By Wilfred Eya
Senate Chief Whip and Former governor of Abia State, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu has given reasons why he is hesitant to declare for the 2023 presidential race. Speaking yesterday on Arise Television, he said among others that certain variables are key to his ambition.
Are you in any doubt that the presidency of 2023 would not be zoned to the South and that was why you said if your party decides to zone it to the South; is there something you know that we do not know about the possibility of the APC zoning the seat to the North or any other part of the country? Again, the emerging fashion these days is for everybody to go to the villa to inform the president formally that they are interested in the presidency of Nigeria. At least two persons from your party have done that but you did not go there; are you trying to snub the president of Nigeria or you don’t think it is a good thing to go and take permission before declaring interest in the presidency?
Thank you Rueben; first of all I want to thank you and your crew for this opportunity. Secondly, I would like to make it clear to you that I do not own the party, neither does Tinubu or any other person own the party. This party is owned by the Nigerian people and the Nigerian people are the only ones who you know own the party; in a democratic setting, the majority always have their way. This is because unless the party zones it to us, if we go by the majority, in our next convention, if it is not properly settled and agreed upon, none of us would get it. This is why I said that there is no need going to say I want to contest or I do not want to contest until the APC National Convention Committee says it is going to go to the South most probably to the South East; a Nigerian president from the South East. Then thirdly, I cannot snub the president; how can I snub the president, the leader of the party? You cannot snub a man that sits at the right side of the chair. What I am just trying to do is to be careful in informing him. If I go and tell him I want to run for the president now and the party did not zone it to where I can have the opportunity to contest, I would not be so nice to myself. I can go and see the president and talk about other things like I have more pressing things in the South East, part of North West and North East as the Senate Chief Whip; I will be going in a couple of days to go and see him but not about the presidency. I must also not go with the Press; I might just walk in and discuss with him about the state of affairs in Nigeria. I am really not afraid about informing Nigerians. I can come out tomorrow and say from day one that I want to run but that is not a reasonable thing to do. You have the party and this party is not owned by me, neither is it owned by anybody. It is going to be owned by the majority of the Nigerian people who would be voting and saying it should go South, East North and so on. For me, the only two zones in Nigeria that have never produced the president are the North East and South East. So, let us be careful in what we are doing. I am committed to what I am doing. I am a committed person and I am committed to anything I put my heart in. I do not want to draw the dagger and go back.
So, what we have from you now is conditional declaration but let us address the elephant in the room; the fact that your trial for fraud had been adjourned to March this year, what then qualifies you to run for presidency when you have such charges hanging around you?
I do not have any charges hanging around me; it is you the press that creates what you call charges and I am not supposed to talk about matters in court because you should know better that what I went to court to do is not about charges; I went to court to ask that some of my assets should be released. The matter is in court and I would not like to discuss that matter further because it is still in court. I cannot say anything; even you Rueben, you know me pre 1991, 1992 to 93,94, I bankrolled all the money politicians paid during that period. I was the one who brought the money in the PDP. So, how can I become a thief suddenly? I do not want to talk about that. People are pursuing me because they know I want to become president from Day one. They know. So, I do not want to talk about that; I have a lot of respect for our court system and talking about our court system here might not look nice. It might be looking down on the other arm of I am in one arm of the and I would not like anybody looking down on the legislature. I would not want to answer any question on that further. If it is why you called me here, I am not going to answer or say anything further on that at all. So, it is a closed matter because it is before a court of competent jurisdiction.
Who are those pursuing you; you said people are pursuing you. We would like to know?
You know them; they are Nigerians who want to be president. They are Nigerians who want to set me aside; they are Nigerians who just want to destroy me. Rueben, you knew me in 1991; I used to come to Alex Ibru; you knew where I lived in Victoria Island; you knew me where I was in Apapa where I used to do my shipping business and import sugar, rice and the rest of them. You know that there is a lot of jealousy in this system. A lot of people who think I became too successful at age 30; why must I have money and have power. Is life like that? You know that these people carelessly put me in prison for six months for doing nothing. I am not bitter about it because it is God’s will. It is our court system that put me in prison.
You did nothing about the N7billion fraud; it is just these people that put you in prison; you mean you did nothing; they just put you in prison?
There were 19 witnesses in the court of competent jurisdiction. Nobody mentioned my name; nobody traced anything to me; nothing. I do not want to talk about this matter. Don’t drag me into it. I do not want any court to come tomorrow and say I have violated the rules of the court please. I have obeyed the rules of the court. The court would say come back tomorrow and I would go; they would say come back next tomorrow and I would be there next tomorrow. I tried to do that because I am a Nigerian. I have the competence to stand trial anywhere because it is a process that a country should test on how people obey the rule of law.
