Former governor of Abia, one of Nigeria’s southeast states, Orji Uzor Kalu, in this with MONTAGE AFRICA speaks on the idea of a president of Igbo extraction as the way for Nigeria to heal the wounds from the country’s civil war. He also dwelled on the Biafra agitation and encouraged the Nigerian government to consider a political solution to addressing the issue. EXCERPT:
MONTAGE AFRICA [MA]: With the internal wrangling in the PDP, some analysts fear that Nigeria is turning into a one-party state and the prospect of this worrisome to the country’s nascent democracy. What is your take on this; how can this be stopped from happening?
ORJI UZOR KALU [OUK]: My two brothers in PDP, both Makarfi and Sheriff should go back and put their house in order. I was part of those who founded the party in 1998 and can say that members of the PDP have abandoned the principle upon which the party was founded. At inception the PDP membership had a mixture of 80 per cent capitalist and 20 per cent leftists. At the time it was clear where the party was headed but, once a former president started the registering and deregistering of members the party became a joke.
This is where the PDP has found itself today. What is happening to the once great party is similar to what happens to all great ideas. When an idea reaches its peak, its point of saturation, it enters free fall. I think the PDP has gotten to that peak and is now witnessing the law of diminishing returns.
MA: You said something about the PDP going back to the principle upon which the party was founded; kindly elaborate on this?
OUK: The principle which PDP was founded on was based on openness; clarity of purpose; people focus; delivering the goods of democracy to the people. The aim then was to always have an open and transparent primary and leadership; the party reneged on this founding principle and this became a problem. You don’t cheat people always; you don’t dictate to people what you want them to do. The Nigerian people are becoming more civilized in terms of election. Politicians in Nigeria will be surprised in what the Nigerian youth and women will do in the future because they have taken them for granted; both the PDP and APC are taking Nigerians for granted and it should not be so.
MA: Following that the president may be seriously ill, would you advice he runs for a second term in 2019?
OUK: I am not the president. It is only him that can answer that. The decision to contest is left for president Buhari to make and his doctors to advice. I am neither his physician nor his assistance or his political adviser. The president just happens to be my friend before he contested. Again, it is his decision to run. Now, who told you I am not capable of running against him in 2019? Whether or not he is healthy enough to run, it is left for him to decide, not mine to make.
MA: Former president Olusegun Obasanjo not long ago said that the Igbo’s be giving a chance at the shot of the presidency. Some, especially from the north who believes it remains their turn at the presidency, sees this statement from Obasanjo as mischievous, considering the unofficial agreement of rotation of power between the north and south. What is your opinion?
OUK: What the former president said is what it’s supposed to be, because if you really want to refer to Nigeria as united after 50 years of civil war, then someone from the southeast must be elected president. Ex-president Obasanjo is right on point. It may look mischievous or that he is playing to the gallery, call it anything you want, but this is the truth, this is what will heal the nation. Nigeria has been living in absolute lies within a nation. People of a nation should not be telling themselves lies but be prepared to say the truth at all times. A Nigerian president of Igbo extraction is necessary, and it is what will heal the wounds.
MA: Between agitating for a Biafra Republic and economic development of the southeast, what would you advice the Igbo’s to focus on and why?
OUK: I am not a supporter of Biafra, you know that very well, but the boys also have the right; constitutionally they have the right to say we want to be in Nigeria or we don’t want to be in Nigeria, it is their right. The callers of Biafra are calling for one thing: there is injustice and if they are saying there is injustice, I want the federal government to set up an enquiry to see whether they are right or wrong, because if they are right or wrong it will be established.
I can bet you that haven been in that region for a very long time, the federal government needs more attention and the economic policies of the government needs to change. Government need to re-structure Nigeria to contain the present day realities if we really want a one Nigeria. In my own opinion I believe the boys are right in what they are doing as long as they don’t molest anybody.
I was a governor there for 8 years and they were also doing the same thing. What I told Ralph Uwazurike of MASSOB in 2002 is also what is happening now. I told him that he would only do this (agitate) and waste better part of his youth. I told him that the country was large to accommodate what we are looking for. I don’t want anybody to say the Biafra boys are not right. I told the FG to tell the security agencies to stop killing innocent Igbos in the name of Biafra.
Some of those killed will just be passing and the security agents will round them up and kill. It is not right! I don’t support it! The government must with the underlying and fundamental issues. Nigeria should know how to balance the issue. People doing Biafra might be doing it in good faith but criminals will follow them to loot stores. I think the president needs to readdress this issue, strategy needs to change and possibly a political solution reached.
MA: Some people are of the opinion that the federal government made a mistake by arresting Nnamdi Kanu of IPOB. In their argument they suggested that the arrest made Kanu, once considered inconsequential to become popular. Do you share this sentiment? Also, how do you propose the FG gets out of this complication?
