Recently, former Abia State governor, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu fielded questions from journalists in Lagos. In his characteristic blunt style, he spoke on topical national issues, including corruption, development, 2015 general elections, politics, and more... Excerpts.
You were quoted recently as saying that security agencies were responsible for the throwing of bombs in the northern part of the country. Why do you believe in such a strange analogy?
The government knows so much about it. In fact what I am saying is not new. Nobody should say I did not say so. I said so. Even President Jonathan has indicted the security agencies by saying there is Boko Haram in his cabinet. So, if there is Boko Haram in his cabinet, they should work on it. It is beyond carrying guns and standing on the road.
This is intelligence. I want the president to take the issue of insecurity very seriously because it is paining me as an Igbo man; it’s paining me as a southerner; it’s paining me as a Christian. It is paining me because whenever you have a problem in Pakistan, they will go to the north and kill the Igbo, kill the southerner and kill the Christian for doing nothing.
Whenever there is a problem in my village Igbere about Islam, they will go to the north and burn southern people’s and Igbo’s’ shops. This should not be accepted by anybody. I mean, we have lost more people than we did during the civil war and we should be taking these things seriously because we cannot live in the same country and not go anywhere we want to go to.
The constitution guarantees us to go to anywhere we want to go, and live anywhere we want to live in the country. I am calling on service, military and security chiefs to work on this matter. It’s a serious matter. People should stop trivialising this matter because it’s a serious one.
President Jonathan came out openly and said there is Boko Haram in his cabinet. So, the security agencies should work on that and stop paying lip services to it.
With all these issues on the ground, there have been predictions in the past, of a possible break-up of Nigeria in 2015. Does it worry you that, that may happen after all?
No, no, no. Nigeria is in trouble really. Yes, we have a lot of problems, but I have always said that if we are all part of the problem, we should all be part of the solution. We should not allow a country like Nigeria to break. We cannot allow that because it is not the right thing to do. We must understand that this country is our country and we must try and keep it together, no matter the price we have to pay.
We have fought a civil war, and no country that is intelligent enough wants to fight a second civil war. We should stop all these rubbish we are doing and talk about how to stabilise our economy. If we see our economy stabilised, we can then talk of stabilising the polity.
Why we are going front and backward is because we have no strong economy. Yes, you sound patriotic but we are almost approaching 2015, and people are saying that there might not be 2015 election in Nigeria, while some Americans said the country will break up. When you look at the country critically… Yes, the person who made that prediction is a very good friend of mine, John Negroponte. It is not only he that said that.
Most American diplomats have been saying that over a long time. John Campbell has been warning Nigeria to be very careful. I am disturbed because the indices on the table show that if not properly handled, what the Americans are saying might come to pass.
That is why I said we are all part of the problem and we should also be part of the solution because it is not too late to find a solution.
Apart from the issue of insecurity, what other problem do you see as major in Nigeria?
Well, the major thing is the massive corruption in the system; it is massive. Nobody regulates budget. Commissioners don’t even do their jobs now. If you see Commissioners, permanent secretaries, they have no jobs to do any longer.
All contracts are awarded on the same table and people deceive themselves and say there is this, or that. Hunger is a major problem here. I am only telling those who claim to be leaders to lead with conscience.
They should give the middle class and the poor justice. In any system where there is no fairness and justice, that system will collapse. In Nigeria, there is no justice and fairness. But there are so many anti-corruption agencies in the country fighting corruption….. If people like me are taken to court, it means there’s no anti-corruption war because I have no reason to be in court.
They know those that are supposed to be there. I leave everything to the court since the matter is in a court of competent jurisdiction. I accept it as my fate. Even the day I was born, God knew I will go to Court for these things.
You are coordinating an anti-corruption war in Africa. How far have you gone with the programme?
We are still working it out. We are supposed to be in South Africa this May. We are working out that programme with all stakeholders- part of European Union, the United Nations, some diplomats from the United States and other Western countries.
We are working out the details because that is the meeting I will be attending in Brussels. We are working out the processes, because since government agencies in Africa have failed to fight corruption, we are trying to use Non-Governmental Agencies to fight corruption. You can see people who became ministers, governors and presidents who never owned anything before they came to power.
They have never been in business. You see retired Army Generals, who own billions of Naira; their salaries couldn’t have given them that. So, it is everywhere. When we talk about corruption, people think it is for only those in government. If you see what happens in the Federal and State governments, you will know that most of the things they say are jokes.
It is not good for people you entrust with public funds to begin to steal it. It is not good, and I never support such. Most agencies must review themselves and their cases because most of these cases are political. If you are for the government, they will not prosecute you. If you are saying the truth every other thing will fail but the truth will remain the truth.
