As the 109 Senators-elect at the Red Chambers of the National Assembly file out today to choose from among themselves one of their colleagues,who will bear the torch of leadership in that hallowed chamber in, hopefully,the next four years of this 10th Assembly, almost every one with a passing interest in the affairs of the Nigerian legislature will be on the lookout for one name that has constantly stuck to many hearts like a leech since the conclusion of the General Elections in March this year. That name is His Excellency,Sen.(Dr.) Orji Uzor Kalu,the returning Senator representing Abia North Senatorial District.
The presence of the ebullient and charismatic Igbere-born politician, technocrat and businessman in the race for the number three man in the political hierarchy of the land has in nearly the last three months since the National Assembly leadership quest by lawmakers-elect began taken the centre-stage of national discourses on political matters.
With early entrance into the worlds of business and politics in life,and with an uncanny tinge of popularity that spans the length and breadth of the whole country,Sen Kalu,many have argued,has got everything needed in good measure to assail any opponent in what can be comfortably termed as “the battle for the heart of the National Assembly”,where emerging facts have indicated that the duo of the Abia-born Senator and Senator Abubakar Abdulaziz Yari,the ertwhile Governor of Zamfara State, are up against the government-backed duo of Sen.Godswill Akpabio,a former Governor of Akwa Ibom State,and Distinguished Senator Jibrin Barau,who was the Chairman of the 9th Senate Committee on Appropriations.
While many have in over the past 35 odd years followed the growth and development trajectory of Sen.Orji Uzor Kalu as a shrewd business hand , boardroom guru and politician,there are some who have just lately begun to admire the ever- bubbly and smiling lawmaker in his inevitable red Igbo cap over an all-immaculate,plain flowing, white garment. Most of the members of this group constitute those who followed him to shed a tear for Nigeria a few days ago when at the valedictory session of the 9th Senate he got emotionally- torn on national television, and have,in doing so, begun an endless search on him everywhere on the social media since then.
Born about 63 years ago into the family of Mr Johnson Uzor Nesiegbe Kalu and Chief (Mrs) Eunice Kalu, OUK, as he is fondly called by admirers, associates and family members, has always been one who, by dint of vision and hard work, has maintained a place among the stars of this world. He had early in life understood that whatever he wished for, he must work hard to get. He attended both the Government College, Umuahia and the Barewa College, Zaria, two prominent institutions of learning that have produced some of the best heads in our nation, including Presidents and Governors.
Bubbling with the desire to make impact in life, the young OUK enrolled at the prestigious University of Maiduguri in the Department of Political Science. Those were the early and golden years of that foremost citadel of higher learning,whose prowess rang high decibels not only in Northern Nigeria of Orji’s day, but across the country and beyond the shores of the nation. Unfortunately, following a participation of the young student activist, which he had become, OUK’s stay at the University of Maiduguri was cut short for his active involvement in the “Ali Must Go” student riots of that time. He would later graduate from the Abia State University and Harvard University, United States, where he read Business Administration. He is a member of many professional bodies and associations, including Institute of Directors (IoD).
Following his rustication from the University of Maiduguri, the young OUK had ventured into the business of red oil, which he bought from the Southeast towns of Aba and Umuahia and took up north to resell at good profits in Maiduguri. With a N5000 loan he had taken from his mother, OUK also ventured into the business of making furniture in Aba and taking the pieces of furniture to Maiduguri and other Northern Nigeria cities. It was at this point that luck smiled at him in the early 1980s when he won a contract to supply arms and ammunition to the Nigerian military. The gains of this big break in life birthed SLOK Holdings as a West African conglomerate that would grow to maintain vast interests in Shipping, Banking, Oil Trading and later Publishing, among other concerns.
Today, OUK has chains of Companies to his name in Lagos State, Abia State, Ogun State and other parts of Nigeria, where he engages in Manufacturing, Processing and Publishing of the popular Nigerian titles, the Daily Sun and the New Telegraph Newspapers. He also owns SLOK Nigeria Limited; SLOK United States, Inc; SLOK United Kingdom Ltd; SLOK Ghana Ltd,that of Togo, Benin Republic, Guinea, South Africa; Botswana,Korea,among others.There are also SLOK Vegetable Oil, Adamawa Publishers Limited, SLOK Paper Factory, Aba; SLOK Airlines and First International Bank. Till this very day, SLOK Holdings remains a member of various high-profile institutions, including the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry and that of Nigeria-British Chamber of Commerce and Industry,that of America and the Philippines, among others.
