By Chioma Gabriel
Dr, Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State, is a politician and business mogul whose interests cut across national boundaries. In this no-holds-barred interview, he bares his mind on his plans for 2015, Njiko Igbo and the plight of Igbos in the polity for the past 53 years. Excerpts
Is your political group G37 still functioning?
Yes, G37 is still on course. You know, it is a human-to-human thing. There is no problem with G37.
What does the group intend to achieve?
We don’t like to discuss our activities. We have officers who speak on these issues. At any time we want to give a press release, we have a secretary and some officers who do that for us. It is only when the group sits that we make a statement and issue a press release. So, I am not even competent to talk about the group because it is a collective effort. And based on that, nobody talks about the group.
Are you in PDP or PPA?
I am in PDP.
Now that people are strategising for 2015, what are your plans?
I have no plans actually order than for an Igbo man to be president. This is what Njiko- Igbo is fighting. I have no other plan, and if anybody tells you that I have another plan, the person is lying. My first and last plan is for an Igbo man to be president.
Who do you plan to project for 2015 presidency ?
Nobody knows who will wear the cap because we have capable men and women. We have strong people that can wear the cap.
What are your political aspirations this time around?
I have no aspirations now. Maybe I will have one as time goes on. But for today, my aspiration is to galvanise the people, get Igbo to be very purposeful than they used to be, both the youths, the market men and women, workers and everybody. I want them to understand the purpose of coming together. You know, when we are talking about marginalisation of the Igbo, people think it is all about appointments. It is not like that. It is not about who is made the Minister or not. It is about the fundamental issues like local government creation.
Between Kano and Gigawa states, the local governments in those two states are more than the whole local governments in the South-East. Those are the fundamental things. You talk about the Senators, you see that the South-East has only 15 senators in the whole federation. These are what I am talking about. You talk about states, you see that the South-East is the only zone with five states. These are constitutionally entrenched. Other zones have six states each.
When I talk about marginalisation of the Igbo, I am not talking about making Okonjo- Iweala or Stella Odua ministers. They are very competent to handle such posts. To me, the Aviation Minister and Okonjo-Iweala are performing very well.
These are things that are bound to come to Igboland. But the country should stop this hypocrisy in the system. They should be people who love one another. Competent people should be left to do their work, but we should address the marginalisation in the constitution. That is what I am saying.
Do you think the Igbo love one another enough?
How many tribes love themselves? Do the Yorubas and Hausas love themselves? It is not true. People should stop saying this. I get angry when I hear people say that kind of thing. Igbo love themselves. Igbo traders in the market love themselves, market women love themselves.
The elites are after their pockets. They are not after anybody. So, when you equate our elites with greed, you don’t equate greed with market women and the middle-class Igbo. They know themselves. I can tell you that the Igbo respect those that fight for them.
But they messed up the Ikemba Nnewi?
They didn’t mess up the Ikemba Nnewi. Every election that Ikemba stood for, he won. But the system still gives room for rigging. It is not true, I can bet you.
You seem restless recently. What is it all about?
I am a Nigerian so concerned about my country. How to remake my country has been my concern. I have to be restless at this stage. In the next 10-15 years, maybe , I might not do what I am doing today.
What do you want to achieve for yourself?
Unity of the country. At this stage, I don’t talk about myself. You have known me for sometime now, I am the same. I’ve lived in the same house for a long time now. So, it is not about me. People are thinking all these struggles are about me but it’s not.
That does not mean I am not capable of representing our people. I am capable and I can do the job if given the opportunity.
If you look at the polity, the NGF is messed up, the governors are divided. What do you think is happening?
I think it is democracy. Democracy goes with quarrels and the ability to reconcile is very important. Democracy has a lot of problems and that is why the practice needs a lot of patience.But I am disappointed with our governors that 35 of them cannot be able to appoint one person as their leader. I don’t blame anybody for that. I was told that Amaechi won the election. They could just have left it like that and continued.
The Governors’ Forum is a mere association, it has nothing to change in the constitutional wellbeing of Nigeria, it has nothing to change in the life of the Nigerian people. As far as I am concerned, they should bring unity back among themselves. I must also tell you that I am very happy to see President Jonathan and Governor Amaechi hugging on the pages of newspapers.
This is what I wrote in a private column I have with one of the national dailies that they should sit together and talk. What is killing our politicians is inability to talk. I want them to talk to themselves. They should understand themselves. Politics is give and take.
