By Louis Ibah
Former Governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu Kalu, wants President Muhammadu Buhari to push his economic team harder to evolve the right strategies that can effectively resuscitate the economy and bring it out of the ongoing recession.
Kalu spoke to aviation correspondents over the weekend at the international terminal of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, on his way out of the country. He said it would amount to an exercise in futility trying to operate a successful democracy in Nigeria under a climate where there is no rule of law and where citizens’ rights are arbitrarily breached and not respected.
The former governor advocated a strong and independent judiciary, as panacea for the sustenance of Nigeria’s democracyPresident Buhari, after a long time abroad, has returned. What is your take on his return and how will this stabilise the polity?
Well, I think as Nigerians, we should be very happy that Mr. President is back. It is only in Nigeria where you find people wishing their leaders death, but this ought not to be so, no matter what any leader has done. I know that the President has done so well in the area of defence and pursuing Boko Haram. I congratulate him as Commander-in-Chief. I also praise the service chiefs, the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Air Staff and the Inspector General of Police as well as the Director of the DSS for their back-up operation on Boko Haram. It was a collective effort.
Now that the president is back, I am very happy. We have been praying. Both Christians and Muslims have been praying because the country has been so polarised that the fabrics of our nation have been eaten with tribalism and religion. I am very happy that the President is back and he should listen to his doctors and continue to take his medications if any. He should work less and put more effort on the economic team so that the economic team will be able to address the issues of the Nigerian economy. This is very important to the Nigerian people; I guess if the Nigeria economy is good, the president himself will also be happy. He took over when there were a lot of doubts on the economy; he took over when the oil prices went down very sharply and whenever your expenditure is more than your income, then there is already a recession. So, I am not sure that recession is just going to end so soon. They need to put up a very strong strategy that will bring back Nigeria to where we are supposed to be.
What do you think this government should do, on the short, medium and, perhaps, long term to gain public confidence that it has the capability to fix the economy?
Now that the president is back, he should be able to fine-tune the economic team and put some recovery policies in place. The team should be very serious. The team should not take anything for granted. The government has fought Boko Haram. This kind of thing cannot be eradicated totally in one day and it also affects our economy.
The most important thing government should look into is the issue of electricity and internal security because internal security is very important. Internal security and electricity are the engine room that drives development, that drives the future of any country and I believe these things can be done.
There have been two passages in the last few days, Gen. Adebayo Adeyinka and Dr. Osaigbovo Ogbemudia. Arguably, these are statesmen. What are your words on their life and times and how can their lives serve as a source of encouragement to those who are still around?
Well, both men were great statesmen. Like Gen. Adebayo, he is my colleague’s father, Niyi Adebayo, and may his soul rest in peace. I am sure that both of them maintained what they stood for and what they believed in; God will rest their soul in peace. Gen. Ogbemudia was a good General but I don’t know why these two Generals should be buried at the same time because Nigeria needed them more now for their experience and what we are going through.
I believe it is God’s time and God’s own time; nobody can stop it. So, I send my condolences to the families, especially to Niyi Adebayo. I made effort to call him but unfortunately his phone is not going through, but I will surely visit. I thank God for the soul of the departed. God will bless their souls and they will rest in peace.
What is your response to your ongoing trial at the Federal High Court, Lagos?
I cannot say anything but what I believe is that the best behaviour of any society is the fairness of that society where there is rule of law. Nigerians as people should learn how to respect the rule of law. Respecting the rule of law is very essential and very important. When people refuse to yield to the rule of law, then it means that most things being done in that society are gone.
For any country that wants to succeed, number one is for that country to go back to rules of the land and maintain the rules of the land.
You can check, during 1999 to 2007, our state went to Supreme Court 15 times and we won 13 times. So that shows you that there is courage. As far as what people will say, the Nigerian judiciary is still strong.
And I call on the judiciary to give rulings based on rule of law and not based on politics. People do not take politics very serious. When judges or jurists at any level, give political judgment, it is not right. It is good to define judgment based on the rule of law. If anybody is wrong, then you punish him, but if people are not wrong, you don’t punish them.