Just in case the APC decides to zone the presidency to the South and you go through the primaries and emerge, what should Nigerians expect from an Orji Uzor Kalu presidency? What would be the priorities of your administration?
To be honest with you, when I was governor, people were not going into Aba. It was a criminal setup there; there was something they called Ibu Alhaji, it was criminalized. My first priority would be to give the Nigerian people freedom from terrorism, banditry and anything you call it from Sahara desert to Atlantic ocean. I would like to give them the freedom to go to anywhere they wantbecause that is the freedom anybody needs and I am capable of doing that. My first priority would be security of lives and property of our people. When I was governor, the first thing I did was to clean the place up of criminals. The DSS saw that, the police saw that, the Army saw that from 1999 to 2007. You can leave your car in Aba, in Abia State and go anywhere; if people would say the truth. People were moving freely and I went to rescue Anambra State also; to give them a security roadmap. My wife is from Anambra State; I had to help the then governor, Mbadinuju to take the security steps. Onitsha, Nnewi and those places were no go areas. I know what to do. First would be security; secondly would be to restore the confidence of Nigerians; to give them the confidence to say they are Nigerians. The youth, elderly people, men and women need the confidence to go to the United States, UK and anywhere and say they are proudly Nigerians. That is the dress I want to wear. Confidence is everything. We have lost confidence in where we are coming from. Number three is to go back to the commercialized electricity to make sure we restore electricity to our people. Once we have electricity, we have everything. Every other thing would follow; I do not want to talk about roads. Believe me, I would create an economic miracle for the Nigerian people. This is what we need. Politics should be out of it. I would work with a good team to make sure that the banker, trader, artisan, industrialist, student and everybody has a feeling that they are Nigerians and that we can manage the economy very well. Our former formal focus would be on the economy and security.
The quest for a president of Igbo extraction as you have observed is for equity and justice; that includes anything from restructuring, self-determination to even secession. How would you handle all these yearnings if you emerge the president?
I do not know what you people call restructuring because what I have always said is that there are too many loads in the other arm of the constitution. I am not going to talk about restructuring; first and foremost, you have to restructure a country when you are safe. I have to first of all face the issue of bandits and terrorism. I have to face the issue of hunger. I have to restore the confidence of the people. Those are not going to be my basic concerns. My basic concern is to go to the National Assembly, to the constitution because you cannot restructure without the National Assembly. A lot of our people are thinking that we will just wake up one day and say we do not want to use this constitution again. In which country does that happen? We have a union paper called the constitution. The constitution is what is binding all of us together. You cannot come out one day and say I want to restructure this country without properly going through amendment of the constitution. And the only authority that can do anything that you will call restructuring is the National Assembly. I will use the legal way to persuade the National Assembly to do what the Nigerian people would like us to do. That is democracy. I don’t want to sit in my house or my office and be shouting restructuring. I know that the country needs some adjustments to be able to be profitable. We shall look at all those things through the National Assembly. That is the only way Nigeria can be viable to move forward.
You want to run for president; we would like to know more about you, your credentials, school you attended and secondly, you said you made money at a tender age, how did you make your money?
When I was a student at the University of Maiduguri was when I started doing business; it was when I went to Maiduguri I found out that palm oil was a very lucrative business in Maiduguri. They don’t have palm oil and whenever I am back for holiday, I would buy palm oil and go back; when I was coming back, I would buy dry fish from Baga in Gamboru Ngala local and sell. I started like that and I moved on and started supplying cables to Chad River basin Authority. I built a furniture company in Maiduguri. It was very viable because all those people there were importing furniture from abroad and I felt that I should also go into the business. I entered into the business and became a very big giant. I competed with Santana furniture, Alhaji Brima and co. So, from there, when there was this war going on in Chad, there was this border problem between Chad and Nigeria, President Buhari was GOC, Jos and Babangida was Director of Army Staff Duties and he was moved from Lagos to Chad, luckily I ran into both of them and this is how I knew both of them. I started supplying food to the people in the warfront. The soldiers’ food was supplied by my company. From there, when there was a problem in the University, 14 of us then were suspended. I was not expelled. I came back to the University authority led by Jibril Aminu; they wanted me back but I said no, I am part of the leadership; a leader must be a dumping ground. I said no, I would not be able to come back unless all of us are coming back. He called me because he was my father’s friend that I would suffer a heavy consequence if I did not go back to school. I said no that I was not going to go back unless all of us go back together. That is the reason for the love people of that area have for me. So, I went to Lagos to start dealing on military equipment and armament and from there, we ventured into export of crude oil and all the rest of them. I started importing sugar, rice and all kinds of commodities in Lagos. By then, my office was in Calcutta crescent; Dangote’s was in Creek Road. So, we were competitors in Rice and Sugar. I was one of the largest importers of rice and sugar. If Dangote is here, he would also bear me witness. For me, making money is an art. Then I started building industries in Aba; that’s how those industries sprang up.
