Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State and well heeled international businessman is making his second attempt for a Senate seat. The first attempt turned into a no contest when according to him he was stopped from stepping out to vote on Election Day by four armoured tanks positioned outside his gate. Kalu who is vying on the ticket of the Progressives Peoples Alliance, PPA in this interview reviews that state of affairs in the country, his native Abia State among other issues. Excerpts:
Given your flourishing business interests and your regular trips out of the country, how do you think you can give the people adequate representation?
I was governor here for eight years and I sat here to do the job. I am going to do this job for the best interest of the people of our senatorial district and indeed Nigerians. I am going to be among the foremost senators Nigeria will ever have because I will like us to do the right things, be in the right places, enact laws to enhance commerce. Like I am disappointed that the National Assembly has not been able to do anything on PIB. The politics of today requires the input of global businessmen.
So, what are you going to do in the Senate?
It is going to be a tug of war because people like me will be in the minority.
Support of good policies
But I thank God that I have capacity to lobby and move things around. So, I believe that I will be able to do a lot in support of good policies that will be able to enhance the development of Nigeria.
You are going on the platform of PPA, what of your pledge to the PDP?
There is no difference between PDP and PPA because PDP is the senior brother of PPA. They have a great alliance and that alliance has always been there.
That may be at the national level because at the state level…
Forget about what the state is going to do. We are here to promote the ideas of the Federal Government and it is going to work.
In your first contest for the Senate you lost and here you go again…
Did I really lose?
Did you vote?
I did not vote. So, I didn’t lose.
Why did you not vote?
They caged me into my house with four Armoured Personnel Carriers, APCs. You know what happened.
How are you sure that will not happen again?
It will not! Our people will burn down the state. We are ready for them, we are not going to take it from anybody. The governor cannot try it. If he tries it, it would be the end of his administration because I have left him for too long and this is the last opportunity I am giving him. I kept quiet because of President Jonathan because I don’t want crisis here for him. The governor is very incompetent, he is unreasonable and he is a liar.
He was there as your chief of staff for eight years.
Yes, he was hiding his true colours from me. Everybody warned me because what they were seeing, I wasn’t seeing. You saw me eating with several people last night, but he is one staff I had who never ate on the same table with me. For eight years. Something was wrong. He was not sincere. All my commissioners, all my SAs, all the people I worked with, speaker of the House, members of the House of Assembly, all of them ate on my table.
What was his excuse?
He was pretending to be a good man. But I told this man that your face looks like the face of a betrayer, that you will betray me one day. So, you see I am not surprised. I don’t lose any sleep.
You see, he tried to deceive people that he was humble. If there is a problem, that Jonathan needs to be defended tomorrow, he will be the first to run away and I will stand by Jonathan. What I stand for, I stand for. If there is a little problem, he will do 180 degrees turn and I will stand.
Buhari is very close to me. He has slept in this house many times but I support Jonathan. If Buhari wins tomorrow that is his business, life continues because I will not have any regrets but people like Orji will be the first to somersault. All this loyalty he pledges to Jonathan will be zero and if we leave this state for him he would lose it. Jonathan is very lucky that the three leading political parties here are all supporting him. He will lose this election if he is banking on Orji.
He, Orji is also contesting for Senate?
I wish him well, I can never go and campaign against him. He is competent to represent his people in the Senate as an ex-governor and I will like to see him in the Senate as it will be more robust for our state and our people.
What is your view about the coming presidential election?
My view is very straight, it is going to be very tight and that is why we here must work very hard. Remember in September 2014 when Channels Television interviewed me, I said then that it would be balance of terror and many people in PDP wanted to kill me. When I came back to Abuja many of them were bashing me and saying that we have already won with 70%, but I told them that you people are not reading the handwriting. It was then I told Nigerians that Jonathan has done a lot for Nigeria but that nobody was publicising it. That statement almost cost me the Senate seat because they believed that I was too vocal in telling them the truth. That was loyalty.
Loyalty to Obsanjo
I was very loyal to President Obasanjo, very loyal. Ask him. Forget about what you see in the papers. In every corner of President Obasanjo’s life he will remember all my discussions with him. They were for Nigeria. My discussions were on Nigeria, not Orji Kalu. It was the people, the people and the people. It wasn’t about me. I was very loyal to him because I was the odd man telling him what he never wanted to hear and today, Mr. President in Ogun State when he wakes up will remember Orji Uzor Kalu. That’s me! I am a brand that nobody can take away what is in my mind because I speak the truth. Even with gun and knife, I speak the truth.
Do you think the president has a chance of winning the election?
