Few Nigerian politicians can match his guts. Since he etched his footprints on the country’s political firmament, immediate past Abia State Governor, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, has been known to walk even where angels fear to tread. To some he is a maverick. Yet others see him as an enigma. From a humble and lowly background, he rose to the pinnacle of a vast business empire before venturing into politics.
Dr Orji Uzor Kalu
Elected in 1999 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the former House of Representatives member however fell out with the party at the tail end of his tenure in 2007. And through his effort and political sagacity, the candidate of his newly formed party, Peoples Progressive Alliance (PPA), succeeded him in the Umuahia Government House.
But while his grass to grace story has earned him numerous admirers, he has had to contend equally with many in the political class who find his courage to call a spade a spade very discomforting.
Regardless of his wealth, Kalu has not forgotten his roots and is still at home with his ‘Made-in-Aba’ suits and designer outfits.
Like never before, the former governor and Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Peoples Progressive Alliance (PPA), in this encounter which aptly passes for the story of his life, fires on all cylinders as he reveals his intimate relationship with former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida, and why he parted ways with immediate past President Olusegun Obasanjo among other issues. Excerpts…
I played pranks to avoid being spanked
Only my parents can do justice to that question. All I can say is that I was a good child. I played pranks like any other child but I was a very upright child. I have not changed. At least my parents have told me that much. People from my village also continue to tell me that I have not changed.
I played a few little pranks. I can’t remember all of them now but they were just things I did to avoid being spanked. There were things that my parents forbade me to do and each time I did those things, I had to play pranks to survive. That’s the reality even today with every child.
My father hates politics but politics makes my mother happy
There is no problem between my father and I. The only problem we have at home is that my father is not the society-type. My village people can attest to that. He is not the loud type and he doesn’t like politics. He just likes to live his good quiet life inside his home. That’s all. So, he is not interested in all these noise-making. Left for my father, there will be no politics for me because he believes that Nigeria is not ripe for democracy.
My mother is a politician and she has been in politics since the days of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP). She was a woman leader in the party during the time of Sam Mbakwe. Mrs. Mbakwe made her the leader of the women’s wing of the party and she has always been in politics. She loves it. Politics makes her happy. Whether I’m governor or not, whether I’m running for an office or not, she has always been an activist on the political scene.
When my father married a second wife…
No, that’s not the issue. He married a second wife and we accepted it. Of course, there was bound to be rift but it was not an open one and it was well managed. However the lesson I learnt from that is it is good for a man or woman to love his or her family, no matter the situation you find yourself. Love is something you cannot buy in the market and it is so precious that it can heal any wound. And I believe it is possible for a man to love two women. The Quran said so, the Bible said so. Go to Isaiah 4: 1-5, it is clearly written there. It is just that preachers don’t preach it. I am not saying it’s right but I’m saying it’s there in the holy books.
I try to give bits and pieces of my time to my family
I have five children and I am very close to them. I try to combine my role as father, husband and politician as well as I can. I am very close to the whole family. I am close to even my stepbrothers and I try to give bits and pieces of my time to every body. I am sure that history will judge me well.
How I met IBB
General Ibrahim Babangida is a man I met through a man called Keri Ahmed, may his soul rest in peace. He used to be the General Manager of NTA.
When the Chadian Nigeria boarder was having problem, occasionally, Babangida was then a Brigadier-General, director of a particular position. From there we got close. I later met with the family. When he became the Chief of Army staff, they left Maiduguri and came to Lagos. Even when he became head of state, we remained friends.
So till today, he’s one of the men I believe in, after God. There is also Jubril Aminu who helped me up. He’s just one of those people that I respect, like General T. Y. Danjuma. These are men I hold in high esteem.
Contrary to what some people believe, what binds IBB and I is not money. It is friendship. IBB is a nationalist, a very liberal man. With him, it does not matter where you come from. I’m not sure anyone keeps money for IBB, no. IBB is a very good Nigerian with a good heart. If most Nigerians were like IBB, Nigeria would have been a better place to be, though he has his own faults.