You said you were suspended in the University of Maiduguri, which school did you finally finish from? Did you eventually go back to school?
Yes, I finished at the Abia State University. I went to Eziama High School, Aba and from there, I went to Government College, Umuahia where I took my school certificate. I went for an Exchange programme in Barewa College, Zaria for six months to one year; with the holidays, it was about eight months. I was in the final year at the University of Maiduguri(the only exam I did not take then was PS 461 and 462); I should have graduated from there; when I was called back, I refused.
Many of these things are available online; let us deal with governance issues; how would you rate the Buhari administration? How would you rate your successors after you left since 2007? You were succeeded by Senator Theodore Orji and later Governor Ikpeazu. Have they been able to sustain what you left behind and then the Buhari administration?
Let me be honest with you; Buhari administration has done very well in all facets. God brings every leader for whatever He wants to achieve. I will rate Buhari administration very highly because if he did not come in, maybe we would not have Nigeria by now. Honestly, Rueben, why I continue calling you is because you know me personally; you know I am not a sycophant. When I was living in Lagos, I discussed with you privately if you came to see me and you know my views about Nigeria. You know I believe in this country. You know I am detribilised. The Buhari administration has done very well in fighting banditry. We do not have enough resources to fight these people. The issue is not Buhari; the issue is that if the governors are putting their feet down to say you cannot do these things here, we would not be where we are. It is not about Buhari but also people knowing what they are supposed to do and doing it. I am not saying they are not doing anything. I like Governor Zulum; I like Wike even though some people might not like Wike for his ruggedness; I like Ugwuanyi, governor of Enugu State. You have to put your foot down and say these people, I do not want you there. If you do not want them, they would not be there. The thing starts from the primary area and not the secondary level. Buhari is just the president of Nigeria. When Obasanjo was president; there was a night that it was a firing point; the present DG of SSS was the Director of SSS in Abia. Throughout the night, it was a firing point. The level of fighting that night by these armed bandits in front of Government House, Umuahia was so much that I woke up President Obasanjo at about 2.30 am and I was awake with him till about 4.45 am and those people were still shooting. So, governors need to stand up and fight the war. More of the fights lie with the governors not with Buhari. Buhari is just the president. You are receiving allocations and everything. First of all, those armed bandits, the economy is suffering from it. Even the industry capacity is very low. Is it Buhari who is going to kick-start the industry capacity? The capacity utilization is very low; the input and output very low; people always believe they want to import when they have not done anything. I disagree with some policies the Buhari administration has executed like the N500billion social investment fund; it was money thrown into the Atlantic Ocean. I have said it before the president; I have said it before the late Chief of Staff. That one I don’t agree with them but Buhari has done very well as a president. Some people say he hates the Igbo but I do not see that because the largest investment is done in Igbo land. Most of the things he is doing are there. He might have a problem with the Igbo but I do not see that. I see a man who is committed to fighting for Nigeria. Wherever he stops, we would choose those things he has done and continue from there because he has done very well. He is a title holder in my village and I am also a title holder in his village. Mind you I have followed Buhari not because he is the president. People are just following Buhari because he is the president. When he was campaigning in ANPP, they locked the Stadium and I brought him back and went with him to campaign as governor of PDP. I made him known to people that this was a family friend and that I had nothing to do with his party. As a former president, friend of our family and as a title holder in Igbere, I had to come with him. But when I left, the other administration after me locked the stadium against him. The APC has done very well; we have some imperfections yes; they are not perfect in economy which is where I am an expert that I am going to address. President Buhari cannot do everything in one day. We have to adjust here and there and move forward. Government is a continuum. Wherever he stops, we take over from there and improve on it. Everybody would expect that his son would be better than him. I am going to be 62 years old on April 21 and President Buhari is my father. I would work to be better than what he has done for the benefit of all Nigerians. On the issue of those who took over from me, if I am saying this, I am not a coward; only few days ago, I was in the house of my governor and I said it openly, google and see it. I said to the governor, I would never criticize you or praise you in public. I went to see him and I went upstairs and told him things. I came naked to him and he came naked to him. I blamed him where he deserved blame and praised him where he needed to be praised. I told him I would never sing his praises and when I came out, the Press asked me what did you discuss with the governor and I said you know that I can never praise or condemn the governor in public. I was a former governor of that state. Whatever I would discuss with them, I would do that inside the room because I was a former governor. Just like if God helps me and I happen to be the president of Nigeria, you want me to discuss what I saw with President Buhari or what he has done as president. No. I will not discuss it but I will go back to him to Daura even if it means every three months to see the president and discuss issues with him. We must start helping our elders to know that they are elders so that when they exit, they would still be advisers. What is happening in Nigeria is that every president, governor, minister, commissioner, whoever he succeeds would be his enemy. It is not the way to go. If the man I left office for handles me as an enemy, so be it.
