Chief Enyinna Abaribe, former Abia deputy governor, was in Texas early September 2003, while in Dallas, he granted an interview to Philip Odoemena. During the interview, he left no stone unturned as he spoke about Orji Uzo Kalu, World Igbo Congress, Ohanaeze, Ukwa/Ngwa issue, and Igbo Presidency.
What were you doing before you became the deputy governor of Abia State?
Chief Abaribe -
I was in the Corporate World. I was the Investment Manager of NICON, an insurance company. After NICON, I became in charge of Integrated Mortgage Company. The last corporate office that I held before becoming the deputy governor was with NOBIK Company, a computer manufacturing company.
You were a good friend of Governor Orji Uzo Kalu prior to choosing you as his running mate?
That is not right. It is on record as per Orji Kalu's statement that he never knew me prior to the (1999) election. Actually, I met Governor Kalu two weeks before the election. One of the ironies of fate is that you meet people and a lot of things happen. Governor Kalu came and pleaded with me to run with him because he had no credibility and has never been a credible person. I was never the type of businessperson that Governor Kalu was, so there was no way I could have known the type of person that he was. I never had any contact with him or any dealings with him prior to the elections in 1999. Ours was a political pairing which seemed to work out at the beginning. Things fell a part two months after the election.
For almost four years as deputy governor of Abia State, Governor Orji Uzo Kalu rendered you useless and irrelevant.
I would say that it started from Governor Kalu's insecurity, for lack of better word. Soon after we were sworn in, two official cars each were assigned to both of us. When I got to the office on that Monday, I found out that I had no office to operate from, so I sat at Governor Kalu's anti-room. When I was leaving that evening, I was told that Governor Kalu's instruction was to withdraw them (vehicles) from me to hand over to his wife. I kept cool because I did not understand why he was taken those actions because they actions looked petty to me. In August, almost two months of our swearing in, Governor Kalu went on the air at a television station at Aba and claimed that I intended to steal Abia State funds. And that the man with whom I had intended to steal the money with had confessed, and reveals that the share of my money would have been 4million Naira.
Did you in any way conspired with any one to defraud Abia State Government?
No. Never. I was never a part of, or attempted to act alone to defraud the government. Some one had come to me and told me to apologize to the governor so that he could leave me alone. I said to the person, forget it, apologize for what? I never did anything to warrant my apology to the governor. I did go to him to find out what was going on but he could not tell me. However, one of his friend's did tell me that Governor Kalu was playing what his circle of friends refer to as gamji, a kind of tricks. Even at that I tried hard to get the whole thing sorted out, but I could not. So I left that alone.
Why did you let all that happen?
I came to realize he was doing all that to test my ability to absorb ridicule. I did specific things, for example. I wrote to the State Commissioner of Police that I have been accused of plotting to steal money from the Abia State government. The police commissioner wrote back to say that it was a political problem and that they were not going to investigate it. When the State Commissioner of Police failed to investigate, I wrote to the IG (inspector general of police). Governor Kalu turned around and said that the person who claimed and confessed to him (Kalu) that he and I collaborated to defraud the State has been given executive cover (immunity) and therefore should not be investigated, hence the IG did not investigate or take any action. When I came to the realization that this was not the kind of people to deal with, I let everything lay. I found out later that Governor Kalu was doing all that to frustrate me into resignation.
Did you ever considered resigning?
Heck no, we had a joint mandate and I contested election just like him. Not only that, I provided the winning edge that contributed significantly to his victory. In fact, I provided the winning edge, the reason been that Ukwa/Ngwa people voted for me and that tilted the balance and therefore gave Orji Uzo Kalu the edge.
There was impeachment proceeding against you, isn't it?
Yes, three times in fact. I survived them all. In Nigeria, the deputy governor is at the mercy of the governor. The constitution does not give the governor any power. Governor Kalu took advantage of that and each time he woke up, he would initiate impeachment proceedings against me.
You had the opportunity to read what Governor Kalu said about you in the interview he granted to USAfrica in which I conducted. What is your response?