IBB wanted to return after Abiola’s four years
The Generals that killed June 12 were the elements that turned around to blame IBB. I was there. IBB wasn’t the maker of that fiasco. I’m telling you the truth.
Could he have declared the results of that presidential election? My answer is leadership is not a tea party. While I was still a private businessman, I used to think it was easy. I’ve been in business for more than 25years. People think it’s easy to exonerate yourself from government’s decision. It’s not true. It’s the IBB boys that were making decisions. They were the ones who insisted that June 12 presidential election result must not be released. IBB looked to the left and right and found himself alone.
I believe that General Babangida is partly to be blamed but the substantial blame is not his. I don’t want to call names. Some of them are now old. IBB truly wanted to hand over. He wanted to go, return and re-contest as a civilian president after four years of Abiola’s tenure.
I became chairman of Co-operative and Commerce Bank at age 25
I’m among one of the first Igbo men to lift crude oil. I was very young then. I became chairman of Co-operative and Commerce Bank at age 25. That was before I got married in 1989. I was appointed by governor Commodore Ikwechegh.
I can say authoritatively today that I was the first Igbo man allocated crude oil to.
The first crude oil was actually given to me by Riliwan Lukman. People spread all kinds of stories they want.
I think it’s all about destiny because while at the University of Maiduguri, Jubril Aminu took me under his wings. I started the furniture business and expanded it. This is what God has destined for me and that is why I am never afraid of man. I only respect man. God’s hands are always in everything I do. I can’t explain it myself.
IBB and Mariam
Mrs Mariam Babangida is a wonderful woman. There are a few women like that. IBB and his wife have good hearts and when you have good hearts, goodness will follow you all your life. I only wish that I had a way of paying her back for her goodness to my family.
I admire the way they communicate with each other. They have understanding and that was my idea of a family. Mariam is a wonderful woman, likewise the husband. They communicate wonderfully.
The Jubril Aminu I know
Professor Jubril Aminu was my Vice Chancellor at the University of Maiduguri. He was very close to my parents and everybody in my family. I used to live with Jubril Aminu as a student and when people refer to him as a tribalist, a northern person, I laugh. He is one of the brightest brains in Nigeria, one of the few who truly loves this country.One thing you must know is Jubril Aminu is first an Adamawa person and before he becomes a Nigerian. It’s like that with everybody. I am first an Igbere man before I am a Nigerian.
I just believe no leader should become a Nigerian without sentimental attachment from where he comes from. So, that’s what Jubril stands for and I share that totally with him. I have no apologies thinking like that. If that makes him a tribalist, so be it. I believe no man or woman should forget his/her country or where he/she comes from. When Aminu did the nomadic education, people were shouting his praises. I was impressed by nomadic education. If an Igbo man is made an education minister tomorrow, if he cannot fashion out something that can up lift the Igbo lesser society, then he is not a good person. If a Yoruba minister cannot fashion something that will address the educational needs of the Yoruba people, then he may not be a good person. The nomads are spread all over and that is why Jubril Aminu said they cannot only rear cows but also go to school, that they can follow these cows all over Nigeria and still get educated along the way. I don’t see anything wrong in that.
I have been in the shipping business since 1988
For years I did business with PPMC through a company called Ship and Shore. These shipping companies have been there since 1987. Alhaji Dalhatu Bayero, may his soul rest in peace, was then the General Manager of NAPIMS and later became Group Managing Director of NNPC. He called me one day and said this crude-oil lifting business cannot last, that if another government came they would change the policy and advised I moved to marine services. I went and people like Senator Abubakar from Sokoto State helped us a lot and another Alhaji Abubakar who was also a Senator from Nassarawa state and Lawan Buba, a lecturer from Maiduguri. I used to import PMS on behalf of NNPC for the oil majors. Our vessels carried these products around. It was fantastic. I had been in shipping business since 1988 and I am still in it. So, the shipping business did not just start today. Diamond Bank has also been there for us.
