Like him or hate him, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu (OUK), is a political Iroko in Nigeria. When he was governor of Abia State, salaries were paid as and when due throughout his tenure that spanned 1999 to 2007. Gratuities were paid to retired staff throughout this period under consideration. Teachers and other civil servants were able to build houses, bought cars and there was also free education in the state.
Abia State University (ABSU) was given its due monthly subvention and was then rated as one of the best-managed schools in Nigeria. Faculty of Law, under Prof. Ojukwu as dean, was rated the best in Nigeria and that was under OUK. Roads were ubiquitously built in Abia State but were not maintained from 2007. He was the only voice in Igboland!
Back home, there is no single project one can say was attracted by any government in Ohafia from 1999 to date, apart from those built by OUK. In particular, OUK built Amangwu Road. OUK built Okon Aku Road. OUK built Amuma-Ndi Ibe roads. He reconstructed Ebem-Asaga roads that were destroyed after the civil war.
As a senator, just within 30 days of his being at the Red Chamber, he fought and became the Chief Whip of the Senate and, within three years, justified his being there by scattering meaningful and developmental projects (53 roads and still counting) across the five local government areas of Abia North, namely, Ohafia, Arochukwu, Bende, Umunneochi and Isiukwuato. In particular, we have so many roads he has attracted in Ohafia LGA, including, but not limited to, Abia, Isiugwu, Abiriba Ring Road, Nkporo by Eze Aja Road, Itumbu Uzo Road, Ntalakwu Road, Bende, Eziama Road Isiukwuato and Umunneochi Link Road and others too numerous to mention.
OUK, in his time as governor, allowed democracy to flourish, especially at the local government level. For example, in Ohafia LGA, where l was the boss between 2004 and 2006, we had ANPP (All Nigeria Peoples Party) councillor in the person of Mr. Udonsi Eke Kalu (UDAIK) from Okon, Alliance for Democracy councillor in the person of Mrs. Grace Agbara from Ameke Abiriba, NDP councillor in the person of Mr. Eke Idika Uwa from Akanu Ukwu, and others from ANPP were Abacha from Ndi Ufie Ward Nkporo, and Hillary from Ania Ward. Others came from PDP, including my humble self. That was democracy in action. What do we have now? One-party system!!
Because OUK gave us a free rein, we were able to pay local government staff as and when due. Salaries were paid every 23rd of the month throughout our tenure. What is the position today? Workers are owed over 23 months’ salaries and are placed on half salaries whenever they are paid. Odo will not write on this issue! We opened Ohafia development because we attracted Zenith Bank, Ecobank and micro finance banks because the allocation from the Federal Government was domiciled in Ohafia and no more Umuahia, as it were. Again, OUK gave us free hand to employ Ohafia people into the local government system. Hitherto, the system employed only Ngwa and Umuahia people because nobody stood for our people. Today, I am proud to say that the workforce from Ohafia in the system constitutes about 85 per cent! We completed the Okon Aku Health Centre through their councillor, Hon. Udensi Eke Kalu, we built Iyi Akarani Bridge Asaga and the contract was awarded to Prince Ndubuisi Onugu, Asaga has been developed as a result of that project. We were the first LGA in Abia State to do asphalting and through that we opened the Ohafia Ring Road that transversed through the late Chief Ojigwe’s House up to Timber Shed Road, Ebem Ohafia, and this has made it possible for people going to Asaga, Okon, Amangwu, Ndi Orieke, Akanu, Ndi Uduma, Abia, Arochukwu and so on to have alternative road whenever there is holdup at Ebem Park. We also built the Ebem Daily Market; we recovered Egbe Mburumaja erosion site in Akanu, adjacent High Chief Uche Ogboso’s house. We also brought down Abia hill through the invitation of Dr. Uchendu, then PG of Abia Community. At Isiama, we constructed the dual drainage from General Hospital, Amekpu, close to Hon. Sampson Anaga’s house at Okagwe. Without the drainage on both sides of the road, probably, most probably, the road would have collapsed. We rebuilt Abiriba Customary Court and Ekpekuma Health Centre. We built Iroyi Bridge at Nkporo; we started Nkporo Police Station, and renovated many schools in Ohafia LGA. We attracted all the health centres in Ohafia LGA that our people are enjoying today. We brought peace at Eziafor Ohafia without compromise. Within the two years in office, we graded all the wards in Ohafia and that was made possible because OUK gave us a free hand to operate. All the councillors in the system then built one or two projects in their various wards. What is the position today? The local government system, properly so called, is dead and buried! What is in place is what they call transition chairman, which is alien to our Constitution, yet people like Odo are so blind not to tackle the issue but will at every slippery opportunity find pleasure to attack OUK.
For the avoidance of any iota, modicum or scintillia of doubt, OUK is an outstanding polical figure in Nigeria. He is an enigma and has outgrown party-politics. He is a man of the people and this was made possible by his developmental projects and God on his side. Whether PDP, APC, APGA, ANNP or even APP, these parties and indeed the people will at all times embrace OUK in any context.
Last line: Allowance has been given to some political merchants struggling in vain to be relevant, attacking OUK unjustly through name-calling. Yes, we have freedom of speech and Freedom of Information, but there must be a limit to it. Where your freedom stops is where another’s begins. Allowance has been given for immature perception of what is governance and that allowance has to stop somewhere! Nigeria is a country with a robust legal system; even under military regime, the legal system is no respecter of anyone, government principalities, government powers and the likes, including those hiding under free speech to bring down our leaders. As things unfold, we are poised, henceforth, to bring such people before a competent court to defend some of their utterances that negate constitutional democracy.
•Barr. Kalu is former chairman, Ohafia Local Government Area, Abia State.