By Jide Ajani
It started like a small matter but after just a few months, Orji Uzor Kalu, former Governor of Abia State and multi-sectoral businessman, has been able to drive the process of putting the pursuit of Igbo presidency on the front burner of national discourse.
Though he insists that he is not concerning himself with partisanship yet, the clamour for a president of Igbo extraction in 2015 is gaining the needed traction.
Whereas a sizeable proportion of his kinsmen have bought into the paradigm, Kalu says “once unity is achieved, we can then begin to talk about the platform to use; for now it is about building unity”.
His views are very strong and are presented below.
You seem to be embattled?
Embattled? I’m not embattled in any way.
I’m having the best of times because I’m enjoying what I am doing which you can describe as a liberation struggle kind of.
I say so because not long ago, some politicians in your state, Abia, led by the state governor, Theodore Orji, and members of the National Assembly, went to the headquarters of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to say they do not want you back in the party?
Are you making moves to return to the PDP? I think Nigerians deserve to know?
I have just returned to Nigeria after visiting several countries.
You seem to be involved in travels these days such that you even hardly stay in Nigeria; before you respond to the PDP issue and politicians in your state, what are you looking for across the globe?
I have just returned to the country after my trips to countries including Guinea, where I went to promote the cause of the South East producing the next president of Nigeria and to oversee my businesses.
What took you to Guinea?
I was there with my team on a business mission.
I am sure you are aware that I am a big player in the banking and insurance sectors of the Guinean economy. We established First International Bank and International Insurance Company 12 years ago in Guinea.
We held discussions on our new investment in the hospitality industry.
Hospitality industry! Hotel business!
We are setting up of a five star hotel in Conakry.
We have received funding from international banks and are concluding arrangements on the land acquisition. It is a very big project that is why I was in Guinea. I went there with the technical and financial partners to brief and seek the support of the President and Guineans on this project.
We also informed the President on the status of tomato puree factory we just acquired in Guineas as well.
With investments across the length and breadth of Africa, what is the big picture you’re looking at?
I am an African businessman with investments in many parts of Africa. Our bank and insurance companies identified earlier are in Guinea, Gambia, Sierra Lone, Liberia and Congo.
So, you are free to call me an African businessman. Or is Guinea not part of Africa?
Mind you, it is about the empowerment of the African, the black race.That is one of the ways we can lift our people above the poverty line. That is my big picture, lifting people above the poverty line by creating opportunities that are limitless.
That way, Africans can raise their heads high.
Back to the issue of your people and a possible return to the PDP?
As I’ve always said, I have not written any application or made any expression to anybody that I want to go back to any political party.
As of today, I belong to no political party.
Yes, you heard me right. I belong to no political party as of today.
My ideas and my whole view are to work for an Igbo man to become the president (of Nigeria).
The political party or which party platform does not mean anything. These are decisions that will be determined by the majority of the Igbo people, who will sit and decide on which platform we are going to realise this aspiration.
So, what I am concentrating on now is a group called Njiko Igbo. That is what I am focusing attention on now both nationally and internationally.
I am not focusing on PDP or PPA or APGA.
I am not talking about that now. It is immaterial. The most important thing is get a level playing ground, educate our people (Ndigbo) on the need for an Igbo man to be the president (of Nigeria).
On the issue of those who are dissipating energy on a phantom return for now, it is fear for the bad things they have done in one way or the other. These are people who cannot win election anywhere, if there is free and fair election. They use the army to win election.
I can tell you that all the people that went to (the PDP national headquarters in Abuja to block what they thought was my intention of going back to the party), almost all of them were in ANPP. Vin Ogbulafor was a member of ANPP. I even contested the governorship election against him. We later had a coalition government, he was made a minister. And he later joined the PDP.
I was the one that took him into the party. He declared for the PDP and I was very happy to receive him as a member of the PDP. Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe contested election on the platform of the ANPP in 2003 and I took him back into the PDP. And Senator Nkechi Nwaogu was in the ANPP.
I brought her back to the PDP. Senator Uche Chukwumerije had been a member of ANPP and APGA and this and that. And overall, the (present) governor of Abia, (Chief Theodore Orji) had never been in any political party in his life. The first political party he entered was PPA, on the platform of which he won election as governor and he then decamped to APGA and later to PDP.
We are the founding fathers of PDP and at any given day I want join any political party, those people cannot even stop me from doing what I want to do. They know that and that is what they are afraid of because they have ruined our state.
Aba, Umuahia, Ohafia, Bende areas are ruined.
The governor is not doing anything.
That your successor is not performing?
Yes he is not.
I even called for his resignation. Last week, I asked him to resign because he is not doing any job for the people.
From the way you are talking, it appears you do not believe the incumbent is also performing since you are consistent with the pursuit of enthroning a president of Igbo extraction come 2015. Therefore, how do you assess President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration?
