Orji Kalu and Bank of Industry: Old Wines In New Skins

by Banjo Odutola

This is indeed an interesting time in our country. We are gradually entering a period of vibrant theatre for unbelievable events that border on the ridiculous in which the panjandrums who stage and grace these theatrical events are the same people in whose hands rest our economy, politics, social justice and well being.

You needed to have seen the ineluctable congregation at the Main Hall of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Kofo Abayomi, Victoria Island, Lagos at an occasion that imported a new dimension to political benefaction. The event was the theatre of support accorded: His Excellency, Chief (Dr.) Orji Uzor Kalu, student turned trader who is the Chief Executive Governor of Abia State.

In many respects, the occasion was a subterfuge for the governor to parade his extensive contacts within the ruling class of our country and a charade in the guise of launching a book entitled Orji Kalu: Leadership Lessons from a Master Strategist written by Dimgba Igwe and Mike Awoyinfa, both former journalists with the Concord. I will come back to the issue of the luncheon because the symbolism it affords is unsettling.

When respected journalists extol the virtues of a man like Orji Kalu, there is a need to seek more information about the authors. Accordingly, the information collected on them was complimentary as far as their abilities are concerned. They are regarded as brilliant journalists who are very good at their vocation. However, like Ray Ekpu, CEO of Newswatch and President of the NPAN who reviewed the book, the consensus is that the timing to write a book about this governor is opportunistic and wrong.

Furthermore the involvement of the authors is considered ill judged because the paean afforded this governor who no one knows the genesis of his wealth denies the people of Abia State a proper scrutiny of their governor when he is contrasted to his challengers for the Government House in the forthcoming election. The message sent by the display of his network of who is who in Nigeria is inimical for a young democracy. Arguably, a politician should be able to boast of the type of network displayed by Kalu but in truth, is this what is required of a servant of the people and the State? I think not.

The parade at the NIIA clearly demonstrates Governor Orji Kalu is a man who commands the attention and presence of important people in our country. His guest list was meant to intimidate his opponents and whoever is bold or barmy enough to challenge him for the forthcoming gubernatorial election. This is one crucial factor the non-Abian attendees should have considered. Needless to say the launching of the Book in Lagos and its hidden agenda instruct us why the title of the book is an appropriate apothegm: “…Lessons from a Master Strategist“.

The authors should always hope that this governor is never implicated in a scandal where it is proven that he is not beyond reproach. Otherwise, it will be sad for them because their recent plaudits and endorsements will abstruse their integrity as respectable professionals. For their sakes, I hope the book on the governor will not define their careers.

It is doubtful the book on Kalu will ever become a part of our Education National Curriculum. Furthermore, one hopes the governor will not declare a placit that makes the book a compulsory read in Abia State. So, watch this space!

The launching of the governor’s book may have been popular with the bon ton but it hardly effaces the reputation of the governor amongst his people. The presence of non-Abian eminent Nigerians at a function that is patently political is a mistake and let me make my position clear. You see, in our nation, oftentimes we cannot differentiate between notoriety and popularity. As 2003 draws nearer, we will see no end of elaborate functions that in a way or another will involve politicians.

Call it what you may, most of these politicians are seeking to retain their positions and it is my opinion that it is grave for democracy when the presence of distinguished people outside the constituency and dispensation of a governor and his rule or misrule grant what appears as a tacit support to him. I am not advancing the merits or demerits of a second term for Governor Orji. I am of the humble opinion that the people that are best to grant the governor tacit or patent support are the people of Abia State. Let us not fool ourselves that the launching of the Book was apolitical. In this country, we intimidate each other by the extent of our network. It is a question of who hobnobs with you and how far reaching your influence can attract the people that matter.

