Adetutu Folasade-Koyi and Uche Usim, Abuja
Former Attorney General of Abia State, Chief Umeh Kalu, has said that good governance in Nigeria is hampered by sycophancy and eye-service by political appointees.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria also spoke on the politics of his home state, explaining how a former governor of the state, who is now the Chief Whip of the Senate, Orji Uzor Kalu, is the patriarch of modern Abia politics, as well as the undercurrents of succession in 2023 in the state.
He also dissected the visit of the Orjis (Senator T.A. and his son, Chinedu) to OUK and how plans are afoot to revive the prestigious and influential Bende Union.
What has life been in and out of office as Abia State Attorney-General?
Well, I actually spent 10 years as Abia State Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General from 2009 to May 31, 2019. So, it was quite a long period. It’s unprecedented and I’ve heard people say it’s the longest we have had in the country, but I don’t know if I want to believe that. But talking of Southeast or the southern part of Nigeria, maybe yes that no one has been in that office for that long! It was quite an exhilarating experience. I’m sure if you know what that office portends for government, you would appreciate that virtually everything passes through their desk. It’s a very important office. It’s the only political office mentioned in the constitution. So, I was there. I took part in various policy formulations of government and tried to defend various actions of government. We prosecuted cases. Most government agreements were written by my office and we advised the government on all legal issues and all that. That was the first time I had direct involvement in the government. The antics of politicians, the way civil servants operate because I was the head of a Ministry and we had close to 400 staff. But 200 of them were lawyers, so, I superintended over them. So, to the extent, you can see the whole gamut of work. Now, I’m outside the government, I’m still a lawyer. I was called to the Bar in 1986, so, that will show you the length of time I’ve been a lawyer. All this period, I was in practice in Lagos. I spent more than 20 years in Lagos before I went into government. I’ve paid my dues. I was in private practice and there, you have to be on your feet because you’ve to pick your bills. I had lawyers who were under me prior to my entry into government. I also set up this law firm here in Abuja where we are right now. So, I’m back to a familiar terrain. With my experience in government, I have expanded my contacts, knowledge and experience. So, we’re getting on well with the colleagues I have here.
What do you miss outside government?
If there is anything I miss outside of government, it’s the antics and intrigues of people within government.
Antics? How do you mean?
There are lots of things that happen in government. I can’t say all of them here. There are things that happen in government that you would go back to your bed and you won’t be able to sleep. You see people being oppressed, people who should be in a particular position, but they’re denied for one reason or the other and you may not be in a position to change those things. You go on the street, people look at you as a thief. You know when you’re in government, people don’t welcome you. They don’t see you as a friend, rather as a foe. I had a very disturbing experience one month after I left government. I went for a meeting of the body of benchers. I’m a member and we had a workshop in June in Abuja. Along the line, a friend of mine from the North walked up to me, greeted and told me we would see at the end of the workshop. I said no problem. At the end, we were to proceed for lunch, but I decided to leave. I signalled him and he came. I told him I had to leave urgently for another meeting and he said there was someone who sat next to him that wanted to see me. I walked up to their side of the hall and one huge man stood up. He said he knew me that I was Abia A-G who just left office. He said he wasn’t happy with the way we ran the state and all that. He said he is from Umuahia in Abia State and mentioned his elder brother who is a top banker. He went on and on to express his misgivings. I told him that wasn’t the forum to address such and we exchanged cards. I won’t tell you all that he said. But suffice it to say that once you are in government, whatever misgivings people have, you’re culpable. Again, if you’re in government in Nigeria, everyone thinks you’re a gold miner. There are lots of requests from everybody. I pity those there now. People think you have a very, very deep purse.
Did you steal while in government?
Well, the office of the A-G is well structured. Everybody knows what that office is. Most times, it’s better for people to talk about you and not you talking about yourself. However, I was as professional as I could be. Everything during my time was streamlined. I had allowances. I wouldn’t tell you I wasn’t paid. I got what was due to me. The A-G does not award contracts. I don’t do jobs and if I must proffer my legal opinion or prosecute people who ran foul of the law, the proper things were done and it was a collegiate thing anyway. In the Ministry of Justice, we had departments. It’s not a one-man thing though everything ends on your desk.
