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Abia is free at last!

By Ochereome Nnanna
THE resignation of Governor Theodore Orji from the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) was an event every concerned Abia indigene had eagerly awaited for long.

When on July 9,  2003 Dr Chris Ngige, former Governor of Anambra State was abducted by the police on the orders of the reigning “godfather” of Anambra politics then, Chris Uba, Ngige came out of it and announced that Anambra State was now freed from the clutches of political godfathers.

The same thing has now taken place in Abia State with the parting of ways between Governor Orji and his erstwhile political leader, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu and his mother.

The question we will like to examine here is: Why did it take so long a time to come? Ngige rebelled within six weeks of his being sworn-in. The Governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime, severed all ties with his predecessor, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani almost as soon as he was announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the winner of the 2007 election.

Breaking free early from the cankerworm greed of their sponsors enabled both men enough time and money to launch aggressively their programmes of development.

With T. A. Orji, the story was a little more complicated. Ngige and Chime belonged to a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that is national in character.

It has no founder, even though under Olusegun Obasanjo’s leadership it harboured a number of the President’s provincial commission agents (godfathers). T. A. found himself in a political party that belonged to the Orji Kalu family.

When Kalu’s political fights with Obasanjo got to the point where he and others were no longer wanted in the PDP he founded the PPA. By then, T. A. was his Chief of Staff. T. A. was the only political appointee of Orji Kalu that served on the same exalted position for all the eight years he reigned. He was so valued that he was given the nod to replace Kalu.
T. A’s reluctance to dump Kalu early in the day was understandable. He was in detention when the campaigns were on. His party stood by him, and when he was announced as the victor after the election, Kalu did everything in his power to ensure his swearing in.

In all these, Kalu was not just fighting to preserve T. A.’s mandate, he was also labouring to protect his political empire which, at that period, had two states in its kitty: Abia and Imo states. The second factor that stayed the Governor’s hand in the face of mounting greed and impunity from the Kalu family is T. A.’s gentlemanly disposition. T. A. does not carry false airs with him.

But there is a limit to human endurance. As soon as T. A. was sworn-in it became clear to him that he was merely a divisional manager in one of Orji Kalu’s businesses. His Chief of Staff, Mascot Kalu, was brought back from America and given the post by his brother.

The first crop of commissioners was nominated by Kalu and his mother, Eunice (alias “Mother Excellency”). Mascot was to administer the Government House, while Mother Excellency took charge of the local councils, whose chairmen and councillors she single-handedly nominated.

Between 1999 and 2007, Orji’s hometown, Igbere, was rebuilt with state funds and served as the alternate capital of Abia State. Any weekend when Kalu or his mother was in Igbere, the Governor, Deputy Governor and all commissioners were required to go and pay homage.

One of the public events where Kalu displayed his disregard for his successor was on May 29, 2009 when the Democracy Day celebrations were going on at the Township Stadium, Umuahia.

The former governor, who was a guest of honour, came late to the occasion. He swooped in with a large retinue of young men dressed in dark suits and went directly to the podium to address the gathered crowds, debunking the “rumour” that he and his successor had any problems. When he finished he made direct for his convoy.

While their association lasted, stories often made the rounds about how “Mother Excellency” imperiously stormed the Government House to remind the Governor of the sacrifices she and her son made, especially the huge amount they allegedly spent from their family purse to put him in office.

When Kalu assumed office as governor, he was fond of boasting that he was richer than Abia State. But instructively, it was during his eight-year tenure that he floated a newspaper, an airline, shipping line, an offshore bank, a construction company and other businesses.

He is currently being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for allegedly stealing more than N5 billon from the state.

For T. A. to get anything at all done he needed to be more assertive. His growing independence got the Orji Kalu political family worried and they despaired that if he was given the ticket to a second term he might bolt away altogether.

The battle line had been drawn since the Governor’s victory at the election appeal tribunal in February 2009.

Right now, T. A. is like an eagle that had lived most its life in a cage. Now that it is out of the cage, what will he do? Embracing the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) is a smart move, as Abia State is always the last stand for Igbo parties.

Abia people might not be able to look Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu in the face and refuse him any request. The race of next year will be an interesting three-cornered fight between the PDP, PPA and APGA.

It is now up to Abia people to take their destiny in their hands and begin the process of rebuilding after the fall of the Orji Kalu political empire.


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