge the gap between the poor and the rich because the gap is so much.
If you get to the Senate, what are you going to do in concrete terms to bridge this gap between the rich and the poor?
As a senator representing this zone, I’m going to encourage the people to form cooperatives and take loans from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Bank of Industries (BoI) to boost their agricultural and other trade input. The people are great farmers and they engage in other trades, but they don’t have the seed money, and that is exactly what I will strive at to make them have.
In Abia North, we have 58 INEC political Wards, 98 ABSIEC political Wards and 10 special units. I toured all of them in the course of the campaign and I know their needs. If I get to the Senate, in the near future, I am going to spend my time to work out policies and directions on how we will be able to make them what they ought to be.
One thing I did when I was governor to better the lots of the people was the introduction of free education which was stopped by the succeeding government. If I become a senator, I will speak with the state governor on how to re-introduce it because that is the only thing the people will gain directly from government. I am also going to speak with the state governor on Abia State University, Uturu which happens to be in my own constituency on how we can subsidize the payment of fees in the institution and make it more affordable to parents. When I was the governor, we calculated the school fees, it was about N93, 000 and we allowed the students to be paying N7, 000 and those doing Medicine were paying N14, 000 and Law students were paying N10, 000. The balance of the students school fees were given as grants directly to the university by the state government. I’m going to the senate to serve my people again.
You are exhibiting high confidence this time that you are going to the senate; what gives you this confidence?
The people give me the confidence, the mood of the people gives me the confidence. There is no fear in the eyes of the people, they are ready to fight, the people are ready to vote and come out strongly to defend their votes unlike what we saw before when people were afraid of the PDP-controlled Federal Government sending security operatives to harass and intimidate the people on the day of election. Before, Abians were living in a police state where the former governor was only out to destroy his political enemy. In line with this, the people were not allowed to vote and those who voted, their votes did not count and this didn’t show democracy at all.
Your people seem to have resolved to vote for you during the rerun but they are worried if their votes would be protected this time around. What would you do to checkmate the PDP rigging machinery?
I don’t think PDP has any rigging machinery, we all knew what happened in the past, but things have changed now and I’m sure they cannot rig any election any longer. Our people would rather die this time around in the defence of their votes.
Each brand has its unique selling point, what is it that makes you stand tall above your opponents in the rerun election?
Well, the people know better. But if I must answer your question, none of the opponents including the one that was in the House of Representatives was able to attract a single project to his constituency after being in the National Assembly for eight years. Everywhere we went, people were talking about the free education and free medical services my administration gave them. It wasn’t a gimmick, it was a practical thing. From 1999 to 2007 when I was the governor, children went to school free, they were not paying for WAEC, they were not paying for anything. Those in the university, we subsidized their fees. Like I said earlier, they paid only N7, 000 and government paid the rest and this meant that we were committed to the welfare of the people.
We also established Adult Education Centres whereby people after work would go and learn and it was free. Now these things are no longer there, these are the components of the things that my people are losing. These things alone stand me out among others. As I said before, these people are not missing me because of the gigantic building I built for them. Democracy has two components, the software and the hardware. They are missing me more on the software side than on the hardware. The software was that I respected the laws of the land, I never harassed anybody or family. I never sent security operatives against anybody or arbitrarily sent people to jail. We never attempted to disregard the rights of labour unions, we respected their opinion and we were always dialoguing. These are the things that made people to love me and they are not kidding about that.
The people you made politically appear to be the same people opposing you now, what’s your reaction?
They have no conscience; a man with conscience should be able to rise above board and look at the future; the future is very bright.
Being a governor and senator are two different things; people are skeptical of your fitting into the hallowed red chambers of the National Assembly.
I am not going to be a fresher, mind you; I have been a member of the House of Representatives. Then I was deputy chairman of Finance and Foreign committees. I was in the House of Representatives when my friend, Senator Bola Tinubu was in the Senate and when Senator Musa Kwankwaso was in the House of Representatives as deputy speaker and Agunwa Anakwe was the Speaker. So, I know what happens in both Houses of the National Assembly, I have the experience. Moreover, I have been a leader of the students union in the university. There will be no problem if I am elected into the Senate because I have been a legislator before. People forget easily, people just see me as a governor, they never knew I have acquired legislative experience.
If by tomorrow you are elected into the Senate, what would your first bill be like?
I don’t know what my first bill will be like because it will be in consultation with my constituent because every four months, we will be having consultation meetings. Whatever the people want is what I am going to table before the Senate, it may be against my will, but so far as it is what the people want, I will have no choice. It might be what I don’t believe in, but if the larger number of my constituents believe in it, I will present it before the Senate.
You are of the PPA, the central government is controlled by the APC while in the state, the PDP is in charge. Will this not be an impediment to your set goals?
There is no problem; I’m used to working in this type of setting. I will make good use of what the situation will give, support polices that are good from the federal and also support polices that are good from the state government. I will find a way to get the best from the situation that will be created by the diverse political lining.
There is this rumour making the rounds that you will move over to APC if you get to the Senate, could you confirm this?
I don’t know those who are behind the rumour, but all members of my family are in APC, I’m sure you know that. Whether I will join APC would be left for the future to decide. But remember, I have a lot of friends both in the PDP and APC, so the issue of which party to join, why don’t you think that PPA will be a major political party in the future? So, think about that also.
There is this issue of you congratulating Gov Okezie Ikpeazu after his victory at the Supreme Court and subsequent denial, what exactly happened?
Since Ikpeazu became governor, I have not spoken to him. I wrote him letter when he was elected the first time. It was a very nice open and sincere letter and that was in March, 2015. Since then, I have never talked to Ikpeazu privately or publicly, neither have I talked to any of his aides or agents. Mind you, Ikpeazu worked under me, he was a local government chairman under me and I also appointed him special adviser and I know that he is capable of doing the job. The Ikpeazu I know will do the job if he wants to, not like T.A Orji, the T.A I knew before could have done the job also if he had wanted, but he didn’t do the job.