I have been one person that I know my conscience tells me; I am not a thief. I can never be one and I don’t think to be one, but I have left this to a court of competent jurisdiction to decide.
I know that I have suffered a lot because of constitutional democracy, which I entered in 1999. I have lost a very big bank with 33 branches, 5,000 workers, which was Hallmark Bank. I lost the Slok Airline. All these things are for a few reasons that people are pursuing me. One, in 2007, the party did not want me to run for president. I ran on the ticket of another party and I got 5.6 million votes. Of those 5.6 million votes, only 1.7 million votes came from the South-Eastern part of Nigeria. The other votes came from other parts of Nigeria. These are reasons I am being hunted and secondly, because of the issue of Third Term, which I stood vehemently against. I went to Mandela. I went to President George Bush. I told them what was going on. So, the powers-that-be will never forgive me for what I did, because of Third Term; but I don’t care about what anybody says. The fight for Nigerian democracy is a fight of our conscience. People who came to do politics with zero money are behaving like kings. We brought the money used to finance the party. We were not more than five. There were big financiers of this party, Gen. Danjuma, Atiku Abubakar and a few others, who brought real money that we used in supporting this political party. Those that brought the money to support and finance the political party are now called thieves, while those that came with zero money are now billionaires and nobody is asking them how they made the money. So, you can see the contrast in a fragile republic, where people cannot be honest with themselves.
So, unless the judiciary stands up to protect the weak, there will be no polity. Look at what happened in the United States. President Trump has already signed his ban on people, but the judiciary stopped him and said this is not the law of America and he made a U-turn. I call on the judiciary; no matter the circumstance, no matter the treatment or condition, they should stand up and defend the rule of law. They should defend the constitution that they have sworn to uphold, because these are things that make democracy very beautiful.
There are two components of democratic process. One is software and the other one is hardware. People are seeing the hardware on the streets. They want to see bridges, they want to see aeroplanes, they want to see houses, but no, the most important part of it is the software, which is the rule of law; respect for our constitution, respecting all levels of people with the law protecting them. There is a common law, written law by Nigerians. We should go through that law and those laws must be respected.
Nigerians have taken tribal sentiments more to heart than speaking the truth. When you look at what we did at Enyimba Football Club, you will find out that you see Mohammed there, you see Kabiru there, you see Yinka there, you see Enyeama there; any name you want was in that team and that was why they were able to achieve what Nigeria could not do in 40 years, by winning the CAF Champions League twice and getting to the semi-finals before losing to Al-Ahly. So, you can see that when we come together as Nigerians, we do a lot, but when we are divided, we don’t do very well.
I commend Nigerian people for their patience with what we are going through and I also commend Nigerian journalism, which is one of the most vibrant in Africa and in the world. People criticise journalists and say all kinds of things about them, but Nigerian journalists have protected democracy.
Looking at what governors are doing across the country, who would you say have impressed you?
I am very impressed with what is happening in Lagos State and the continuity Governor Ambode is doing in boosting the infrastructure of the state. If I am to vote as an individual, I will vote for Ambode as one of the best governors. I have seen a lot of changes. The mark I am giving him is very high. My advice is that he should keep it up and he should not relent in his efforts in trying to defend democracy here in this state. He has been doing well in all areas. He is furthering communication with the judiciary; he is decongesting the roads; he is looking into primary schools and he is paying attention to the growth and development of the society, which is very important.
Lagos economy is between 35 and 40 per cent of the Nigerian economy. So, if it is well with Lagos, it will be well with other parts of the country. However, I believe Ambode can do more. I am not saying this to flatter him. I have never met him since he became governor. I am not saying this because I want to praise him for no reason. I am saying this because of what I have seen. For the first time in the last seven years, I spent time in Lagos. I spent about eight days and I have seen the difference with what he is doing and I sincerely give my good wishes to him and the Government of Lagos State.