Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu is former governor of Abia State and among Senators-elect of the 9th National Assembly billed for inauguration tomorrow. In this interview with Channels Television, he speaks on the jostle for the leadership in the 9th National Assembly, among other issues. Temitope Ogunbanke monitored the conversation
We have seen several perspectives on the leadership of the 9th National Assembly and it has been on for a while. And you said if it is not handled properly, you will contest for the position of Senate President. But you then spoke much later, saying that all was well. What is the current position now? Has the right thing been done?
We are in the process of doing the right thing and the South-East would be given space in the scheme of things. I have already endorsed publicly Senator Ahmed Lawan, which you know and I stand by that endorsement. I am now asking that the South-East should be given the Deputy Senate President.
Has that been given? There is high level discussion going on and I am sure they will do that and bi-partisan, it would be an issue on the floor of the House because the senators remain the 109 senators.
There was an interview granted by the Presidential Adviser of Legislative Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang in which he was quoted to have said that Lawan will emerge as Senate President; Femi Gbajabiamila as Speaker and that the position of Deputy Senate president will go to the South-South and he was referring to Senator Ovie Omo-Agege?
I didn’t see that report. But, Ita Enang is not one of the 109 senators, who are going to vote on Tuesday (today). The 109 senators are the only ones, who have the right to say who will be what. Whatever is done outside the Senate Chamber is not workable. And most presidential aides have been telling lies in the name of President Muhammadu Buhari. I personally asked the President last Monday, when I visited him to tell me if he has endorsed anybody for the position of Deputy Senate President. Knowing President Buhari for who he is; I have known him for 32 years; he is a man who doesn’t do double talking. I have seen leaders who double-talk. I looked at his face and said ‘Mr. President, please tell me in one word,’ but he was very busy that day and they just scheduled me to briefly see him. I said ‘in one word sir, did you endorsed anybody for Deputy Senate President because the day you addressed us, you told us it is only Lawan and Femi that you have endorsed.’ He said he did not endorse anybody for Deputy Senate President. So, I told him that I am going down to announce that I will run on the floor of the House and he didn’t ask me not to run.
How far do you think you can go?
Very far with the help of my colleagues and bi-partisan attitude! It is going to be bi-partisan. In the Senate, 109 of us should not know any party. We should not be interested in any party. We are senators of Federal Republic of Nigeria from the day we take oath of office. Once you are inside the Senate Chamber, you don’t know All Progressives Congress (APC) or Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); what you know is that you are senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Are you saying that there is no party supremacy at that point?
Inside the Red Chamber, party supremacy would be very little because the chairman, secretary, organising secretary and national auditor of the party are not going to be inside the Senate.
Even though you are a first term senator?
No, I am not a first term senator. Actually, one of my colleagues to be, Senator Jibrin Barau, jokingly said that I would be the oldest member in the National Assembly. That was because myself and Alhassan Doguwa, the Minority Whip, were in the National Assembly in the Third Assembly in 1991. So, I am a returning member of the National Assembly.
Let’s reverse trends of things to 2015. At that point when we were going to have the Senate President and also the Speaker of the House of Representatives, it didn’t quite go the way the party expected it to go. What guarantees that this time around, it might even work in favour of what the party wants?
The party has worked so hard for it to work. For me, the APC, PDP and YPP agreed that we should have a common candidate and that common candidate for now is Lawan. We have gone very far, I can tell you that. All of us in APC for now have agreed that whether Lawan is bad, good, evil or anything, we are going to follow him. Not following him without minding the rules of the law. We are not going to be switched to anybody. I am a personal friend of the President and he will not ask me to go against the law as a lawmaker.
But, there would be APC and PDP on the day of voting. How prepared are you because things may not work the way you make it sound easy?
There is no PDP or APC on the floor of the Red Chamber. After all, who is PDP, who is APC? Was I not in the PDP before? The political party is just a vehicle that carries us inside the Senate Chamber and when we get to the Senate Chamber, we become Nigerians who want to make laws for Nigerian people.
So, what you are saying for now is that members are supporting Lawan?
I don’t see any change in Lawan. Lawan is very experienced and focused. If it is a normal democracy, he is also entitled to be there because he is a very long serving senator. In our party now, there should be no contest against Lawan because he is already the Majority Leader. To be honest with you, I don’t see anybody questioning the ability of Lawan.
Even with Senator Ali Ndume, who is also from the North in the race?
Ndume is my friend and brother; he is like my younger brother. He is competent, but Lawan has been endorsed by the presidency, Progressives Governors Forum and party caucus, and the party is supreme.