The office of a Governor ought not to belong to the person who can command the presence of important people. It is an office that demands the skills of a competent leader who is respected by his detractors and followers. The antecedents of Kalu are contradictory and that depends on which part of Abia State you listen to. The other point herein, is that the charade at the NIIA is poignant enough for a competent person to reconsider his challenge of Kalu. May be that is the way of politics. I think not. In fact it is crude politics that displays the extent of a man’s contacts, maim and kill to serve. It is hoped that a people who in spite of their experiences of the atrocities of the Nigerian Civil War have excelled in commerce are not easily flummoxed by back slapping euphony from the NIIA. The launching of this type of book is one of the oldest games in town and it never bears well for the players. You mark it, Governor Kalu will be re-elected but his victory would be at a cost to his people and Abia State. The governor needs to be re-branded so that we can appreciate that this is not an old wine in a new skin.

In the United Kingdom, the political party of the incumbent government changed its name to ‘The New Labour Party’ and at the change of name, it was said by the opposition that this was a jejune re-branding because old dogs cannot be taught new tricks. New Labour has proven the opposition wrong because the party was courageous to jettison policies that handicapped it from forming a government. It took courage for the Labour party to get into power. It is doubtful if Kalu with his infantile utterances can sum up the same courage and prove to his people that he is not on an ego trip but he avails his people a man whose re-election is not a matter of life and death. That is: His Life and their death.

Well, Kalu was not the only show of old wine in a new skin. There was the launching of the Bank of Industry. This Bank is a desideratum. No question about that!

The president informed us that debtors of the defunct National Economic Reconstruction Fund (NERFUND), Nigerian Industrial Development Bank (NIDB) and Nigerian Bank for Commerce and Industry (NBCI) might be called upon to settle their debts. As I have a few personal debtors, please let the president inform me when he chooses to run after these debtors because he can use his ignorance to collect my debts.

The advisers of the president ought to have informed him that a debt is a legal choice in action and settlement of such is time barred. Well, if you can sign an errant legislation into the Electoral Bill, it should not take time to dis-apply case laws! Oops, can he do that? …Well this is Nigeria. Anything goes, as we say. At least it is the same white man who manufactures pencils that manufactured erasers. On a serious note, the president said, “might”, so he must have made his comment as a political gimmick.

A more effective way of getting back the funds of the nation is to return to the Accountants that approved the Annual Statements of Accounts and establish that the auditing of our Development Funds is a simulacrum of Andersen’s role in Enron Corporation. Then the Accountants may have tortuous liabilities in their hands. Anyway, why waste funds pursuing debtors that are unlikely to pay.

As Nigerians do not like to be exposed, the President should order a release of the names of the debtors and their backers so as to instigate a national debate. I bet many of the debtors will pay up sooner! The president went on to say: “it is only when the bank supports and promotes viable projects that its loans would be recoverable and ensure its viability and sustenance“. After I read this report, I thought of the “Axis of Evil” speech by President Bush. If the advisers of the President Obasanjo do not know that money lending is a risky business, then the fate that befell the speechwriter of President Bush should befall whoever advised Obasanjo to utter this weasel. It is not worth deliberating on the cogency of this statement that in essence is true but in context is ignorant.

The effort to stimulate the economy is laudable. Nonetheless, we ought to be candid that our Banks fail because of the ethos of most of our Bank Officials and their clients. The president should find out how many businesses became bankrupt because their owners had to bribe Bank Officials to get loans for their businesses or how many Bank Officials paid themselves agency fees when they received lodgements on behalf of the treasuries of the employers’ Banks. In a civilised country, these bank officials would be in prisons for abuse of fiduciary. In our country, a Bank official lives openly in such opulence that defies his income and no one questions the sources of their wealth. Well we cannot question them when the abuse of fiduciary seems to be the norm in our country. It is in Nigerian Banks that you find Bank employees are appointed as traders, agents and suppliers to the companies of the Bank Clients. Well, do we take conflict of interest seriously? I think not! Have you forgotten the Banks that were censured for round tripping?

You see, for as long as one member of the Board or a member of staff of the Bank of Industry is a government appointee, a rehash of NBCI, NERFUND and NIDB is waiting to happen. It is time promises of exposing the debtors of these financial institutions are set aside. The government should go ahead and expose them. Otherwise, pouring old wines of 50 Billion Naira into a new skin is only a waste.

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