Like Play, Like Play, Orji Kalu is in Jail – Comfort Obi
It was the morning after Senator Orji Uzor Kalu was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. I was low in spirit. I had woken up, very angry, over the circumstances that put Kalu in jail. I guess it was just sinking in. And I shook my head in disbelief.
It is not that Kalu is above the law. Of course not. It is just that he didn’t need the money for which he was sent to jail.
He is one lucky guy. Very blessed by God. The story of his meteoric rise from grass to grace is well documented.
At 19, when boys, his age, were still in school, living in their parents’ houses, and/or thinking of what to do with their lives, Kalu was already counting in hundreds of thousands. He had become a millionaire.
At 28, or thereabouts, he had become the Chairman of a bank. He was counting in millions. Nobody knew how he did it but, perhaps, he has the right aura and, so, has friends in high places. It didn’t begin with now.
He has always been well connected. No wonder he had a National Honour, MON, in the bag, awarded to him during the Babangida regime, when his mates knew nothing about National Honours.
But, he really never was in the circle of his mates. He was in the company of Military Generals and billionaire businessmen, bankers and high profile traditional rulers. He was at home in their company.
Long before his peers had even a block, Kalu had built mansions both in Igbere, his home town, and in Lagos. His compound in Igbere is as large as a village. His mansion in Ikoyi, built since the 80’s, remains, till date, one of the most sophisticated and expensive in Lagos.
In Abuja, his abode is a sight to behold. Large, very large. Big, very big. It is very close to Aso Rock. He bought it over from another money man, a Northerner.
In the USA, I, also, understand that his home makes not a few people green with envy. And, he has many others scattered all over Nigeria.
In business, Kalu has the world at his feet. He travels the world. When it comes to making money, he is a citizen of the world. He has his tentacles world over. Money-wise, he may not be in the league of the Aliko Dangotes, the Femi Otedolas, the Mike Adenugas and a few others, but he is not too far away from them.
From just an Aba stockfish trader, he spread his tentacles deeply in, almost, every business. Oil and Gas. Aviation. Hospitality. Media. Real Estate. Shipping. Banking. Furniture-making. And much more. All came under the Octopus called the Slok Conglomerate.
I cannot confirm, but I have, also, read reports that at a point in his life, he was an arms dealer.
In politics, he shone like diamonds. He succeeded beyond the wildest imagination of not a few people, including himself.
Kalu was one of those at the Constitutional Conference organised by the Military President, Ibrahim Babangida’s regime. He was one of the youngest in that group.
He, according to him, helped in no small measure to midwife Nigeria’s democracy, born in 1999, after a long labour, which almost still-birthed it – in the military’s deadly labour room. Kalu was at the right place at the right time. He was in the right team – the winning team.
He, thus, became one of the founding members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP. He never fails to flaunt that. And how much he spent for and, on the party. According to him, it ran into hundreds of millions. If the PDP was a Public quoted company, he had said a number of times; he would be the highest share holder. Not to forget the millions he, also, says, often, that he gave former President Olusegun Obasanjo. N500 million? No jokes.
But, all his expenses on the PDP were to his political advantage. It was the PDP that propelled him, politically, beyond his dreams. Under PDP, he became, unbelievably, some people say, a two-time governor of Abia state, with all the power, influence and privileges that went with it.
Yet, it was not all smooth-sailing for Kalu. He has had a share of his downs. A share of scandals too. But he always managed to survive, smelling of roses, thereafter.
Two of the downs took place, early enough. At the University of Maiduguri, he and other students led a protest against injustice. Others were expelled. He was spared. But, according to Kalu, he opted to be expelled with the others. So, he carried the not-too comfortable label of a university drop-out for a long time.
He was to wipe away that when he became the governor of Abia State. As the visitor to the University, Kalu re-registered as a student. A photograph of him, in an examination hall, alone, writing a paper made the rounds. He was awarded a degree by the University. But the administration of his successor, and political godson-turned-political enemy, now Senator Theodore Orji, withdrew the degree. A court later restored Kalu’s degree.
The second was the real scandal. Kalu was one of the big names at the launch of the Borno State Development Fund. He donated bags of money to the fund. But it turned out a hoax, and a huge embarrassment. Stacks of papers, carefully cut to currency size, were more than the real currencies. He put the blame on sabotage.
God has been good to him. Some people say partial. How he did it is not the question here. Truth is: he worked hard to be where he is.
Kalu started life as a trader. With £35 from his mother, he began. A combination of street wisdom, native intelligence, and hard work did the trick.
Politically, he became an institution. A two-time governor of Abia State, he founded a political party, the Progressive People’s Alliance, PPA, almost, at the end of his governorship, when he fell out with Obasanjo.
Unbelievably, the party won two states, Imo and Abia, with Ikedi Ohakim and Theodore Orji as governors. He was to, inexplicably; lose the two governors to the PDP.