Are there things you would have loved to do differently if you sit to reflect on your outing as A-G?
When I was invited to take up the job of A-G, I had clear ideas. Something assisted me. I was in Lagos when Prof Yemi Osinbajo was the A-G of Lagos State. If you ask any lawyer, he’d tell you that Osinbajo revolutionalised the judiciary in Nigeria. When Tinubu appointed him, I was in Lagos and in active practice at that; the courts in Lagos had no generators, the civil procedure rules were horrible. In fact, in Lagos you could keep a civil case at the High Court for donkey years, it won’t be heard. The magistrates in Lagos were corrupt, everyone knew about that. In fact, there was one exercise that took out over 95 per cent of magistrates in Lagos. They were all sacked, leaving just a few. It was Osinbajo that brought the reformed civil procedure rules that you have there today; like front loading, better court structures/buildings and more. They were all during his time. Lots of innovation and I saw the improvement in the judiciary. So, I had those clear ideas when I went to become Abia A-G. The place was in tatters I must say. The court halls were not there, the condition of service for judges and magistrates was nothing to write home about, the morale of the staff was at the lowest, there were no chairs for lawyers, no offices and all that. Those were the things I met. So, I had clear ideas on what I wanted to achieve. If Lagos could have that problem, you can imagine what would happen in a place like Abia. I had those clear ideas and I was prepared to turn things around. Like I said, I do not want to blow my own trumpet, those who are beneficiaries of what we did will be in better position to assess and speak about what I did as A-G. When I got to Abia, what the judges were driving around was just one Toyota Corolla, even the Chief Judge. You can imagine. I told them that was totally unacceptable.
If you ask me, judges should belong to the top echelon of the society and you must make them comfortable. So, I had to tell the governor it was unacceptable and luckily, those ideas flowed. We also looked at their allowances. Some of them, their leave allowances were not paid for years, they were not travelling overseas for courses, even some courses that they could attend in Abuja, they couldn’t, the library was more or less moribund because there were no books. These were things we had to address. We started some training for those lawyers; some of them did not know their left from their right. They had this attitude of coming to work late. Some by 12:00 noon, some didn’t even come at all because there was nothing challenging. We changed the work ethics and pattern. We also created an enabling environment for these lawyers and others things we did.
So you left nothing undone?
I can’t say I didn’t leave somethings undone. It’s a continuum. There are still things to do. We did the much we could. The judiciary in Abia is still yearning for attention, I must tell you that, but we added value. I didn’t leave the place the way I met it. There are people there now, they can continue.
What were your challenges in government?
The most serious challenge is that people in government don’t tell the leader the truth. In a statement, the alter ego is the governor. Those who surround him at times are those who don’t add value. It’s all about sycophancy. But most times, we need to speak truth to power. If someone engages you and you swear an oath of allegiance, it’s not to the person, but to the state. But in Nigeria, people look at the interest of the person, not the interest of the public. The greatest challenge is that most people I saw were only talking about self and self alone. Just few talked about the state. If you’re a minister, you should not be looking at President Buhari.
What did you do to change that?
What will I do? Governance is like a football team. The governor is the captain. You have those playing various wings. I had an area where I was. I was the A-G, so I concentrated on my small area. And I can tell you that I did my utmost. I’m not blowing my trumpet. Those who are there will tell you. I did my utmost. Even the governors I served will tell you. That could explain why I stayed that number of years. There’s no other way to explain it. As A-G, I knew my duties. It’s explained in the constitution. If you engage me, I’ll tell you the right things. If you ask for my advice, I’ll tell you the way it is. I won’t bend it. But I discovered that a lot of people who’re in government have no business being there. Most of them actually are jobless and that is the bane of our society. It’s equally the bane of Abia State. That’s the problem we have. A lot of people have no business being there apart from self-serving. It happens in all strata of government. If you ask me, governance is about service to the people. It doesn’t mean you won’t take care of yourself. But the people should come first. If you hold a position, you hold it on trust for the people. Trust means you’re accountable. You’ve to support the man who appointed you, but the overriding duty is to the state and to the people.