Let me be very clear.
President Jonathan has promised to surprise Nigerians with dividends of democracy by next year. So please let us give him the benefit of time as promised.
You have not answered the question?
He is our President and I know we as citizens of Nigeria have the right to freedom of expression. I will not like to discuss him now. I have said it overtime, that I will not discuss President Jonathan till next year. At the appropriate time, I would personally write him on the state of affairs of Nigeria.
From your understanding, what sense do you make of President Jonathan’s appreciation of the Igbos Igbo?
Well, President Jonathan is not an Igbo man. I believe he should be happy with any move that is aimed at unity. He is the president of all the regions, including the South East, so he should support all legitimate associations or groups. Njiko Igbo has been working hard to reposition Ndigbo, with the support of all Igbo sons and daughters at home and in the Diaspora and other Igbo unions and associations towards the actualisation of a Nigerian president of South East extraction in 2015.
Would it not then appear that Njiko Igbo is an opposition platform against Jonathan’s re-election 2015?
Did President Jonathan tell you he would seek re-election in 2015? The President has not declared his intention either privately or publicly. When we get to the river, we shall cross it.
Can we please clear the air on this PDP matter…?
(Cuts in) I am not even in any political party. This is what I am telling you. My focus is to work on how Igbo people become united and we will decide on which platform we are going to contest for presidency after unity has been built.
And for those disturbing themselves about a return to the party, they are not knowledgeable enough. I am surprised that educated people like them should be doing that because when Bamanga Tukur took over as the national chairman of PDP, he said his leadership will be for reconciliation.
And when the PDP leaders of Ekiti State opposed the return of (former Governor Ayo) Fayose to the party, Bamanga Tukur intervened. Because that is the cardinal point of the decision of the National Working Committee of the party and no individual, no state can flout that decision. But that is not even the point. The issue is that I am not in any political party as of today, and for now I am not thinking about that.
I am thinking more about my people (Ndigbo), who are not united, than the issue political party.
Is it not too early in the day to even start campaigning for the presidency, some two and a half years before the date?
I am not talking about presidential election; I am talking about unity of the Igbo people.
Unity of Igbo people for presidential election…?
Unity of the Igbos in preparation! Our people are not united. Since we lost Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, we have lost a lot of statesmen, and the former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, is getting old, we need to go round and tell our people to come up.
Let (other) people stop making a caricature of the Igbos.
That is our focus.
That is where I am focusing on and that is where most of the people who genuinely like the Igbos are focusing on.
I am not in any political party.
I am not talking about partisan politics and I will support any platform on which the Igbo presidential candidate will emerge in the next election.
You responded to this issue before but it would be nice to hear you make a response: Some people accuse you of working surreptitiously for northern interests?
Well, I am not working for anybody.
If I am working for anybody it is for my people, the Igbo people.
And I expect the people of northern Nigeria to sit down with us and talk and support us. I also expect the people of south western Nigeria to sit down with us and talk, and support us.
How easy do you think that would be in a polity where interests clash with the speed of light?
Why not? I will be very willing to talk together and work together with anybody or group or groups so long as it engenders unity of the Igbos pursuant to achieving our goals as a people.
That is why I am not even talking about political party now.
This is unnecessary.
I am not in partisan politics.
I am not a member of any political party. I am coordinating a group called Njiko Igbo with other people, comprising the chairman, other officials and members of the association.
I am just a coordinator. I am not a member of any political party: PPA, PDP, or APGA; and whenever I want to go back to partisan politics that will be made known to Nigerians.
Some people believe you are doing all these also, because you are interested in the 2015 presidency and will this be one of the reasons you have been moving around and even promoting the cause of an Igbo presidency in 2015?
No, no and capital No.
I am not playing partisan politics and thus do not have presidential ambition for now.
I do not belong to any political party as I’ve said. My focus is on the unity of Ndigbo, which we are championing through a non partisan political movement called Njiko Igbo. It is a platform for the repositioning of Ndigbo, most especially on a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2015, having been marginalised over the years.
All we are doing is to collectively mend fences and drive the process of repositioning the South East region and working with other regions towards the Nigeria project.
Your offer of mediation between the federal government and Boko Haram was not taken serious in some necessary quarters but you seem very ready?
I offered to dialogue with Boko Haram when General Muhammadu Buhari rejected the offer as demanded by Boko Haram. I agree with General Buhari for refusing because he was a contender against President Jonathan in the 2011 election and his stand might be misinterpreted.
I schooled at the University of Maiduguri, I have properties in the North, I hold many chieftaincy titles from the North and I have friends, allies and associates from the North. I believe with all these, I am well positioned to carry out this assignment.
It is in pursuit of the same unity and peace that I am preaching.
We need it in Igbo land and Nigeria also needs it.