By Tony Nwankwo
Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu is your quintessential politician. A former executive governor of Abia State (1999-2007), even his adversaries agree that it has been difficult to match his strides in the state. The man, popularly known as OUK, was on the road in Abam, Arochukwu LGA, as he tries to oust a PDP candidate and become Senator, representing Abia North, on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The campaign train took off from Idima Abam – Ndi Ojiaku – Ndi Agwu – Atan – Ndi Oji and terminated at Ozu Abam, on some of the most poorly maintained roads in Abia North. The people confessed that never before had they seen a politician of OUK calibre traverse such dangerous thoroughfares to meet the electorate at their doors. And many agreed: It must be Orji Uzor Kalu. Excerpts:
Your Excellency, you have been out of power for quite sometime, yet the people identify you as their own. What is the magic?
Well, I am still the darling of the Igbo people. Anywhere I go in Igboland, even beyond Igboland, I am still recognised for the qualitative leadership I provided. And as you can see, the people are attesting to it.
You were a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), now you are in the All Progressives Congress (APC). What really happened?
I was de-registered in PDP in 2005, and since then, I have stopped being a member of PDP. Nothing happened and the President then, President Olusegun Obasanjo de-registered me and he de- registered Boni Haruna and Atiku Abubakar.
You were instrumental to Senator T.A. Orji’s election as governor, when he was at Kirikiri Prison. Now you are like sworn enemies?
No, I see him. For whatever he has done to me, I have forgiven him. I was instrumental alright. God used me to make him governor and I give thanks to God that we are in different political parties. Abia people will decide which party they really want to represent them.
What developments do you hope to bring to Abia North?
We need to change a lot of our infrastructural well being. You can see that apart from the roads that the President has ordered NDDC to do here, this government in Abia State didn’t do anything, not a single thing in this senatorial district. Since I left, where we left the roads, that is where they have been, there has been no further improvements. There is no more free education. Undergraduates now pay, N90,000 per session in the state.
You can recall that when I was governor, the universities used to be N7,000, because there was free education at all institutions of learning except the universities which we subsidised. We were chipping in money directly from the state government to the universities, per head of the students, irrespective of where they came from. Whether they were Igbo indigenes or not at the university. The state government used to pay a certain amount of money per head to the university to subsidize their education.
You reconciled the late Ikemba Nnewi, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and former Vice President, the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme at Government House, Umuahia. I was there. Such reconciliations in Igbo leadership seem lacking now. What do you suggest?
Well, may their souls rest in peace. I found out when I went for a meeting sometime ago, that both Dr. Alex Ekwueme and Ikemba Nnewi, Odumegwu Ojukwu, both of them were not talking to each other and I felt it was a very big slight on the Igbo, and I decided to reconcile them, because at the time, I had just reconciled the former President Ibrahim Babangida and President Muhammadu Buhari at Igbere, my home town. We had done some reconciling for them also. So, my place in Igbere has always already known as a place for unity and peace in Nigeria. I have reconciled many other people that you cannot see in the pages of newspapers. I take delight in ensuring that peace reigns amongst our peoples.
You were close to the late Eze Atum Akwara of Idima Abam who died some six years ago. At the time of his death, he was the 4th ranking monarch in Abia State, yet his enemies are tossing his remains up and down, that today the corpse remains at Madona Hospital, Umuahia?
I don’t know about that. He was very close to me and I felt that if the body is in the mortuary, the Abia State Government should give the man a befitting burial. I left government some twelve years ago, and you say he has been in the mortuary for six years. Since I left office, I have tried not to interfere in the affairs of the state government. I try to keep away from whatever can bring conflict between me and the state government.
Are you convinced that APC can win the Abia North Senatorial District election?
I am convinced. You can see for yourself, the mood of the people. The mood of the people is for change. Past state governments, both the first and the second, told a lot of lies about me and people are seeing the truth and identifying with what is right, and they are rallying around, because they know those who love them and those who don’t.
So, the people are genuinely trying to follow in any party I go. This is why PDP called me, many years back, even two, three years ago, to reconcile and make me come back to PDP, and I told them, no.
They made every effort for me to come back. Infact, even the National Chairman of PDP, came for me but I said no. I will not go back to PDP. I want to remain where I am. I am very happy the way I am in APC, and I am very motivated by my other colleagues from other parts of the country.
We are building a strong unity, we are building a strong party, we are building strong possibility to change and to bring unity to the country of Nigeria which, at the end, is ultimate in my mind.