IGBEAKU ORJI reports on the heroic welcome given to the Senate Whip and ex-governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, on his arrival in the state last week
The Senate Whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, arrived Abia State last week to a tumultuous welcome. The euphoric ambience has refused to fizzle out one week after. Did the mammoth crowd that trooped out to receive him did so for a common criminal or a villain who had cleverly wriggled out of the barb of justice after looting the state dry or to celebrate a man who has been unjustly treated though his perform ance bear testimony to the contrary?
It was gratifying to observe the excitement, the songs and dance of joy and vindication for a man of the people indeed. It is rare to see any politician in any part of the country that enjoys such popularity more than a decade after he served as governor. It is also not common for any acclaimed looter to walk the streets of the state with such carte blanche confidence. It is refreshing that throughout his trial, Kalu insisted on his innocence over allegations leveled against him till the end.
He was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment over alleged N7.16 billion fraud by a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, on December 5, 2019 in what many described as travesty of justice. Justice Mohammed Idris had convicted Kalu on a 39 count of fraud and money laundering preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Supreme Court however quashed the conviction and ordered fresh trial at the lower court. Justice Amina Augie who led a seven-man panel of justices held that the trial judge, Justice Mohammed Liman Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos acted without jurisdiction. But the Senate Chief Whip who arrived Abia State via the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri, Imo State, last week, told journalists that dividends of democracy did not elude his Abia North constituency in spite of his confinement.
He said: “Go to Abia North, you will see that it is a huge construction site. The 19 road projects I attracted to the zone are executed unhindered till today. It has not happened before in any senatorial zone of Abia State. Development projects will continue to be executed as long as I serve the people in whatever capacity. I will continue to offer my services to the people. I’m a homeboy who loves my people and my people love me.”
Kalu said all the projects he had attracted from the Federal Government were executed without interruption while in prison. The senator stated that the six months he was incarcerated spurred his desire to work for the people of Abia North and the state in general.
He said that rather than diminish his quest to serve his people, the incarceration served as a source of motivation to take his constituency to greater heights.
Kalu, from all indications, his body language and nuance appears to have accepted the turn of events as an inescapable peregrination that will ultimately lead to the predetermined destination. His even-tempered heart has no space for malice or vengeance. He has without doubt earned a special place in the hall of Nigeria’s political pantheons.
This is not to say that there are no politicians that have become senators after serving as governors, no, but the question remains: How many of them enjoy the passionate goodwill, support and loyalty showered upon Kalu across the strata of society.
When the news broke that the Senate Chief Whip had been convicted of fraud and sent to Kuje Correctional Center, Abuja, many doubted the justice of such conviction that in all intents and purposes was hurriedly executed to satisfy a predetermined end. Some asked questions, why, for instance, would a man who did not owe workers, pensioners and contractors in the state when he was governor be jailed for diverting the state resources.
It is verifiable that the resources accruing to the state then was nothing in comparison with those of Kalu’s successor. What kind of justice system would convict a governor of self-enrichment who published the audited account of the state monthly in national dailies throughout his tenure?
Some argued that to avoid the embarrassment and humiliation of being addressed as an ex-convict, Kalu should take the soft landing of accepting plea bargain.
The fundamental error of that line of thought is that the proponents did not take the morality of such a choice into consideration. The implication of plea bargain is overt admission of culpability to the crime. Assuming Kalu had toed that line of thought as an escape route, it would have stuck an indelible smear irredeemably even after events have turned out the way they did.
It is better to be unjustly treated and suffer patiently and retain ones honour and integrity than play to the gallery and forever wear the badge of a criminal and public enemy.
Kalu’s incarceration served a useful purpose; It has exposed the fact that some of the anti-corruption fights are indeed a witch-hunt masterminded by powerful individuals in government. It has also served as a booster to the already soaring popularity of Senator Kalu.
Those who were swayed by the deadly campaign of calumny calculated to damage the hard earned reputation and impeccable public service record of Kalu have seen the odious undercurrent of malcontent spurned to undermine him and his political future. Now, wherever he goes, people troop out to have a glimpse of and hail him. People now see him as a man naturally endowed to lead the country.
When he arrived Abia State for the first time after he regained freedom, Umuahia the state capital, shook. Apart from the impressive airport reception, people had lined the road from the boundary with Imo State and the popular Okpara Square in Umuahia through to the ever bustling Isi Gate.
In spite of the relocation of the market from Isi Gate, there was traffic gridlock for about two hours as the jubilant crowd struggled to catch a glimpse of him. The homecoming became the barometer to measure and evaluate the peoples perception of him after the travesty of justice.
True to his nature as man of the people, the Abia North Senator had to acknowledge the cheer standing on the roof of his SUV. Like the biblical Joseph whose brothers conspired and sold, thinking to truncate his dream, it is impossible to overrun who God has lifted as every gang up against Kalu appears to inexorably lead to the realisation of his dream.
Those who will work against the good of another, especially an innocent man, will have their way lined with slime. This is a supernatural law. Until he spoke to journalists on his return, many had been sold the dummy by the opposition that Senator Kalu’s absence from the Senate cham-ber had robbed Abia North senatorial District its fair share of projects and infrastructure. Some were already flying the kite of recall on that basis.
They were rejoicing that what they could not get at the polling station and the tribunal, they would get through the ambush of recall notwithstanding the cumbersome constitutional requirements. All that failed. Hon Chijioke Chukwu, the member representing Bende North state constituency in the Abia State House of Assembly was excited about the release and return of Senator Kalu.
He spearheaded the event which he described as a dream come true. Chukwu captured the mood succinctly: “I am happy and I thank God for making a day like this possible. God did it against all odds. I am excited because OUK has returned to take his proper place in Abia politics and more importantly for 2023.” Also, Ndukwe Orji Agu, former General Manager of Abia State Road Maintenance Agency (ABROMA) and a stalwart of the All Progressives Congress (APC), said he was proud to be associated with Senator Kalu.
“OUK is a great man. His return is a good omen for Abia State in particular and Nigeria in general. He is our hope for 2023.” To Maduka Okoro, the South-East media aide to Senator Kalu and a member of the reception committee, the release and return of Senator Kalu to the state is an answer of prayer to God Almighty. “I have always told people that as long God is alive, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu will come out to continue and complete the task God has given him. He is God’s gift to Abia State, Abia North, Ndigbo and Nigeria. No human being can stop him from accomplishing the will of God for the people.”
Three days after his arrival, precisely Wednesday, Kalu was at Mata Dei Catholic Cathedral, Umuahia to attend the consecration of the first auxiliary Bishop of the church, Monsignor Kalu Ukpong. The Azikiwe Road that leads to the church was literally blocked.
The crowd was so much that the church gate had to be locked to avoid a stampede. People lined the road to wave at and catch a glimpse of him. Besides, his country home, Igbere, has become a Mecca of some sort to many who visit him on daily basis.