At the outset, most big politicians in Abia State came from one bloc, the PDP; now they are in different parties, what went wrong?
Well, you definitely do not expect everybody to be in one camp, I must tell you. Life has not been designed that we all go through one party. To put this question in another perspective, I’ll tell you that there’s no way you can take away Orji Uzor Kalu from Abia politics. No way! Orji Uzor Kalu is patriarch of modern Abia politics. They were all in PDP which Orji Uzor Kalu was and they had issues. That led to the formation of PPA. In PPA, Orji needed a successor and that was what brought about T. A Orji, his Chief of Staff. And then, PDP was divided. You had the Onyema Ugochukwu camp and the Orji Uzor Kalu camp. Those in Orji camp were in PPA. People in Ugochukwu’s were Senator Nkechi Nwogu, Col Akobundu and a whole lot of them. It was a long battle and the election came up and I’m sure you know the issue of the incarceration of T. A Orji and some other people who were with Orji Uzor Kalu and all that. T. A Orji was in prison when the election was conducted, it was Orji Uzor Kalu that was all over the place campaigning for him and eventually, he won. He started a government under PPA. It was at this point that I joined them. I wasn’t part of them. I joined the Orji Uzor Kalu camp as a lawyer. It was he (Orji Kalu) that engaged me to defend T. A Orji when EFCC invited him in Lagos. I was the lawyer who had that brief. I was the one who took him to EFCC and they were about eight of them. Later, Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) joined me, he led me in the matter. Later, Olisa Agbakoba came into the matter when we were at the Federal High Court. The person who handled the matter finally was Prof Osipitan. He led me into getting T. A Orji out of prison. In all these, it was Orji Uzor Kalu who briefed us. He was the one who picked the bills. Two years after, I was made the A-G in 2009. Orji Uzor Kalu was still calling the shots, at some point, there was a power play. There were people who felt they should create a rift between both of them. So, some issues came up. First, Orji complained about the construction of Aba road, there was an Akwa Ibom man who was the PPA Chairman. He issued T. A Orji a query as a governor and he felt that was the height of it. At some point, there was a dissolution of the government. Those who were loyal to Orji Kalu were yanked off and it became the government of T. A. Orji alone.
But you survived?
Well, I was there. I survived. I wasn’t asked to leave. But remember I told you who brought me into government though it was T. A Orji who was the governor. It was Orji Kalu who called me and told me I’ll be made the A-G. But it was T. A Orji’s government. He also invited me. Those he wanted to retain, he retained. That was the breaking point. When T. A got off the PPA, he started looking for a platform. First, there was a movement to APGA, which Senator Umeh was involved in it. We took APGA membership cards. Even the late Ikemba of Nnewi, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu was involved. He came and addressed us. Within two to three weeks after that, then negotiations to the PDP started. And eventually movement to the PDP. The Onyema camp was already in PDP and he felt that was a bigger umbrella. He needed somewhere to go in. That was what happened.
You stood in between two big men, how did you manage that difficult time?
