Senate Chief Whip, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, was a guest of a radio station in Umuahia, Abia State, recently, where he spoke for the first time on his rumoured presidential ambition and other issues. The programme coincided with the 29th anniversary of the creation of Abia State, which he governed from 1999 to 2007.
What is your assessment of Abia State at 29?
To build a nation or state is one of the difficult things to do. Leadership is a very big burden. The young men of today were not there when I was governor. But the legacies will linger.
That was why as governor, I made education free and compulsory. I also introduced the Work to Learn Programme for artisans. People in Ariaria International Market, Ahia Ohuru in Aba and the Town Market in Umuahia, were going to school in the evening. We also went further to pay their WAEC fees to encourage them because education is number one.
That made all the traders hawking goods on the road to go to school.
You have pointed out the areas that you actually excelled when you held sway in Abia State. What areas do you think the present government can improve on to move Abia forward?
Well, it is not my duty to come to radio to discuss the present government or past government.
Government is an institution and I have a channel that I can use to pass whatever I want them to improve on to the governor. I was once the governor of the state, so I have a channel through which I can send my opinion about governance.
If I discuss the governor publicly, it means being former governor or being part of the state is no longer there. Some people in All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP),
All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and others can do that; Orji Kalu cannot do that on radio. I am a very courageous man, but I want unity and peace so that whenever I advise, it will be taken seriously in-house.
They will know that it is not for political reasons, cheap popularity or witch-hunt because this is what has been happening. So, I am changing the scenario as I can send letters; I can send information; I can send text messages to the governor.
I can advise directly or indirectly. I can advise through his Chief of Staff, I can advise through the Secretary to State Government, I can advise through his commissioners. That is what leadership is all about. I am not running to be governor of Abia State, neither am I running to be anything that will conflict with the interest of my party.
I am a former governor. The publicity secretary of APC can criticize the governor, members of APC can criticize the governor or praise him because they have never been governor, but I have a channel through which I can pass my grievances and understanding of people to the governor of Abia State.
You moved a motion for an amendment to the administration of criminal justice system in Nigeria. How is that amendment going right now at the Senate?
I did not only move a motion; I have proposed amendment to the criminal justice system. I have also proposed an amendment to the criminal justice system, so that it could be strengthened for it to be free and fair to all because a free society is critical to the survival of democracy.
There are two parts to democracy; one is the hard part and the other one is the soft part or what I will call the software and hardware of democracy.
The software of democracy is like rule of law, being fair to all, obeying traffic light, making sure you pay the police man on the road, making sure you obey the laws. I am not doing it because I went to Kuje Prison.
A lot of Nigerians are suffering for doing nothing and those are the amendments I want to see because I am victim. A victim must be able to correct what is injustice in the eyes of the people. I am doing it not because I want to score a point; I am doing it because I saw a defect in our law.
Those defects would be discussed in the Senate and they will go for concurrence in the House of Representatives.
So it is not what I want, it is what is good for Nigeria. For any leader to start talking about society, he must be able to do what is right to the society. When I was governor, we obeyed the laws.
When they say Obohia Road, I was building a deep underground drainage that will channel water to waterside and I had an injunction by Justice Akomas; I obeyed the injunction and that was why the road was not built. The Landlords there took it that the road will destroy their houses, that I will come and pay them compensation.
The road was not built and the place is still a slum. If you disobey the law, you might have a rowdy society. Any system must obey the law but if you are not satisfied with the court of first instance, you go to the second court; if you are not satisfied, you go to the final court, which is the Supreme Court.
We must strengthen the administration of criminal justice not with any bias or with anybody in mind. The society must continue to improve. We are only 60 years in existence as a nation. America is over 300 years and still amending her laws.
So, we will continue to amend our laws to suit the majority of the people of our nation.
Still talking about your activities in the Senate, we understand that you also called on the Federal Government to improve the Eastern rail line. How are you liaising with the Ministry of Transportation to ensure that it is done?
As a senator, I have no direct relationship with the minister of Transportation. The relationship is with the president and commander in-chief of the armed forces. We make laws and send to the President for ascent.
Once the President ascents to it, he will direct his ministers to implement the law where it concerns them. What happened was that the Eastern rail line was not included in the projects to be executed with the loan.
So, I raised a motion because I was in prison when it was passed. I came back and reopened it and said we must be included from Port Harcourt to Enugu to Makurdi and outward to Maiduguri line.
It is an essential, most viable line you can think of both in terms of commercial and movement of people. I drew the attention of my colleagues and the Senate President, who was kind enough to give me opportunity to propose a new motion which the Senate is still looking at.
It is not politics, it is what is due for us and we must keep asking for it. I am not a Senator that has been sent to the Senate to start making noise. I am a senator that is sent to bring result. It is not the number of bills or the number of times I stand up to speak in the Senate that is the issue.
If you go to Abia North, you will see that speaking in the Senate everyday is not the issue. All the communities are having roads to themselves and the only one I am advising the state government to do is the road from Umuahia to Ohafia which is a state road.
You have been in touch with the people of Abia North; what do they expect from you going forward?
Well, people expect much from senators, members of the House of Representatives and even members of the state House of Assembly. People are expecting us to build roads but it is not our duty to build roads. People are expecting us to bring water but it is not our duty to bring water.
People are expecting us to send their children to hospital but it is not our duty. We are only lawmakers.
However, we can use our contacts to get something for the people. I am not the governor of Abia State, a commissioner, minister or president; these are people you expect to do projects.
My job is to make laws but we also move out of our primary area to use our face to attract projects to our areas. Because I stood my ground to ask the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to do some community roads, you can see that they are already saying I wanted a favour.
When people tell me to write to the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of Science and Technology to give them jobs, I am constrained because such letters can be a reference point tomorrow when there is a conflict between the Senate and the ministries.
There have been series of calls for you to contest for the office of President in 2023. Many individuals, organisations and even religious bodies are making the call; do you have any intention of contesting for the office in 2023?
I am a Nigerian, so asking that kind of question is out of it. But it is very unfair to President Muhammadu Buhari that in the first year of his last term in office, some people are already talking about who will be president.
They should give the President time to deliver what he promised to Nigerians and show the gains and profitability of the democratic process. Yes, if you give me the presidency, why not, I will take. I am capable of doing the job.
The problem is who is capable of doing the job. For now, I am focusing on my constituency; there is a lot of job to be done. If you give me opportunity, I will like to go back to the Senate for a second term, but if the people of Nigeria want me to be president, they will show the hand. I can do the job. I can build a 21st century economy for our people.