Former governor of Abia state, Orji Uzor Kalu has remained visible and relevant in the Nigerian political scene since 1999.
Following the end of his first 4-year term as governor, and a long-drawn stalemate with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Kalu decamped from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), a party he forms and on whose platform he won the 2003 gubernatorial polls.
In an interview granted to Thisday, the charismatic Kalu spoke on a number of issues, including his 2012 return to the PDP, the current state of Abia, amongst others.
Read excerpts of the interview below:
What is your reaction to the attempts to prevent your return to PDP?
There is nothing like people being jittery over my return to the PDP. This is so because the taste of the pudding is in the eating. I have been back to the PDP since January 16, 2012. Why anybody should be making noise, I do not know, possibly because they think the tiger is back. It is gone out of the cage and back to the street. Nobody should be jittery, we are planning for the good of the party, we are the founding members.
Even people sitting down there calling themselves officials of the party are not the foundation members of the party. Some of them were in the All Nigeria Peoples Party. I can call them by name. They have never been here, but we brought them back to the party. And it is the constitutional right of anybody to belong to any party he or she likes. So nobody should be worried that I am back to the PDP. This should not be an issue.
I want to advise the governor of Abia State, Chief Thoedore Orji, to use the resources provided through the Federation Account and the funds generated locally for the development of the people of Abia State. The governor should stop running from pillar to post.
I am not the problem of Abia State. I cannot be a problem for the people I love. I love the people of Abia State, they love me. The only question I am asking the governor of Abia State is to rule our people in Abia with his conscience. And his conscience is not there.
What is your take on the seeming tendency by supporters of the incumbent governor of Abia State to belittle your achievements as governor of the state for eight years?
I have stated this very clearly in television interviews that I’m ready to take; I mean pay the bill for a financial audit of my administration and the current one, so that the public would understand what the issues are. I am ready to pay 50 per cent of the cost of such audit, while the state government will pay the remaining 50 per cent for a thorough audit to be carried out on the finances and expenditure of the state. We can invite reputable audit firms, including Est & Young, KPMG, Dellloite & Touché Price Water Copper House, to carry out the audit so that the truth would be straightened. This is how a civilised society works. Not throwing mud at people who have served their people meritoriously. This is because I do not see any reason why anybody should lie to the whole nation. It is not right.
I am ready to sponsor many professional groups, including the Nigerian Bar Association, NUJ, NGE, and others to go into Abia State to carry out investigations, serious on the spot assessment of what is happening there.
Abia State has become a gutter. In fact, the governor is savage. I say so because I do not think he has conscience. Go and check the dictionary meaning of savage. That would buttress my point. If he has conscience and is worried about the future of his children, he will not be toiling with the lives and property of the people of Abia State.
At the national level of PDP, you have been playing some reconciliatory roles to try to bring back aggrieved members of the party who had left. What is your motivation for this?
I am not bothered about those in my state who are getting petty by throwing spanners into the works of the party. If we allow Abia State to remain the way it is now, PDP will not win election there. That is the truth. Let nobody deceive you, that is the truth. I challenge the director general of State Security Services; I call on him to send his intelligence officials to report back to the president what is happening in Abia State. The entire projects he has embarked on are not up to N6 billion. Not what he is showing in the papers.
The governor has collected so far in the last seven years over N1 trillion from the Federation Account Allocation Committee. We have the data of how much the state gets from Federal Allocation.
I am not the issue in Abia State. The governor thinks so. Why must you be under one man, instead of developing the state? He said I told him not to develop the state. He has proven himself wrong. If a pregnant woman is sick today in Abia, the governor says it is me. If anybody has headache, he says it is me.
During the kidnapping saga in Abia State, he nearly wanted to implicate me.
When I was handing over as governor, I told him to rule the people of Abia with his conscience. So, I think the mediocrity should stop, proper governance should take place.
The 2015 project for President Goodluck Jonathan is on course, with the collection of signatures and endorsement rallies. Do you think he stands a good chance of being re- elected?
To me, those who are even looking for the president’s job are not better than him. I believe also the ruling party is a strong brand. Unfortunately, some of my brothers from the South-east have been blowing hot and cold. The truth of the matter is that Igbos cannot make themselves president. Neither Ijaws nor Yorubas can become president without the support of other tribes and other Nigerians. They will need the assistance of people in other geopolitical zones to actualise their ambition.
I believe that the principle of rotation of power is good to balance the power equation in Nigeria. I strongly believe that rotation has made many zones become president of Nigeria. The same rotation should also make Igbo people president. We cannot at anytime we are getting to the goal post to score continue to count ourselves out. Igbos must support Jonathan to be able to support ourselves in the future.
So the PDP cannot remove zoning. Zoning is essential for the presidency to go through all zones. After the tenure of Jonathan, the two zones that have not produced a president for Nigeria are South-east and North-east geopolitical zones. We must get the rotation of the office of the president to these two zones, then we can stop it.
