Nigeria: Abia - Fall of a Dynasty (1)
7 July 2010 Thursday
Analysis of how Abia state was destroyed by Orji Uzo Kalu Family
What came upon the commoners of France on July 14, 1789, that inspired them with such suicidal courage that transmuted into a mass desperation to which, undeterred by the shootings and the bodies of their ninety fallen men, they marched ahead and invaded Bastille, that old prison and armoury? Why was the discontent so high and what could have driven even septuagenarian men and women to the streets on that cold afternoon to contribute their own stones for the lynching of Louis xiv and his wife?
Indeed, the French revolution was, and still remains, the mother of all revolutions, and historians are hardly unanimous on any issue save for the "what" and the "why" of the anger of the commoners that led to the collapse of the Ancien Regime - they were pushed to the wall.
Today, in circumstances quite synonymous with the frustration of the commoners, another dynasty, the Kalu Dynasty, is crumbling in God's Own State of Abia. The people had been pushed to the wall and they could no more bear the suffocating grip of one man and his mother on the entire state. Last week, the diminutive and unassuming Governor, Theodore Orji, a groomed stooge of the dynasty, and a courtier at Kalu's palace, shook off the shackles of his servitude and embraced freedom and liberty. For once, the governor heeded the repeated advice of this writer and took hold of power. In the well-known dramatic and confrontational ways of revolutions, Orji deserted the emperor's party, abandoned the Peoples Progressive Alliance (PPA), an euphemism for Kalu dynasty, and by that courageous action, rescued Abia from the stranglehold of a family dynasty.
As you read this piece, the wind of revolution is blowing through Abia with all former structures, statutes and vestiges of PPA being dismantled and all the courtiers decamping to the All Peoples Grand Alliance (APGA). The king has been demystified and Kalu is today an emperor without an empire. The mother's formidable political movement, The Reality Organization, will only be remembered in folklores and legends. Igbere, Kalu's hometown will cease, at lease for now, from being the Mecca for political jobbers, same for Nweke Street in Aba, where honourable men go to humble themselves by openly peeling melon as way of demonstrating loyalty to the great matriarch of the Kalu Dynasty. There is a time for everything on earth. The Kalu Dynasty was great and powerful while it lasted. Just like Louis xiv boasted: "L'tate C'mon". Kalu was Abia and Abia was Kalu, but this regime has come, though sadly, to an inglorious end.
For the records, the governorship tenure of Theodore Orji actually started on Monday, June 28, 2010. The day he had the courage to break loose from the shackles of Kalu Dynasty, and told the world he was no longer a bondman, but determined to be the master of his own fate. In the last three years, by the self-serving creed of a surreptitious conspiracy upon which Orji was freighted from prison to power, Kalu and the mother have been ruling Abia by proxy. Orji has had to point to this parallel power as part of his alibi for nonperformance. As a matter of necessity, the revolution is coming in the nick of time, and essentially when Orji himself has lost control of the ship of state. From the jubilation on the streets of Abia, it is obvious that the greatest thing Orji has achieved as a Governor is the rescuing of Abia from the captivity of the Kalu Dynasty.
Like historians ask of the French revolution, one may ask: why was the discontent against the dynasty so vehement that seventeen of the twenty four House of Assembly members and the only PPA senator, Uche Chukwumereije, joined the Governor to bid the PPA goodbye? Why are the party chairmen and ward chairmen in all local councils abandoning the PPA for the Governor's new party? Some may argue that their decision is persuaded by the trappings of the incumbency power. But, there is more, in my view , to the mass hysteria than the protective shelters of incumbency. It is a coincidence of history and human anthropology that there comes a time when men rise up prepared to water the tree of revolution with their own blood just to reverse the course of their lives. This, it does seem, is the true case of the drama in God's Own State.
The jubilation in Abia is not because Orji is a messiah, not at all. It is not a eulogy for credible leadership, neither is it a song of victory over the climate of despair and despondency. In fact, Orji is believed to be a burden bearer of unclean hands, a willing soul for a nasty Faustian bargain, a deadened conscience in the reckoning of the Edinburgh Ethicist, William Barclay, where evil and good cohabit comfortably. He is said to be a man ruled by an inordinate ambition, who, in desperation for power was ready, like Faust, to exchange his soul with the devil. Thus, the people are not living in the illusion that their days of woes are over. But, they are happy that Abia has been snatched from the macho-grip of one man and his mother. They have long expected liberation, and by all intent and purposes, this is a new beginning, a new society and a new world order with better promises than the old Kalu Dynasty.
At the onset of his rule in 1999, Kalu had boasted to this writer that the structures he put in place would rule Abia for at least fifteen years. He has almost achieved it. He had completed a two-term of eight years and was running a third term by proxy until Orji cut off the chain of a satanic spell tying him to the dynasty, and making him a puppet to Kalu and his mother. Indeed, the events of last week is essentially a mental and spiritual emancipation for Orji, and more importantly a liberation for the people of Abia. Having gained self-mastery, Orji can now assert himself in power and take responsibility for the destiny of the state without looking for scape-goats, and unnecessary alibi for his nonperformance.
There is also a far more critical responsibility for him, and that is to be the albatross to sound the death knell of godfatherism in Abia politics. Orji should bury this monster that has pulled back the hand of progress in Abia. He should use the remaining nine months to validate his claim that he was held back by the iron hand of the dynasty. This is simple. He could start by reviving the abandoned projects, and the abandoned roads like the Aba- Obikabia road which has become a deathtrap.
