Sometime in 2004, I traveled to Umuahia, the Abia State capital, to attend the birthday of a friend and former member of the board of trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Benjamin Benedict Apugo. I was then the Abuja bureau editor of Vanguard newspapers. Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, who was then governor of the state, was in Apugo’s Nkata House on Bende Road to savour with the celebrator the atmospherics and nuances provided by the occasion.
My friend introduced me to Governor Kalu. We exchanged pleasantries and, right there and then, we hit it off. He volunteered his telephone number and encouraged me to keep in touch. I thought he was just trying to make me have that temporary “feel good” sense, not knowing that he meant it. Back in Abuja, I sent him a text message to appreciate the courtesy, and he replied.
The next time I was in Umuahia, I called him after I had rounded off with the purpose of my visit to let him know I was in his domain and that I would be leaving the following day, which was a Sunday. He said he was not in town but that he would arrive in Umuahia that night and he insisted I should see him in Government House on Sunday morning.
I made it there and was introduced to a number of people with whom we had breakfast and after which we launched into lively discussions. I had thought I would be able to leave in the afternoon for Port Harcourt to get a flight back to Abuja. He simply told me he would not allow me to go until Monday. He said we should go to Aba Stadium to watch the match between Enyimba FC and Simba FC of Tanzania.
The match ended 4-0 in favour of Enyimba. In celebratory mood, we drove to the home of the governor’s mother in Aba town for dinner. That experience was also unique. The reception was warm. Everybody had more than enough to eat and drink. Back in Umuahia, we settled down for further discussions. One of the sports editors of a national newspaper was with us. Dr. Kalu spoke about a new newspaper he planned to set up that would focus essentially on politics and economy.
His vision was very clear: a newspaper that would challenge the existing ones in the serious journalistic genre. He declared with a sense of fulfillment that The Sun newspapers, as a tabloid with a great focus on human angle/interest stories, had been a huge success and there was the need to delve into a robustly detailed reportage of political and economic affairs in the country.
Looking back to that night, I feel honoured that Dr. Kalu took his time to share his idea with us. In a statement that suggested he might have earlier shared the idea with the sports editor, he said the sports editor had been reluctant to indicate he would leave his newspaper to join the Telegraph. Yes, that was the name he mentioned then. The “New” that has been prefixed to it was a subsequent modification.
Today, the New Telegraph is a pragmatic consummation of an idea that flourished in Dr. Kalu’s prolific mind. The newspaper has stamped its feet authoritatively in the sphere of print journalism in Nigeria.
Significantly, Dr. Kalu must be commended for his industry. I must also commend him for his commitment to friendship. He did not allow the position he occupied to constrain the sheer effusiveness of his consideration towards me. How he got in touch with me anytime he was in Abuja was quite remarkable. Even when I did not know that he came to town, he would always reach out to me through someone. It became a characteristic expression of love, which I cannot forget. That, essentially, to me, is the product of the intercourse between greatness and compassion, which breeds humility.
Dr. Kalu is man-caring and God-fearing. I had benefited somewhat from his eleemosynary persona. And, I have continued to keep in touch. When, sometime in April this year, he changed his Whatsapp display picture for an electioneering poster in which he listed the 10 reasons why his people should vote for OUK (Orji Uzor Kalu) as Abia North senator, I knew it was time he moved to the Senate to represent his people.
That would happen, by the grace of God, in 2019. I recall that he had taken a shot at the seat in 2015 on the platform of the Progressive Peoples’ Alliance (PPA), but lost narrowly. The votes that separated him and Senator Mao Ohuanbunwa of the PDP were 195 in the 2016 rerun election that saw the deployment of the entire state government machinery against him.
That was an unfortunate incident that Kalu’s expedient politics seeks to redress. His people will, this time round, restitute years of self-imposed political exploitation with their absolute mandate. His testimonials are in apple-pie order. My view of Dr. Kalu is in pari materia with the third reason on the electioneering fact sheet of his capabilities that he posted as display picture on his Whatsapp platform, to wit: “He is a servant of all, rapid to offer a helping hand to people in all endeavours of life.”
Closely related to that is the ninth reason: “A resilient, accessible, competent, unifying, patriotic leader, who offers sacrificial and relentless services for the purposes of posterity and for humanity’s track records.” The fourth reason is quite strong: “He has the leadership skills, knowledge and innovations to accelerate the development of Abia North to greater heights.” And, consider the tenth reason: “the road rehabilitator, constructor, bridge builder, the action and best governor during his time, he has the records of having done it before and will do it again.”
Dr. Kalu can be relied on to deliver. His antecedents and track records of performance while in the saddle as governor speak for him. I remember another visit to Umuahia during which I had the opportunity of travelling with Dr. Kalu to his Igbere country home on several kilometres of well-tarred road en-route Abriba, the country home of retired Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, who was celebrating his retirement from Abriba community service in a grand ceremony called Ime Uche or Igboto Mma that marked the handing over of certain responsibilities of the community by his Akanu age grade to the next.
The roads from Umuahia to Igbere to Abriba had either the rehabilitative or constructional imprimaturs of Dr. Kalu. I do not have a doubt that he will replicate this passion for project delivery through his good office as senator, especially as someone with his eyes sharply fixed on people-oriented and infrastructure development-related motions, bills and legislations.
Having recently read a number of tributes to this great son of Abia on his 58th birthday, regardless of some infantile political tantrums from some quarters earlier, I believe that the greatest tribute that should be paid to him is for his senatorial constituents to invest their unequivocal mandate in him to represent them in Abuja as from June 2019.
He offers himself for service on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). All that his writ-large popularity requires to accomplish this is a solid party platform. The obvious mischief of a seemingly weak PPA platform has now been cured by a strong APC platform. I believe that an emphatic victory beckons on him this time round.
• Ojeifo, editor-in-chief of The Congresswatch magazine, contributed this piece via [email protected]