Former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu
Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in this interview with the African Independent Television (AIT), speaks on the agitation for the state of Biafra by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the chances of APC in the forth-coming Anambra State Governorship Election, as well as other issues. TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI who monitored the session brings the excerpts:
You said Biafra is not possible. Why did you say so?
Let me correct you; I said there is no need for it now because dividing the country would be a mistake. What matters is for people to live under the rule of law, social justice, and true federalism. I don’t think the clamour to divide the country is anything that will help anybody.
What majority of Nigerians, not only the Igbos need is for the law to be obeyed. If a court in Abia gives an order, that order must be obeyed. If I drive against traffic light, I should be punished. What the country is looking for is one rule for everybody.
You belong to the ruling party and you are an Igbo leader. Do you see yourself in a position of brokering a truce between the Federal Government and IPOB?
To correct you, I am an Igbo man from Igboland not an Igbo leader.
Yes. We have been doing a lot to broker truce between them. We have done a lot underground. We have been talking to both parties and that is why you can see some level of peace now in Abia and Onitsha axis where IPOB have a stronghold. I believe all hands are on deck to find a common ground.
We have witnessed these issues before. Those who want to break away are not in the majority. My only concern is that they are endangering a lot of Igbos because when they confront the military or when they are confronted by the military, the properties been damaged are owned by Igbos and the people being killed are Igbos
I am a trader and I trade on cash crops and all the rest and I know what I have suffered in the last nine months or thereabout due to this issue.
You were the first Igbo leader or Igbo man, as you like to put it to visit Nnamdi Kanu in prison…
Yes, I was the first Nigerian to visit him because it was the right thing to do. Because nobody wanted to see him, I was the first to go to the prison to see him. Everybody was afraid to see him, they were scared to identify with him, but for me, I am not afraid of death, I am not afraid of anybody. He was remanded in prison by a court of competent jurisdiction, but even the United Nations (UN) charter recognizes that anyone remanded in prison by a court can be visited by anybody, so I applied that.
I want to guess that part of the things you would have told Kanu while in prison was to drop the idea of IPOB. But, maybe, you did not sound convincing enough…
No! I spent two hours 10 minutes with Nnamdi Kanu and I sounded very convincing. At some point, he was neither here nor there, but later, he said ‘we can’t drop this fight, we have gone very far’ and I reminded him that a good general is one who fights and go back to fight another day, while a bad one is the one that dies in the battle. It is not only that I visited him, I went as far as visiting his parents and I gave them reasons why they should not encourage him to continue in this manner.
When he came out of prison, he didn’t make any attempt to visit those who wished him, he went for those, who wanted to play politics with him, and that is where we are. They have been shouting Biafra, but nobody touched them before the issue went beyond where it was supposed to be. People who wanted to use them to play politics were telling them that everything is possible and that was why they got him into trouble.
I have nothing against those clamouring that they want Biafra. In fact, it is their constitutional right and I cannnot tell anybody not to agitate. But the question is: Is it possible? Is it within the provisions of our constitution? The constitution is very clear.
There is nowhere in the constitution where we have separation on how to divide the country. The constitution has chapters on how to unite the country, but nowhere can you find referendum or restructuring. So, to me all these calls and the people making them should ask for the implementation of the 2014 Conference report.
Since that conference was bipartisan and was headed by a very good jurist, Justice Idris Kutugi with all Nigerians including former governors, former ministers, political leaders, security agencies, religious bodies and even the South-East delegates led by Maj. General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd), that fantastic document should be implemented as a starting point and giving the South-East one more state.
There is this story that Kanu’s whereabouts is unknown. Can I quote you as having said that he is in London?
I didn’t categorically say that he was in London. You can read what I said in the Punch. When I returned from the United States on September 14 and went straight to Abia on the 15th because the crisis was escalating, I consulted some of them (IPOB), the security agencies including the army, police, Department of State Services (DSS) and others to douse the tension. I looked for Kanu to talk to him.
So, somebody told me he went to a hotel and I sent people to the hotel and I called one of his relation, who came to my house and I asked him where Kanu was as I really wanted to talk to him. He said that I should not bother myself and I told Punch whether this fellow was telling me lies or truth is what I don’t know. I didn’t say I discussed with Kanu and he told me he had left for London. His relation told me I should not bother about his safety because I told him that what matters to me is the safety of the man.
I wanted to bring the man to my house in Igbere and make arrangements with federal authorities and persuade them for us to find a common ground. I never wanted the security agents to bundle him and rough handle him.
I only wanted to bring him to my house and wade into the security agencies and talk to the federal authorities, which was what I did when he was in prison. I am surprised at the attitude of Kanu because he knew all the things we discussed.