I’ve learnt something all my life. I don’t take on people’s battles, especially if I’m not involved. Up till now, both of them have not been able to tell us what actually happened. There may be more than what we know. I didn’t know when they started beefing. I wasn’t there from the onset. I can’t tell you how T. A Orji met Orji Kalu apart from stories people tell. They were already relating well and he was already Orji Kalu’s Chief of Staff by the time I joined them. It was Orji Kalu and my classmate, Chuka Odom, former minister that introduced me to T. A Orji. Asking me how I managed that time, well, I had a job to do as the A-G. The A-G is not like any other political appointment, it’s more or less a professional calling, depending on how you want to handle it. I may be involved in politics somehow, but I tried to be very professional. That is why people say that when I was in Abia, they were not seeing me on the television or rallies, I said yes. When you’re on that seat, it’s a very busy seat. If you want to be a good A-G, you can’t be junketing with politicians, attending their rallies and all that. The workload is enormous. Once you take that oath, you have to do justice to everybody, not just your party. If you do that, you’ll take yourself away from the sacred duty. The A-G is not like the Commissioner for Housing or Works. If you look at it, the A-G has the power of life and death. Everything ends on your table. You determine who to prosecute. Even if a murderer is arraigned, the A-G has the power of Nolle to jack away a murderer. Even when the man is being tried. He can just issue a Nolle and say he has looked into the case and the man should be released. It’s very powerful weapon. No one has it. Only the A-G. But I kept strictly to my job. I was a party man. But I attended meetings I wanted to attend. Not every meeting. When you get enmeshed in politics as an A-G, you’ll get your hands soiled because those people will come to you to ask for favours. So, when they had that rift, some people insulted Orji Kalu, but I stayed out of it. It was my duty as A-G. I know those who went. I maintained my relationship with T. A Orji. I was conscious of the fact that I needed to retain his confidence. I was not running to Orji Kalu’s place. I wasn’t relating with him. I had no cause. For 10 years, the only time I saw his matter was when he wrote that his emoluments had not been paid. I saw it on my table written by a lawyer.
What’s your relationship with Orji Kalu now?
Orji Uzor Kalu is an eminent Abian. He’s the patriarch of Abia politics and no one can take that away from him no matter what anybody says. As governor of Abia State, he did his best. He’s a human being, he may equally have made mistakes. I’ve a very robust relationship with him. I’ve nothing personal against him.
What of your relationship with T. A Orji now?
T. A. Orji was my governor. Orji Kalu is my Senator too. I’m from Ohafia and it’s in Abia North. I was at an event recently where we sat together. Myself, Orji Kalu and the wife of the late Ojo Maduekwe. I’ve nothing against Orji Kalu. T. A Orji was my governor for six years before he left. I’ve nothing against him. Absolutely nothing.
Recently, Senator T. A Orji and his son, Abia Speaker, separately visited Orji Uzor Kalu, what’s going on?
I wouldn’t know what’s going on. If I tell you I do, I’ll be lying to you. I saw the picture of T. A. Orji and his wife going to visit Orji Kalu. For me, I see nothing wrong with that because in the first place, it was Orji Kalu that brought T. A. Orji to limelight, no matter what anybody may want to say. T. A. Orji was a Permanent Secretary, a civil servant. It was Orji Kalu that brought him into limelight. Going there with the wife means they’ve a relationship. That may not mean they don’t have issues. But Orji Kalu just came out of an ordeal, prison. People were going, so it was proper for him to go. I’ve nothing against that visit. There could be a change of heart on the part of T. A Orji. He must have thought that there was no need keeping malice with Orji Kalu, especially now that they’re Senators. But T. A Orji’s son going there is another angle altogether. What was his business? It was sufficient that the father went. And what’s creating the problems is the comment he made if he really made them. They were uncalled for. That Orji Uzor Kalu is a leader. He doesn’t need to tell us that. We know. And he asked him to come and take over his leadership position and that’s what PDP people are angry about. What leadership are you asking him to come and take over, when the person belongs to another party? The PDP leader in Abia is the governor, are you saying there is a vacuum? The father’s visit was enough. The father went there, whatever he discussed with Orji Kalu was in private, but he wanted to blow his own open. This is what happens in Abia. You must get to a certain level before exerting yourself. That comment has set Abia ablaze. This is not the first time we’re seeing Orji Kalu and T. A. Orji together. When they went to get their certificate of return, three of them sat on the same bench. Orji Kalu, T. A Orji and Abaribe all sat together as Abia Senators. This young man’s comment raises some moral issues. What are they? There’s no one they don’t know what has happened in the past. You can’t have aside the past. We may forgive, but our memories are still intact. Orji Kalu himself has not forgotten. This battle in Abia is not between T. A Orji and Orji Uzor Kalu, there were some people who were on the side of T. A. Orji. There were people who lost their jobs. Some commissioners were removed. A lot happened. There were people who went to radio stations, there were write-ups and all that. In fact, so much was done to demoralize Orji Uzor Kalu and his family. That’s the truth in Abia. People took positions. If there’s need for fence mending, you call your supporters together and say, this fight is over. This man is our leader, this man is the man that made my father. He also made me. Without him, I wouldn’t be what I am. I’ve reconciled with my conscience. That would have been a proper way, not the way he went about it. Some people were in the trenches. That’s my opinion on this issue. I can’t speak for him. He exercised his fundamental human rights to free speech and expression. He had the right to move freely to where he went to. As someone who knows, who participated, I can tell you what’s wrong with this.