You said the other time that on the floor of the Senate, party divide is not important…
Yes, because there is no national chairman of a party to whip me at the back on the floor of the House. There is not going to be national auditor and national secretary of the party to remind me that I am a member of APC. Once I am inside the Red Chamber, I become a Nigerian.
Are you sure that is also the position of the PDP or any other party …
If they are reasonable enough, the interest of the country must come first before party. If they are reasonable enough, they fought in 2015, the strategy was very wrong; some people went for a meeting and some people voted; it is not going to happen again. All of us will be there; one man to one man, one woman, one vote. We are going to face each other and tell ourselves the truth.
But the PDP has a very vocal about the fact that it could cause an upset…
I don’t see that happening because I am telling you in confidence that we already have 58 members of the APC. I was the 56th member that signed for Lawan and I don’t see any upset; I must be honest with you. But what we are just begging the PDP is that we want one Senate. We don’t want a divided Senate. We want Nigerians to enjoy democracy. We want to come up with ideas that will revive our economy than fighting.
But the chairman of your party seems not to share the same view. He said APC has gotten the majority and don’t need PDP. In fact, he said they will not occupy any committee chairmanship position…
That is the position of the chairman. Possibly it is not the position of the party because the chairman is just a member of the party; he is just first among equals. We still need to have endorsement from our National Working Committee and National Executive Committee of the party; that is when it becomes a law.
Could it be also his own view, when he said aggrieved members of APC can go to PDP?
Were you there when the chairman said so? You journalists sometimes put people on the spot. I am sure you brought me here this morning to make me a sacrificial lamb, but I am not going to allow that.
We are just asking a simple question
I am giving you simple answer. Once you are inside the Red Chamber, people shave party lines; they discuss among themselves. The legislator will do what is appropriate for the nation. But you just told us not long ago that the President has endorsed Senator Lawan and Hon. Gbajabiamila for leadership positions in the National Assembly. Is he not aware that when they get on the floor, things will change? The President didn’t say it is either you do it or I kill you. You know President Buhari is very calm; he appeals to all the senators. I asked him a simple question. I am not trying to reveal what I discussed with the President; I am just trying to give you example of what I asked him. If the President has told me that I should not run for the position of Deputy Senate President, I will not run because he is the leader of the party, assisted by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. So, if the leader of the party calls me and say, no you cannot run for this office, I will drop the ambition, but they would have equity to the South- Eastern part of Nigeria; they would have denied them fairness and our diversity will be in question. I am not running because I need an office; that office is not going to make any change in my life, but I am running because for fairness and equity, the South-East must have somebody in the hierarchy. Let me be honest with you, there are seven positions of the Federal Government; the President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Deputy Senate President, Deputy Speaker and the chairman of the ruling party. So, how do you want out of this seven, nothing will come to the South-East? It is just what I am asking for; fairness. You people know my history; I have always been on the side of the people; from students’ union politics in University of Maiduguri till today; I have always maintained let us be fair and I believe in that.
But the position has not been officially zoned to South-East…
But you read Vanguard Newspaper
Vanguard was talking about South-South; Senator Ovie Omo-Agege by Senator Ita Enang…
Ita Enang is talking as a private man. In fact, I am sure he is speaking for himself; he is not speaking for the party. And let me be honest with you, even if the party asks me not to run, I will run on the floor of the House because to be honest with you, this is one position I have to fight for because you cannot leave the South-East behind.
Do you necessarily have to be the person from the South-East?
No! But if the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives is given to the South-East today, I will not run for the position of Deputy Senate President any longer because that is more superior to Deputy Senate President. If you give the post of the Speaker of the House of Representatives to the South-East today although I have endorsed Gbajabiamila for the position, I will drop. I am only asking for a fair and free democratic process of the Senate.
Some people would say that often time when leaders talk about zoning; they only use zoning for their personal interest. How would you respond to those who would say this is not really about zoning but about you becoming Deputy Senate President?
What is wrong with me becoming the Deputy Senate President? I have been member of the legislature and I have been a two-term governor. Whether it is personal or for the interest of our people, it represents the interest of our people. I am not shy in saying what I want and what should be done rightly. I have told you that if they give any other position that is as good as the Speaker of the House of Representatives to South-East, I will drop today. That is the issue.
What exactly do your people stand to benefit if you become Deputy Senate President?
Those people getting it, what do they stand to benefit?
What exactly do your people stand to benefit if you get the position as Deputy Senate President that they will not get, with you being a member of the Senate?
