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War Of Orjis

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Governor Theodore Orji of Abia State and his predecessor, Orji Uzor Kalu, continue their duel over the control of politics in the state

Governor Theodore Orji (l) and the man he supplanted, Orji Kalu (r) are locked in a battle for supremacy

Despite being out of office for about six years, former governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, has remained among the headlines for various reasons. Sometimes, his appearances in the media, critics reckon, are choreographed. At other times, they are for the charges of corruption and abuse of office brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. More than these, however, is the disagreement betweeen him and his successor, Theodore Orji. The spat, more than three years old, peaked with the recent cancellation and withdrawal of the degree result and certificate awarded to Kalu by Abia State University, ABSU.

According to a press statement signed by Ernest Onuoha, Registrar/Secretary to ABSU Senate, the decision to withdraw the certificate was based on the violation of the academic regulations of the university on admissions by transfer. “On the strength of the findings and recommendations of an investigative panel into allegations of breach of the existing academic regulations of Abia State University in the admission process and graduation of Kalu Orji Uzor in the discipline of Government and Public Administration, of matriculation number 00/42226, the Senate of the university at its resumed 69th extraordinary meeting of March 1, 2013 and by a vote of 88 against three dissenting voices only, approved the cancellation and withdrawal of the degree, result and certificate awarded to him,” Onuoha said in the statement.

ABSU Senate insists that its action was in the exercise of its statutory responsibility to guard and maintain academic regulations of the university, its hard-earned reputation and the credibility of the certificates it awards.

But Kalu, who had raised alarm about the impending actions few days before the official announcement by the university, insisted that the withdrawal of his certificate is part of the vendetta against him by his successor. In his first reaction, Kalu said the action of the ABSU Senate amounted to shifting the goalpost after the goal has been scored. In a statement signed by Oyekunle Oyewunmi, his Special Adviser, the former governor said it is undeniable that he attended lectures and took examinations before he was awarded the certificate. He also alleged that it was Orji that instigated the university senate to withdraw the certificate. While insisting that the withdrawal does not invalidate the certificate, Kalu said the move has blighted the reputation of members of the senate and the credibility of the certificate issued by the school. “And how do you withdraw a degree that has been duly awarded? To think it is the same senate that awarded it that is withdrawing it, it is obvious where the drummer is playing for the senate to dance from. Must the academic community allow politics and politicians to influence its decision? Our answer is no,” said Oyewunmi.

Orji, however, described attempts to link him with the “certificate scandal” as pure blackmail. In an online interview, Ugo Emezue, Orji’s Chief Press Secretary, said the university is a full-fledged institution with independent Senate that can take any action it deemed appropriate at anytime without prompting from any quarter.

Kalu dropped out of University of Maiduguri in controversial circumstances many years before he was elected governor in 1999. While the former governor claimed that he left the university on his own accord because of disagreements with certain policies of the institution, there are claims that he was expelled. However, about two years into his tenure as governor, Kalu felt the need to brush up his certificates, not by going to start afresh as a student in a higher institution, but to continue from where he left off at University of Maiduguri. Orji, then his Chief of Staff, it was alleged, was the one who applied to University of Maiduguri for the transcript with which Kalu was admitted in November 2001. Orji’s aides deny that their boss was part of the arrangement.

Most Nigerians became aware that Kalu was an ABSU student when his picture appeared in a national newspaper in 2002. Critics alleged that the admission granted him was against ABSU regulations, which stipulate that a student who leaves a university for more than three years will lose all previous credits if  such wishes to be readmitted. Many also wondered if the lecturers and the school authorities would be able to treat him as they treat the average student, given that he was the one paying their salaries. In addition, many wondered if Kalu could adequately combine his duties as governor with academic work. “Ponder one last point about this charade. Will Kalu sit on the dais as visitor on the day of convocation or stand in line with his classmates to receive the degree?” asked Eziuche Ubani, a member representing one of the constituencies of Abia State in the House of Representatives.

Nevertheless, the former governor was awarded a degree.

But this was in another hail of controversies, as it was alleged that contrary to ABSU transfer regulations that such students must spend a minimum of three years in the university to obtain a degree, Kalu allegedly spent only two semesters. The former governor, who has indicated his readiness to go to court to challenge the action of the university, insists that he fulfilled all the conditions for the award of the degree.

