By Muyiwa Adetiba
A man who has lived the greater part of his life in opulence having made money early in life and the latter years in superlative opulence—according to the picture of one of his homes that went viral—having allegedly appropriated the commonwealth of his people, recently changed his address, albeit unwillingly, to a much poorer abode.
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He will, unless there is another twist of fate which often happens in Nigeria, spend the next decade in a cell. The statement which would change the life of Senator Orji UzorKalu as he knew it, as we all knew it, came with such finality that many of us were stunned. There was a hush in the court room as the import sank in. Senator Kalu’s head must have been spinning as his world spun out of control. I can’t pretend to know how he must have felt. Only a few can. But his comment of ‘where are you taking me to?’ said it all.
The nearest I felt to being so dazed in recent times was when I was denied an American visa about ten years ago. It took a while before the Consular Officer’s quiet, matter of fact voice sank in. I was incredulous. All I could say was ‘Why?’ His gesture was even more belittling than his statement. He merely pushed a piece of paper across to me. My mind reeled.
My head reeled. Could this be happening to me? The same person who in his younger days had had a breakfast interview with Rockefeller and the then American Ambassador to Nigeria? The same person who in his younger days had his visa brought to him through the USIS? I felt belittled and probably hard done by.
I felt insignificant and that gets to you. But what I felt must be nothing compared to what Kalu, an Ex-Governor, a ranking Senator and current Chief Whip,a newspaper Publisher and a billionaire would have felt at being sentenced like a common criminal. People of his stature don’t get sentenced often anywhere in the world, least of all in Nigeria.
My visa rejection was soon reversed upon intervention. It is possible that Kalu’s sentence could be reversed soon upon appeal. Until then he remains a convict.
The life of a convict is regulated. It doesn’t matter whether you are a VIP or a common felon. You live by the clock and by orders. It is lonely. It is Spartan even if you manage to get a few luxuries smuggled to you, including, occasionally, human warmth. If you have led a busy life, the time on your hands would seem limitless in prison.
It could lead to introspection or depression. Given a choice between freedom and luxury, most prisoners would pick the former at the drop of a hat. This is largely because human needs are very basic and would adapt to the latter. This was re-emphasised by Chief Awolowo in his prison notes.
The prison can build or break you. It is a foretaste of death where you are shorn of the vanities you have spent your life accumulating; where you are shorn of the indulgencies you never thought you could do without; where you are shorn of the respect and adulation you craved for and have subsequently taken for granted; where you are shorn of friends and doting fans; where you are shorn of self-worth. Like the grave, nobody follows you into prison.
Even your most loyal pals will stop at the gate.I often wonder about Bill Cosby,the all American family idol who fell from hero to zero; who like Kalu, has been used as a scape goat to tell his powerful, freewheeling friends that there are consequences to their rapacious lifestyles. Many, who learnt the truly important things in life, have emerged from prison to become great spiritual and political leaders. But many, especially in Nigeria, have come out from prison learning nothing except the desire for vendetta. It is hoped that he will not seek for vendetta but for a fuller meaning to life whenever he is released. Leadership is not about the gratification of self no matter how tempting.
The social media has been awash with reasons Kalu became the fall guy. Some said it was because he is Igbo. But he is not the only Igbo Governor who has helped himself with State funds. Some said it was Obasanjo’s curse. He is not the only person to have fallen foul of Obasanjo. Some small Igbo minds said it served him right because he didn’t support IPOB.
Many Igbo Governors didn’t. In fact, that in itself should have saved him the hangman’s noose. I think Kalu played his politics of survival the best way he could. He decamped to the ruling party; he warmed his way to the presidency, including taking a chieftaincy title from Daura; he made the right noises and spent his money during the campaigns.Some would say he ingratiated himself to the North to the detriment of his people. But he forgot one thing; that your numbers can come up anytime in a game of roulettes.They are all playing roulettes and when your numbers are up, they are up for good or ill.
There is nothing to say that he will be the last one. Many of those who are still strutting about the public space can still have their numbers up before they die. If not by this administration, then subsequent ones. Even his persecutor, the EFCC, can themselves be persecuted in future because they are not as clean as they want us to believe.
The only anti dote to spending time in prison is financial discipline in public service. It is in not playing the game. Kalu and Dariye serve as examples to remind our politicians, especially the Governors, of what can await them if they loot their State treasuriesand their numbers come up.
It is because Kalu is just a scape goat in an arena full of thieves that I hesitate at the attempt to kick him when he is already down which is what stripping him completely bare would amount to. Some of his mansions and assets could be seized to teach a lesson on criminality and vanity to those still strutting about. But to close down his employment generating companies like the Sun Newspaper in a country with such high unemployment seems to me to be counter-productive. In fact, I would wish more of our looting politicians could set up employment generating enterprises rather than buying houses or storing money in banks or water tanks.