OUK: I have spoken to Kanu and the father. Also I have the opportunity once, before the president traveled, to discuss Kanu’s matter. I will not say it was right or wrong to arrest him, but that what I said before should prevail. They should look for a political solution to the matter. It is just that the president is not well now we could have been in advanced stage of sorting the matter out. I don’t see any reason why this matter can’t be sorted out. They have kept Uwazurike there before. The same thing happened; we went in and proffered a political solution. We talked to the FG, negotiated and said we can’t continue this way and, the FG let him go and the whole region was quiet.
I believe that they will find a political solution because it’s a lot of complication when you see it: importing transformers, and radio equipment without custom clearance. They are not only charging him because he is talking about Biafra. They are charging him on some other complications which I still believe can be solved politically. I will encourage both the FG and Kanu and his family to allow for a political solution, because the country is bigger than any one man.
MA: You said you have spoken to Kanu and that you also spoke with his father. Can you let us have a clue of what you discussed with them?
OUK: No I cannot do that; it is wrong because I spoke to Kanu and his father in confidence. When people are afraid of going to the prison, I went without anybody’s consent. I went there and told the warders I wanted to see Kanu, and they opened the door. Whether they called the DG of the prison or the DG of SSS or Minister of Interior is not to my knowledge but I demanded to see him and they said I have the right to see him, because the United Nations charter says that every prisoner is entitled to visitors, and Kanu happens to be one.
MA: You correctly stated that you are the only Igbo leader to have visited Kanu in prison. Many people from the southeast saw this gesture as commendable but also some think you did it to score some political point. Is that true?
OUK: No. I had promised Kanu that I would come and see him since the day he was arrested. Ask the Director of Communication for IPOB. Ask him, he will tell you. I have been sending messages to Kanu through his lawyers that I will see him. I had wanted to see him in court but I said no it wasn’t the best. I wanted to see him where I can sit down with him for an hour 45 minutes or more, and that was exactly what I did. Now, his father is from my state. Secondly I made the father traditional ruler. I am close enough to the family to show sympathy for no other reason than that. People can say whatever they like. I am a very practical man, and have no apology for anybody. I did not go to see Kanu for anybody. I went to see a boy I consider family a friend.
MA: The APC is trying to make inroads into the southeast. A party like the APGA, with the support of the late Ojukwu enjoyed mass appeal in the past because they were seen as promoting an Igbo agenda. What is the APC offering the Igbos?
OUK: I am not in the national executive of the APC. I want you to put me on record properly. I did not join the APC because of anybody. I joined because I wanted to. So if they have anything to offer the Igbo’s these are things we will discuss as we move up. I believe we should be in a political party where other Nigerians are seated. We should not be in a party because it is our tribal party. Nigerians should outgrow tribal parties. We should sit in a party where other Nigerians are seated. This will help our clamor to be president.
MA: There is a fear among non-Igbo’s, especially from the north, that the southeast is clamoring for the presidency because they see that as an opportunity to push for secession. How do you view this alleged suspicion?
OUK: That is rubbish. I am a beneficiary of a country called Nigeria. I am an Igboman that went to school in the north, brought up by business people in the west in Lagos. When you look at my face you see Nigeria. Now, how can I leave the people I went to school in Baruwa College with; how can I leave the people I went to the University of Maiduguri with; how can I leave the people I look up to, people like Professor Jubrin Aminu, Professor E. A. Abubarkar, General Ibrahim Babangida, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, Sheu Shagari; how can I leave these people who at a very little age brought me up and showed me what Nigeria should look like? Impossible! Nigeria’s case is like that of a marriage. In marriages there are always disagreements, but you have to come back.
To those thinking that way, I say the country is too big. The power of the president cannot be enough to create another republic, because in the national assembly there is a constitutional duty, so people should stop being naive. This is a republic that the president is the commander in chief of armed forces which I’m proud of our armed forces for the duties they have done since after the civil war, our armed forces have gone to the United Nations; they have shown good example of themselves. It is only back in Nigeria we joke with the armed forces. In Liberia, and recently in the Gambia our armed forces have shown that they are very brave. Even in fighting the Boko Haram insurgents, our armed forces under the leadership of the present Chief of Army Staff have shown bravery.
Nobody should be thinking if an Igboman is made president he will divide the country. How can he divide the country? How can you break the egg they gave you to keep? It is impossible! Why didn’t the immediate past President Jonathan break the country if that is possible? It is not possible.
This is just a thinking some people have used to blackmail the country and we the Igbo’s will not take the blackmail any longer. It must! We are capable of leading the country, because it is only an Igbo person that knows every nook and cranny of this country and they live everywhere. An Igboman that will sit at the center of the action will be very liberal to all sections of the country because everywhere, his brothers and sisters are living across Nigeria. MA