Aba, the commercial nerve centre is in bad shape, what’s your take on this?
I’ve not been to Aba for more than a year. I must have a reason to go to Aba. I grew up in Aba. My parents were there. I schooled in National High School, Aba from 72-78. I know Aba so well. I did my university at the Aba campus of former Imo State University. These stories about deplorable roads in Aba are what I read on pages of newspapers. If those things are true, it’s rather unfortunate. But I can tell you that there was a very strong attempt by Okezie Ikpeazu to remedy the situation of Aba when he started. We got feelers from relations that he had taken up construction of some roads. It was gladdening. People applauded him. Somewhere along the line, I think something happened, I don’t know what it is. He may have been overwhelmed. The problem of Aba is gargantuan. It’s the commercial nerve centre, not only in Abia, but the entire Southeast. I think it’s a case of many years of decay. We can’t place all the blame on the current administration. When Ikpeazu came into power, I was there, he promised to fix all roads leading to the market and the outlets too. He did some major roads. If Aba is fixed, Abia has been fixed. The IGR and co are issues. Followership is also an issue. I do not think Abia has been able to hit N1 billion monthly IGR. When I was there, we were making N400 million, N500 million monthly IGR. If it ever gets to N750 to N800 million, it’s like a big deal. All the revenue was going into private pockets. And Aba is in a position to get N5 billion in a month if well done. These are some of the issues. So, we must assist the government and the government must show the compass. The FAAC allocation, I think the state gets between N3-4 billion monthly and with the COVID-19 thing, I’m sure it’s going to get worse really.
2023 politics has somehow started, do you have any role to play as a politician?
I think it’s still too early, but I must tell you that there are discussions going on across party lines. It is unfortunate that we’re discussing Abia in this light. If there’s any state that has personalities, it’s Abia. We’re not in want of people of calibre. The first Premier of Eastern Nigeria, M. I Okpara is from Abia. Akanu Ibiam who was governor was also from Abia before the area went to Ebonyi at state creation. The first military President, Aguiyi Ironsi, is from Abia. General Ike Nwachukwu is from Abia, retired Major-General Okechukwu Ihejirika is from Abia, same with Ndubuisi Kanu, old time governor of Imo is from Abia. Ebitu Ukiwe who was number two citizen is from Abia, Kalu Idika Kalu, former Finance Minister is also from there. The late Ojo Maduekwe, who had many disciples, including me talking, is from Abia. Arunma Oteh, Joe Irukwu (SAN), Sam Ohuabunwa, Prof Anya, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is married to an Abia man, Alex Otti, former GMD of Diamond Bank (now Access), Ezikpe, MD of then Manny Bank and many more. But somehow, for whatever reason, they’re all aloof.
So, why is Abia still the way it is despite all these big shots?
You see in Abia, we’ve what I call conspiracy of silence from the elite and I don’t know why. I wouldn’t know why they’re withdrawing from the affairs of Abia because they should all come together and assist the government. The governor cannot do it alone. He can’t. They should come and help out. Abia is the only state we have. I just don’t know why these great men and women we’ve are not interested in the affairs of Abia. It has to be about feasibility. They should get their contacts, come together and approach the governor. If there are areas the man is deficit (he’s a human being), they should tell him and advise him on what to do. Many of them are senior to him. That he’s a governor doesn’t mean he is all knowing. That’s where I have a problem with our elite. Some of them are not talking or coming forward and it’s painful. Look at the young man who has this private University, Gregory, is from Abia. Uche Ogar is from Abia. Go to his village and see what he has built there. He has built a lot of industries. We are not in need of hands. Like I told you earlier, many of those in Abia government have no business being there. They were not elected. Just there for self aggrandizement. They’re not adding value. Governance is about adding value.
