Former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, in this interview conducted in his Maryland, Washington DC home, speaks on his politics, his state, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), among other topical issues. Excerpts:
WHY have you been quiet in the last few years?
Well, I have been quiet because I decided to be quiet. Nigeria is a country that is going through evolution; a new cultural and value representation of our people because our people have lost value. They have lost culture, they have lost the norm that makes human beings exist. So, I felt we are sick. From a society where everybody looks very sick, I have to withdraw.
Are you comfortable looking at what you helped establish being destroyed?
I am not totally a politician, mind you. If you know my history, I have been a businessman since under the age of 26. I have always remained a focused and reputable businessman.
But the story has been that you played vital role in the founding of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Do you think it is okay to see what you helped build getting destroyed?
It is true that I am one of the main pillars of the PDP and I supported the PDP very well. In fact, it is just that new comers have taken over the party. You cannot write the history of PDP without mentioning my name and some other people like Atiku Abubakar and the rest of them.
So, we put our sweat into the formation of that party. We put in everything we had to build that party. But there are those that are billionaires today who could not afford N10,000 to contribute to the party in 1998. We funded the PDP and made it a successful instrument.
Who are the billionaires you are referring to?
Like former President Olusegun Obasanjo. You know he openly told journalists that he came into politics with only N20,000 and I am sure you are aware of that. He said it many times. We now see him having new buildings from Otta to Abeokuta, flying jets to everywhere in the world.
It is believed that you played an important role in Obasanjo’s presidential bid in 1998 and we believe the two of you were very close. What went wrong?
I parted ways with Obasanjo because he wanted to continue joking with the country called Nigeria and Nigerians are blind. Unfortunately, they prefer people lying to them to people like us. I am going to send letters to the United Nations Secretary General, the European Union and the United States and all the major powers that all those who have served in Nigeria should come forward to disclose their sources of wealth. Let them show their bank statements, either with defunct Allied Bank or ACB. Let them come and prove how they bought houses in Victoria Island and Maitama in Abuja. Let us know who the real thieves are. You cannot be calling people thieves when the real thieves are walking free on the streets of Nigeria. It is not fair to me in particular because I know that at the formation of PDP, I contributed N500 million in 1998 and I don’t know how many of them owned N500 million in 1998.
But today I am a thief. I also contributed almost $1 million to Obasanjo’s campaign in 1998 when nobody had any penny to give. Why I am a thief today is what I don’t understand.
Former President Obasanjo recently called members of the National Assembly corrupt people. Do you agree with him?
Yes, because a lot of fraudulent people who used to engage in 419 are in the National Assembly. The government knows these people. They know they have criminal cases against these people before. These people fraudulently found themselves in the National Assembly and we see that Nigeria has developed the habit of giving power to many unemployed people who have fraudulent records and putting them in leadership positions.
Does Obasanjo have the moral stand to describe National Assembly members as corrupt?
No, I don’t think so.
Because Obasanjo made the country the way it is today. Obasanjo caused every problem we are facing in Nigeria today. He has no moral right to say anybody is corrupt. Even when I was in office, I told him that corruption was under his table, but they didn’t listen to me. The Americans know, British, Germans, French, they all know. This is why they have no respect for him. The only people who respect Obasanjo are Nigerians.
Will you go back to politics?
I am still watching. The best way is to siddon look. Let us see whether this lie will prevail over the truth. It has never happened before and it will never happen because falsehood will not prevail over the truth. You see governors telling lies openly. You see ministers telling lies openly. People in leadership positions are lying in public. This has never happened before. It cannot continue like this.
Let us talk about your visit to the US. Is it just social or political? And why have you been elusive?
No, I am not elusive. It is just that I don’t want to talk to journalists.
Were you at the State Department? If yes, what did you go to do there?
I go there regularly. Seeing me there should not be an issue. I have a lot of issues that take me there. So, I have been in and out of the US State Department.
What about the US Department of Agriculture?
I often go there too to discuss agricultural policies as they affect Africa.
Are you into farming now?
Do you have a farm in Nigeria?
I have farms all over Africa.
So, you have no plans for 2015?
The Answer is no. I want to continue to be a private citizen.
What if your people want you?
This is one of the ways people deceive themselves. Nobody does what he does not want to do. If I really want to come back to politics, don’t worry, I will tell you. I don’t need my people to force me to come back. But I know I still have a big role to play in Nigeria.
Are you going back to the PDP or the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA)?
I don’t know yet, but PPA might be a great possibility.
Let us go back briefly to 2007. You left the PDP to form your own party, ran for Presidency and won in two states; you also produced two governors. How did you do that with Obasanjo’s PDP might?
It was the will of God and we are going to do more of that. Nigeria must change and change is coming.
Why did you leave PPA?
I needed to focus on my trade; on what I have been doing before I entered politics.
In 2007, you were arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and arraigned for corruption. Did you steal Abia State money?
Well, to my conscience, I am clean. I have never made any deal with any contractor. I never made any deal with any commissioner or any staff of Abia State government. If I had spent money, the money I spent was security vote. Mind you, under Obasanjo’s government, contractors working for Abia State government were detained for nine months; and they were being (made) to implicate me. But the contractors refused to do that. They went to harass my mother in Aba. You know they have been pursuing me.
Why the witch-hunt?
Because they knew I could have been president and they didn’t want me to be. Obasanjo used his powers to fight me. I am not going to comment on that case because my conscience is as clear as snow. The international community knows that I have not committed any offence, but it is before a court of competent jurisdiction. I do not need to comment on it anymore. I want to allow the court to do its job.
Are you saying you are innocent?
I say that my conscience is clear. Legally, I am not supposed to speak about the case and I don’t want to say much about it. I know I have not taken money from anybody. I did not do any dirty deal as governor of Abia State for eight years.
How would you rate Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Ibrahim Lamorde of the EFCC?
Mallam Ribadu would have succeeded more as EFCC chairman, but he dabbled into politics and I am watching Lamorde not to do same because he will finish himself if he does. Nuhu allowed himself to be used by Obasanjo. If it is not politics, there is no reason for my arrest in the first place. Nuhu had all the opportunities to have been the Inspector General of Police. He started well and ended with politics. Obasanjo dragged him into it. Nuhu knows Obasanjo’s secrets. He knows all of them. But he refused to say it. He was on the floor of the National Assembly saying that 31 governors were corrupt, meaning wiping out the whole leadership. But where are the 31 governors? Only Orji Kalu is now being tried. Obasanjo is more corrupt than any living Nigerian in Nigeria today and nobody is arresting him.
How will you assess the security situation in Nigeria? What is your assessment of President Goodluck Jonathan’s way of handling issues?
The situation is very bad and these are part of what I discussed with some State Department officials. I have also discussed this issue with EU officials and the Commonwealth. I think President Jonathan has the power to stop the situation. He is the president.
Why do you think he has not been effective?
I cannot say why.
Don’t you think that he inherited this problem from previous government, and that if Obasanjo had addressed this issue when he was in office it won’t be as bad as it is now?
No, we addressed this issue then. We solved it. Inasmuch as I disagree with Obasanjo on many issues, particularly his not being fair to people, I also agree with him for the love he has for Nigeria. But he is a very wicked man to have taken my bank, airline and other businesses.
You said he loves Nigeria?
Yes, he partially loves Nigeria.
Interview culled from Sunday Tribune