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Orji Uzor Kalu: A Misunderstood Personality — By Adamu Usman

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OUK, as fondly called by his fans, admirers and political associates is no doubt a household name in the world of business, politics and philanthropy. However, despite the popularity of Kalu beyond the shores of Nigeria, many people don’t understand his philosophy of life vis-a-vis his contributions to the society.

As a young boy born in the commercial nerve of Aba in South East Nigeria, Kalu, whose parents were trading in fabrics in Aba, could not do otherwise, than to have their son, in addition to his western education, learn the art of trading. Having passed through the tutelage of trading from his father and mother , Kalu, as a teenager, was already a guru in the art of buying and selling of commodities. Although his parents ensured Kalu didn’t skip any form of education: primary, secondary and tertiary, they mentored him in the rudiments of business.

As an undergraduate in University of Maiduguri, Kalu was part of the “Ali Must Go” protest championed by the Student Union Government (SUG). Kalu who was a student activist, was suspended alongside other students for organizing a protest against the vice-chancellor. The suspension order was on the instructions of Professor Jubril Aminu, then Vice-Chancellor of University of Maiduguri, who later became Kalu’s mentor and supporter.

After his suspension and subsequent re-admittance into the higher institution (although Kalu didn’t accept the re-admittance), Kalu ventured into palm oil and furniture business from a soft loan from his mother, who was a successful merchant. He would bring palm oil from the South East and sell in the North. Kalu also had a furniture shop, which metamorphosed into a large furniture factory in Maiduguri on the platform of Ojialex Furniture Company. Kalu was a major supplier of furniture and office equipment to University of Maiduguri, after his suspension from the school. After a successful start-up in the North, Kalu ventured into crude oil trading and became a key player in the Nigerian oil and gas industry as he secured oil transactions from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). This oil business propelled Kalu to equally venture into shipping by acquiring vessels. Kalu’s oil and gas business blossomed making him one of the biggest players in the industry. Operating under Slok Nigeria Ltd, Kalu’s business interests expanded into agriculture, real estate, banking and insurance, commodity trading, media and hospitality beyond the shores of Africa. The conglomerate is one of the largest indigenous employer of labour in Nigeria.

From 1992 to 1993, Kalu served as a member of the House of Representatives on the platform of National Republican Convention (NRC) and held two key positions of Deputy Chairman of Finance and Internal Affairs Committees. He moved the famous Dual-Citizenship rights bill. Having built a solid political-follower loyalty during his short stint in the legislative chamber, Kalu was persuaded to join a political group in 1998, which later metamorphosed into the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Kalu later donated and borrowed the party N100M and N500M respectively.

At 39, Kalu assumed the position of Governor of Abia State in 1999. It was a challenging period as he inherited a heavily indebted state. Having made a pledge to govern Abia state with his conscience, Kalu’s secured a loan from Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) for massive construction and rehabilitation of roads in the commercial city of Aba and other parts of the state, which earned him the name “Action Governor” by President Olusegun Obasanjo during his one-day working visit to Abia state on February 26, 2000.The roads constructed include Omuma, Umule, Ukwu Mango, Georges, Market, Azikiwe and Osusu.

Aware that education is the best weapon to arm a child, Kalu declared free education from primary to tertiary level in the state. People from neighbouring states began to migrate to Abia state to enjoy the gesture. Kalu’s administration built and furnished new primary and secondary schools and renovated existing facilities. His government ensured full payment of Junior Secondary School Certificate Examination (JSCCE) and West African Examination Council (WAEC) fees for students. Teachers were motivated as salaries were paid when due. Kalu increased subvention to Abia State University to N200M. Aba General Hospital under Kalu’s watch was upgraded to Abia State University Teaching Hospital. Other accomplishments recorded by Kalu’s administration are: time payment of salaries and pensions (on or before 25th of very month), winning of CAF cup in 2003 and 2004 by Enyimba FC of Aba, regular payment of bursary to Abians in tertiary institutions, construction of over 200 rural and urban roads, distribution of 10million day-old chicks to civil servants, rural electrification projects in 150 communities and prudent financial management of resources of the state.

After his giant strides as Governor, ambitious Kalu in 2007 threw his hat into the presidential ring on the platform of the Progressives People’s Alliance (PPA), a political party he solely formed and funded. Having developed a well-articulated and robust manifesto entitled “My Social Contract”, Kalu during electioneering visited the 36 states and FCT to canvass for votes. Regrettably, Kalu lost the presidential election to his friend, President Umaru Yar’dua of blessed memory. It was indeed a good experience for Kalu. However, on the platform of PPA, Kalu ensured victory for the party to win two governorship elections in Abia and Imo states, with Chief Theodore Orji and Chief Ikedi Ohakim as governors of Abia and Imo states respectively.

In 2019, Kalu was elected senator representing Abia North Senatorial district comprising Bende, Arochukwu, Ummuneochi, Ohafia and Isiukwuato local government areas of Abia State. He was equally elected as Chief Whip of the Senate. In less than two years, Kalu has facilitated the construction of 19 roads in his constituency including Amayi Ammaibo road, Uhaba Akawa Ariupka road, Atan Ihechiowa road, Amokwe-Item-Uzor Rubber-Ohafia main road. He has also constructed and rehabilitated schools such as Ozuitem Central School, Igbere Secondary School. The achievements of Kalu in the red chamber are numerous.

In the world of philanthropy, Kalu has equally recorded tremendous achievements by providing succor to the less-privileged in the society. Kalu inaugurated “Orji Uzor Kalu Free Loan Support Scheme” and “Orji Uzor Kalu Scholarship Scheme” in 1990 which later metamorphosed into “Orji Uzor Kalu Foundation”. The foundation has been consistent in meeting its objectives of making life meaningful to the people for sake of growth and development of the country.

No fewer than 12,870 petty traders, artisans and farmers from Abia state have benefited immensely from zero-interest loan of N25,000 to N50,000 from inception till date. This does not include multi-million naira interest free loans for trade cooperatives and unions across the states in Nigeria, with over 1, 645 bodies in various vocations as beneficiaries. The annual medical outreach initiative of the foundation has also catered for the health needs of indigents across the nation. The “Roll Back Malaria” initiative of the foundation has recorded progress in the free distribution of long lasting mosquito nets to people across the country, so far in partnership with international donor agencies, 2, 3450, 000 households have benefited. The youth have been empowered with buses, motorcycles, sewing machines, hair-dressing machines, agricultural input and equipment. The foundation has also through media and advocacy strengthened democratic processes. Orji Uzor Kalu Foundation has built, equipped and donated schools to various communities across the country. The good works of the foundation are enormous and remarkable. The foundation has no doubt complemented government’s efforts at improving lives.

Kalu, a recipient of national honours: Member of the Niger (MON) and Maiyaki Katsina, who is known as a successful business enigma, political icon and philanthropist of repute, has continually made invaluable contributions to the social, economic and political development of Nigeria, despite facing challenges occasioned by venturing into the murky waters of politics .

Kalu’s personality is misunderstood in some quarters for obvious reasons. However, in my age-long relationship with Kalu, I can attest to the fact that Kalu’s personality is an embodiment of selflessness, patriotism, humility and peace.

ADAMU USMAN WROTE FROM KANO

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