Gov Ikpeazu has been there for eight months, what’s your assessment of his administration?
It is still very early to start assessing him. But the home truth is that I have not had the opportunity of going round our state. Ask me this question in three months’ time, once I am elected Senator, I will go round the state and will be able to assess what he is doing. I will also have time to visit him, I will be very willing to work with him; I will also be very willing to work with President Muhammadu Buhari to better the lots of my constituents.
Some people are saying that if OUK goes to the Senate, he will not work with the state governor or will go there to pursue Igbo agenda. It is only a fool that will say that. The governor is in charge of the whole state, I’m a senator of a part of the state, so I must work with the governor to improve on the lives of my constituents. As an Igbo man, if I get to the Senate, I will work with President Buhari to advance the cause of Ndigbo and I don’t think that will be a crime. I’m not going there to represent any single individual, but my constituents, and with special bias also to work fully with the central government.
Some people have been wondering why you have been keeping quiet over the MASSOB/IPOB protests and the subsequent clampdown by the Federal Government.
Anybody agitating must have a reason or reasons for that; they have their sentiments. If I get to the Senate, I will arrange for a dialogue between them and President Buhari, between them and other Nigerians so that the issues will be resolved once and for all. So, I believe we will find a common ground. Justice will be given where there is injustice; we will find a strong common ground and justice will be given to all.
What’s your advice for people of Abia North?
They should keep the hope alive because once the hope is alive, we will be able to see the future. The future is very great; the future is very great for Abia North and for Nigeria. The problem we have always had as a nation is that our political leaders do not understand macro and micro economics. If they had, this country would have been a better place for all. Again, people should give President Buhari chance to implement his own policies. The president cannot do miracle over night. If not for the way he has managed things, the US dollar could have been N700 by now, that is the truth. The CBN has not done enough job, I think they should do more.
What’s your take on President Buhari’s anti-corruption war?
It is very, very good to fight corruption, but it should not be fought the ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s way. The Obasanjo’s way was that if you can’t get that former governor, apprehend the mother. Buhari is not doing that and I’m happy about it. I will like to praise the EFCC for the way they are doing their job; they have respected peoples’ right even when they are taking them to court which was not what the past EFCC did which arbitrarily abused peoples’ rights.
The Supreme Court has received knocks by some people over judgments the apex court gave over some electoral matters in the country. What’s your opinion?
We should respect the Supreme Court which I believe is supreme. Like they say, nobody is more Catholic than the Pope. In the same vain, nobody should claim to know the law of the land better than the Justices at the Supreme Court; therefore, what they say on point of law in any given matter is final. Whatever the Supreme Court Justices of any country say is sacrosanct. It is, therefore, out of ignorance that some people condemn or question the recent decisions of the Supreme Court as it concerns some electoral matters.
The Supreme Court is the ultimate court in any country. What you and I may think is not right, might be right in the eyes of the law and the Supreme Court.
Again, I wouldn’t want to align myself with those who are saying that President Buhari is against judges, it’s not true. I think the president is doing his job while the judges are doing theirs. Although people who lost in their cases would not be happy, that does not mean we should politicize the judiciary or see the judgment of judges as having some political undertones.
It is said that in every 12, there must be a Judas, but then, it will be unfair to give a blanket condemnation of our judicial officers particularly the judges.
You were planning to establish a university sometime ago to advance the educational cause of your people, but we’ve not heard about it since then. What happened?
The site is there, the university is there, I’m praying to God that the university will come on stream very soon.
If you get to the Senate, will you re-introduce the free education you put in place while as governor?
I laugh when some of my opponents go about deceiving the people that they will build them power plant and what have you; you are lying to them because there is no legislator that has budget, rather it is the executive that has. The only thing we can do is to plead with the executive arm to do something in the constituencies which we represent. So, because I’m not in the executive, I will be speaking to our governor to do that and I know he will listen to me. Happily at the federal level, it needs some finetuning and the same could be done in the state.
It was said that you addressed the US Senate in 1985, at the age of 25, if that is true, how could it help you if you get to the Senate?
I will always like to put the records straight. I addressed a sub-committee of the US Senate on special issues when there was the Maitasine crisis in the country and gave them light on it. I’ve talked to the British parliament on Boko Haram; I also talked to another sub-committee of the US senate last year. I have also talked to legislators in Vienna, in Brussels and the European Union. I have been talking to them; I did it in the past and I’m still doing it. It is part of my contribution to grow democracy and advance human rights cause. It will be a great advantage to Abia North because it gave me exposure and experience required of a senator.
Some Nigerians have lampooned the Senate, accusing it of not doing enough in the past eight months it was inaugurated. What’s your opinion on this?
Well, I cannot judge the Senate because I don’t sit there. I’m a private businessman presently trying to be in the Senate. It’s only when I sit in the Senate that I will be able to pass judgment on where I sit.
You are trying to go to the Senate and someone who ordinarily was supposed to champion your cause, does not want you there. If eventually you get to the Senate, how would it feel sitting in the same chamber with him?
If the man you are referring to is T.A Orji, I think sitting in the same senate chambers will be great and good for Abia State. Why I said it will be good for Abia is that as a past governor, he will put a lot of contributions to the Senate which I will also put. It will be a plus for the state because it will be parading three ex-governors -Enyinnaya Abaribe, T. A Orji and myself. Abaribe was a deputy governor, but deputy governor is also like a governor. It will be a plus for Abia State to have three senators that are of that status; we will achieve more for this area of the country.