He neglected them because he wanted to play politics. He was released and he started going about. Let me ask you: Is it fair on the court that granted him bail? Is it fair on the Federal Government that the order of the court was disobeyed? That order was not that of Justice Binta Nyako, it was the law of Nigeria.
I reminded him that he must obey our laws. Even if he was dissatisfied with the order there is nothing about human rights when a court of competent jurisdiction has given a judgement.
So, I blame our people who are saying that his human rights have been trampled on. I disagree because the court is of competent jurisdiction, that order was not that of President Muhammadu Buhari, it was not that of the Chief of Army Staff, neither was it the director of the DSS. So, he could have calmed down and obey that order and allow his members to continue carrying their flags rather than disobeying that order and nobody would disturb anybody.
People are afraid to say the truth, but I am not. I don’t care about what anybody says, what matters most to me is justice being applied where it is supposed to be applied. If Kanu had gone ahead to obey that court order, nobody would touch him.
If Kanu wanted to see people, they should come to his house and see him but what he did which you saw all over social media was mounting a guard of honour, he insulted everybody, he insulted the Sun Newspapers, he insulted the owner of the newspaper, he insulted me personally that some people were writing against him because they have been bought over by the Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba people. The issue is that he should go back and educate himself on the realities of today.
Is the South-East truly marginalised?
The South-East is marginalised. I can tell you this: I was trained by the Hausa/Fulani people, but I am not afraid of speaking the truth. The South-East is truly marginalised and that is the truth.
Nobody can say that the South-East is not marginalised. Since the end of the civil war, the treatment meted on the South- East is different, amenities given to people from the South-East is different. If anyone says anything contrary, bring him on and I will tell him why we are marginalised.
What can the present government do about this?
The present government should look at its appointments; it should look at who gets what and balance it. It doesn’t sound good that you have service chiefs with non from the South-East.
No matter who is the president, vice president or Senate president and you don’t even have one Igbo holding a position, I mean a legitimate position among the service chiefs, it is not right at all. Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. As a member of the APC, have you made any move to achieve what you just said? Of course, I’ve been making moves
A school of thought suggests that you are already selling out the Igbos because you are in APC now…
How do you mean?
Any issue that comes up regarding the Igbos, your opinion usually aligns with that of the Federal Government…
It’s not true because I speak what I know is the truth. Would any Igbo man with integrity like a court order to be disobeyed? Would you like the order of the court to be disobeyed?
No, I would not…
When you refuse to obey the court of justice, you should expect chaos. I can never be bought by anybody and money cannot buy me. I was governor for eight years during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s time. If I wanted to be bought over, I would have been bought over to support the third term. So, my loyalty is to the Nigerian people, it’s not ethnic. Remember that I was a student union president; I was voted for by over 99 per cent Muslim students, they were not Igbo people. They saw the truth in me and that truth is what I am still carrying till date.
The cross I am carrying is the truth. Most Igbo leaders are afraid of speaking the truth, but they cannot continue to keep quiet. Yes, I believe that we are marginalised, I don’t pretend about it, but I also believe that we can build a better country.
I actually asked that question based on what the National Publicity Secretary of IPOB, Emma Powerful, said that you are on the side of government based on some reasons one of which is the corruption charges levelled against you since 2007…
I have replied him. My interest is more on the safety of our people living in the North as well as those beyond the North. I don’t want Igbos to be slaughtered like animals. If we allow Nnamdi Kanu to continue what he is doing, Igbos would be slaughtered like rams and the record shows that Igbo investment in Northern Nigeria is over N50 trillion.
So, we can’t afford to risk all that because of one man’s mistake. I cannot discuss my issue of being corrupt and not being corrupt because the matter is before the court. But our people know that my face does not look like a man who is corrupt.
I never touched money when I was governor and my commissioners are there to attest to that. They know who the real thieves are. My issue had been a political problem based on third term, which we said no to. I am one of the surviving governors, who fought third term still standing till today.
Others we’re destroyed, I don’t want to mention anybody’s name. I believe most sincerely that people should stop spreading unnecessary cheap propaganda or cheap blackmail that will not do anybody any good. I am a man, who is welcomed in Washington, I am welcomed in London, I am welcomed anywhere I go, I don’t need to blow my trumpet I believe in the facts of the law. If I am guilty, punish me, but if I am not, let me go home.
You mentioned Obasanjo, and I have two questions relating to him. I want to know from you why that enmity towards you? I want to believe that some of your businesses collapsed while some moved out of Nigeria. Are we getting them back to boost our economy?
We are gradually getting them back. We are watching President Buhari, and possibly, if he gets a second term, if he decides to contest or if another person takes over, all the businesses will be back because we would be assured that democracy is having a firm root. We know that the Nigerian President powerful because he can wake up and decide to close a bank. Who can wake up and close and airline for doing nothing?
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