Former governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, recently lost his bid to go to the Senate before the Election Petitions Tribunal in Umuahia, the state capital. A day after the tribunal’s verdict, the former governor, at a lunch organised in his honour by the traditional prime minister of Ibeku Ancient Kingdom, Chief Uche Akwukwaegbu, spoke with a group of selected journalists on the matter and sundry other national issues. KALU EZIYI was there. Excerpts:
You founded the Progressive Peoples Alliance some years ago. Today, the party, which ought to be one of the gladiators in the Nigerian political arena doesn’t seem to be very prominent. What is the state of the party in Nigeria?
Well, there is no political party in Nigeria that is very prominent. Every party in the country is struggling. All the parties are struggling and facing the fact and by end of the year, people will begin to see where we stand.
Lately, there have been renewed calls for the restructuring of the country as a panacea for growth, development and all that. What is your view about this?
Well, we don’t even need to be talking about restructuring of the country because the country is due for reassessment, which also means restructuring. It is the right thing to do because when a man is overgrowing his shirt, he tries to have a new measurement by going to his tailor to do new fittings as to be able to move forward and that is why we are saying the country may have new arrangements, new solution to political and economic survival.
There appears to be a new political realignment among members of the different political parties in Nigeria today. What does the development portend for the country in the nearest future?
Well democracy is going to be stronger in our state, the South East and the country as a whole for the better. We are going to bring in stronger democratic institutions. We are going to show our people new ideas about politics and we are going to rekindle and redo what we know how best to do, which is politics and process of anchoring our people on true democracy.
Do you mean that a new political party is now on its way in the country? It is possible, why not?
After all, there are alignments and realignments everywhere you look.
Some days ago, after you lost your battle to be at the Senate before the National and State Election Petition Tribunal to Senator Mao Ohuabunwa, the state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party said your political career had ended. Do you agree with them?
Well, I can never abuse that tribunal, never. The opinion of that tribunal truly is their opinion and when I heard the judgment, I gave glory to God. Judges and courts have to be consistent with what they are doing. One court has rejected us, we will go back to another one to hear it. After all, that is the beauty of the principle of separation of powers and constitutional democracy. The beauty of constitutional democracy is step by step. We are moving up to another step and that step will be able to listen genuinely to concern because I respect the opinion of the three respected judges. We will go back to another court to sample their own opinion and if their opinion turns out to be the same with the former’s, we will accept it.
That is to say you are not satisfied with the judgment?
I think that the learned justices erred in some sections of the law where they did not apply very well and I hope that we will be given justice in the upper court.
In view of the economic recession in the country, President Muhamadu Buhari has called for every hand to be on the deck to salvage the situation. What is your take on this?
The President is absolutely right. The recession started in 2014; it’s just that some Nigerians are biased against the President. When I shouted then that the economy had gone into recession. When the Federal Government started borrowing money to pay civil servants in 2014, l said this was recession and some people abused and accused me of being mischievous and saying all kinds of things about me.
But today, they are seeing it. Those were the mechanisms, those were the symptoms. You know when you are suffering from malaria or typhoid, you see the symptoms coming. I saw the symptoms coming and people never believed it. The borrowing and the other experiences we saw then were the beginning of the problems. It was like when one is suffering from either malaria or typhoid, the patient will see the symptoms coming and take adequate precautions but some people never believed, they abused me and called me all sorts of names. But today I have been proved right.
How did you know about it since you are no longer in government?
I am an employer of labour with over 9000 workers in the Nigerian market. So I am an authority to speak on the economy of the country at any level.
How can Nigeria tackle recession?
The President will need to design a special law which he will send to the National Assembly to declare emergency on the economy and there are no two ways about it. We need to know that we have to tighten our belt very well because the situation is tougher than you think. Every sector of the economy is down. Capacity utilization in the manufacturing sector is below two percent, which has never happened in the country before. People are saying that the worst area is six percent.
“YOU KNOW WHEN YOU ARE SUFFERING FROM MALARIA OR TYPHOID, YOU SEE THE SYMPTOMS COMING. I SAW THE SYMPTOMS COMING AND PEOPLE NEVER BELIEVED IT. THE BORROWING AND THE OTHER EXPERIENCES WE SAW THEN WERE THE BEGINNING OF THE PROBLEMS”
The largest economy that we operate today is the artisans and they are less than 20 percent. So, what we could have done as a country is to the economy of the artisans, that is the bricklayers, block moulders, carpenters, painters, photographers and the rest of them to move the economy to between 45-50 percent, so the economy will become huge. This economy cannot only survive on oil. Artisans are the largest part of my employees.
The President should put immediate stimulus that will take the artisans from the 20 percent to 50 percent; then the economy will have stimulus and it will become stable. The President also has to put a law in manufacturing area. There should be a strong policy on manufacturing because all the things we have been importing, if we are manufacturing, we will be able to convert back foreign exchange and our money will be here for us. We have capacity to manufacture but because of high cost of diesel for power, it becomes a problem.
We have two, three factories in Aba today but we cannot do much because our capacity can be 100 percent but we are manufacturing less than three, four percent capacity. We are not the ones losing, it is the economy that is losing because we are busy paying workers, borrowing to pay workers and borrowing to do nothing. So, at any time you borrow without meeting up your capacity, you are in trouble. Unless you borrow and meet up your capacity, you will not be in trouble.
So, what do you think the President can do?
I believe the President needs to do more about the economy and I am sure he is consulting widely. I saw it in one of the papers this morning where he was consulting with some economists. This is what he is supposed to be doing .He should gather more people, more brains to talk about the Nigerian economy.
But should Nigeria entrust a President with military background with emergency powers?
Yes, Buhari is a Nigerian. He is capable of leading the country, whether he has military background or not. Let me tell you, once we have the fabrics that make democracy and the ones that make economies very strong, anybody can run the country. That is the issue. It is because the indices that run an economy, whether in security, power, are not stable. If they were, then we will run very fine.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo recently attributed the recession to militancy in the Niger Delta and the Federal Government has been finding it very difficult to dialogue with them due to the refusal of the militants to drop their arms. What is the way out?
The way out is still dialogue and there is no other way. And the VP is right because militancy is one of the problems that is causing recession and if we were producing oil at full capacity, possibly we would have minor recession. But now, we are in full blown recession, where growth is less than two per cent.
We discovered that most Igbo businessmen, including you, have their major businesses outside Igbo land. As a stake holder, what is your advice to your kinsmen on how to bring your businesses down home?
Well, you know I am not tribalistic. Within the last three years, I have built two industries in Aba producing some items for export. And I have just built a new spare parts factory producing items, both for military and civilians vehicles, all in Aba. So, I think I will not carry signboards to tell people what I have been doing in that direction or advertising what I am doing. But because the previous government was aversive to me, not much is known about them. The factory is run by Indians, there are about 50 of them. I have been keeping quiet over them. I did not open them with any ceremonies because there was no need for that. I am a good investor and I invest anywhere there is money to make. I am not afraid of investing. I also feel very happy that our people should invest anywhere conducive for them, be it in Aba, Sokoto, Birin Kudu, Lagos, Abeokuta or anywhere they think they will make money. But it is always good to strike a balance in whatever you do, especially in business.