“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all”.
The above quotation from Dale Carnegie, an American writer, appears apt in describing Orji Uzor Kalu’s tortuous journey to the Nigerian Senate after two previous attempts.
In 2007, many thought he was going to run for the Senate, but the former Abia governor thought otherwise.
Explaining why he shelved the idea at the time, Kalu in a recent interview with Daily Sun, said that “… the last straw that broke the camel’s back was the issue of third term, in which he (Obasanjo) was deeply involved, though he denied it. The governors alive knew he called us in numbers to plan how he could continue in office. Senators were given money. The late Senator Uche Chukwumerije showed me his own N50 million, which we agreed he should send back to them. He sent it back. For doing that, I shelved my plan to go to the Senate. I asked him to go for second term. That was how I paid him back for standing with me. Ask people like Senator Chris Adighije and Prof. Maurice Iwu. I told them why I would not go to Senate at that time. I told them I had to support Chukwumerije who supported me during the Third Term battle. The business of politics is support. He supported me and I needed to support him and I did, “Kalu said.
Daily Sun recalls that in the build up to the election that year, he floated a brand new party; Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) which also produced governors of Abia and Imo.
But towards the build up to the 2011 elections, he fell out with his successor, Theodore Orji, who later defected to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), from the PPA.
Kalu, who accused Ohakim and Orji of abandoning the platform that brought them to power, further said “the two governors we made had their own agenda. One of them was ambitious and wanted to be the vice president or the president, which was (Ikedi) Ohakim. The other one was just treacherous; so, they caved in, to leave the system we had made.
“Before the merger that produced APC, PPA was talking with ACN, when it was only (Babatunde) Fashola as governor of Lagos State. We had a lot of discussions with ACN then on what we were going to do. The merger of APC started then. Senator Bola Tinubu was committed. Fashola was also committed, but the two governors from PPA were not committed. They wanted to get back to PDP; that was the beginning of the destruction of PPA. But I give thanks to God. They were not genuinely democrats and this is why I would say Igbo are not good politicians. They could be good in other fields of endeavours, but they are not good politicians. They do not understand the polity called Nigeria. Nigeria is a polity made up of a lot of intrigues.”
In spite of Orji’s defection to the PDP, Kalu went ahead to run for Abia North senatorial district. However, rather than pay Kalu back by supporting his ambition to go to the Senate in 2011, Orji, who was bent on decimating Kalu politically, mobilised men and resources against his benefactor, to the extent that Kalu was prevented by security operatives from coming out of his house to exercise his franchise.
In 2015, the story was slightly different. Kalu fully participated in the electioneering. He ran again on the platform of the PPA. He exercised his franchise. But Orji again was alleged to have used the state machinery against him. Kalu went to court to challenge the election and the court ordered for a re-run in 2016. But Kalu again could not make it.
But he refused to give up because like most Africans, especially those who have abiding faith in God, Kalu believes that “a man’s life is preordained and ruled by God”.
Two years before the electioneering process began; Kalu gave an indication that he was going to run for the Senate again. But he pitched his tent with the All Progressives Congress (APC), a party an average Igbo appears not to want to touch with a long pole.
Speaking on the perception of APC in the South-East and Abia State especially, Kalu said “APC is quite on ground here despite what people are saying. The other time, they said it was an Hausa party, but Atiku is not an Igbere man. Both Buhari, in APC, and Atiku, in PDP, are from the North; whatever they call us does not make any meaning. The most important thing is that we are going to use the vehicle in which we are in to get something for the region as members of the union. They will vote for me. We will win because our people are not voting for party but for individuals who will contribute meaningfully to the development of the area.”
Asked why he was interested in going to the Senate, the former Abia State governor again said “the Senate needs people like me. With my experience as a House of Representatives member and governor, I have a lot to contribute in the making of laws for good governance. The current Senate could have done better by forging a good relationship with the President, coming from the same party. There are things they have done that are good, but in their relationship with the President, they have not done well,” adding that “it would be unfair to my people in Abia North if I stay and a novice would be our representative. People who have what it takes must represent us.”
Before last Saturday’s election, Kalu was very confident he was going to win the contest this time. His confidence, Daily Sun gathered, stemmed from his past stewardship as the governor of the state.
Addressing his supporters in his country home, Igbere, two days to the election, Kalu noted that his popularity across the state would give him victory to enable him provide quality representation to the zone.
He also said that the people of the zone would vehemently resist any attempt by anybody to rig the elections.
According to him, as a firm believer in democracy, he need not connive with officials of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before winning any election, adding that the incumbent Senator, Mao Ohuabunwa, does not deserve to be re-elected, insisting that the lawmaker was in Abuja for sightseeing.
He further said that in a free contest, Ohuabunwa would never defeat him. “My goodwill in Abia will give me victory in a free, fair and credible poll. I am not afraid of election because of my popularity. My antecedents and accomplishments in all spheres of life will continue to speak for me. I have paid my dues in business, politics and philanthropy. My desire to represent the people of Abia North in the red chamber is borne out of my passion for community service and good governance.
“During my stint as governor of Abia, I offered free education and free healthcare. Salaries and pensions were paid on or before 25th of every month. I understand the challenges of our people and I have the right contacts and political sagacity to take our communities to the Next Level,’’ the former governor said.
He called on INEC, security agencies and other stakeholders to be vigilant to ensure the exercise was not manipulated, noting that Abia people were tired of falsification of election results.
“We must remain vigilant to frustrate any plan by anyone to thump-print ballot papers and fill result sheets before the poll,’’ he declared.
True to Kalu’s prediction, after last Saturday’s election, he was declared a Senator-elect by Sunday evening after polling a total 31,203 votes to defeat the incumbent, Ohuabunwa, who polled 20,801 votes and the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) Chief David Ogba, who scored 11,410 votes.
According to the result announced at the Abia North Collation Centre, Ohafia, Kalu won in four, of the five local government areas that make up Abia North, including Arochukwu, the PDP candidate’s local government, where he scored 1,166, to beat Ohuabunwa’s vote of 843.
In Ohafia, Kalu got 5,523 votes, against Ohuabunwa’s 4,861; in Isuikwuato, 8,317 to PDP’s 4,609; Bende, Kalu’s home local government, he polled 10,701 to PDP’s 4,875. But at Umunneochi PDP polled 5,613 against APC’s 5,496.
Speaking shortly after the declaration of the results, Kalu noted that his victory was a testament to the robust goodwill he (Kalu) enjoys among the electorate.
In a statement issued and signed by his Special Adviser, Kunle Oyewunmi, the former governor, urged his co-contestants in other political parties to join hands with him in advancing the cause of Abia North.
“The people of Abia North senatorial district came out en-masse to cast their votes for President Muhammadu Buhari, my good self and other APC candidates in the presidential and national assembly elections.
“I salute the courage, boldness and patriotism displayed by the electorate in choosing their preferred candidates. The people of Abia North senatorial district had been deprived of qualitative representation for many years. Iwill use my network of contacts and political dexterity to uplift our communities.
“The challenges facing our people have been diligently articulated with possible solutions highlighted. Having served in different capacities in the public sector, I will bring to bear my experience in discharging my duties. Politics is not a do-or-die affair and, as such, I will adopt, as always, an all- inclusive and participatory approach in my legislative responsibilities.”
He also commended the INEC, security agencies, the media, international and local observers, civil society organisations and other stakeholders for ensuring a hitch-free and credible poll, just as he promised to live up to expectations.
The former governor also applauded chieftains and members of the APC for demonstrating maturity, despite the provocation and intimidation by the PDP, saying that the ideals of the APC are based on genuine leadership and good governance.