The president has a chance but the winning is not going to be a landslide. It is going to be a very tight victory. But I doubt what will happen in the National Assembly as the PDP may win one chamber and the APC the other and that is the balance of terror which I said. The president will win with two or three percent.
Why is there much hate in the campaigns?
The stakes are not supposed to be that high. A country should not suffer economically because they want to do election or vote for a president. It is because people have been rigging.
Queueing to vote
This is the first time that people are sweating. Before, people thought it was a joke, but now they are realising that with the PVC, card reader and everything that they are putting up that people will queue to vote.
Before when you had the PDP ticket you could just go and sew a new babariga or a new sokoto to say that I have won already. But now, you need to tell the people what you will do for them.
I praise President Jonathan who even approved this money because this thing could have been done ten years back but all of our presidents did not have the courage to do it. He could have said no to card reader, go to hell and nothing will happen! So, Jonathan is a very courageous man and I give it to him.
All these things were proposed by Prof. Iwu but politicians said no, that they would lose election. Nigerians should sympathise with him and vote for him because of his courage.
The hate campaigns?
The campaigns they are doing is not good. I don’t support anyone abusing Buhari or President Jonathan. After 28th of March, we will have another day to live. You see in my support for President Jonathan I never mention Buhari’s name. I am not saying whether he will govern well or he will not govern well, I am only saying, vote for this man because he is capable of doing the job. Even where he failed, he will repeat. People repeat exam and with people like us around, we will dust him to do well.
What is your opinion on the card reader?
Card reader is a very excellent idea. I appeal to some of the PDP people, – not the president, the president is very happy with card reader, after all he signed the budget and if he didn’t believe in it, he would not sign the budget.
Card reader is a perfect thing, it gives us semblance of fulfilling our mission. That I have voted and my vote counts.
Who of the major candidates do you think is in best position to succeed Governor Orji in Abia State?
We have not reached that stage. We were supposed to have had a meeting on January 20th but we postponed that meeting and we have decided that after President Jonathan’s election and Gen Buhari’s election, on 30th we will sit down as genuine elders of this state and decide among the three leading candidates and they are PPA, APGA and PDP.
Is it in that order?
No, not in that order. We should be able to decide among the three on who will work, we don’t want to see this shameless thing we are seeing in our state any longer. It is apprehensive to have given somebody governance and he put it on the floor. It is not right because governance is a collegiate thing. Our state is now like a laughing stock among people, so we don’t want to make that mistake again.
Of the three candidates, how many of them have approached you?
All of them. I am in touch with all three of them.
If the elders endorse the governor’s candidate what will you do?
I will support it, it is the opinion of the people.
Some would be surprised seeing the portrait of the governor in your house given the bad relations between the two of you?
He is the governor of Abia State, there is nothing petty about it. You people should advice the governor to stop being petty. This is why our state is like this. If you have political disagreement with people call them and discuss it. When I was governor, there were people I disagreed with, but I still call them and discuss. I went to their houses and we ate. It brings down tension.
When Ojo’s (Chief Ojo Maduekwe) daughter wedded, it was at the height of my disagreement with President Obasanjo. He didn’t even invite me, one or two of my colleagues that came I provided transport for them and when they all left, I left Umuahia for Ohafia and strolled to the place and the mood changed. I told him, ‘I am not quarrelling with your daughter, I didn’t come for you.’
They said that Obasanjo cancelled the Ohafia road project, but I can tell you that Obasanjo didn’t cancel any project since he never awarded the project. Obasanjo is not petty in most things he does, I can tell you that. He loves this country only that he is vindictive, he can’t forgive anybody! Which I don’t do. Like Orji now, I have forgiven him, it is him and his God that are fighting.
The value of constitutional democracy is term limit and in the next two months he would not be a governor again just like me and then he would see the value of what he has done.
You see, my problem with him is what is happening today, that he did not work.
Why were you charged to court?
That I spent security vote.
So, what is the stage of the case?
I cannot talk about those court matters because they are in the court of competent jurisdiction.
Assessment of tenure
Go and match what we did against what we collected. Is Obasanjo a stupid man to have called me action governor? He is not stupid. Forget about the fact that I opposed his third term and temporarily opposed his re-election in 2003.
In 2003 when he wanted to contest, we told him ‘no that you didn’t do well’. I was the one who told him in a meeting that he didn’t do well and I was supported by some of our colleagues and some of our colleagues shouted us down.
We told him ‘allow it go to the north that you are not sellable,’ and that was our problem with him till today. He is a statesman, he should learn how to forgive those who have offended him.