The crude oil business promotes friendship. It does put you in conflict with others. However, I steer clear of business ventures that require me to worship people. I’ve always said my mind, always said what I want to say. I always stood by what I believe in. I’ve always believed in myself. I’m me and nothing can change that.
Stand where you are standing, even when the ground is falling
I tell young managers that are being trained in the oil trading companies today not to mix products. They should not do ‘rice and beans’ which is a terminology in oil and gas for adulteration, flash points are mixed. The last flashpoint you can give to the oil majors is 66, the final NNPC flash point. If we have a flash point of 77, some people want to mix at that point to maximise their profits. I tell the younger ones we are grooming in our oil trading company today ‘don’t do rice and beans’ because the users of those rice and beans might be your father, mother or brother. We avoid adulteration like the plague in our operations. Honesty is still the best policy in business but people don’t know. If you cheat, it is a short cut. Honesty is a longer route but it pays on the long run. Be courageous, stand where you are standing, even when the ground is falling. Stay with your conviction. If God said you will be successful, definitely you will be, because every other thing may stand for a while but only the truth will stand the test of time.
Once you follow those principles, you will succeed. People will know you by your character. I have never cheated anybody. Those who have done business with me know I don’t short-change anybody. Business is business.
Principles of power and leadership
I don’t think I’m a powerful Nigerian, but I think I’m a Nigerian with humane disposition and I’m considerate in my dealings with others. What perhaps makes me a powerful Nigerian is the ability to communicate with the masses and the ability to communicate with the rich, the ability to spread yourself and bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. Once you have that ability you will be able to move forward. Honesty is a major principle of power and that is what we are lacking in Nigeria.
Yes, because people are not honest to the people they govern. People are not honest to themselves. People are not honest to their families.
A leader must be honest, courageous. A leader must remain resolute on what he wants to do.
A leader must stand strong but accept the opinion of the majority. A leader must implement a majority opinion.
These are things that go with power, whether in private or public business. Remember the late Shehu Yar ‘Adua used to go where the majority opinion went. General Yar ‘Adua used to go with majority opinion, even when that majority opinion was wrong, but later he would call their attention to the errors and futility of such majority opinions.
But first he must do what the majority said. So you find out that a good leader stands on the side of the majority. If you want to be a good leader, you have to stand by the majority. You must be focused on what you want to do. You have to think about the society, about the other side of the society. You should have the capacity to read the situation at every point in time and rid yourself of sycophants, who are a major problem in governance in Nigeria. Because of what a lot of people want to eat, they would tell office holders what they want to hear, not necessarily the truth. Any leader who falls into that trap can never succeed.
So, it is good for a leader to be able to stay away from family business when he is in power.
My mother never slept in the Government House when I was governor
When I was a governor, people were saying it was my mother who was ruling Abia which was a big lie. The present governor of Abia State was my Chief of Staff, the former PDP chairman in Abia State, Dr. Sam Eke; all these people will tell you the truth about who was in charge.
My mother used to beg them to beg me for things she felt strongly about. When people wrote all these rubbish in the newspaper, I laughed. On many occasions, my mother had to beg these people I mentioned to beg me on a decision. My mother never slept in government house throughout my eight years in government. So, you see, the rumour mill here is quite big. People don’t understand the kinds of sacrifice you make in public office. If money was my reason for becoming the Abia State governor, I wouldn’t have been there because I lost so much money as a governor. I lost the Hallmark Bank where I had majority share, the South Gate bank which was about to commence operations before the license was withheld on Obasanjo’s order, my oil bloc, Slok Airline. I lost almost everything I had before I became the governor of Abia State.
