Dr Orji Uzor Kalu is an astute politician with impeccable antecedents and pedigree. He is a former Abia State governor, a publisher, leadership mentor and a successful entrepreneur. In this interview with MUAZU ELAZEH and EKELE PETER AGBO, he bares his mind on sundry national issues, including governance and economy.
By May 29, it will be two years since the All Progressives Congress (APC) came into power, following the defeat of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). How would assess the present administration in terms of governance?
I know that the administration will be two years on May 29, 2017 and we have experienced both the good and the bad. Overall, the APC administration, honestly, has also done fairly well in terms of where they want us and the country to be. The APC came into power on the premise of fighting corruption; premise of diversifying the economy. It came on the premise of trying to build a New Nigeria, which has always been what every administration will say. Yes! There has been some improvement in terms of addressing the security challenges in the North East and partially the Niger Delta.
But we are not yet there! And the most difficult thing or challenge has been the economy. Again, gradually, we are making some progress. Government needs to go into massive investments on roads and infrastructure; which is what the APC government is doing now. So, I am hoping that gradually, slowly but steady, we will be easing out of recession. Recession does just go in one day. It’s funny when I hear people say we will ease out of recession in three months. It’s what takes couple of years and gradually, we will see the gains. Both the World Bank and the IMF are seeing that we are gradually going to ease off.
I used to be a good advocate of devaluation the naira to get it right, but today, I think the Western countries cannot continue to ask us to devalue the naira because we have a mono- economy. We have a single product we are selling to them, so at every time, the naira is on the receiving side. In the last 20 years, I have never heard the dollar being devalued; I have never heard the British pound being devalued. Something is wrong somewhere, something is wrong for Africa. The only currencies being devalued are mostly African countries. What parameter do they use to market this stability of our currencies?
The government, on the other hand, needs to do something about the issue of rule of law. Obeying court ruling or order will go a long in deepening our democracy. If the court says you should release Sambo Dasuki, you must release him! It’s the order of the court and that’s the beauty of democracy. For example if the say you must detain Orji Uzor Kalu, you must detain me, because that is what the court says. The people are only seeing the hardware of democracy we have not been able to build the software. The software of democracy is respect to our human rights, court orders
As an entrepreneur of note, what quick major steps do you think government ought to take in the short term to address key economy challenges?
China for example, 30 to 40 years ago, started by first producing enough food for people to eat. We should look for a strategy, go into massive food production, then after feeding ourselves, the second thing will be to export. And we have the capacity! The government should go to places like Aba, Onisha and Abeokuta where people are conversant with technology and invest.
There are many technologies we are importing that we don’t need; we can manufacture them here. As Governors I continue to encouraging president Obasanjo to invest and return back all those engineer that fought in Biafra to return them to Kaduna in defense corporation to start manufacturing equipment’s, arms for exports. This is things that we can use to come out of recession we don’t need to believe in oil. This country is enormously very rich that we don’t need the crude oil. The country can make money if there is stability and security. If people can move from Sahara desert to Atlantic Ocean without anybody molesting them, people will like to come from Sweden, U.S, everywhere to invest.
Tourism can bring in $100 billion investment every year in Nigeria. Go to small countries like Gambia they don’t have any other thing than tourism because there is stability. The hospitality industry in Gambia has already employed almost everybody there. I am telling that hospitality industry alone can employ 20-25% of our young people leaving schools but the issues is that there is no security you go to the east, they are telling you about kidnapping, about the Niger Delta Militant. A country cannot leave this way, the president should do more.
The greatest dis-service that has being done to this economy is by not giving us electricity. Electricity is a big setback and there is nothing we can do to develop without electricity.
Talking about electricity, , the Obasanjo administration pumped huge amount of money into the power sector yet nothing came out of it. Then there was the call for privatisation. Toay, we have more darkness than we experienced in the past?
To be honest with you, the privatisation of the power sector was not the right thing to do. I had suggested that major corperations take over our electricity. If you want to help Nigerians, bring a company like General Electric and tell them that you will own 55 per cent and others can own 45 per cent. So all these DisCos and GenCos will be parts of the process. If I were to make that decision, federal government at all time will retain 25 per cent on all the generating set. The Nigerian populace will invest 30 per cent, the foreign companies will invest the rest and they will be able to manage and run it.
Recently you joined APC and the fortunes of the party in South East seems to be changing rapidly. What is the secret?
The secret is that some of our religious leaders who have been preaching against APC as Islamic party have stopped. I joined the party on 16th of November, 2016, but my brother has been with the APC and they fought alongside with Buhari but I remained in PPA. I have been in opposition for 10 years and there is no other Nigerian politician that has been in opposition for 10 years as I did. I have just changed party for the first time. I had been in PPA and remained in PPA. To sit where other Nigerians are seated, is the reason I left; otherwise I wouldn’t have left and I had no reason to leave.
As a former governor of Abia State, you reportedly put the state on a sound footing and rapid growth. From the time you left office till date, do you think successive governments have kept to the pace?
The man I left office for did not do the thing he was supposed to do. And it’s also the press that promoted them and wrote things that were not true about them. If the man I handed over to followed the policy we had, not abandoning what we were doing we would not be where we are today.
I don’t want to criticise the present governor because I have not really assessed him. And I have not been to Abia to see what he is doing, but I want him to buckle up.
You have contested for the nation’s presidency in the past. Are you still nursing that ambition?
I contested for president in 2007 and I came 3rd and I had 5.8 million votes. And this shows that I am a marketable candidate anytime and in any election.
I am very prepared for the job. My political exposure has equipped me for any elective post in the country, including the highest office of the land. Let me tell you, I can manage the economy very well and even do better in the area of security. Mind you, I was a governor at a very young age. If there is a chance for me to be president of Nigeria, I will make a good president. If Goodluck Jonathan could become President, I will make a better president.