To talk about Orji Uzor Kalu is to reflect on an enigma. He is a man of vision, which explains why he set out at dawn to accomplish what his peers are yet to contemplate. How many Nigerians had the singular fortune of being chairman of a bank’s board at 27?
He gathered experience through adversity, turning his experience to secret of his success. He took to entrepreneurship while still in school . That vista opened the door to what he has become.
Kalu, former Abia State governor and now Chief Whip of the Nigerian Senate, is a man blessed with uncommon grace and wisdom. These two factors have practically propelled his life and activities, including his travails and triumphs.
When the world thought that OUK, as he is fondly called by many, was finished, following his conviction on December 5, 2019, over alleged corrupt charges by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) during his tenure in office as governor, Kalu bounced back waxing stronger.
The Supreme Court on May 8, 2020, nullified the conviction and also quashed that of Jones Udeogu, who was the director of finance and accounts at the Abia State Government House during Kalu’s tenure.
Who else could get this kind of second chance, if not one with special grace? As challenging as his five-month stay in prison was, Kalu admitted that it had provided him an opportunity to learn invaluable lessons about Nigeria, its peoples, the justice system and the true meaning of love.
“I mean love for family, love for our country and love for humanity,” he said.
“Overall, my experience tested and reaffirmed my belief and confidence in our country, Nigeria. My case is a true Nigerian story with a bold Made-in-Nigeria stamp on it. It is a story of initial injustice that was caught and ultimately corrected. It is a story of restoration. It is a story of how a wrong was righted and how justice and truth prevailed in the end. It is a story of the power of hope. My case should teach us all that even though we may not get things right at the first attempt, with patience and dedication, we shall get them right eventually. That is the lesson of my case and that is the lesson of our country – that, with dedication and patience, we shall place Nigeria in its rightful place, eventually.
“Before I end, I would like to let it be known that the events of the past five months gave me an added perspective on matters of justice and injustice in Nigeria. I have come to know that the course of justice will not be complete if it stopped at my case. It must continue until it touches the lives of millions of Nigerians who face injustice anywhere in this world. I shall be dedicating my time, henceforth, to ensuring there will be justice for all Nigerians, whether they are in Sokoto or Akwa Ibom or in Lagos or Maiduguri or in Jos or Enugu, or wherever they may be. Justice for one man or for a few people will no longer be enough in this country.”
Born to the family of Chief Johnson Uzor Nesiegbe Kalu and Chief (Mrs.) Eunice Kalu on April 21, 1960, he attended Christ the King School, Aba, and Government College, Umuahia. After studying at Barewa College, Zaria, he enrolled in the University of Maiduguri, where he studied Political Science. During his time at the university, Kalu became a student activist, and participated in the “Ali Must Go” riots against the education minister, which attracted the wrath of the authorities, resulting in his suspension. While his fellow students later took the school authorities to court, Kalu left school to build his business.
He borrowed $35 from his mother, with which he began trading in palm oil. First,buying the oil from Nigeria’s eastern region and then selling it in the northern part of the country. He also diversified into buying and reselling furniture on a large scale.
He later founded SLOK Holdings, a conglomerate that would consist of a number of successful companies, including the Ojialex Furniture Company, SLOK Nigeria Limited, SLOK United Kingdom Limited, Adamawa Publishers Limited, SLOK Vegetable Oil, Aba, SLOK Paper Factory, Aba, SLOK United States Incorporated, SLOK Ghana, Togo, Cotonou, Guinea, South Africa, Liberia, Botswana, SLOK Korea, Supreme Oil Limited, SLOK Airlines, Sun Publishing Limited and First International Bank Limited. He also owns The New Telegraph newspaper, aside from his investments in insurance and tourism.
He got his start in business at age 19 after being expelled from the University of Maiduguri and became a millionaire by the time he was 20. He hit the big time in the early 1980s when the Nigerian military government awarded him lucrative contracts to import and supply items to Nigeria’s military and defence forces. Forbes’ estimate of his net worth had dropped since 2014 due to weakness in oil business and drop in real estate prices.
