By Kenneth Cole
YOUNG, ebullient and enterprising Orji Uzor Kalu (OUK) is an enigma meaning different things to different people. He was born on April 21. His rise to national and international limelight was quite meteoric, making him one of the most visible businessmen, politicians, philanthropists and humanists in Nigeria today.
He attended Christ the King School, Aba for his primary education, Eziama High School, Aba; Government College, Umuahia for his secondary education and had his tertiary education at University of Maiduguri and Abia State University, Uturu where he obtained a B.Sc in Political Science. He also attended Harvard University Graduate Business School (AMP 153) Boston, USA and was awarded an IEA Certificate by USAID. Kalu is a custodian of honorary doctorate degrees in Law bestowed on him by the University of Port Harcourt, Abia State University, Uturu and City State University, Los Angeles, USA.
A thoroughbred in commerce, industry and administration, he became chairman of Borno Water Board at the tender age of 25 years where he initiated policies aimed at the provision of potable water for over 5 million Borno State indigenes in a guinea worm endemic area. He also served as the chairman of Imo State Marketing and Supply Agency, where he evolved strategies for the formation of policies for the procurement and distribution of essential commodities. He created a record not yet equaled when he became the chairman of Cooperative and Commerce Bank Limited in 1987 at the age of 27, making him the youngest person till date to assume such an elevated position in Nigeria.
OUK is widely traveled and has his fingers in many pies including banking, oil, telecommunication, insurance, publishing, real estate, shipping and manufacturing. Prior to holding public offices, he had built his business empire, SLOK Group, which comprises Ojialex Furniture Company, Slok Nigeria Limited, Slok (UK) Limited, Adamawa Publishers Limited, Slok Vegetable Oil, Aba, Slok Paper Factory, Aba, Slok USA Inc., Slok Ghana, Togo, Cotonou, Guinea, South Africa, Liberia, Botswana, Slok Korea, Supreme Oil Limited, Slok Airlines, First International Bank Limited, International Insurance Company Limited ( Gambia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia) , the Sun Publishing Limited (Nigeria and Liberia), Metro Energy (Guinea) Ltd, Daily Telegraph Publishing Company (Nigeria and Liberia) Ltd, Cecoon Oil and Gas (Nigeria) Ltd, Bende Export- Import Ltd amongst others.
In politics, he is a household name. He served as a member of the Federal House of Representatives from 1992 to 1993 and held two key positions of deputy chairman of the Finance and Internal Affairs Committees . He moved the famous Dual-Citizenship Rights Bill in the House. He was elected the governor of the mineral-rich Abia State in 1999 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a political party he co-founded and financed with others. His achievements as a governor astounded even his most vitriolic critics.
His administration built over 300 roads in both urban and rural areas, renovated 820 schools; planted 510 hectares of rubber, 2 million pineapple suckers, 5 million palm and cocoa seedlings; distributed over 10 million day old chicks to civil servants, schools churches and cooperative bodies to boost the protein intake of the people of the state. Added to these was the establishment of a free medical scheme that saw about 1.5 million persons treated; introduction of tuition-free education in both primary and secondary schools, distribution of free computer sets, textbooks, mathematical sets, desks and regular payment of workers salaries. His poverty eradication package was about the best in Nigeria. Apart from creating employment opportunities for thousands of youths, he empowered many indigent persons through interest-free loans, motorcycles, buses and cars. It is also on record that his government paid arrears of pensions and gratuities owed retired workers by past administrations in the state since 1991during his tenure as governor. His achievements when he was at the helm of affairs in Abia State is endless and fetched him the acronym The Action Governor of Nigeria within six months in office in 1999 by then President Olusegun Obasanjo who was on a state visit to Abia State on February 26, 2000.
In 2007, Orji Kalu contested the presidential election on the platform of Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA) founded by him and came third. The party went ahead to win the governorship position in two out of the five states (Abia and Imo) in the South-East region.
A sports enthusiast par excellence, he is the Chairman, Nigeria Judo Federation. He was able to change the fortunes of the once comatose Enyimba Football Club of Aba. The club won the National League back to back. Enyimba Football Club, for the first time in the more than 38 years history of the African CAF League Cup Competition won the trophy for Nigeria. It repeated the feat in 2004 when it defeated Esperance F.C. of Tunisia to win the trophy the second time. It crowned this feat by winning the CAF Super Cup back to back in 2004/2005.
Kalu has won many local and international awards including the Industrialist of the Year bestowed on him by the Nigeria Chamber of Commerce, Trade and Industry; Humanitarian Award by the Humanitarian Club of the prestigious University of Nigeria Nsukka; Volunteer Award by the International Association of Volunteers and the National Merit Award of the Member of the Order of the Niger (MON), Youngest Bank Chairman Award by the famous Top Magazine when he became the chairman of Cooperative and Commerce Bank in 1987, a special award by the European Union in Brussels, Belgium and a special award by the Enugu Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He’s a Fellow of Bauchi Polytechnic, Institute of Certified Management Accountants and the custodian of the prestigious Leon Sullivan Award by the World Bank, Washington. He is also a visitor of Miami Daid County in the State of Florida, United States of America.
He belongs to many professional and trade bodies including Nigerian Institute of Directors, Nigerian Association of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria, Nigeria-Philippines Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Nigeria Importers and Exporters Association, Nigeria-British Chamber of Commerce, Nigeria-Israel Association, Spartansburg Chamber of Commerce S.C, USA and Association of Nigerian Products Exporters. He was a member of the National Sports Commission under the chairmanship of Chief S.B. Williams between 1989 and 1990 and Federal Government Commission on the Re-grading of Traditional Rulers.
OUK is a renowned philanthropist and humanist. This is evident in the scholarships his foundation has awarded to thousands of indigent students from all over the country. His milk of human kindness is fathomable from the bridges of friendship he has built across cultures, races, and religions. His intimidating political profile, stupendous wealth, international connections, acceptability among his fellow politicians, transparent leadership, crusade against social injustice, corruption and inequity and above all divine anointing are some of the qualities that distinguish him. Orji Kalu has over 200 traditional titles to his honour and several books to his credit.
He is at present, the Coordinator of Njiko Igbo, a non partisan political movement for the actualization of the dreams and aspirations of the people of south east extraction of Nigeria and G37, a group of like minds committed to the enthronement of good governance in Nigeria. Orji Kalu is a role model and mentor to the younger generation who see him as the face of a new Nigeria.Orji Kalu is happily married and blessed with children. My team and I wish him a prosperous and happy birthday.