I paid the price for disagreeing with Obasanjo on Third Term – Kalu


Dr. Orji  Uzor Kalu, a former governor of Abia State and chieftain of the ruling All Progressives  Congress (APC) in this interview monitored in Abuja, speaks on his business travails under the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the challenges of doing business in Nigeria,  the economic recession and the state of the nation

You are a major player in the nation’s economy. What actually are your businesses?

We are into shipping, banking and insurance. We are also into trading, which is my traditional profession as an Igbere man, while our other businesses that were thriving during the tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo have been moved out of Nigeria. This happened when the licences of Hallmark Bank and Slok Airline were cancelled. We had to move them to the sub-region to join First International Bank, which had been there since 1997, when it was opened in The Gambia and is spread to other West African countries and the international insurance company.

We also have investments in some banks and insurance companies in Nigeria. We are into shipping and we are the largest shipper in sub-Saharan Africa and we also into transportation and oil drilling support. We also export cocoa, cashew nuts and other major cash crops. We are also into manufacturing with about 9,000 workers on the payroll, which makes us a fairly large group.

As a member of the ruling party and a very good friend of President Muhammadu Buhari, don’t you think that bringing back those businesses to Nigeria would be a plus to your party and yourself given the number of jobs involved?

The 9,000 workers I mentioned are all here in Nigeria and we could have been a larger group if Hallmark Bank was not closed and its license withdrawn. A bank with 5,000 workers and 33 branches and someone cancelled the license in one day for political reasons and that takes us to where we are now in Africa. Somebody cancelled the license of an airline with 14 aircraft in a day and nobody asked questions.

How do you convince people to come and invest in your country when a president can wake up and order the Central Bank and the Ministry of Aviation to cancel licenses without due process? I am in court with the Federal Government. So, I won’t dwell more on the issue because the whole process was totally flawed. There was no offence committed, just because we disagreed on third term and that was the price I paid. It was uncalled for to take such action without considering the many families that would be affected.

So, these are the major factors that discourage investors from having long term businesses in the country. When politicians quarrel in America, they quarrel as politicians, they don’t go about attacking each other’s businesses. They talk about politics face to face; they agree and disagree; they quarrel based on politics and they agree and disagree on issues. These are what our political leaders engaged in which is not fair at all. They should not channel their grievances to businesses which people make their living from.

What is the secret of your success in business?

I have been in business for over 30 years and you should note that I started very early and I have attained positions, which anybody can think of. I was the chairman of a regional bank, which was the largest bank in the late 80s – Cooperative and Commerce Bank. I was the youngest chairman of the bank. When essential commodities where being produced in Imo State, when Abia was yet to he created, I was the chairman of the board, which was also owned by the government and we were doing business with that Nigerian National Supply Company. So, I am well experienced as an entrepreneur as well as someone who used to import rice, sugar and other kinds of commodities.

People are no longer interested in working hard; they just want to make money hastily. Most people believe that you must make money by stealing when you are in government. Such is not true and it is not sustainable. One of the greatest challenges I have is having a lot of request from people who need help. This is one of the reasons why some people no longer answer their calls. Nigerians are forgetting about hardwork; some of them now believe in begging while some of these requests are purely out of greed. Even families that can feed well still want to beg. People should learn to make a living within what they earn and that is how a disciplined society functions.

I am not saying that there aren’t exceptional or extreme cases when one can help, but in cases where able bodied men and women are sending texts and asking for financial assistance is not a culture for people who want to move forward. Go to Togo, Benin, Guinea, Botswana and other small African countries, you will see people who are disciplined and they way they pursue agriculture. But here, the situation is different; everybody wants to live in Abuja or Lagos. This is absolutely not ideal. Governments at the various levels are also part of the problem. They have not been committed in making provision for small incentives for people who want to start small businesses like farming. They tell you Bank of Agriculture or Bank of Industry is doing this and that, but some of them are just for the show. Some of their interventions are not practically done.

What is the way forward?

Government has to change its attitude on how to empower the youth and how to provide seed funding because it is important. This is a huge economy that shouldn’t have business with hunger and poverty if properly handled. Most of our leaders do not understand the difference between a micro and macro economy. If you don’t understand the difference between the two, how are you also going to make decisions? That is why they are using fiscal policies to fight for things that are not necessary like prices of fuel, food and others. Leaders should not have any business fighting for what prices of commodities should be. That should be left for the market forces.

Leaders are supposed to monitor the regulators and compel them to do what is right. Government should introduce the best regulations which will make people work hard and earn money. There are still a lot of people in our economy who are on the lowest class. We want to see an economy in which we can raise about 250, 000 people from the very poor to the middle class every year because that is the only way we can sustain this economy. We can’t sustain it by going to talk shows. We can’t sustain the economy with government planning for things that are unrealistic and unimplementable.