Being a new kid on the block, as he then was, Kalu became the youngest Nigerian to receive the National Merit Award, having been conferred with the honour by then President Ibrahim Babangidaa at the age of 26 in 1986. He was selected as the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce’s Industrialist of the Year, and awarded the Humanitarian Award of the University of Nigeria Nsukka’s Humanitarian Club, the Volunteer Award of the International Association of Volunteers, the EU Special Award in Brussels, and the World Bank Leon Sullivan Award.
He has continued to garner honours and recognition from across the globe, including traditional titles from all the regions of the country.
An avowed philanthropist and businessman, Kalu’s foray in politics has not been less successful. He was a presidential candidate in 2007, a two-term governor of Abia State (1999-2007) and erstwhile member of the House of Representatives .
Kalu is involved in the Njiko Igbo Movement, with the core objective of helping secure the presidential seat for a Nigerian citizen of Igbo extraction. An Igbo has only held the position of a head of state for six months since Nigeria’s independence.
He launched the organisation with branches and support groups throughout the diaspora, together with Senator Emmanuel Onwe, a human rights advocate and lawyer earlier based in the United Kingdom.
Today, he drives with vigour the campaign for a Nigerian President of Igbo origin through a bipartisan concourse of South East political leaders. The group’s meetings at Kalu’s country home, Camp Neya, in Igbere, Abia State, and Enugu State Government House, this year, attracted respected Igbo leaders, including Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, former Senate President, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, former Governor Chris Ngige and many others.
It must be acknowledged that Kalu’s political trajectory is novel and confounding. Following his fallout with the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Kalu founded the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA). The exploits of PPA within a short time could rightly justify Kalu’s political sagacity and strength. The party won gubernatorial elections in 2003 and 2007 in Abia State and also won the governorship election in the neighbouring Imo State that same year.
In the April 21, 2007, National Assembly election, the party won three of the 360 seats in the House of Representatives and one of the 109 seats in the Senate. This was to the consternation of many who had, prior to the election, argued that APC had no place in the South East zone.
However, the fortunes of the PPA began to dwindle when the party agreed to join the PDP government of President Umaru Yar’Adua, after the 2007 election. Hence, Kalu made his way back to the PDP.
His attempt to be in the Senate in 2015 was not possible after forces were mobilised against him by the PDP in favour of their candidate, Mao Ohuabunwa. However, following his joining the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the former Abia State governor, in 2019, realised his senatorial bid after trouncing Ohuabunwa. He later emerged the Senate’s Chief Whip, a position he currently occupies.
Kalu’s representation of Abia North has been very eventful, as several projects attracted by the senator now dot the zone. From Isu in Arochukwu Local Government Area, where the first phase of the 2.5-kilometre Orir-Ikot Okpura-Arochukwu road being undertaken by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was flagged off recently, to Ohafia, Isukwuato, Bende and Umunneochi LGAs, various projects have either been completed or are ongoing.
There was jubilation in parts of Abia North Senatorial District when the Senate Chief Whip toured some projects he attracted for the area recently.
As he toured the sites, which included roads, schools and water projects, the people hailed Kalu, calling him such names as “the People’s Senator,” “Man of the People,” “Father-father” and “Master Strategist.”
His first port of call was the Okoko Item Central School, in Bende LGA, which was over 90 per cent completed.
One other area of Kalu’s life that is worth mentioning is his love and support for sports. His tenure as governor became the golden era of Enyimba Football Club of Aba, as the club won local and continental laurels. Enyimba became the most successful Nigerian football club under Kalu. They won two African Champions League titles, eight Nigerian championships and four Federation Cups since 2001.
The African Pillar of Sports and Forbes-rated billionaire, recently indicated interest in buying the English Premier League club, Arsenal Football Club, with a bid of 35 per cent stake.
He recently announced on his Twitter handle, @OUKtweets, thus: “Our success with Enyimba FC btw 2000-2007 has continuously increased my passion for football.
“As the pillar of sports in Africa, I am considering an investment in football & I will buy 35 per cent stake in Arsenal FC @Arsenal.
“Our target is to lift the Champions League & EPL back to back as we did with Enyimba #OUK.”
As birthday wishes pour in torrents for the Senate Chief Whip as he turns 61 today, a former Commissioner for Works in Abia State and one of Kalu’s close allies, Chief George Nnanna Kalu, said: “I don’t think Nigerians have seen all there is to OUK. His best is yet to come.”