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Orji Kalu’s ‘right of association’

By Ochereome Nnanna

FOLLOWING the emergence of Alhaji Adamu Muazu as the new National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, a stampede of goodwill visitors to his Wadata Plaza, Abuja office started. One of the stakeholder groups that paid him a visit was the delegation from Abia State led by the Governor, Chief Theodore Orji.

Among those that accompanied him were former warring party leaders in the state, including Ambassador Ojo Maduekwe, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, Dr Onyema Ugochukwu, Dr Vincent Ogbulafor, General Ike Nwachukwu, and others. All of them who made speeches harped with emphasis on one theme: The party in Abia State is now a united family, and nothing should be done to unsettle or upset the apple cart. In particular, Senator Nwachukwu cautioned that a “virus” should not be allowed to come in and infest the party and undermine its unity.

*Orji Uzor Kalu
*Orji Uzor Kalu

Even though Governor Sule Lamido of Adamawa State was the first to use the expression “virus” to describe the reign of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, it was obvious who was being referred to this time: former governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu. Since Kalu abandoned his own political party, the Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA and sought to return to his original party, the PDP, he has been encountering stiff and sustained opposition from other leaders of the party in his state. They don’t want him back in their midst.

After this visit, most of the columnists in Orji Kalu’s newspaper, The SUN, took on members of the delegation, calling them names and asserting that their stiff-arming of their publisher amounts to a violation of Kalu’s constitutional right to freedom of association. For the sake of clarity, Chapter IV Section 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 specifies as follows: “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular, he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests…”.

The question before us here is this: Does the refusal of the leadership of the PDP in Abia State to readmit former Governor Kalu amount to a violation of his constitutional rights? To provide a valid answer to this question, two other questions need to be asked: Can Orji Kalu go to court to assert his right to belong to any political party, PDP inclusive? Can he ask a judge to impose sanctions on anyone or group for denying or refusing him membership of any political party?

The answer to both questions is, clearly, no. A person’s right of association depends whether the group he seeks to join is willing to have him as their member. If, for any reason, a group does not consider you worthy of being their member, you cannot impose yourself on them, and I don’t think any court can force you on them. The two sides must be willing to cohabit. If a group decides you do not possess the qualities worthy of their membership it has the right to keep you at bay, your constitutional rights notwithstanding.

The truth of the matter is that Orji Uzor Kalu is undergoing political ostracism in a state he ran like a branch of his Slok business empire. He is still on trial for alleged looting of the treasury. When a good leader completes his tenure of service to his people, politicians use his name to win elections. Perhaps the only place in Abia State where Kalu’s name can win elections is his native Igbere town, where he used state funds to tar all the roads, including roads to farms which vehicles hardly set foot on.

The fear of the political stakeholders is valid. When Kalu was in power, PDP was splintered into so many groups. When he abandoned the party and formed his own PPA, he was still able to defeat the PDP and install his successor, Governor Theodore Orji, who was his Chief of Staff. The Kalu family enslaved not just Governor Orji but also the people of the state as a whole, and for about 30 months, development was simply impossible. It was Orji Kalu and his Mother Excellency, Mrs Eunice Kalu all the way. Nobody seemed able to do anything about the situation until Kalu pushed his luck too far: he started shopping for Governor Orji’s replacement rather than grant him a second term ticket for the 2011 elections.

Governor Orji finally left PPA, first for the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, and later on back to the PDP. He was able to unite all the splinter groups in the PDP that could not stand up to Kalu and together they were able to return Governor Orji in 2011. Since then, the Governor has doggedly struggled to escape the tag of non-performer which he acquired while under the Orji Kalu political grip. The right foundations are now being laid in the state more than 20 years after its creation.

There is no basis for Kalu being part of the political mainstream in Abia. They feel happy without him in their midst. They know the peace and harmony they are enjoying will come to an end if Kalu takes his seat among them once again. This is because Kalu would like to take control. Even though most of his loyalists have joined camps with Governor Orji, some of them who are not very satisfied with their lot under Orji might return to their old master, who still commands a lot of financial clout. The door is likely to remain shut on Kalu’s face in the PDP in the foreseeable future.

The options he might wish to explore are to either return to his PPA where he will be  in full control, or join the All Progressives Congress, APC. I believe they will regard him as a big catch and give him the ticket for the Senate he is looking for. It is unlikely to favour him in PDP because the minds of the stakeholders, the way I see it, are made up against him.

What a pity for a politician who, at a time, had two states under his belt as the leader of PPA. He had seemed the South East version of Chief Bola Tinubu. But due to his lack of sense of proportion, he lost everything! He has to pay the price of greed.


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