By Emmanuel Aziken
The news of the conviction of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu over allegations of fraud shook social media like a storm last Thursday.
It was as if that was the first time that a former governor had been convicted of fraud.
It is, in reality, the seventh conviction of a former governor.Before Kalu, Chief Lucky Igbinedion (Edo), Chief James Ibori (Delta), Diepereye Alamieyesegha (Bayelsa), Jolly Nyame (Taraba), Bala Ngilari (Adamawa) and Joshua Dariye (Plateau) were convicted of various allegations of fraud.
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However, what made Kalu’s conviction more celebrated may have been the increased reach of social media, which was able to spread the news globally within minutes of the verdict.
His case was also remarkable by the fact that few politicians in and out of office had railed against corruption in the way Governor Kalu did. And certainly, none among the seven former governors so far convicted had publicly taken a position against vice as Chief Kalu did.
Who would forget how he almost put a permanent stain on the reputation of Chief Tony Anenih with the accusation that the former minister of works and housing collected N300 billion for the construction of roads across the country without doing anything. That was despite claims by Anenih that the money budgeted was not released.
Another ‘venerated’ personality who was also repeatedly sullied but without a response was Dr. Olusegun Obasanjo.
Kalu’s bitterness against Obasanjo was perhaps personal. The former president was the one who touched Orji, where it hurt most with actions against his business interests. President Obasanjo was also the major brain behind the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC which conducted the investigations into Kalu’s sources and application of funds.
But Kalu certainly did not come into government a poor man. Many remember how he ‘donated’ massively during the Ibrahim Babangida administration to selected causes, especially in Borno State.
However, whether his millions still abounded at the onset of the Fourth Republic was never determined.
As Senator Enyinninya Abaribe, who endured a stormy relationship with Kalu as deputy governor, told this correspondent in August 2008, the relationship between the pair was forged when they met in a night bus on their way to a meeting of PDP stakeholders in Abia State in 1998. The pair met at the bus park in Lagos after the December harmattan haze aborted their flight.
The parting of the two men was as rancorous as racour can ever be imagined.
Senator Theodore Orji, the third senator from Abia State, was also another person who worked closely with Kalu, having served as his chief of staff and eventually becoming his successor.
However, both of them have since turned vicious enemies. It is interesting that Kalu is ringed around among Abia senators by some of his most ferocious political opponents in the persons of Abaribe and Orji.
Indeed, another fact that has made the Kalu imprisonment emotive for some is the position he holds in this government. Senator Kalu is the highest Igbo in the All Progressives Congress, APC set up at the federal level.
As chief whip of the Senate Kalu is about the fourth in hierarchy in the Senate. He is by that fact, the highest Igbo in the echelons of the Federal Government.
It was as such not shocking that some emotionally stressed Igbo were quick to allege ‘marginalization’ in the conviction of the former governor.
Coming after the indictment of Air Peace chairman, Allen Onyema, and the arraignment of Senator Ifeanyi Ubah, the claim among some Igbo is that outstanding Igbo entrepreneurs are now being targeted.
But to what purpose?
More revealing, however, is the moral dilemma that the conviction has placed on President Muhammadu Buhari and his APC.
The Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP had immediately after the conviction, teased President Buhari and the APC to enforce the resignation of Kalu as Senate Chief Whip on the claim that Justice Walter Onnoghen was removed as Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN on the basis of allegations that were never proved in court.
CUPP spokesman, Ugochinyere Ikenga, averred that Kalu’s conviction was even weightier. According to him, the conviction should have inspired the moral outrage of the president and the APC even more than they were exercised by the allegations raised against Onnoghen.
It is a moral dilemma that the president would have to carry.
It is indeed, a major issue for the ruling party. The Chief Whip in the legislature should, at all times, be above board, being the official in charge of enforcing discipline among colleagues.
With the Senate Chief Whip now incarcerated or possibly freed on bail pending appeal, the moral quantum of the Senate is undeniably challenged!