What can I say? When I joined ANPP, he made a lot of noise about how he would put me in jail. I told him publicly to go ahead and just do that. I also held a meeting with 146 traditional rulers and send a message to him through them that I was going to run against him and that he can now use what ever he had to put me in jail. He never did that. I am now a private citizen with no immunity what so ever, and I am still walking as a freeman. Put Orji Uzo Kalu and I side by side and access who should be in jail. I was not the one who answers different names from one State to another. In one place he is Orji Uzo Johnson, in another place, he is Uzor Orji Kalu. I am not the one that has been accused of falsifying school papers. I didn't go on detention for forging signatures. I am not the one carrying the title of M.O.N (member of the order of Niger of Nigeria) in which somebody publicly said that no one awarded him such title. There are certain things that Governor Kalu says that you shouldn't dignify with an answer.
Ukwa/Ngwa did not produce the governor of Abia State in 2003 gubernatorial election. What went wrong?
Well, because of the abnormalities and falsifications of the electoral results. Having said that, the sitting government had also vowed to return PDP governors, as such we couldn't be declared winners. We all learned a lesson or two from the past elections. What happened then will never happen again. The rape of democracy during that election is the reason why those who won the election were not declared. I may add, it is not so much that Ukwa/Ngwa people wanted theirs to be governor, it was not a case of Ukwa/Ngwa verses the rest of Abia State, but a situation where the whole of Abia State needed a change of government.
Some people in Abia believe that your political career is over. Please comment.
I like challenges. I have always proven people wrong. I believe when you're sincere in what you're doing and have the people behind you, the sky is the limit. They said that I wasn't going to win ANPP nomination. I won it. Let us wait and see. This is just the beginning. It is not over yet. I have already run as the governor. That was the first thing that I set out to do. Moving from here will now depend on a lot of factors that are much more than my personal ambitions.
What do you think about the role of Ohanaeze?
Ohanaeze has a role to play. In the context of community of Nigeria, it is imperative to have a group that would look out for the interest of Ndiigbo. Unfortunately, Ohanaeze seem to be an organization with a particular class of people. Lots of people are left out of Ohanaeze, the youths, and the young professionals. Ohanaeze does not connect very well with the grassroots in Igboland, for that reason Ohanaeze is ineffective. They (Ohanaeze) could not mobilize the grassroots in such a way to provide political support for what ever they want to do. Was it not a congressman here (USA) who said that all politics are local? If you're unable to get your people to follow you behind in all you do and your opponent knows that you do not have the support of your people, they will ignore you without any consequences because they know you can not galvanize your people to be behind you. Ohanaeze needs to be revamped in ways that make people want to become a part of the decision mechanism/. There is another social political group now formed by Ojukwu and members of APGA to fill the gap left by Ohanaeze, unfortunately, they too are already making the same mistake which is lack of consultation among Igbo groups in Igboland. Ohanaeze needs to do much more to carry everybody along. They need not alienate any body.
What is your impression about World Igbo Congress?
World Igbo Congress (WIC) as we all know is an organization based in United States. I do not think that WIC has a strong root in Igbo land. What they need to do is to work with those in Igbo land, the political players, the economic players, and the social players on the ground in such a way that the sanity coming from all would bring what it takes to revitalize our Igbo culture and values. In Nigeria, the Igbos are seen to have lost the values that are essential for the development of any society. I have told every one that there is no substitute for hard work, honesty and integrity. It seems that what we have found in Igbo land is that people have tended to substitute economic power for leadership. And so far, WIC is looking up to such people who have en-massed wealth without leadership qualities. In a nutshell, I am saying that WIC should engage effectively with the real people at home, the grassroots, those relevant to Igbo issues and not only those who can afford to fly to America for the annual convention. WIC should know that those who really matter in Igbo land are those who can influence the ordinary people in the land. WIC should de-emphasize on the pursuit of those who are wealthy, work effectively as well, with those who have what it takes to influence the ordinary Igbo person.
Do you think we will ever have an Igbo person as the President of Nigeria?
Yes, everything has its own time. It is doable. Igbo Presidency is now a challenge, but we must go ahead and find it. We cannot shy away from it. If you don't try or attempt to do something, you are guaranteed of loosing. If you try something, you chances are 50/50. In politics, the best advice is to always try. Such effort keeps you in the game. It makes you relevant. Let me tell you Philip, nothing is impossible in politics; you never really know how the different calculations will come up.
Top of Page