You lose this and you gain this. There must be discussions at all times. There is no superiority. A president is a president and a governor is also a governor. They all have executive powers. They should find a common ground to reconcile differences and make our party big.
At present, PDP is enmeshed in all kinds of crises, NGF saga and suspension of the NWC. Do you think your party can withstand APC in the forthcoming elections?
Everything that is happening in APC is all a joke. Time shall come when you would see that it is all a joke. The people in APC are all my personal friends, I know them well. I know their character, I know how they would behave. I know that it is difficult to sustain what they are doing because there are lots of suspicion among them because of sharing of offices and the rest of them.
But, it is a good thing that we have a viable opposition. It is good for the nation and the PDP. So, I don’t want anybody to write off APC and I don’t want the PDP to take APC for granted because they can do something if greed would allow the people to get themselves together.
How do you think the crises in PDP could be handled?
It is being handled. PDP is a very big family and in a big family like that, there are always problems because there are all kinds of people in the family. You know, it is like a Church.
Some people come to know if they can see God in the Church, some come to know if God would solve one problem or the other for them immediately , some people come to show off their new dress in the Church, some come to show off their new car. Some people are genuinely, in their hearts, in the Church to worship God. This is what a political party looks like. So, I think with the new reconciliation committee set up by the PDP, they would be able to reconcile their differences.
Recently, there was the visa issue with Britain. What does that project about our country in the area of security?
Let me tell you, I am not particularly impressed about the security issues in the country. But the president continues saying that he is doing his best. I don’t want to rate the president for now. He said Nigerians should give him till the end of 2013.
But since I came back five days ago from Singapore, I have been running generators. Before I left my house on Victoria Island, I was running generators and my boys told me that for the past five months, there has not been power supply. I want the president to take good stock of his Ministers and people advising him. I think they are not telling him the truth.
Things are not going the way they should be. There is a problem and the earlier the president acknowledges that, then we can start the solution and invite more hands. That is the truth. It is only a fool in Nigeria that would continue telling the president that there is no problem.
There is a problem. We have a problem of unemployed young people everywhere, insecurity, power supply and everything. In fact, traders are crying because nothing is moving the way it should.
Some Igbo businessmen in the North were forced back home because of Boko Haram activities. Do you think emergency rule would solve the problem of insurgents?
Well, I have always told the military and the security agencies that they should look inwards. I hope they don’t have bad eggs that have continued to put this insurgence on us. Nigeria is bleeding.The country is suffering – the Igbos especially.
The Njiko-Igbo is setting up a committee to be able to assess the damage done to Igbos so that when you are talking about compensating victims of Boko Haram, you also compensate those whose properties have been damaged. I have also said it several times that the federal government should set up a committee to also assess the properties damaged in northern Nigeria.
The Njiko- Igbo is also setting up a committee to assess all Igbo people in Borno, Kano and other areas they have this problem so that they would be able to say what they lost and how they lost it so that we can be able to present a case to the federal government.
Recently, you ventured into more businesses; how do you combine these with politics ?
Well, I would say that I can’t stop doing what I know is good for my people because the government closed some of my companies. One of my companies employed over 13,000 workers. It was shut down. It is a mistake for people in government to mix personal business with politics. My bank that they closed down lost about 5,000 workers and Slok Airline lost about 1,000 workers.
Our leaders should know that the country and the states do not belong to anybody, they belong to the Nigerian people. And if they belong to the Nigerian people, they should stop mixing politics with personal businesses of individual politicians. Business is different from politics. They should be able to be conscious of other people being employed in these conglomerates.
I appreciate all the efforts of President Jonathan in distancing himself from mixing business and politics. Let me also tell you the truth, Jonathan has been civil, unlike the other past presidents. The massive abuse of human rights is reduced in the Jonathan administration.
This means the president is not attacking political opponents. I hope he can continue on that note so that more investors will be coming into the country. If you check now, you would find out that people are not investing in the country anymore because government will wake up and put a hammer on people’s business.
We have been into the shipping business for 27 years now. We have been there even during the time of Obasanjo and we cannot stop because the government is there. Government should be able to take business away from politics. And I cannot stop business because I am a politician. So, we have competent hands in our companies and businesses. I can afford to attend board meetings and every other thing.
What is your relationship with your Governor ?
I don’t like to talk about it. I have said it time without number that I leave him to rule our state with his conscience. As the Governor of the State, his office is sacrosanct and should be respected. So I don’t like to discuss it.
But he said he has withdrawn your certificate?