What you are saying is that there is going to be caucus meeting and the South-East will not have a member of that caucus. I am not fighting this for personal interest. What I am looking for in life is limited. I have retired as a man. I am trying to make sure that we help Mr. President build the country the way it is supposed to be. But, if you call it personal interest, why not and what is wrong with that? Am I not a human being? Those who are occupying the position, are they better than me? Is it because I am Igbo? I won’t take that from anybody. The issue now is that the South-East needs to be in the power bloc of Nigeria.
Why is that important?
It is important. Why are others there? When they discuss, who is going to take back the message back to the South-East? Who is going to build the party? After Buhari today, no other individual in the party can bring 10 to 12 million votes. You need to build APC in the South-East and you need the leadership to build it. You are not going to build it as individuals.
So, is it then a question of politics or governance for you?
It is going to be both governance and politics because they go together. If there is no governance, there won’t be politics and if there is no politics, there won’t be governance. I
think that is usually one of the problems that people have because there is a lot of politicizing of governance …
No, you have made six regions. You have seven meats in a soup and you want every region to take without the South- East taking. I don’t agree with you.
Does that mean that the South-East is in anyway disenfranchised or opted out?
Of course, it looks so because in 2015, you said we have no senator; now we have senators and we have members of the House of Representatives, and somebody is still telling me that South-East did not vote for APC. That person must not be thinking right. In my state (Abia) in 2015, the APC got three per cent of votes in the national elections, but in the 2019 elections, APC had 29.5 per cent; it is an improvement. In Ebonyi State, APC also performed well. So, from 29 per cent, if APC is going to do another election in four years, we will be increasing. So, we need this position and office to give service to Nigerian people and to also protect the people from South-East.
If all of these are geared towards having inclusiveness and having the sastern part of the country in running of affairs in this country, what then would you say is the path, especially now that we have Boss Mustapha at some point promising the East of the presidency in 2023?
Let us leave presidency in 2023, let us do what is needful now.
Is the present going to reflect what will happen in 2023?
Let me tell you, there is no time that is better than now. Now is the time, let us start today before we start to talk about tomorrow. Let us start today in putting ourselves properly where we are supposed to be.
Some will argue that the promise made by Mustapha represents the importance of having the Igbo to be part of the nation building and having good top leadership positions. Can the Igbo work in such unison, so that you will have the presidency in 2023?
Let’s leave the presidency in 2023. Leave us with one position; that is what I am telling you. Leave about the future. Who told you I will be alive till then? Who told you about people talking about 2023 would be alive till then? Let us talk about today. There is no time better than now and now is the time.
You spoke to the President and he talked about Lawan being the Senate President and Gbajabiamila as Speaker and didn’t talk about other positions…
He said he has asked the party to go and share equally the other positions to reflect the country’s diversity.
So if they are hesitant and that hasn’t been done till now; doesn’t that suggest they are taking their time to play politics?
It is the senators who would vote. People will nominate me and people will nominate other candidates and whoever wins will become the Deputy Senate President. If I win they should be able to congratulate me and if another person wins, I will stand up and congratulate him. That is what constitutional democracy is all about. It is not about fighting.
So, if it doesn’t come to the South-East, there is no problem…
As long as it is voted for on the floor of the House; there would be no problem. If the whole of Nigeria will reject the South-East, by saying we are no longer part of the nation, I mean it is okay. It is one of those things.
How will you receive that and how should that be redressed?
I will continue to be a lawmaker. First of all, my constituency voted for me to be a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, not senator of Abia North. If I don’t win, I will congratulate the winner. But I will campaign bi-partisanly to all the parties to be included.
You insist that if the party says it is zoning the position to South-South, you will contest…
The party should be reasonable enough to zone it to the South-East. The party is already in crisis, so it should not break further. I am not threatening anybody but the leadership should not break the party further.
What crisis are you talking about?
The party lost seven states in the recent election, so it is a crisis. PDP didn’t win us anywhere; it is just the crisis inside the party. So, if the party is already in crisis, it should be able to do what is reasonably right in the eyes of man and in the eyes of God.
Senator Ndume has said several times that the party did not zone the Senate presidency and that nobody has called him to ask him to step down and he has the telephone numbers of all the senators; he is being speaking with all of them and nobody has asked him to step down unlike 2015…
We have no problems with that. We will see him at the floor of the Senate. He is our brother and friend. He is a Maiduguri man like me; there is nothing about that.
But if the President said he prefers Senator Lawan, why the dissent…
Senator Ndume to be honest with you was at the meeting. I was with him; although he disagreed. He showed his disagreement instantly.
So, that means he cannot be under estimated?
I don’t know what he is planning. But what I am saying is that he cannot say nobody told him; he was there when the national chairman said it. He was there when the President concluded his speech and he came out immediately to say ‘no I don’t agree.’
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