As the campaign for a president of Igbo extraction ahead of 2015 polls intensifies, former Abia State governor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, a key arrowhead of the project, fielded some questions. The politician, business mogul, founding member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and convener of Njiko Igbo speaks with alarming frankness, shares insights into his political game-plan, relationship with his erstwhile protégé, Governor Theodore Orji of Abia State, bust-up with former President Olusegun Obasanjo and on key national issues.
In recent times, you have been observed to embark on successive foreign trips. What gives? - The level and scope of my business interests require that I travel out of the country from time to time. As an independent businessman, this is not out of place. Our continent is developing and a keen business man, should be able to identify opportunities for business engagement.
While business is a key focus of these trips, another important preoccupation of mine is to continue preaching unity among the Igbos and the Nigerian people living elsewhere. I have been to Guinea, Sierra Leone, Togo, Congo and I partially visited Namibia and Angola.
Back to Nigeria, are you satisfied with the Nigerian project? - Clearly, there are a lot of governance challenges in Nigeria today. Security has become a nightmare. The economy has been sliding. Many are discouraged at the state of our security system. I believe that a lot has been said and done on this. The security situation has been a very big problem and on this I guess that all hands must be on deck because the country is drifting.
Against this background, how would you now assess the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan?- No, I am not going to assess him now. I have said it countless times. President Jonathan has told us to give him up to 2013. Honestly, I am going to give him up to this time of 2013, if God gives us life and good health. I will assess him openly but I will write privately before I will assess him in public.
A key and often contentious issue currently is the campaign to produce a president of Igbo extraction in 2015. But Northerners are singing a different tune and have their eyes also on 2015. How can these opposing agenda be harmonized? Doesn’t your conscience tell you that it is now Igbo peoples’ turn to govern? - It is about conscience. We are not going to fight the northerners or to fight the westerners. We are not going to fight anybody. We are only negotiating and begging to see that justice is done. Part of what is happening in Nigeria is injustice and you see some of these sects like the Boko Haram, in my opinion and the opinion of the United States, are not terrorist groups.
They are just a group that came as a result of injustice. If justice is done to all, there will be no problem. I believe that the northerners in their wisdom will want to talk to us and to have something with us. This is because it is really our turn to be president; we will do the work.
Is the Igbo cry of marginalization really justified? Now the nation has an Igbo man, General Ihejirika, as chief of army staff. Surely this an indication of a movement forward? - The point has been made by many Nigerians and the Igbo, in particular, that the president exercised wisdom in the decision he took to appoint Lt- General Azubuike Ihejirika as new Chief of Army Staff. And the reasons are many; including the most important fact that Ihejirika is eminently qualified to hold the office, given his unblemished credential as an officer and a gentleman.
Again, Nigerians are happy that the president has demonstrated that he is desirous of giving effect to the clarion call to end Igbo marginalization in various aspects of our national life. One of the often acknowledged area of Igbo marginalisation is in the military, where, since the appointment of the late General Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi as Army Chief in the 60s, no other Igbo man has occupied that office.
Having said that, I want to state that the appointment of General Ihejirika as army chief is only but a sideshow. Igbo should only rejoice and heave a sigh of everlasting relief if they are fully integrated into the scheme of things in Nigeria. As I said earlier, Igbo marginalisation can only end with the election of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction.
And we are looking forward to 2015 for the actualisation of this. This is why am investing so much energy and passion in the project. There is a perception that lack of cohesive internal unity within the Igbos is key to their failing to clinch the nation’s highest office.
As a key arrowhead of this new movement, what is the game-plan for its actualization? - Where have you seen unity in Nigeria? It’s a myth. When Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to be president, was there any unity in the South-West? When the late Umaru Yar’Adua wanted to be president, was there any unity in place? It pains me when people want to hang any name on the Igbo people. Many Igbo people are qualified to be president and many will come out like many people were qualified in the South- West when Obasanjo wanted to be president. Many people came out including the late Chief Bola Ige and Chief Olu Falae.
They are Yoruba people; they are not Igbo. They came out to challenge Obasanjo and later on Obasanjo prevailed. When Yar’Adua wanted to be president there were so many candidates including Atiku, Buhari. Are these folks Igbo people? Don’t say that Igbo has no unity. Yes, there are some cracks but we are parching them. This is what the newly formed Njiko Igbo is working on seriously, to foster unity among our people.
