Orji Uzor Kalu As A Political Gladiator

by Uche Nworah

As a long time Orji Uzor Kalu (OUK) admirer and critic, I have been accused in the past of being too critical, dwelling so much on his case instead of beaming my searchlight also on Anambra, my home state. I make no apologies for my stance because OUK was the governor of a state where I was born and grew up in. For this reason, though I’m an Anambra man, I see myself more as an Aba/Abia man.

I have done a few pieces on Orji Uzor Kalu, many of which were critical of his administration but this piece is uncharacteristically one of praise.

One may not necessarily have to approve OUK’s style of government but a true student of politics will actually give the brash OUK mighty thumbs up for the feat he achieved during the last general elections in Nigeria. Like other commentators, I had also written off OUK’s presidential ambitions as laughable (we were dead right on that one). I had written in an article prior to the elections titled – Orji Uzor Kalu Can Not Be Serious that his political party, the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) was a paper weight party going nowhere in the April 2007 elections. I goofed on that. Orji Uzor’s party against all odds delivered two gubernatorial seats in Imo and Abia states.

This is no small feat considering that OUK was almost an Aso Rock outcast (at least in the eyes of the public) as a result of his several running battles with former President Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ). OUK, famed for his tirades and verbal outbursts never ceased to tell the world what he thought about Obasanjo, who was once his biggest admirer (it was OBJ who dubbed OUK the action governor when the going was good), long before OBJ got Nuhu Ribadu, his anti- corruption Czar to declare Eunice Kanu (OUK’s mother and self-styled Mother Excellency of Abia state) wanted.

A good general knows how to marshal resources to win battles. I am guessing that OUK must have applied this tactics very well; he kept Aso Rock busy with his presidential campaign which in all fairness to OUK was quite well managed, better than those of the other opposition parties who faltered every step of the way and thus widened the electioneering gap and invariably their chances of winning against the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

This side tracking strategy allowed OUK to deploy resources on the ground in Abia and Imo states to scuttle PDP’s ambitions. By throwing his presidential campaign trail across the length and breath of Nigeria as a scent at the PDP political dogs which caught the whiff and fell for the bait, it allowed OUK the opportunity to perfect what may be regarded as the grandest political coup of the last general elections.

Prior to the elections, I had written that OUK knew that his party (PPA) and his presidential ambitions were just making up the numbers, but in retrospect I’m now thinking that perhaps he may have thought that he could actually win it.

Not even Onyema Ugochukwu’s war chest in Abia state and PDP’s rigging machine could stop OUK and PPA. Like many commentators, I was quite surprised when PPA took Imo and Abia states thus guaranteeing him as party chairman a busy schedule and good source of revenue for whatever political schemes he may be hatching for 2011. These may include a grand plan to capture the state and federal legislative seats, the local government authorities and the remaining Igbo states – Anambra, Enugu, and Ebonyi states.

You’ve got to give it up to OUK who is also in good stead with the northern politicians, and thus appears set to assume the role of a regional political kingmaker and grand master rolled into one. Maybe the Pan-Igbo socio-political organisation (Ohaneze Ndigbo) saw these traits in OUK which led to their formally adopting and endorsing his presidential ambitions to the outcry of many in the land, including yours truly. Now that the dusts have settled, one could easily see why, a testament to the fact that OUK is just about the last Igbo man standing with any serious political clout and machinery in today’s Nigeria. Even maverick politician Ogbuagu Francis Arthur Nzeribe would have been impressed at OUK’s rapid political success despite the oil windfall war chests and threats posed by the PDP, the most lethal political opponent ever to come out of Nigeria.

Although not widely adjudged and rated as a good state governor, Orji Uzor Kalu has instead turned out to be a good politician. He has shown that he understands Nigerian politics, which is the politics of using what you have to get what you want; throwing back at your opponent or political enemy twice what is being thrown at you. OUK would be the one smiling amongst some of the other political party upstarts; he is the one that would be addressed as ‘able chairman’ or ‘my chairman’ whenever he stops by Imo or Abia state government houses.

The other parties may not be able to say the same thing of their party chairmen who did not deliver any seats, another lesson for aspiring politicians that politics in Nigeria is a winner takes all affair. It also goes to show that you can actually challenge power (Aso Rock) and get away with it. Perhaps Orji Uzor Kalu’s bravado in withstanding the face-off with Aso Rock has endeared him to a new generation of Ndigbo who may have voted for his party seeing in him a blight of hope for Igbo renaissance, an Ojukwu in his younger days, the type of man that can take them to battle and not bulge.

As a former PDP man, OUK must have honed in his skills, and may have also acquired a bit of the PDP tactical manoeuvring and rigging skills, which he deployed to capture Imo and Abia states. I see PPA emerging as the new All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) if only Orji Uzor Kalu can maintain the vibrancy and ‘political noise’ that brought catapulted PPA into reckoning. PPA thus may go far in the coming years.

APGA had shown similar promise when they started, they had tapped into the shallow void created by a lack of vibrant Igbo party and leadership but in the end they blew it, allowing in-fighting (the Umeh and Chekwas Okorie issues) to destroy what little base they had managed to secure in the Igbo states. APGA also failed to realise that Ndigbo no longer saw a political leader in Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu (Ikemba), their two-time presidential candidate who would have best served Ndigbo as an elder statesman had he been persuaded to just stay at home and remain non-partisan. What Ndigbo needed was a younger kind of war lord, a fighter who would look at power squarely in the face.

Orji Uzor Kalu seems to have been able to sell himself as that Igbo man. If only he would not meddle so much and allow Theodore Orji (OUK’s former chief of staff) and Chief Ikedi Ohakam to do their jobs in Abia and Imo states respectively, I see PPA easily capturing the rest of the Igbo states in the next election.

Even if PPA becomes a regional Igbo party like the Nnamdi Azikiwe – led Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) in the second republic, there is nothing wrong with that. It would still be a realistic and reasonable achievement on OUK’s part. Rather than be a small fish in a big pond, it is better to be a big fish in a small pond and then use that as a leverage and bargaining chip against the more national political parties who may obviously be willing to trade favours before they could be allowed access or in-roads into Igbo land.

Both for OUK and his PPA, the next four years should be a time of consolidation. Since they have successfully played the Nigerian political game, I don’t think that Nigerian will care so much how they got in there; at least they beat PDP in their own game.

Would OUK and PPA match this good fortune from the gods with good performance such that the people will actually begin to experience true dividends of democracy? Only time will tell. Better not to judge by OUK’s antecedents, he now has another shot at glory which he may have managed to wrestle for himself.

To cap his political ingenuity, OUK prematurely swore in Theodore Orji this week to the outcry of many who termed the act unconstitutional , thus securing for himself ample time to make his ‘great escape’ from Nigeria, far away from Nuhu Ribadu and his EFCC who had earlier placed him and some other governors on their ‘most wanted’ list. You can bet that OUK will bounce back once things settle down, to carry on building his political empire. What better vocation is better and more lucrative than that?

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