By Salihu Ibrahim
He likes to tell it as it is. And that is exactly what former Governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, has been doing with regards to the rights of the Igbo South East to produce the next president of Nigeria in 2015. And he is not merely talking about it.Kalu appears to be taking steps towards mobilizing the Igbo people and sensitizing Nigerians to the need for an Igbo man to be Nigeria’s president.
Quite dramatically, he has set up the Njiko Igbo movement, which has snowballed into an international organization for mobilizing diaspora support and keeps the fire of Igbo alive. It was learnt that the insistence of Kalu on the need for a president of Igbo extraction has ruffled feathers in Nigeria’s Presidential Villa in Abuja, otherwise called Aso Rock. It was learnt that Kalu’s moves have been waking up several Igbos to the reality and this has hampered the water-tight support strategists of President Goodluck Jonathan are looking forward to. This has led to talks of how to get him to back off his campaign.
The Lagos State Government recently sealed up one of his properties in Lagos. That move was seen as a direct reaction to Kalu’s courage in speaking out and standing up for the truth whenever it matters. He had consistently condemned the repatriation of Igbos to the South East by the Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola-led Lagos State Government .One of Kalu’s aides said: “Even the Njiko Igbo added its voice to the condemnation of the repatriation. Njiko Igbo urged the Lagos State Government to immediately halt further unlawful and forced deportation of Ndigbo and recall those who were deported. This is the only way that justice can be done. The state government must not forget the strategic position that Ndigbo occupies in the state through their developmental strides and contributions to the socio-political landscape of the state. When the Lagos State Government chose to seal up his property, he was not quite surprised. It was the price of leadership.”
Strangely, this is a man who appears to have been avoiding active partisan political scene in recent times. That seeming apathy on his part is what propelled traditional rulers and youths from the South East to meet severally with the former governor of Abia State in Lagos and Abuja. They had a simple message: he must come back to the political turf to raise the profile of the Igbo in the Nigerian federation. True, an Igbo man, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim is the Secretary to the Government of the Federation now, there are also ministers from the race but there is obviously a vacuum that needs to be filled. The need for a high profile Igboman in the present political turf is a matter of urgency, many believe. This is the only way to avert further marginalization.
During a visit to the palace of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, last year, the paramount ruler challenged Kalu to actively participate in politics in the interest of the nation. Oba Sijuwade described Kalu as a shining light in business, politics and philanthropy. The ruler also appealed to the former governor to forgive those that have offended him politically, while urging him to see disappointments and betrayal as inevitable in life. The duo of Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, and the Soun of Ogbomosoland, Oba Oyewum Ajagungbade, at a social event in Lagos sang praises of Kalu, describing him as a detralized Nigerian with friendship beyond boundaries. The man, Kalu, is fondly called “Lagos boy” by friends owing to his business and social tiers in the Centre of Excellence.
Fortunately, Kalu more than fits the bill. He is a man who has built a reputation and wide network of contacts nationwide and internationally. He is not just an Igbo man. In fact, the Igbos cannot lay claim to him alone. Reason being that Kalu’s friends across Nigeria cut across geographical and political party boundaries. He is, for instance, one of the few Nigerians recently reported to have hosted former President Ibrahim Babangida in his Abuja residence. Recently, the Governor of Kano State, Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso, visited Kalu in Lagos to discuss lingering national issues, though many see the move as a political game between the duo. Kalu is also reported to have cordial relationship with former presidents and heads of state and other politicians from the North. He is a recipient of many chieftaincy titles from powerful emirates, which explains his wide acceptance in the region.
At his Abuja residence some weeks ago, the Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, hosted a business delegation from India, led by Kalu to a lavish reception. In attendance were former Governors Lucky Igbenedion, Adamu Aliero, Victor Attah, Achike Udenwa and Bukar Abba Ibrahim, who all took turn to talk on the challenges facing the nation while acknowledging the business accomplishments of Kalu.
It appears Kalu will shock those doubting his political will to dare to make a difference by surprise soon .He is believed to be making his contacts and mobilizing friends across the country. One source even said as far as Nigeria’s political space is concerned, only two politicians seem very prepared for the presidency. They are Atiku Abubakar and Orji Kālu. If these two people join forces, they are certain to go a long way. But are their strategists thinking along that line? Will they come together and concretise a North cum South East alliance to win election to the presidency? Insiders are watching.
Kalu on his part appears to have a clear vision of what the challenge of leadership is all about. Last year, he delivered a lecture at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. During the lecture, Kalu quoted Professor Chinua Achebe again, in his treatise on leadership thus: “Leadership is a sacred trust like the priesthood in civilized humane religions. No one gets into it lightly or unadvisedly, because it demands qualities of mind and discipline of body. Anyone who offers himself or herself or is offered to society for leadership must be aware of the unusually high demands of the role, and should, if in any doubt whatsoever, firmly refuse the promptings.”
Continuing, the former governor said: “Now I consider this quite weighty and thought provoking. Leadership is a sacred trust, just like the priesthood. In other words, you hold leadership at the behest of the people. Without the people’s trust and support, you lose the moral right to be a leader. Why then do our leaders roll out cocktails of anti- people policies, particularly in a democracy? Leaders must listen to the people, engage with them, and formulate policies that will promote their wellbeing. Otherwise, such leaders betray the sacred trust of their offices and position.
“Again, Prof Achebe says no one gets into leadership lightly or unadvisedly, because it demands qualities of mind and discipline of body. In other words, leadership is something you plan for, you get groomed for, and consciously go into. But in Nigeria, we see that such is not largely the case. Even when some of us tried to groom successors, we discovered that we were grooming monsters that were willing to kick us out of office before they learn the qualities of leadership. Let’s consider some of our past and present leaders, and how they ascended into office.”
As we approach the 2015 general election, political observers and gladiators are watching the political trend and terrain.
Salihu Ibrahim wrote from Apo, Abuja.