Are we going to see a coalition of forces in Abia, regardless of party affiliation in 2023?
Let me tell you what I think it’s going to happen. Abia people must take back power. This idea of imposition of candidates must stop. The idea of selection to say I want this person and you’d go to all length to achieve it must stop. That is why I’m sorry for those hovering around the governor, thinking some person will be anointed and everybody will raise their hands up and start shouting, it will never, never happen again. People are now determined. The people must decide. It’s not just one person staying in your sitting room and deciding that this is the person I want as governor. You can’t do that. This is a state of more than five million people. That’s the call I’m making to the elders. They shouldn’t stay back. When good and wise people stay away from politics, they allow evil and foolish people to come and rule them. If it means calling for a congress of Abia elite and meeting anywhere, let’s do it. Call the governor, Ikpeazu has this humble mien. He’s quite educated and I think he has ideas, but his ideas may not perform the magic if people don’t come together to assist him. He has eight years and it’s almost gone. But I don’t want to judge him now, till he leaves office. And remember too, that I was part of that government. All I can say is that he needs help. Going forward, what we should do, Abians must say this idea of selection and imposition of candidates must stop. Those interested in politics, who have the capacity should come forward, present their manifestos and people will assess them. Those who know them from the roots will assess their pedigree. You can’t give what you don’t have.
If I’m a governor of a state, I’ve no business looking for a successor. What’s your business with that? I’m telling you I won’t. Those who usually shop for successors are those who want people to cover up whatever misdeeds you think you have done in the past. And secondly, you want to perpetuate yourself in office. You want to play God. You can’t play God. Only God is permanent. If I’m a governor for eight years, I’ll support somebody, but before I do that, I’ll have feelers. It must be somebody that has capacity and acceptability. That’s what is working in Lagos. There’s godfatherism in Lagos. As a governor, you must have elders, those you defer to. Not one person having a grip. It could be suffocating.
Going by power rotation arrangement in Abia State, Abia North is expected to produce the next governor, what are your expectations?
I’m only one out of several Abians. I don’t know if that has been agreed. A lot of people are saying that Orji Kalu started it from the North, T. A Orji from the Central and Okezie Ikpeazu from the South and that it should go back to the North since all the three senatorial districts have produced the governor.
Again, some others are saying that it has gone round, it can start from anywhere. I’m telling you. It depends on which school of thought you belong to. But if you ask me really, there is Abia of equity/agreement, then it should return to the North. Even at that, going back to the North or not is not important. I’ve a problem with zoning. It enthrones mediocrity. If it must go that way, then Abia North must shop for someone who’s capable. That’s far more important to me than the issue of zoning. I’m not really averse to zoning, if that is what will bring peace, give us a conducive political arrangement, then, fine. I’m more interested in the person going to occupy that seat. We must bequeath a legacy to our children.
Tells us more about the plans to revive the Old Bende Union?
I’m aware of it and fortunately, I’m the Secretary-General of that Union. Abia has 17 local government areas and old Bende has nine of those. That is part of Umuahia, Ohafia, Arochukwu, Bende, etc.
Our last President was the late Bob Ogbuagu. He was a journalist and highly respected. He died about two years ago. Since then, Prof Emejuiwe has been acting. We’ve had the Old Bende Union and the Ukwa Ngwa Union. That’s the political equation we have in Abia State. The Ukwa Ngwa Union has been active. That’s where the incumbent governor comes from. They’ve been more active in engagement than Old Bende, I must tell you. There is a yearning now to strengthen the Old Bende Union. We have some elders as trustees. Some are late. I was only engaged about six years ago. They approached me. That was when they were trying to blend the old and the young. Now, that some of them have passed on, the idea is that we need to reinvigorate the body. We want to strengthen our branches. We have branches even in the Diaspora. We have an administrative secretary who has been working. It’s a socio-political group. Under Michael Okpara, they did so much, but somehow, we have not been very active back home. There has been several calls from within that we cannot continue the way we are. Very soon, we will have a meeting and possibly an election where some vibrant young men and women can be infused for better effect.