I lost a lot of money and goodwill to political office
I’ve been in business for over 27 years and check it, I’m sure I was running neck to neck with a lot of rich Nigerians before I went into politics. I mean every rich Nigerian, except those in the class of the late MKO Abiola, Wahab Folawiyo. Where The Sun newspapers’offices are today were warehouses where I used to pack bags of rice and sugar, cement. There used to be full ship-loads of rice in those ware houses.
We borrowed a lot of money from City bank, HSBC and others because I had international credit rating as a company but when the Obasanjo government and their agencies continued writing negative things about, it affected me and the credit rating of our group. But they are not only damaging me, but also damaging the company and the careers of my employees. I lost so much money, good will abroad, simply by coming to be governor of Abia. It is just that I did not regret it. I thank God because God has given me the opportunity of seeing the other side of Nigeria.
…But I will run for political office again
I would like to seek political office again because I believe the more we leave governance to fools who do not know how to administer, the more the country is losing. If the country’s economy is stable, we will all be better for it. I have five major factories, for instance. I built the vegetable oil factory in Aba in 1986 which was commissioned by the then Major Gen. Haladu, who was the minister of commerce. I built the plastic factory in Otta in 1990. I built the two furniture factories in Lagos between 1991 and 1992. So, if the economy is going on very well, I’ll be able to sell these factories to real investors to come and these factories will yield money.
But now everything is prostrate. We cannot allow people who are not prepared for leadership to continue leading us. This is why I will remain in politics for the rest of my life.
PDP will need 36 Onovos and 36 DIGs to manipulate the 2011 elections
Forget about PDP and all that bragging about being the biggest party.You can make the difference. You are the difference, not PDP.
There are less than two million people who are card-carrying members of political parties in Nigeria. There are over 150 million Nigerians which even you have written about in your column. Those are the real oppositions.
So this is the main opposition that will drive PDP out of Nigeria. It has happened all over the world; in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ghana, South-Africa, Thailand and Pakistan.
It happened in even the United State of America that people who are ruling the nation came from point zero to attain leadership of the country. So, Nigeria will not be an exception. We are going to make the best of opportunities we have. In any case, there is going to be implosion in PDP. Look at what is happening in Anambra, you will know that the real business is still ahead.
What happened in Ekiti would be child’s play. In 2011 , PDP will need 36 IGs and 36 DIGs since they needed the IG and DIGs to get Ekiti. So, they will need 36 Onovos and 36 DIGs to handle the 36 states of Nigeria.
Since it took two Inspector-General of police to go and monitor 63 wards in Ekiti, PDP will have to manufacture more for the 2011 elections.
Nigerians will say no, yes they can. They are taking Nigerians for a ride. They will stand their ground and say no, enough is enough. It is almost 12 years now and the PDP government has not been able to offer Nigerians anything tangible. The economy is still stagnant, no electricity, no roads, schools, students were at home for almost three and half months, how do you reconcile these?
I see change ahead
We all must be ready to be part of the change process. The members of the Nigerian Bar Association, Nigerian Medical Association, NUJ, NUT members, all Nigerians who are in business will make the change possible. It can no longer be left in the hands of larger political party members. I’m sounding a warning that people should stop leaving politics for politicians. Politics, elections days and election processes should be for all Nigerians, and let us come together and make a change. Change is coming and it must be here and it is going to be a ballot paper change. When you go back to Psalm100, reading from the first verse, God said He would bless us from generation to generation. No generation would be above the other.
Soludo can’t win because he’s popular in Abuja and has a lot of issues he has to provide answers to
Anambra is where we will test where Nigeria is heading. If they rig the election in Anambra, they will question the unity of this country. They can never rig that election, and if they do, they should prepare for war. Let them not think about rigging because people like Soludo are not popular in Anambra. He won’t win. He has a lot of issues to provide answers to. Nobody knows Soludo. Go and carry out an opinion poll in Anambra State. Look at what the Leadership newspapers wrote recently, in the Human Right Watch. It says PPA is the first in the market, in places votes can be cast. If they think they can write the result and exclude PPA, they will find it difficult. Soludo is very popular in Abuja but in not in Onitsha and Awka.