That is the only way to ensure equity and justice. Later we can talk about merit. It is only when these two zones are well represented that we can now remove zoning.
Are you not worried that the disagreements in Abia PDP may jeopardise the chances of Jonathan in 2015?
No, Abia State remains one of the backbone states of the PDP. That is why the president is a very lucky man; he stands by me and Orji. All of us are in PDP. The president is standing on two sides of the Atlantic. People will listen to us. Whatever the governor of Abia State cannot bring on the table for the president I would bring. That is why democracy is very good. It is going to be a win-win situation for the president.
That is why the PDP umbrella is very strong, it can cover many people under it.
What is your take on the zoning arrangement in Abia State, especially regarding the governorship position?
This is very simple. Looking at it from the point of morality, the next governor of the state should come from old Aba zone. This is because you cannot tell any Ngwa man that because of zoning you will exclude him. It is not possible. Isi Alangwa local government, both North and South, is the head of Ngwas , you cannot exclude them in the gubernatorial race. I am not saying that anybody from Abia North or the governor’s village cannot run. But, has such a candidate got the morality to win the election? That is the issue; it is a matter of morality, that is where it stands.
So, morally, the old Aba zone stands the chance of winning the election, unless they miss the goal post, if they cannot score the goal.
What do you want for 2015?
I want stability of the country, which is good for business. As a stakeholder in the Nigerian project, stability is very important. Stability is the best thing in any democracy. I run a business with a very large balance sheet; stability of the country is good for business. I need stability to push the business to the next level. I need stability to further the growth of my company, the Slok Group.
I have just returned to active business in the last six years, and from the time I came back to the business, I have moved the company out of Africa. I have moved the business from about $2.4 billion to about $3.6 billion in balance sheet, that is in the last few years. I want to grow the business by at least 10 per cent in the next few years. If there is stability the balance sheet will grow.
I have the constitutional right to seek any office, I do not believe in “my people call me.” I will consult my God and all the stakeholders before I take a position that will be made public. By the time the party starts primaries, I will make my position known.
How do you think the spate of insecurity in some parts of the country can be successfully tackled?
I have told stakeholders that we all need to rally round the government to maintain national stability; otherwise, Jonathan might be the last president of Nigeria. If the stakeholders do not come out to help Jonathan, there may be problem. Jonathan is not the owner of this country. The highest time he could stay in office is another four years, terminating in 2015. He will go, just like former presidents and heads of state. Shagari, Babangida, Gowon , Obasanjo. They all came and went.
Instability is not good for us, it is not good for the nation, its economy and politics. It is not good for the system. Many European countries are coming together, why can’t we build a united Nigeria? Why do we need to disintegrate, why do we want problem for Nigeria? We need peace. I want to tell you, thorough negotiation is going on in Chad because of the insurgency of Boko Haram. The negotiation is between a delegation of private sector players and the government of Chad. The whole idea is to forge a common front to deal with the challenge of insecurity and Boko Haram. We do not what the insurgency. It must go.
PDP appears to be coming back strong. What do you think is behind the rebound?
We just have in PDP a strong national chairman. His brand is very strong. His disposition to everybody is simple. He has been calling everybody. He has been visiting politicians in their homes, reaching out to different people. Even the former national chairman, Bamanga Tukur, did many things to bring the party together.
But there is advantage in the young age of Adamu Muazu. He is free with people, bringing people together into the PDP family. He is a game changer, and will continue to change the game. Nobody should be afraid of the new national executive of the PDP.
Mind you, if you the party is a company, I should own 90 per cent of the shares. We brought the initial money to test run the party. Unfortunately, we forget our history. Some of us have made sacrifice in this party and democracy. Some of us have made sacrifice for this country.
I lost an entire business, I lost a bank, where I owned 70 per cent, I mean Hallmark Bank. I lost my operating licence in Slok Airlines to the democratic struggle. One aircraft committed an offence in Enugu, and the entire 14 aircraft fleet was grounded. Let us assume the pilot committed an offence, that was not enough for the government to ground the airline. It was political witch-hunting, people tried to cut off my head, but my head still stands.
You have been travelling around the world to shop for investors in Nigeria. How soon should the dividends be expected?
Very soon the Slok Group is rolling out the first ever indigenously made mobile phone called Slok Mobile. It is a phone we have built to be sold in Nigeria and across Africa. I am rolling out the Slok telephone in less than eight weeks. We will have the lowest end of the mobile phone market.
The Slok telephone has all the packages of a modern phone, it is going to be a utility phone that Nigerians have been looking for.
We are going to roll out the phones in Nigeria, Congo, Guinea, South Africa, and other African markets. The phone has patent right in the United States and other countries as well as Europe.