As the political landscape continues to shape up for the forthcoming 2015 general election, actors on the scene are increasingly strategising and exploring new tactics to enable them win elections. Orji Uzor Kalu, a former governor of Abia State and one of the founding members of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in this chat with ODINAKA MBONU spoke on some pertinent issues surrounding the next rounds of elections. Excerpts:
The PDP is coming back strong, with a mechanism that seems to easily weaken opposition, what is the driving force?
We just have in PDP a strong national chairman. His brand is very strong. His disposition to everybody is simple. He has been calling everybody. He has been visiting politicians in their homes, reaching out to different people. Even, the former national chairman, Bamanga Tukur, did many things to bring the party together. But, there is advantage in the young age of Adamu Mu’azu. He is a game changer, and will continue to change the game. Nobody should be afraid of the new national executive of the PDP.
Mind you if PDP were to be a company, I should own 90 percent of the shares. We brought the initial money to test run the party. Unfortunately, we forget our history; some of us have made sacrifices in this party and democracy. Some of us have made sacrifices for this country.
I lost an entire business, I lost a bank where I owned 70 percent, I mean Hallmark Bank. I lost my operating licence in Slok Airlines to the democratic struggle. One aircraft committed an offence in Enugu, and the entire 14 aircraft fleet was grounded. Let us assume the pilot committed an offence, that was not enough for the government to ground the airline. It was political witch-hunt, people tried to cut off my head, but my head still stands.
Even, People who want to take over power from PDP are not better. It is the same thing. They are not going to do anything better than PDP. The PDP is bouncing back strong. I see the mechanism of PDP to come back very soon. What we need to do is to strengthen our laws. They only problem is that we have weak institutions. We need to strengthen the institutions that guide democracy. This is important because the institutions that guide democracy are all weak. The police, INEC, the judiciary, the state security services, they are all very weak. When you have a weak process, you cannot have anything strong.
Let us go back to ‘one man one vote’, Anyhow you do it, whether ‘one man one vote’ or otherwise, PDP will win. This is because the brand is very strong. But, this is the very first time in Nigerian political system, where there is going to be balance of terror.
PDP should not think it is all easy and rosy. This is the first time that other parties will have money to pay all their party agents, because APC can afford it now. And the PDP is aware of this. And because of what is going on in the party, the national chairman has set up zonal integration committees to reconcile all aggrieved members and bring them back to the party.
So, when I see some political touts dictating that they want this man or not into the party, I laugh at them. The essence of political parties is human beings. The major ingredient of political parties is human beings. Political party is a gathering of everybody. I believe our democracy should take a firm root.
I am not saying that PDP must win elections; if we do not merit winning, we will lose. We need to work hard, because the day is coming when political leaders will give account of their stewardship to the people.
The 2015 project for President Goodluck Jonathan is on course with the collection of signatures and endorsement rallies; what are the chances of his re-election?
Well to me, those who are even looking for the President’s job are not better than him. They are not fit to handle the task of the office better than the President.
The people are not better than Jonathan. I believe also the ruling party is a strong brand. Unfortunately, some of my brothers from the South East have been blowing hot and cold. The truth of the matter is that Igbos cannot make themselves president. Neither Ijaws nor Yorubas can become president without the support of other tribes and other Nigerians. They will need the assistance of people in other geo-political zones to actualise their ambition.
I believe that the principle of rotation of power is good to balance the power equation in Nigeria. I strongly believe that rotation has made many zones become president of Nigeria.
The same rotation should also make Igbo people president. We cannot at anytime we are getting to the goal post to score, we count ourselves out. The Igbos must support Jonathan, to be able to support ourselves in the future.
So, the PDP cannot remove zoning. Zoning is essential for the presidency to go through all zones. After the tenure of Jonathan, the two zones that have not produced a president for Nigeria are South East and North East geo-political zones.
We must get the rotation of the office of the president to these two zones, then we can stop it. That is the only way to ensure equity and justice.
It is only when these two zones are well-represented that we can now remove zoning and talk about merit.
I can see some of my brothers saying zoning is no longer necessary, because they belong to different political parties. In our party, the PDP, zoning is an essential ingredient for the democratic process and growth of our party to stabilise the system.
How is the campaign for Jonathan 2015 race faring?
Now, that we are fully back in the party, we would work for Jonathan. I can assure you that the South East would mobilise for Jonathan. We would make Jonathan work for the South East. He is going to work for people of the South East; that is the game plan. Jonathan would do things that impact on the people of South East. But, the unfortunate thing is that the Imo State governor is in the wrong party at the wrong time. I do not want to discuss Governor Okorocha, and I am very sincere about this. I can assure you that PDP will win landslide in Imo State.
We will be in the front burner of that campaign. Okorocha made a mistake, had he stayed back in his party, that would have brightened his chances of re-election. Where he is now, the APC, it will be zero percent.
Do you think that the crisis in Abia State’s PDP can jeopardise the chances of Jonathan in 2015?