President Buhari would certainly agree with your appraisal of his performance but in his exclusive interview last June with Arise News, he said that governors cannot just sit back after winning an election and expect others to do the job of security for them. He said they should engage with community and traditional leaders. What is your take on that and his stance against state police?
To be honest with you, even when I was governor, I have always believed that we should have state police. I don’t have the same opinion with the president on state police. I have always believed that if we have a bill for an act that can convince the National Assembly, why not, we could have state police but we need to put checks and balances in those state police. The state police is good and bad. So, the advantages are like the disadvantages. If you do not have enough checks and balances, to check whoever would be the commissioner of police or this and that, the governors would do what we are seeing also in local funds. The local are supposed to be very independent. So, I believe in what President Buhari said. I seem to be changing my views that the state police is still very good for us but you need the amendment of the constitution. I also believe that state governors are not engaging well; most of the governors do not engage stakeholders. When I was governor, one of my commissioners of police was A.A Abubakar who passed out as IG. Him and Bichi were there with me and they can tell you that we were having regular security meetings every week. If I was not there, the deputy governor would sit in and if the deputy governor was not there, the Secretary to the would sit in. We were talking about community, meeting with traditional rulers, youths, market women, traders and finding strategies to keep peace in our state. So, unless governors go back to start doing that, there is not going to be a change. Buhari cannot takeover security from the governors because it is in their hands. They should go back and do due diligence on the security system. On the N500 billion, I wrote a paper to the late Chief of Staff and we discussed it; I even went to see the president. I advised against using N500 billion for social development; it was worthless as far as I was concerned. First year in 2015, you would have sent N10 billion each to the senatorial districts for a business man to borrow this money at one percent. If it is in Kano, groundnut, if it is in Abia, palm, in Osun Koko and so on to the 36 states. The first year in 2015, and second year 2016, you do the same thing to the second senatorial districts and the third year, you do the same to the last Senatorial districts. You lend to business men that have land to cultivate and they would employ people and do agriculture. They should lend the money directly from the Central Bank without a middle man so that there would be no stories. The money would generate and put us back to productivity. We should have been able to produce and feed ourselves in the first three years of being president. You would see that Nigerians would be able to feed themselves because they would produce food for our consumption and export. The fourth year, we are going to put small scale industries the same way, giving different business men N10 billion each. Nigeria must go back to production if we want to survive as a nation.
If you give an Igbo man N10 billion and he starts a business in Onitsha, he is faced with the problem of sit-at-home and that brings us to the issue –what did you discuss with Nnamdi Kanu and what is your take on the IPOB situation?
What I discussed with Nnamdi Kanu is sacrosanct between me and him; it was a private discussion and I am not going to tell you. Period! I am not going to discuss that with you. This is me and this is who I am.
On the IPOB case still, how can we bring peace to the South East?
There is a court process and it has to finish. If we finish the court process, we would now see if we can ask the president to pardon Kanu. When people are asking the president for pardon, what are they asking for? I believe this case is already in court of competent jurisdiction and I don’t want to discuss it. Let the court process take its course. Before, when Nnamdi Kanu was in Kuje prison, I don’t want to call names, with a top security agent, I went to prison to bail him and he was given bail. It nearly took my head; I didn’t bail him but I committed my person that Kanu should be bailed. That was when I entered APC in 2016. I went to the father and mother of Nnamdi Kanu; I briefed them and I said please if you can beg him to do his IPOB with care. I handled the IPOB people when I was governor. I said you could carry your flags but immediately I see you with arms, I would come after you. You can say you want Biafra; there is nothing wrong with that. You can carry your flag and say you want Biafra or you want that but you don’t kill people or go harassing people.
Do you have any anxieties about certain things that people may bring up if you decide eventually to run for the presidency in 2023? Are there certain things that you worry about? For example, your former deputy, Enyinnaya Abaribe wrote a book ‘Made in Aba: A life of coincidencies’ and he was not kind to you at all in that book. Do you sometimes feel uncomfortable that these are things people would bring up?
No, no. I do not have anything whatsoever; let me tell you, apart from this gang up to put me in prison, I never had any gang up against me anywhere. I am not afraid of anybody. I am only afraid of God. I am not afraid of anything and I am the most prepared presidential candidate to be on the field. Even if I am old, I am young at heart. I can go with the boys to dance disco in the night and I can come with the serious people in the afternoon to do the business of The most important thing is the business of the unity of the country. I have never done anything to make me not to sleep. I have never done anything that would make me to be afraid of anybody. I have been on the street for a very long time. I know my problems. You know that they conspired against me.