But Kalu always bounced back. Moving from one party to the other, back and forth, he finally, settled for the APC where he is now, not only a Senator, but the Senate Chief Whip.
The point I really want to make is: Kalu exited from poverty since he was a youth. He had long passed that stage long before he became a governor.
He was rich, as in rich. He was already counting in billions of Naira, and had hundreds of people in his employ long before he became a governor.
The over seven billion Naira for which he was jailed is nothing to Kalu. It is, almost, an insult. He could lose that in business deal without losing much sleep. He owns a bank outside Nigeria’s shores. His airline is the National airline of an African country.
So, why did he do it? Greediness some people chorus. Some others say the fate that befell him had everything to do with religion and his tribe. But there is a counter.
He is not the only ex-Governor jailed for, allegedly, putting their hands in their states’ treasury. Some of them have served their time, and came out to become political kingmakers in their states. Former Governors Jolly Nyame and Joshua Dariye of Taraba and Plateau states, respectively, are still in jail. But, again, they counter that all the jailed ones are Christians. A coincidence? I seem to believe so, naive as I am in these things.
As for Kalu being jailed because he is Igbo as some people are insinuating? Not true.
Here is why.
Kalu has never hidden his love for the North. He leans towards the North than to the South, especially, the South-east where he comes from. He had said, a couple of times, that he was brought up by the Hausa-Fulani. He had boasted that he brought RUGA to Abia State and would vote for RUGA anytime on the floor of the Senate, in defiance of the stand of the South and the Middle Belt. He also says that as governor, he built a Mosque at the Government House, Umuahia. Kalu has been quoted as telling Ohaneze that “he gives no damn about their stand on politics.” So, it’s not true that he was jailed because he is Igbo.
Some others say it is political persecution. But the former Governor is in the ruling party. So, who will persecute him?
True, he always blamed Obasanjo for laying the foundation for his problem because he, allegedly, fought against his third term plan. For that, Kalu has cursed Obasanjo no end. He has called him a devil, and placed a stamp of wickedness on his face. He has also asked President Buhari, on a number of times, to jail Obasanjo. It is an irony that Kalu is now the one in jail, Curse not the elders, many people admonish.
In any case, Obasanjo is no longer that chummy-chummy with the government at the centre. So, if it was an Obasanjo problem, why was Kalu not saved?
Kalu, in Court, strongly denied all charges against him. He still does.
Not many people, including this writer, believed this fate could befall him. It was unthinkable. For 12 years, he fought that the cup be taken away from him. He did everything to escape the bitter pill. He did everything to gravitate towards whoever could save him.
It is one of the reasons, many claim, Kalu defected to the APC. It is one of the reasons, they, also, claim he campaigned, as if his life depended on it, for a Buhari Presidency in 2019. He actually thought he would be saved. Many thought so too. But, too bad.
He does not have the luck of a couple of his colleagues who, even though they allegedly dipped their hands in the till, deeper than him, are strutting around, free, and calling the shots here and there.
His fate has, instead, put a large stamp of credibility on the Judiciary, and on the FG’s fight against corruption. If Kalu could be jailed, inspite of his efforts, many now say, then, not a few people should worry.
When, on the day he was jailed, it was reported that he was begging Prison warders not to publicly put handcuffs on him, I broke down in tears. Life, I said to nobody in particular.
Now, unless a higher Court upturns his conviction, he will be in for 12 years. With that goes his robust political ambition and, almost, everything he had worked for.
Even his multi-billion Naira investments, before he became governor, he is to forfeit to the Federal Government.
Not a few people ask why not to Abia, which money he was convicted for? And, is there no way to differentiate what he acquired while in office as governor, from what he acquired before then?
A shrewd businessman, compassionate, a good husband, loving-father, brother, and a doting son, Kalu, according to a source close to him, once paid an Online Publisher, the sum of 30 thousand USD to be off his mother’s back. Insult me, he was quoted as telling the guy, but not my mother.
But, perhaps, Kalu was destined to pass through this route. Destiny can be funny. He seems to have his fate tied to the number, 12.
A couple of days after he was jailed, the following was posted by an anonymous writer who tried to rationalize his fate. He wrote:
“ORJI = 4 letters.
UZOR= 4 letters.
KALU= 4 letters.
He was governor 12 years ago
His case lasted for 12 years
He was sentenced to 12 years in prison
The judgement came on the 12th month of the year in 2019
Who knows? Kalu still holds tight to destiny. Talking to Reporters as he was being herded into prison, he told them: “2023, here we come”. Destiny? Kalu always wanted to be Nigeria’s President. The prison may be a preparatory ground. He wouldn’t be the first. Think Obasanjo. Think Nelson Mandela. No jokes. The world is a funny place. Unpredictable too!
Obi is the Editor-in-Chief/CEO of The Source
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