Indeed, posterity will read of the dynasty that ruled Abia from 1999 to 2010. The lessons will be there to learn. But, just like the Germans ask today about Hitler, the people will pose the question: how did society allow an unguided Aba boy, whose life was a spiral ring of controversies, to emerge in power and cause such havoc?
Abia: The fall of a dynasty (2)
• Continued from last Thursday
The Last Days of the Dynasty
In the last three years, and before the fall of the Kalu Dynasty a fortnight ago, Abia State stood precariously on a tripod of power institutions. There was the conflicting triangle of parallel power blocs, which left even the followers of PPA and stakeholders of government highly polarized. The victim was the state. On the one hand was the Executive Governor, Theodore Orji, who silently battled with odds that were seemingly more overbearing than he had imagined. At another pole was Mrs. Eunice Uzor Kalu, the great matriarch of the Kalu Dynasty, and leader of the Reality Organization, the political organ of the PPA. At the higher pole stood the emperor, and owner of the state, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu.
In this ferocious power games, Governor Orji stood alone, like an orphan, in the battle of intrigues with the combined forces of the other two antagonizing power blocs. There was suspicion, blackmail and sabotage. Severally, he was humiliated and slighted. Incapacitated by the moral burden imposed on him by the circumstances through which he emerged in power, having been freighted from prison to power, Orji was terribly hamstrung to confront the overbearing infiltrations of the Kalu Dynasty. He had no control of even his aides because they were all imposed on him.
The Dynasty had an upper hand. Almost eighty percent of all political appointments were imposed on the Governor by the Dynasty. Out of the eighteen commissioners in the executive council, Orji brought only three – the Commissioner for Housing, Commissioner for Justice, and that of Works. The rest were cronies of the Dynasty who owed their loyalty not to the state but to the man that made them. It was the same case with the Special Assistants, and the appointments into all the Boards of the state. Orji had Special Assistants that were strange bedfellows, and the worst was with the 17 local government chairmen who were handpicked by the Dynasty and imposed on the Governor.
The Governor was obviously an outsider in government. He was given his first humiliation early in 2009, when Emeka Onuoha, former Commissioner for Environment, went on air and announced the dissolution of the EXCO, without any consultation with Orji. The Governor had it on radio like the rest of Abia people. He took the humiliation with equanimity.
Indeed, another area where the Dynasty had a suffocating grip on the state was in the control of the market unions. The caretaker committee of Ariaria Market in Aba was the exclusive preserve of the matriarch of the Dynasty. Almost all the people in the executive of the market unions in the state were from Igbere, Kalu's home town. Their loyalty was to the Dynasty, and their returns were also to the Dynasty. In collusion with some LGA Chairmen, they approved by themselves and contracted several market stalls without recourse to the state Ministry of Commerce and Industry. These stalls they sold at exorbitant price to traders and created different illegal levies that were unaccounted for and that further depleted the Internally Generated Revenue in Aba.
The most devastating aspect of the Dynasty was in the activities of the council chairmen. Before the expiration of their two-year tenure, they left the state with a debt of N2.6 billion. For the two years ruled, ninety-five percent of them took orders from the matriarch and took instructions on financial matters from her home. They had the unbeatable profile of owing workers salaries. A case in point is the Aba North Local Government, whose chairman, Hon. Ifeanyi Ikwecheghi, the matriarch's adopted son reportedly owed workers salaries for 12 months and directed the affairs of the local council from Dubai. The activities of the chairmen were so outrageous that the Governor had to pass a vote of no confidence on them, and decided not to appoint politicians and party cronies as transition committee chairmen. He rather appointed career civil servants (Heads of Service) of the 17 local governments to oversee the affairs of the different councils. As far as the Dynasty was concerned, this was the last straw, and Orji had crossed the Rubicon. Today, barely three months of their stay, these Heads of Service have cleared the arrears of salaries of workers.
Financial Burden of the Dynasty
Even though Kalu would boast that he never visited government house since he left office, sources at Umuahia confirmed that he forced the state to take responsibility of even his personal matters like laundry. In February 2009, he was said to have brought in a bill of N13 million as laundry expenses, and N15.4 million for maintenance of generators, and a bill of N22 million from an automobile company for maintenance of vehicles. But, the Governor quietly declined these bills. He also allegedly had over 113 staff stationed in his personal houses around the country and abroad whom he insisted must be pay-rolled by Abia treasury.
The Governor also battled with the matriarch. In December 2009, she allegedly insisted that she must be given the contract to procure bags of rice for indigent Abians for Christmas celebration. She was advised to follow due process in putting forward her quotation and samples. This would be an insult to her in that one morning she reportedly brought four trailer loads of rice to the government and blocked the entrance to the government house for the purpose of forcing the government to take delivery of the rice. The Chief Security Officer ordered that the trailers be impounded and the driver arrested because it was an affront to the authority of the Governor. Later, the Governor ordered that the consignment be returned to her. On hearing this, Kalu was infuriated and instigated the House to commence impeachment proceedings against the Governor.
At the national level of the party, it was also a battle for control. Under the Egbiri-led chairmanship between 2008 and 2009, there were over five Igbere men occupying sensitive positions in the party. These men took orders not just from Kalu, but from the matriarch. This was when the party started disintegrating with many top figures losing faith with the party. The climax came with the fall of the dynasty.
Abia is today a free state, snatched from the jaws of the Kalu Dynasty. The destiny of the state is now in the hands of Orji. The burden is for him to vindicate himself.