My close encounters with death
Yes, I have had. It was during my early days as a lawyer. I boarded a Chanchangi plane from Lagos to Abuja. It was the first flight called early bird that used to leave by 6:00a.m and 6:30a.m. I had two friends. We had a matter and we were actually coming to Abuja for it. I boarded the plane because I wanted to be in Abuja before 9:00a.m. So, it took off. About 15 minutes into the flight, the cabin crew had just began serving refreshments, there was a signal that they should stop. I’m usually anxious whenever I’m onboard an aircraft. I watch all the movements. Soon, I discovered they were taking back the teacups they had placed on the few tables they had served. They packed them frantically and hurriedly rolled away the trolleys. Just about five minutes thereafter, there was a sharp drop in altitude. My friend that sat by my side shouted and the other one asked why he behaved like a small boy like that was his first time flying. But we didn’t know that was the beginning. Soon, the overhead compartments started opening, bags were falling off. The late Arisekola was on that flight. In fact, at a time, he removed his agbada. I was sitting right behind him. People shouted, banged the seats, nothing we didn’t do. The pilots did not speak to us for more than 20 minutes. In fact, there was a terrible drop he made, I thought that was the end of it. When it happened, I loosened my tie because I didn’t want to struggle. We thought it was all over. Later, I discovered that that single drop was 5,000 feet. I used to play table tennis near the FAAN club and we discussed that matter. That was around 1992-1993. In fact, two people did not come out of the aircraft when the incident happened. They probably had a heart attack or so. My friend excreted in his trousers. From there, we went to the hotel. I’m just telling you what happened. I’ve never had such an experience and for a very long time, I did not board an aircraft. I thought it was all over. I started praying actually. At a point, I couldn’t sustain the prayer. I was saying amen to others who were saying. Everyone was praying, especially women. When we landed, everyone hugged the prayer warriors. They were at the back of the airplane firing prayers. Secondly, armed robbers came to my house in Lagos one night. I live in Amuwo Odofin, Festac link road. I was sleeping. They cut my burglary proof, gained access to my house, came upstairs, barged into my study thinking it was my bedroom. It was when I heard the banging in my study, I woke up. I thought it was a nightmare. I was still trying to figure out what happened, I heard another bang and boom, they were inside my bedroom. They began asking me; where my gun was and all that. They gave me cuts on my hand, head and shoulder with a knife. It was a terrible experience. In fact, I gave up. I thought it was the end. But after some time, I asked them why they wanted to kill me. They saw my Lexus SUV. I had no gun and they wanted to know if I had. They asked for money and I showed them what I had. They said it was too small. They asked for the Lexus jeep I told them it belonged to my friend. They said no, we know you. I’m sure they profiled me before they struck. My wife was not around. I took them to her room before I could get the keys, they said they didn’t need the key. They took few steps back and with one bang, the door gave way. They took some gold stuff. I then remembered I had some wristwatches. I collect wristwatches. I showed them and they said, now you’re cooperating. But God did something wonderful. They took me downstairs. I had a visitor in my guest room; my traditional ruler. He heard the noise and ran into the toilet. They met him there. He was begging them. It was there they gave me the cut on my shoulder and blood gushed out profusely. I then summoned courage and asked them, why do you want to kill me? I began reading Psalm 91 loudly. Something happened. The armed robber took a bucket of water from the guest room bathroom and poured on my head. From the bleeding, it poured on my shoulder, I was drenched. He now said let’s go up. They were two with guns and knives, but they were dealing with me with the knife. They saw a white covering on my head following the deep cut. One of them said “make we go o. The man brain don comot o. Him go soon die”. They thought I was going to die. I thought it was true myself. When I didn’t hear any noise, we came out, I ran downstairs, got something to cover my head to stop the bleeding, called my younger brother and cook who were at the service quarters. They didn’t know what was happening. They were oblivious of the whole thing. We then talked about how to get to the hospital and all that.
How did you meet your wife?
