It was the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, who said that a tiger does not pronounce his tigritude, he just pounces. Whenever thoughts of Dr Orji Uzor Kalu stream into my mind, this quote is never far away. It is true that some people believe you’ve not done enough to correct the misunderstandings and misconceptions about you inundated by the lies and propaganda of those intent on seeing you fail or dance to the tune of your own music, but what they do not realise is that the great, the credible, the righteous, don’t focus on these things. Instead, they turn their eyes to God and continue to walk in His light.
I remember, vividly, how you frown at anyone focusing on problems rather than solutions . I remember how you care less about distractions because you always say that “attention to distractions will never allow anyone to think well”. When you came to speak at the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) in Beijing , China in October 27, 2017, there were lots of African students in the room. They asked you tough, controversial questions. But you didn’t shy away from any of them. Instead, you replied with grace, with the equanimity of a man who has walked through the lions den and emerged unscathed. You embraced everyone, old and young. You shared dinner with the Nigerian group and swapped stories about “staying focused and resolute amidst distractions”. I remember the drama that played out and the entertaining jokes you shared with all. I knew a lot of people were surprised, that a man of your stature and influence could be so accessible, so transparent, full of life and energy.
Since I was a boy growing up in Nigeria, I have admired your courage and your success in business, in politics and in life. I know that the sun rose early in your life because after you were expelled from the University of Maiduguri for student activism, you turned the $35 borrowed from your mother to chains of businesses. Then you went on to become a millionaire in your early twenties. At just 25 years old, you were the Chairman of the Borno Water Board, where you initiated remarkable policies. At 27, you rose to become the Chairman of Cooperative and Commerce Bank Limited. By the time you became Governor of Abia state in 1999 and at 39, you were a wealthy man, with diversified interests in not just oil and gas, banking and finance, but also in media and publishing, real estate, manufacturing, insurance and tourism. Your company, Slok Nigeria Limited was the first African company to win Brussels Honour as the most prestigious company in European Market and you got this honour as far back as 1996.
Sometimes, I sit to ponder and wonder about how you managed to turn what could have been the termination of your dreams (university expulsion) into roaring success. It is true that God has been on your side, but I also know (from working with you), that your relentless work ethic, tolerance, forgiving heart, unconventionality, diligence and business acumen helped you rise to the top. You didn’t stop pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and you are the last person to stop. These values have set you on the pedals of excellence, which will steer any just man into the realm of glory.
Yes, God has blessed you, among other things, with material wealth, but you also know that having aircrafts and living in mansions are not what life is all about. Once in a while, you remind those around you about the vanity of life and why you don’t joke with humanity. You very much know that the life we live is not for ourselves alone but for God and to then accommodate other people. You tell everyone that has hunger for knowledge that life is about what you are able to do for other people, and what they can remember you for, when you cease to exist – you insist this is the mark of greatness.
Unlike many, these are not mere talks for you. You walk your talk and you have special dislike for words without commensurate actions. You were tarring roads in Abia state even before you became Governor. Many places you built factories, you ensured that the roads leading in and out were maintained; You never waited for the government. What about your non-profit organization -The Orji Uzor Kalu foundation. The popularity of your foundation has gone beyond the shores of this nation which has and continues to empower people across the country and beyond; providing healthcare to Internally Displaced Persons, providing free capital to small scale business owners and donating high-yield seedlings to farmers. I will not attempt to count your innumerable contributions to society and to individuals because they are like the stars, like the planets scattered across the cosmos.
However, it will be remiss of me not to mention your desire for peace and reconciliation, which is unmatched. It was you who reconciled Dr. Alex Ekwueme, and Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, strengthening the cords of Igbo politics. You also reconciled former President Ibrahim Babangida and President Muhammadu Buhari at your home town, Igbere, pushing the boundaries of unity in a country that has been marked, historically, by needless marginalization, a mere geographical location.
You were also the one who reconciled Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Babangida, against every odd, a sign of your immense love for our country, Nigeria. Perhaps your nationalism is influenced by the complex, variegated nature of your early experiences and travels across Nigeria. Despite being a proud Igbo, you went to the far north for your studies and was under the guidance of a Fulani, Professor Jubril Aminu. Your businesses are well spread from the East to West and from North to the South. Who is actually more Nigerian than you?
I have so much to reflect on , but you are a busy Distinguished Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, warming up to be elected the Deputy President of the 9th Senate. On April 21, you will be a proud 59 year old father with beautiful children. In advance, Happy Birthday sir and many more graceful years. For some, this is a beckon into the twilight. But not for you and us, because your sun is just rising.
Special assistant to Dr Orji Uzor Kalu