By Orji Uzor Kalu
Since I left the office of the Abia State government, as governor some nine years ago, I have never had the amount of discourse and engagement with the Nigerian youths, especially youths from God’s Own State itself now than ever before. The conversations have ranged from the mundane, sarcasm, pry into my personal life and outright fabrication tailored around the unholiness to defame. And, have I allowed myself to be distracted, provoked? I laughed at times and give serious ponder sometimes. For the simple reason that I made myself available in the domain of public scrutiny when I opted to be the governor in one of the states in the country, a state so enriched with intelligence and brilliance and resources, that, when rightly harnessed, a state that would be presented to us that could deal with all its problems and contribute to the furtherance of the country, and maybe the world.
Have I made mistakes, especially as governor of Abia State? Yes, I have. I am human. Did I learn any lesson from any such mistakes? Yes, I did. I am human.
Somebody said Kalu, you could have remained in business and still serve your people and Nigerians. And I said to the person, true, you can still go into politics and serve the people even more and better. And to date, I have never regretted that decision and never will. Politics is human, just as business is, and to aspire to be anything in our span of life is a God-given gift no human being should ignore or reject.
But my only mistake, my only regret, was a political one as a politician, as governor of Abia State. I made a wrong judgment on the human character, and that is one mistake you do not make in business because you end up killing the business for good or you lick up your wounds for a long time until that decisive rectification is made.
In politics – the politics of truth and service – one does not impose, at least, I learnt that in my elementary politics, one endorses because one trusts and one believes that there would be a carry-on and over of every good intention of previous government.
My intentions for the state were right and good and positive because my thinking has always been, if I can succeed in business nothing should stop me from doing same in politics or wherever. But politics and business are different. In business, you are the CEO and it is mandatory that you call the shots at all times, whereas in politics, you only call the shot for four years, and, if you are lucky that you still have the goodwill of the electorate because of your proven track record or performance and delivery, you are granted another four years. I had that goodwill, my track record was good and the electorate gave me another four years.
And when you have exhausted your full two terms in office, you want to endorse a confidant of trustworthiness and belief in to carry on from where you left off.
There, I erred. I blamed none but myself. I trusted too much. I believed too much. And the human character that can never be predicted if it is not rooted in principle and goodness on its own was shoved into my face and the Nigerian youths from that richness are still having their go. And you will not blame them left for the fact that they just refused to share in the blame when again they became the electorate.
But, my joy in all this is that, in spite of my many fallouts with President Olusegun Obasanjo, which are based on principles and nothing else, I earned the title, ‘Action Governor’ from him, which does not come cheap from a man as difficult as the former president. And he still refers to me as, ‘my boy.’ As governor of that state, surely, I would have done something to deserve that title.
And what is the lesson I have learnt from all this? That the greatest obstacle that would ever confront a leader is the choice to lead a society that is dominated by illiteracy, humans who cannot forgive their past even though there is nothing in that past to forgive and be able to recognise a promising future when that future is presented to them. A society that allows its mind to be bought over by worthless coins when there are better ornaments of everlasting profit in the future. That this is the kind of society that thinks with its stomachs rather than its brains. It remains ever fixated.
When you have such a society, the tasks are always ever so great. It should be said, also, with an educated and enlightened society, where the brains are only allowed to think negatively, the mind is rendered useless because that society’s first recourse is the satisfaction of the now while the future for it should go to blazes. This form of society can be bought over only too cheaply because its construct is cheap, fake and false.
Many a times I have been reminded of the amount of money I have, which has been equated to riches. And many of these reminders have often referred me to why I could not use my riches to turn their abode into a paradise. To these youths, I have always asked them, how do you define the riches of any human being? Does a man’s riches attribute to the bank notes in terms of Naira, Dollars, Euros and, or Pounds that have been acquired?
And let us assume I am rich according to this myopic reasoning and why I should have every reason to turn the darkest of those thoughts into paradise. My said riches can never take the place of the government because it is only a voice amongst more than one hundred and seventy million voices, and what that one voice can do is to establish foundations and charities with a specific focus. And on this focus, should it welcome who are afraid to dream let alone find the path to the realisation of their dreams and the purposeless? Even this, I absolutely understand because a society that has been ravaged by poverty overtime would always look over the shoulders for the nearest available assistance. But this, though true, should be laced with principle and self-respect, as no society is formed on that premise neither is creation hence society would be chaotic and creation a mockery of itself.