We will sustain it through collaboration with the private sector. So, we need a total overhaul of our system; we need political and business overhaul; we also need a social overhaul. The system is collapsing. There is a lot of indiscipline in the society today. People have refused to obey the courts. People have refused to obey common laws. Even the traffic lights, they have refused to obey. For you to excel in business, you must be disciplined. Working for a governor or minister who is entitled to security vote is different from working for Orji Kalu, the entrepreneur.

As an entrepreneur, you work and earn money. But, as a governor, you have access to security vote from which you can give to people. This is why I am preaching that security votes should be removed from governance. Let’s just have a contingency fund to solve certain issues, so that people can focus on leadership and not sharing of money. Since people started getting free money, they left entrepreneurship. One of the problems I had when I was governor was that there were so many elite, and I was never aware that the military usually give them money from the government’s purse, but when I came to power, I had to put a stop to it as the money belongs to the people.

I am one of the very few former governors, who can give account of my office and I am not afraid of saying that I never touched a penny as governor. I spent the security vote when it was necessary because it was used for the police, army and Department of State Security (DSS). It was also used to insure policemen against loss of live or injury


Can we confidently say that Nigeria is out of recession?

No, we are not out of recession. We are not going to be fully out of recession until possibly the end of 2019.

Is that not discouraging?

In my opinion, we are not going to exit recession until towards the end of 2019. Getting out of recession means that growth will start again, industrial capacity will be equal to full capacity, the banking industry will start growing at full rate and businesses will start thriving and I do not see that coming until towards the middle of 2019. So, economists, either from the government or private sector telling you that we have exited recession is not true. However, I must say that we are gradually exiting recession as matter of fact and all Nigerians must commend the government for its effort because it is doing all it can through various interventions in the economy.

We keep thinking of the way out for businessmen, because there is hardly any businessman, even a farmer, who doesn’t need good roads, but presently there are no good roads across Nigeria…

(Cuts in) That is why I laugh when I see some of my brothers complaining. I have taken it upon myself most times to take long drive across part of Nigeria and what I have seen is decades of abandonment. But, it was not started by this government. I am not speaking because I am a member of the APC. I am a man who tells myself the truth. You know, the situation of the East-West road wasn’t caused by this government. You also know the situation of Enugu-Onitsha expressway and it wasn’t caused by this government. You know the situation of Enugu-Okigwe-Umuahia-Aba-Port Harcourt expressway and it wasn’t caused by this government.

I know that some people have put the blame on President Buhari, saying that he has already spent two years. But, it is within this same two years that the Minister of Power, Works and Housing has started work to see that these roads are fixed. There is a portion on the Aba-Port Harcourt expressway that was impassable in the last two years. This made people going to port-Harcourt to pass through Owerri then Elele before they can get to Port Harcourt, but today, they can drive straight into Port Harcourt. So, it is a plus for the present government.

I am not saying that it is anybody’s fault. It is a result of collapse of national interest, culture and social behaviour. So, we need total re-orientation of our minds. We can do over a million types of restructuring, but if we don’t restructure our minds and attitude, nothing meaningful would be achieved. We need to start loving each other and shun hatred. I will also encourage the President to work with those who worked with him during the election. You can’t win an election and bring in most people who weren’t part of your victory. There are some leaders, who deserve to be asked to nominate ministers. Such ministers will be Buhari’s ministers and not Orji Kalu’s ministers.

How would you react to the move by the Federal Government to concession some major airports?

It is the right thing to do. Government should not have business doing what some persons are already doing. The Federal Government should not even have anything to do with the airports. It should hand them over to the states where they are. Even the local governments are supposed to own these airports.

Not the federal government?

Of course, if we are practising true federalism. In America, who do you think owns the John Kennedy Airport? It is owned by the New York City, not the New York State. We should be ready to practice federalism the way it should be practised. The Federal Government has a lot of tasks on its hands and it should go into business because such business will not move forward.

Let’s talk about food sufficiency in Nigeria. We still import essential food items as reported by Central Bank, National Bureau of Statistics and even the Agricultural Research Commission of Nigeria. Is this the best for the country?

It is because people are lazy. If we want to move forward with the rapid growth of our population, we must go the Chinese example in food sufficiency. The Chinese government realised 30 years ago that going into technology wasn’t going to sustain them. They found out that what would save them would be going back to produce food, process them and give to the people because when there is sufficient food for the people, they can go into high tech. So, my advice is for both the young and old to go back to farming.



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