We fought against third term; we said no to third term, and I am sure those are some of the reasons I am where I am today. But it’s not a regrettable thing. I was the only politician, who came to office with two banks and I lost those two banks that I came to office with, an airline and I lost that too. I came to office with off shore companies, building platforms and I lost that.
The anti-corruption agencies in the past were not good. I am sure they are doing reviews now with the relevant agencies who are telling them to follow due process. I will give you an example with myself. I called Mr. Lamorde in 2007 when they said the EFCC was looking for me. I am sure some of you know Ambassador Howard Jeter.
I was with him in Washington. I talked to some of our friends in the State Department, then Secretary of State and all others. I called Lamorde, and said I was coming; that instead of landing in Lagos, I will go to Abuja; that I was landing by 5.00am. I am just giving you this story so that you can know the level of injustice.
I told him that by 11.00am, I would be in his office. Mr Ribadu now sent an army of journalists and Cameramen to come into British Airways to arrest me, when I was the one who made the call. Lamorde is alive. I called with the same MTN phone I use now. So, what I said is traceable. Lamorde is more civil than any other officer I have ever seen. He wants to go through due process. If you are a good intelligence man, what you would have done was to make sure I landed and follow me with surveillance. You only follow me and know where I was staying, so that if it exceed 12pm or 1pm, and you don’t see me, you can then come and dramatise whatever you wanted to do. I did not say people should not fight corruption but you have to fight it with your conscience.
You were in office for eight years and you can be said to have seen it all. As we match towards 2015, what are your fears?
My fears are that Nigerian people might march out on the roads one day and what happened in Romania will happen here, if our leaders are not able to come together and address this issue. My fear is that we are gradually coming to a point where anybody can do anything he likes. That is what we are seeing. Law and Order are breaking down, which is not what things are supposed to be. We must have a strong Army and Police. For any country that wants to survive, should not joke or play politics with the Armed Forces.
It is the pride of any nation. Any nation that does not give its Armed Forces a place of honour is not a serious nation. So, we should just stop using the army for little things. They should be on standby. We should have a quality mobile police force and enforce quality Rule of Law to ensure the growth of our society. In 14 years of democracy, what have politicians done to restore hope for the future? They have done nothing. They are even worse today.
That’s the truth. What are the qualities of the president you are looking for in 2015? Well, most of you continue to think of civil servants and all these people, but the president I am looking for is one that can make a decision; a president that can stand and say I have made this decision, whether it is right or wrong.
Are you back to PDP?
Yes, I am back to PDP.
So, what about the opposition against you from your state against your return?
They are not democrats. If they are democrats, they will not oppose my return.
Look at the PDP as a party, the crisis it is having all over and the coming of a new mega party in the form of the All Progressive Congress…
No, it is a good thing we are having an alternative party. It is good for the country. That also shows you that Ibrahim Babangida was a very visionary leader. I have always said that we need two parties, not two or three. The PDP, as a party must look for people; people don’t look for parties. But I am sure that with the tour of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur to all the zones, the PDP will be better. We are not afraid of speaking the truth; we are not afraid to tell those who have done wrong that they have done wrong. But I can assure you that the PDP will come out stronger than it is today.
Do you agree that the Governors have constituted into a very powerful cabal?
I do not agree that they are very powerful. The constitution has given them very powerful roles to play.
The seat of the governors is very, very powerful and that of the President of Nigeria is the most powerful in the world, where the president can wake up and do anything he likes. I have called for a review of the powers since I became a governor in 1999. How do we remedy that? The National Assembly are not making laws that will benefit the people.
They are making laws that benefit themselves. Until the National Assembly will make laws to put themselves on part time, abolish one chamber, we cannot make progress. We cannot be spending 25 per cent of our income on only 469 people. Even the US congress is not earning the kind of money we are spending here. Our lawmakers should be able to sit on part-time basis. You support immunity clause removal…
They should remove immunity. Even as a sitting governor, I called for the removal. If a governor has committed an offence, he should go to court. They said they will have many lawsuits, why not? The minister, does he have immunity? Has he had so many lawsuits? People must respect the laws of the land. The Constitution must specify how anybody does anything. I don’t believe there should be immunity for anybody. You should be prosecuted if you do anything. When Bill Clinton was president, he was prosecuted. That immunity did not stop them.