No, Abia State remains one of the backbone states of the PDP. That is why the President is a very lucky man; he stands by me and Orji (present governor).
All of us are in PDP. The president is standing on two sides of the Atlantic. People will listen to us. Whatever the governor of Abia State cannot bring on the table for the president, I would bring.
That is why democracy is very good. It is going to be a win-win situation for the president. That is why the PDP’s umbrella is very strong; it can cover many people under it.
What is your take on the zoning structure in Abia State concerning where the next governor should come from?
This is very simple; looking at it from the point of morality, the next governor of the state should come from old Aba zone. This is because, you cannot tell any Ngwa man that because of zoning you will exclude him. It is not possible.
Isiala Ngwa Local Government (both north and south) is the head of Ngwas, you cannot exclude them in gubernatorial race. I am not saying that anybody from Abia North or the governor’s village cannot run; but has such a candidate got the morality to win the election? That is the issue; it is a matter of morality; that is where it stands.
So, morally, the old Aba zone stands the chances of winning the election, unless they miss the goal post, if they cannot score the goal.
That does not mean that people from my area, Abia North cannot run, if they want to run. Whenever the office is zoned to Abia North everybody would want to run. People from other areas can run. I cannot tell my own people not to run.
What does Orji Kalu want for 2015?
I want stability of the country, which is good for business. As a stakeholder in the Nigeria project, stability is very important. Stability is the best thing in any democracy. I run a business with a very large balance sheet; stability of the country is good for business. If I run a business with a very large balance sheet, I need stability to push the business to the next level. I need stability to further the growth of my company, the Slok Group.
I have just returned to active business in the last six years, and from the time I came back to the business, I have moved the company out of Africa.
I have moved the business from about $2.4 billion to about $3.6 billion in balance sheet; that is in the last few years.
I want to move it further to grow the balance sheet from the current figures. I want to grow the business by, at least, 10 percent in the next few years. If there is stability, then the balance sheet will grow.
Any future political aspirations?
I have the constitutional right to seek any office. I do not believe in ‘my people called me’. I will consult my God and all the stakeholders before I take a position that will be made public. By the time the party starts primaries, I will make my position known. I am bold enough to run for any office.
As a stakeholder in politics, what is your reaction to opponents who are allegedly bent on putting a wedge on your active participation in the activities of the ruling PDP?
This is ably so; because the taste of the pudding is in the eating. I have been back to the PDP since January 16, 2012.
Why anybody should be making a noise, I do not know; possibly because they think the Tiger is back. It is gone out of the cage and back to the street. Nobody should be jittery; we are planning for the good of the party; we are the founding members.
Even, people sitting down there calling themselves officials of the party are not the foundation members of the party. Some of them were in All Nigeria’s People’s Party (ANPP); I can call them by name.
They have never been here, but we brought them back to the party. It is the constitutional right of anybody to belong to any party he or she likes. So, nobody should be worried that I am back to the PDP. This should not be an issue. I am not the problem of Abia State. I cannot be a problem for the people I love. I love people of Abia State, they love me and I maintain that love to them. The only thing I am asking the governor of Abia State is to rule our people in Abia with his conscience.
What is your take on the current security situation in the country?
I have told stakeholders that we all need to rally round the government to maintain national stability; otherwise Jonathan might be the last president of Nigeria. If the stakeholders do not come out to help Jonathan, there may be problem. Jonathan is not the owner of this country.
The highest time he could stay in office is another four years, terminating in 2019 and he will go, just like former presidents and heads of state- Shagari, Babangida, Gowon and Obasanjo. They all came and left. I have a stake in the Nigerian economy. As a businessman with the lives of many people in our hands, that is why we, who are in business and industry, will pursue peace and national
stability. We have more stake in Nigeria than political leaders, be they presidents or heads of state. So we will not allow that to happen.
Instability is not good for us; it is not good for the nation, its economy and politics. It is not good for the system.
Many European countries are coming together, why can’t we build a United Nigeria. Why do we need to disintegrate; why do we want problem for Nigeria?
We need peace; I want to tell you, thorough negotiation is going on in Chad, because of the insurgency of Boko Haram.
The negotiation is between a delegation of private sector players with the government of Chad. The whole idea is to forge a common front to deal with the challenge of insecurity and Boko Haram. We do not what the insurgency. It must go.
You seem to be travelling around the world to shop for investors into Nigeria; how soon should we expect the dividends?
Very soon, the Slok Group will be rolling out the first ever indigenously-made mobile phone called Slok Mobile. It is a phone we have built to be sold in Nigeria and across Africa.
I am rolling out the Slok Telephone in less than eight weeks time. We will have the lowest end of the mobile phone market. The Slok Telephone has all the packages of a modern phone; it is going to be a utility phone that Nigerians have been looking for. We are a truly African company, but proudly Nigerian. So, this is what is coming on board in the next nine weeks. The phones will be on the streets of Nigeria. We are going to roll out the phones on the Nigerian, Congo, Guinea, South Africa and other African countries’ markets.