We met in school, at the university in 1981. We were both students. She was reading English and I was reading law. I was involved in student unionism. I was the Secretary-General of the Student Union. After the election, we had a party (those elected). She was among those that came. In the course of the party, she approached me for drinks because I was the one dishing out goodies. That was how I took cognizance of her. She then told me about plans to change to Law from English. She said it will entail losing a year and I was like no problem. She later came from Etiti campus to Aba campus and saw me. As a Union man I wasn’t looking in that direction. There were lots of women of course. But we kept on seeing each other and I saw the qualities I wanted in her. We later got married. She eventually switched to law. She was a year my junior. She was called to bar 1987, I was called 1986. We courted in school, up to Law School, and the rest, they say, is history.
You’re handsome and women usually flock around men like you, so how do you manage them?
Well, first of all, I’m a Christian. I’m a Presbyterian by faith. Talking about women, there is no end and if you read the Bible, you’ll see what happened to men who frolicked with women. How many women will you have? What you find in one is what you’ll find in the other. I’ve worked with women. For instance, in the Ministry of Justice where I worked, about 70 per cent of the workforce are women. You see, you must have a mindset. Women who come to me are those I have professional dealings with. If you want to achieve your goals in life, you must work with everyone professionally. Those who go to women are those who want to take undue advantage of them. It’s no-go-area for me. If you read the scripture, it tells you to flee from such. You can resist these things depending on your disposition. I’ve been lucky and if I work with you as a lawyer or colleague, I don’t see the womanhood in you.
If you were not a lawyer, what would you have been?
A singer. I was in the choir. I have a good voice. If I sing for you, you’ll be thrilled. It’s a natural gift. Sometimes, I wake up with a song. Like this morning, I woke up with a song and I’ve forgotten and I blamed myself why I didn’t write it down. There are days I wake with a song and I don’t write down, but after a day or two, I’ll get it back.
They say lawyers are liars, what’s your take on this?
That can’t be true. When they talk about lying, it’s about technicalities. Law practice or litigation is like warfare. In every legal tussle, there are two combatants. Not less than two. One on this side and one on the other side. So, if you see a loophole in the other side, you explore it. So, when a lawyer does that, people say he’s lying, but in the eyes of the law, he may not. The man beside him knows he is not but merely taking advantage of a situation he has seen. There are real Christian lawyers who have excelled. The truth is always bare. No matter how hard you try to suppress it, it’ll always surface.
So, what they say are lies are actually loopholes to explore technicalities in order to prove a point.
The symbol of justice is a blindfolded woman. That looks like punishment and injustice to the layman, why is it so?
Well, it is so because it has no face. It doesn’t fear or favour anybody. It has a scale in her left hand and a sword in the right. It talks about impartiality. That is what it reflects. This is the scale with which is to measure the matter and if the person runs foul, that is the sword for punishment. That’s the symbol.
Why a woman?
I do not know if you, the will of a man and that of a woman. Women are more resolute. If a woman tells you she will deal with you, go and beg her. A man can say he will deal with you and he’ll just go and sleep. He may be bluffing. Have you heard of the love of a woman? She can do anything for the man that she loves which a man will never do. Have you also heard about the anger of a woman scorned? That’s how God has made them. They are very resilient.
Tell us about yourself that is not in public domain. Things people don’t know about you?
Well, I don’t know what it is that people don’t know about me. But some people who don’t know me may think I’m arrogant. I don’t socialize so much really. I’m an introvert. I try to keep to myself. Some may misinterpret it as being arrogant, but when you come close to me, you’d know that I’m friendly and I’m entertaining. I feel for the downtrodden so much because I have so much in common with them. I’ve gone through hard times, I know where I’m coming from, I know where I am and where I’m going to. I’m in a position to appreciate people going through difficult times. Again, I try to do the things of God. Whatever you have is from God. We came into the world naked and naked we shall return. So, whatever you have, it’s God that gave you. If it’s position, it is God that gave you. Same with money. I believe in God.
Are you satisfied with the state of affairs in Abia State?
We can do better. There is always room for improvement. I’m always hopeful.