Good luck to him. But I don’t like to discuss it because the beauty of constitutional democracy is time limit.
What is your opinion on the issue of PIB?
Well, I know the government might be feeling that the oil companies have taken advantage of PIB in the past and we must correct it today. That is not how to do it. Rather, you must give the oil companies what I call in business “the sweetener” to do the investment. Nigeria is wasting time because there is gas and oil everywhere in the world. In the next five years, we won’t have investors to invest in oil here because there is oil everywhere. In the area of gas, we are lagging behind.
For something like brass energy they could have done since, they are wasting time having meetings here and there. The PIB is key to investment. Look at oil companies selling their assets because of PIB. I call on President Goodluck Jonathan and the Minister of Petroleum to effect the PIB. Let them not allow the people who are drafting this Bill to take every meat out of it.
Even if they are representatives, like the Senators and House of Reps members, if they love Nigeria, they should conclude work on PIB like yesterday and stop playing politics with it. We are not supposed to play with the oil sector. People are talking about investment in oil. There is oil everywhere. Go to Liberia, everywhere is oil. From here to Senegal and Gambia, oil is everywhere, even in the Atlantic ocean. Why are we wasting time?
But you know the Nigerian situation is peculiar, especially with the issue of some oil marketers reaping where they did not sow and then the Farouk Lawan factor
Corruption is the main issue in our country. It is in the depth of the system and nobody is touching those officers who are deeply involved in corruption. That is not good for the system. The system should be able to get the people that are involved and tell them that they are corrupt. The system is having children of the bridegroom and that of the groom.
The whole children should be one. Treat Nigeria with one love, this country deserves to be treated with one love. Look at the issue of energy where the country spent $1billion and you are talking about Farouk Lawan. Farouk issue is a stone in the water. We are talking about spending billions of dollars on energy and nobody is talking about that.
I am talking about big fraud happening in government everyday. So, let us stand up. Nigeria is endemic in corruption and it is only a president that does not mind if he would be killed in the course of the fight that can do that. That president must not put his hands in any corrupt practice.
This issue of zoning the presidential candidate of your party is on. What’s your take on that ?
I have told you that an Igbo man should be the next president and that is the only thing I have to say. Jonathan is not Igbo, and the Hausas are not Igbo, so what else do you want me to say? It is time for an Igbo man or woman to become the president.
What about PDP zoning formula?
There is no zoning in the PDP. That is what they have agreed. It is undemocratic, it does not represent the value and norms of democratic reforms. If you want to run for election, there must be primaries and anybody who wins the primaries flies the flag and the other aspirants should support the person.
You are aware the Igbo had a deal with Jonathan?
I don’t know about the deal. They had a deal in 2011. I also heard that he promised to support the Igbo in 2015.
If he didn’t comply with the zoning formula of the PDP, do you think he would comply with whatever agreement he had with the Igbo?
I dont know, I was not there but I heard. I was not part of the deal. If I was part of the deal, it would be properly structured because I am used to structuring private-sector deals.
What do you have to say about speculations by United States that Nigeria might cease to exist by 2015?
There would be Nigeria in 2015 by the grace of God. It would be to the disadvantage of an Igbo man for Nigeria to disintegrate. We will not allow that. We fought the civil war, we have also fought for the unity of the country, we will allow Nigeria to be one. Out of 53 years of independence, an Igbo man just ruled this country for six months. This is what I am saying, we should come together and fight this cause.
But the Igbo are never united to fight
They will unite. No tribe unites, I have never seen any tribe that is united. In the South-West, there are still people fighting my friend Bola Tinubu. They are not united, it is just that where majority of the people agree, it looks as if there is unity. When Obasanjo contested for president, Bola Ige, Falae , all ran for the same position. There is no place with 100% unity. There was no unity in the South-West but Obasanjo became president. People have become president without winning their wards.
Professor Nwabueze said recently that in 2015, there would be no other president except an Igbo man, is there is a joint effort by Njiko-Igbo and other Igbo socio cultural groups towards achieving that, knowing fully well that some Igbos are supporting Jonathan for 2015?
Well, Njiko-Igbo is not contesting leadership with Ohanaeze. Ohanaeze is the supreme leadership of cultural organizations of Igbo land. Other groups are there. Njiko Igbo is a political group. It would be very willing to work with other socio- cutural groups like Ohanaeze, Aka Ikenga and others. Ohanaeze is a pressure group and Njiko -Igbo is a political group. We respect the leadership of Ohanaeze and we expect them to do more.