Who are Njiko Igbo’s foot soldiers and field commanders? - It’s a mass movement. Let me tell you this, every Igbo man anywhere, unless an Igbo man that is insane would not be talking about an Igbo being president. Every Igbo man directly or indirectly is a member of this organisation Njiko Igbo. Let nobody deceive you, every Igbo man, including those dancing around the powers-that-be. Some come out to criticise. People are hungry, they can criticise, ‘we don’t want president’. But deep in their minds, they know that what I am speaking about is the right thing to be done. And that is what is going to be done.
Let’s put it bluntly to you. Is Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu interested in contesting the 2015 presidency? - No, no, I am not talking about presidency. I am talking about the unity of our people. I am talking of oneness of a tribe, a tribe that has given so much to Nigeria and Nigerians as a people. I am talking of a tribe which fought genuinely for independence; a people who despite the civil war were able to reunite immediately among the Nigerian people.
Because in every place you go, you see Igbo and that is the hallmark of the Igbo man. Our strength is that we are in Birnin Kebbi, Osogbo, Ilesha, everywhere. Anywhere you don’t see an Igbo man, run away; nobody lives there. We have given colour, honour, everything to this country. The country should for once give us honour by conscientiously agreeing to give us the presidency.
How do you think the South-East zone can get an additional state to equal those of other geopolitical zones? - This is just one of the injustices done to the South-East. We have been begging and we will continue to be begging. We are negotiating with the other parts of the country to reason with us. Yes there was a civil war but the war has ended and we must come together. We are one country and we will continue to fight for its unity.
Would you then say the fact that the South-East doesn’t have the same number of states as other parts of the country means punishment for their role in the civil war? What else do you think it is all about? - I am surprised that the South-East has given so much to this country called Nigeria. We spilled our blood, nobody is talking about reparation to people who were killed during the civil war. They took our belongings as abandoned properties. They took everything and changed our money to twenty pounds and what else have they not done to us? I believe that justice should be given to us
It is just the politicians trying to create waves where there is nothing. What Chinua Achebe has done is that he has written his opinion which I guess is what he feels is correct. Phillip Effiong just said that he is going to write his own memoir. These people saying yes or no, I don’t understand. War is not a bazaar. In war, you fight with everything you have. Although killing civilians is not part of what you are expected to do, however, at all times of Chief Awolowo’s life, he had never denied that he did not do what Chinua Achebe said. But politicians should stop using it as a political tool.
You single-handedly installed Governor Theodore Orji in power. Could you really tell us what actually happened between you or you don’t want to make it a public thing? - That shows the character of the man. It is not me you should be asking. It is the man who is carrying the burden, not me. I have no thought of ever offending him, but I give thanks to God at all times. No matter what I have done to this man, for what I did for him, I expect him to find a forgiving heart to me than the way he is doing. I have no regret over what he is doing. That is what God said would happen. We are here, we are for the people and we cannot but be for the people.
Our most fundamental issue is speaking the truth and the truth would never lack in our mouth. Leaders are speaking from both sides of their mouths now.
To me I don’t know what I have done to the governor. If he feels I have done anything to him, he should throw it open to the Nigerian people and let them be the judge. Let the Abia people be the judge. In my conscience, my last discussion with the governor was that he had not done anything for the people, that he should not run for a second term. That is the truth and I have no regrets in telling him that because it is the right thing to do.
Recently, INEC de-registered some political parties. What’s your take? - Attahiru Jega is very right. What I think would come, Jega has started it. Jega has to reform the political process because I expected this from him. He is a man with high discipline and I don’t expect anything less than what he is doing. He should show Nigerians and the world that we cannot have sixty something parties here. I like to see 12, 13, 14 parties and possibly in the next five or eight years, it should go down to five. You cannot manage the ballot papers today. With 13, 14, 15 parties you can have one sheet, manage the ballot paper and put in your votes.
You had a major bust-up with former President Obasanjo. Have you reconciled with him? - Reconciliation is a gradual process. Every wound would have to heal. I have no problems with him. I never had personal problems with him. I have always had problems based on issues. I was his best boy. He made me action governor of Nigeria and I am still his best boy up till tomorrow. Because I know wherever he is, he remembers what I discussed with him. He knows I am genuine. I never deceived him for one day as a president. Even my mother was always asking me about him, whether I kept in touch with him, greet him, so I don’t have problem with him. He is my father. Apart from that, I want to keep my mother happy.