Why PPA picked a woman
No, it was an open system. Journalists even wrote that it was the best primaries we ever had in Nigeria. The Tribune, The Nation, The Sun, The Independent and The Punch all said so. Channels and other major media said it was most transparent.
We have the video clip for everybody to see. If we are able to imbibe internal democracy it means we are prepared for election.
You can never tell what God is going to do, God might be using a woman to change the system. Men have ruled Anambra, perhaps now God wants to use a woman to reposition the battered place. Mind you, Joseph was in captivity for many years, nobody expected him to rule in Egypt. So history will repeat itself in Anambra State. It has happened before. God uses people to redeem a place. And because people have signed sworn affidavits, we have created a legal backing against decamping. If our chairman says that they have sworn affidavit,
it would stand the test of time because doing anything different from what you have sworn to against decamping.
No, Chris Uba has not hijacked PPA
The people of Anambra would only vote for their conscience. They are going to vote against what happened to PPA in Imo State. They will recall that they need independence; that there needs to be a cohesive leadership. They are going to be sympathizing with me, voting for me, that is what they would do. It would be me and the capability of what they can deliver. They have tested the men and want to try a woman. In fact, Nigeria should praise the PPA because we could have changed the result of the primaries that produced Hon Uche Ekwunife between Awka and Abuja because that is what all other political parties would do. So, the women folk should be very sympathetic to Mrs. Ekwunife.
ANPP, PPA Governors defection cases different
That is Zamfara. Ours is different from theirs because one, there was division in ANPP but there was no division in ours. So we will be able to address the issues in court and I’m not going to say how it will affect us. But I’m sure if the people of Zamfara are serious; at least, there are three courts in Nigeria; they should go back to the appellate court and drive it straight to the court of final jurisdiction, which is the Supreme Court.
Why I visited President Yar’Adua after my release from Kuje Prison
He is my president and I have to show my loyalty to him. God says in the Holy Bible that we must respect our leaders and pray for them. As of today till I defeat him, he is still the president of Nigeria.
No grudges over Ikedi Ohakim’s defection to PDP
It doesn’t matter whether President Yar’Adua’s party ‘stole’ one of our governors. That is the mistake people make today. Yar’Adua is not a party; he is only a member of PDP. Likewise, I’m not PPA. I’m just one person. It was like when (Obafemi) Awolowo was alive in the Action Group, he was just a member (of the party). When you say PDP, different groups of people make up the party. Yar’dua is just a person and happens to be the Commander-in-Chief in Nigeria. So, I don’t hold any grudge against him over our governor that defected just as I don’t have grudge against PDP. That is what God wants from us, to face good challenges. We have to face these challenges to enable us get to our destination.
I have never bought any watch that is worth more than 100 dollars. To be honest with you, what I am putting on now was given to me by the former governor of Bauchi State, (Adamu) Muazu, when I was a governor; and this is Chopad. I have never bought any wristwatch in my entire life that is worth more than a hundred dollars. Such things don’t bother me. Really, I have nothing specially that disturbs me.
Gianni Versacci. All the suits in my house at Igbere were made by Gianni when he was alive. May his soul rest in peace.
I wear ‘Made in Aba’
My Nigerian outfits are designed by local people in Aba. I also make some of my suits in Aba. Some good tailors in Aba make my suits, ties and shirts. When it is not Gianni, I use ‘Made in Aba’ and they are very good. But the fabric for the suit is not made in Aba. I don’t even know the names of the tailors who make these suits for me in Aba. They are local people; they just come, take the measurement and get it done.
Inequality, poverty makes me sad
I will be excited the day I see equality among Nigerians; that is, to see people living together, being equal, being able to afford food three times a day. I pity people when I move around and see how they suffer. It gives me headache to see that I’m living in an air-conditioned environment 24 hours and some people are suffering. Poverty depresses me because I detest it.