OUK cut his political teeth at a relatively young age. He became a Member of the House of Representatives in 1991/2. He went on to become one of the youngest Governors in Nigeria in 1999 at the age of 39 and, alongside the past Governors of the Class of 1999-2007, which include Abdullahi Adamu,George Akume, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and others who are playing diverse roles in today’s Nigeria, he completed his second tenure in office before he ran one of the most elaborate campaigns for the Office of President, starting from the PDP to the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), a record, we understand, continues to humble and intimidate some of his most vociferous traducers, who think that OUK must not be given an opportunity to come near the Presidency or else he might take over the reins of national governance! Such traducers with this kind of mindset seem to forget that the Abia-born leader is a real party man and a team player, who has staked his reputation and life among his people to promote and project the candidature of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the South East Zone even when some of those who today position themselves as leaders of the Party in the Zone could not mention APC in front of their homes at a point in time. Needless to say, but for OUK’s grassroots appeal, his open support for the Tinubu Presidential bid and the Party nearly cost him his on very ambition!
Even before becoming Governor, OUK, as one who understands how the democratic system operates, and how to maintain a network of loyal friends and colleagues, became the Chairman, Borno Water Board at a relatively young age of 25. He was also Chairman of the Imo State Marketing and Supply Agency a few months later before proceeding at the age of 27 in 1987 to become Chairman, Cooperative and Commercial Bank Limited, a position that afforded him real opportunity to learn firsthand the rudiments of corporate governance.
It was no wonder, therefore, that he was awarded the National Merit Award by the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida Administration in 1986.
As a philanthropist of the highest order, OUK many years ago set up the Orji Uzor Kalu Foundation through which he has continued to provide scholarship opportunities to thousands of Nigerian students across the country and beyond. In the bid to stem the high prevalence of malaria and the high fatalities that , usually, result from the disease, the OUK Foundation has also for many years provided free-of-charge treatment and insecticide-treated mosquito nets to thousands of individuals and homes across the country. For the above, the international business mogul and investor has many years after leaving the Abia Government House continued to be on the lips of the people and their wards.
As Governor in a State with high incidence of flooding, erosion and general poor waste management/control, OUK was immediately after his election in 1999 confronted with the challenges of both infrastructure and human development of a population that was largely young and restive. He started by building a whole lot of roads, complete with deeply buried underground channels that brought to an end the perennial flooding in parts of the Abia commercial city of Aba called “town”. He ensured a systematic disposal of waste in the commercial city and revived the moribund water-bearing infrastructure that had laid comatose since the years of Chief Sam Mbakwe as Governor of old Imo State. He replicated his Aba Miracle in Umuahia and, through a good grip on security in the State, flushed out all criminal elements that refused to surrender to train under his massive skill acquisition programmes across Abia State.
In all of these, Governor Orji Uzor Kalu empowered the youths and people of Abia State so much that the call for him to run for President was clear and loud across the country. He aligned with progressives and opposed the third- term agenda and other near-draconian leadership style of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo. To put a cap on the level of the influence and popularity OUK enjoyed in Abia State of his day, he worked hard to ensure that his erstwhile Chief of Staff and predecessor, Chief T. A. Orji, got elected into office as Governor on the platform of his new Party, the PPA, even while in EFCC’s custody.
In conclusion, as we look back to the very distinct and noble roles OUK has played across the country and beyond as a builder of men, a consummate investor and leader, and one who has used his talent,time and treasure to impact humanity, it is only proper to urge lawmakers-elect, starting with all the Southeast Zone Senators-elect, to close ranks and rally round the man who is known to have built bridges of unity and friendship across Nigerian tongues and creeds;who has taken titles, done business and shared lasting friendships in all parts of the country and one who is generally popular and acceptable to a greater majority of the Senators- elect. This is Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, who, apart from being competent, charismatic and accessible has also promised to do everything within his powers to unite the highly fractionalized ranks of the lawmakers-elect and to engender a general feeling of conviviality among colleagues. He will avail himself during the vote for the President of the Senate and, expectedly, alongside Sen. Abdulaziz Abubakar Yari, with whom there seems to be a close working relationship. Lawmakers-elect must prepare themselves adequately and confidently to step today ,Tuesday, take their destiny in their hands and take the right decision that will ensure the independence of the National Assembly, equity for all parts of Nigeria and a balancing in the subscription to different nuances of our belief systems across Nigeria. Whatever decision the Senate takes as the first voting of the day goes by, will, no doubt, and automatically, impact the House of Representatives and align the expectations of Nigerians with the outcomes of the two elections in the both Chambers of the National Assembly. As a good partyman, OUK will collaborate with the members of the Executive and take decisions for the interest of Nigeria and will never be party to anything that will hold the masses down. If the Party can trust the current National Chairman, Abdullahi Adamu to lead it alright, the current Secretary to the Government of the Federation, George Akume to be the engine-room of the Tinubu Administration and the Nigerian nation could elect President Tinubu as our leader, this is the time to vote H.E. Distinguished Sen. Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu as President of the Nigerian Senate. All of these men, as we saw earlier, belonged to the Class of 1999-2007 Governors in Nigeria with Sen. Orji Uzo Kalu.A vote for Kalu today is, therefore,a vote for a progressive Nigeria in the hands of the APC.
Written By: Nkem Anyata-Lafia,a Journalist and Communications Scholar).