All these are not my definition or meaning of riches. Riches, to me, is the day that I shall see a true and free smile on the face of every Nigerian. When there is justice in the land, when that man or woman can feed three times daily and have in-between meals; when the ordinary person does not feel any way inferior before his fellow human being, whether here or elsewhere. And when one can look straight into the face of a leader without being a bootlicker and tell that leader the truth without being patronising.
That was how I grew up and that is how I have been formed to this day. Never allow myself to be bootlicker. Never to be buried in the now but to work very hard and tirelessly towards a future that holds the utmost promises. Never for any reason allow myself to take peanuts. I call it peanuts because every ill-gottenness only has its leads in temporariness- for the sale of my conscience and a future I hold so dear with its offering of everything in decency. And not give myself the chance to participate in the promises of the now where the only guarantees are wastages. And these wastages are everywhere in the stupid compromise we are inducted.
In this induction, we have stopped the beauty and venture of aspiration. Instead, the choice to be the trigger in the hands of failure continuously holds sway.
One of these ever restless youths who has still not got his definition of riches right had asked, you have been a governor, you have been in the House of Representatives, you contested to become president, what else do you want out of life?
Did I scoff at that? What would life have been if we all did not want something out of it? Some youthful exuberance was my conclusion with that youth because he has not been thinking because if he had been, he would have known that he was a baby once, then a teenager and now a youth who would soon become an adult. And what would that adulthood fetch?
To that youth directly, I said, I am not rich and I have not got everything yet, and I can only say I am rich and be content with that definition and meaning once I recognise education and enlightenment in you. That the day you stop to aspire that moment would mark the beginning of your death and you shall be held accountable for all your failures.
What inspires you? What drives you? What target do you have in front of you that you must do everything possible within the limit of legality to meet? If you do not have any of these, you are a failure, you are not fit to be a human being and you cannot be qualified to be equated to animals because you can never be fit for any purpose.
Many years ago, I was a young man. The only target I had in front of me was success – and that has never changed. I was more or less a wharf rat at Wharf in Lagos with my small office where I had to scavenge the ground for my living, having borrowed that unforgettable thirty-five pounds sterling from my mother to go into business.
I had closed for the day and in my car on my way home. Something happened that would change my life forever. In front of me was a Rolls Royce that had broken down. A Rolls Royce was an attraction then even now so, I was attracted to it and not to the owner. I went to offer my service to the owner to see how the fault in the car could be corrected and get it off the road.
The car became more or less distaste and the owner a marvel. The owner of that car was the Sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. I did everything I could to see that the car was fixed and back on the road again.
After that incident, a father and son relationship was born. Every evening, at the close of my scavenging, as a rat at Tin Can, I would find myself in the sage’s resident at Ikoyi where I would sit like a little child ready to hear some folktales from the master, who had seen it all.
The sage would tell me, both of us seated under a tree while we enjoyed the cool, salty ocean breeze: ‘My son, I know you will become something and somebody some day; whatever you aspire and you become, do not forget education. You must educate the people. When they are educated, half of their problems would have been solved and the other half would have been solved from the enlightenment they so got for being educated. When the people are educated, they will be able to confront the lies of any government and of any human.’
I have been shaped by that philosophy to this day, that only an educated and enlightened mind can show appreciation without blaming all woes on imaginations. And if we do, our imaginations and thoughts are only ours and nobody else’s.
Nine years of leaving the State House of Abia and 17 years or more of our democracy as a nation, my question to you has always been, what amount of education and enlightenment have you got? Do you still allow yourself to be bought and used cheaply by good-for-nothing societal elements that do not have your interest at heart? Have you stopped aspiring, or if you have not, in what direction are your aspirations? Or you are locked up in the butter and bread inspiration that only tend to hinder your growth and development?
As for me, there is no way I can ever stop being inspired by the right things and the right people to lay claim to the realisation of my aspirations.
• Dr. Kalu is former governor of Abia State.