I believe we should start being an open society. We are too closed; we are not a communist country. We should be open, not claim to be open. If we continue this way, what you people are saying might happen. There might be a re-think of Nigerian ethnic groups, which is not good for the country. People are building BRICS. Nigeria is supposed to be a major player in BRICS. If Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are meeting, why not Nigeria? We are supposed to take a front seat there, because we have a strong economy which can be the strongest in the world, if well managed.
It is shameful. Let me tell you, the new name for prophesy is data and the new name for priest is analyst. In America, when they are in trouble, they bring data and analysis and solve the problem. Let’s take Nigeria as a company in trouble, take it into Harvard Business School, Stanford, and UBEN and diagnose what is wrong.
There will be no more prophesy to say the prophet said this. Bring the data and the analysis together, you have the result. Nobody wants to talk about Nigeria. Nigeria is in trouble. We need to go back to the drawing board to work on the trouble with Nigeria. It is beyond Hausa, Fulani, Igbo or Yoruba; it is beyond roads. We must go back to talk about economic stability. We must talk about how we are going to bring back agriculture.
A country of over 200milion people without railways; a country that has no postal services, no inter-link roads; a country that is not talking of transporting the people through Ferries? No inland water ways? How do we hope the country will work? People are hungry. Politicians have no jobs. Ninety per cent of those who call themselves rich men in Nigeria have no jobs. They live by the government. That is why they cannot say the truth. They wait for the governor to bring money for them or the governor or the minister who they appointed.
How can a system develop like that? No system on earth will develop in this manner. A system can only develop when we put our young ones, our old ones and the middle class into active productive sector. Unless that happens, we are nowhere. This economy is supposed to be one of the five biggest economies in the world. I am telling you the truth. I have said this time without number. Nigeria has everything and we are only mining oil.
Nobody is talking about any other thing. Everywhere I go, I see these things. The president should fight for power and against insecurity. We even have tourism potentials. If I can drive my car from Lagos, after watching the Atlantic Ocean to Sokoto to see the desert, then, it will be good for the country.
You talk of the economy. The government is saying that the economy is growing at seven per cent etc….
No, I am not contradicting them.
What I am saying is that the basic things have not been done to bring this economic growth they are shouting about. On which electricity are they producing the growth? On which communication are they producing the growth? Telecommunication companies are not investing their money and you even see security agencies in part of Abuja jamming the lines without knowing the economic consequences. That is not how security is done. The companies that own these businesses are losing money. The companies that signed agreements with these companies are also losing money. You must find another way of protecting the people.
Even when presidents are landing, they keep commercial airlines in the air for 40 minutes to one hour. Do you know it is also killing the economy of the airlines? Do you know the amount of money lost by hanging in the air? The airport can just be closed for five minutes with priority to his airplane, which I support, because he is the president of Nigeria.
There’s nowhere in the world you close the airport for presidential movement. The airlines are losing money on delays and time. What I am saying is that Nigerian people only see the economy from the dress they are wearing and the cooperation amongst them.
I want them to see the reality. Because, if we don’t see the reality, what is happening now will consume all of us. It is true; it will consume all of us. The revolution that will come might not look at faces.
It might not see the face of religion, it might not see the face of tribe. It will only see the face of have you been there before? This is the truth. It is not a laughing matter. It is something people should take seriously. Even those that have not been there will be joined in the revolution.
What's your view of President Jonathan?
No, I cannot discuss President Jonathan. He came out and said we should give him up till the end of 2013 to see miracle in power, roads, security and I am in support of that. It will be wrong for me to start discussing now. It will not be fair.
I believe the President should be given time to perform. You spoke about what you came into politics with in 1999.
Is your involvement in politics a plus or minus for you?
My involvement in politics is a minus but I thank God that I went into politics.
It is a minus because I came in with a lot of hope and forward looking, but I never knew the kind of pettiness I have seen since 1999 till today from people. I never saw in the corporate world. You see, in the National Assembly, we have taken people who are doing 419 obtaining by false preferences, armed robbery, drugs and all sorts of things, both in government houses in all places that it seems politics is no longer a thing for men of honour. So, my going into politics is a big minus in terms of business. But in terms of reaching out, it is a very big plus for me because I have a platform now to say what I want to say. As far as I am concerned, I am not a super statesman. There are about three classes of statesmen; the class of Obasanjo, Babangida, Abdulsalami, Shagari; the class of Gen Danjuma and that group. At least, I belong to the fourth level of statesmen in the country today. I am not afraid of who will lock me up or use rules that are not in line with the Constitution to chase me around.
Are you happy with what is happening in your state Abia?
I am not very happy at all. I don't believe that anybody created by God will be this petty. But I leave it to his conscience, I leave it to the hands of God.