Amobi Nzelu, an Abuja-based lawyer, said he already had a brief prepared to challenge the action of the university as a counsel to Kalu, but was being prevented from doing so by a very senior employee of the institution he did not name. Nzelu, who queried why it took the university 12 years to realise that it made a mistake, said the senate that approved the certificate in question, the Vice-Chancellor then, and the graduand involved should have been invited to testify before the decision to withdraw the certificate was taken. “If there was a reason to doubt Kalu’s certificate, the only competent body to certify it unfit and annulled should be a court because if a university awards a certificate and withdraws it later, it means its integrity is lacking,” said Nzelu.

However, in a recent article published in some national newspapers, Jonas Ozubi, a public affairs commentator, said that there is nothing strange in the withdrawal of certificates and results by academic institutions and examination bodies, especially when it is discovered that the beneficiaries obtained them without following rules and regulations guiding admission. He agreed that Kalu can indeed approach a court to prove the authority of ABSU wrong if he is ready to provide substantial evidence that he was properly admitted and that he graduated from the university while in office as governor of the state and visitor to the university.

The columnist argued that Kalu should also put in the public domain the transcript issued to him by the University of Maiduguri, which he used for inter-university transfer into the ABSU and even the school certificate results he used to secure admission into the University of Maiduguri. These, he said, will effectively put a lie to  ABSU’s claims. “If Kalu is not sure of himself and does not have enough evidence to challenge the decision in court, he and his allies should keep quiet and accept the decision in good faith. Meanwhile, all eyes are on Kalu to respond to the university’s decision by taking urgent action to redeem his battered image,” said Ozubi. Tunji Adegboyega, another columnist who reckons that Kalu’s attempt to play the victim may be valid, argued that the ABSU Senate can also not completely divorce itself from the certificate mess. However, he argued that the best option for Kalu is to return to school to prove his detractors wrong. “If Kalu still wants to be a graduate, he should return to school properly and do it right, now that he is no longer governor. This time, he should ensure that his transcript carries the letter-head of the University of Maiduguri from where he dropped out; he should ensure too that he meets the admission requirements as well as the requirements of attendance of classes. He should also ensure that he matriculates with his fellow ‘Jambites’,” Adegboyega said sarcastically.

Before the certificate controversy, the two had been at each other’s throats over the control of the Abia State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Kalu contested and won elections, spending two terms as governor. However, he had fallen out with former president Olusegun Obasanjo during his second tenure in office over allegations of corruption and non-performance. He also fell out with key stakeholders in the state chapter of the PDP, led by Onyema Ugochukwu, the then presidential adviser on communications. With the support of the national leadership of the party, the group wrested the party machinery from Kalu as the 2007 elections approached.

On 13 December 2006, Ugochukwu emerged as the PDP candidate for the 2007 Abia State gubernatorial election. Kalu left the party to establish the Progressive People’s  Alliance, PPA, on which platform he contested the presidential election. Orji also contested and won the governorship election, despite his arrest and detention days before the polls by the EFCC.

Orji was arrested on allegations that he helped Kalu to loot the treasury of Abia State. Indeed, Kalu had resigned two days before his term was officially due to expire to ensure that Orji, who was granted bail soon after the election, was sworn in as his successor. The essence of this was to imbue Orji with constitutional immunity against arrest and prosecution. The gambit worked, but not the relationship between the two men.

The strain in their relationship became public in 2010, when Kalu, as Chairman, PPA Board of Trustees, issued a query to Orji in which he accused him of non-performance. Orji’s response betrayed a desire to be free from the leash strung on his neck by Kalu and his family, especially his mother’s Reality Organisation. The governor said Kalu and his family’s demands for funds from the state were limiting his capacity to develop the state. Consequently, Orji defected to the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, to avoid being denied the PPA ticket for re-election.

However, the PDP leadership persuaded Orji to join the party a couple of weeks after he joined APGA. A few weeks after, Kalu also indicated his intention to return to PDP. Kalu’s move was resisted by stakeholders in the Abia State chapter of the party. Led by Orji, party stalwarts stormed the National Secretariat of the party in protest against the proposed re-admission of Kalu by the party’s National Working Committee. The former governor was forced to remain in the PPA, where he unsuccessfully contested for a seat in the Senate in the 2011 elections. Members of the Abia State chapter of the PDP also went on a similar mission to the National Secretariat last November to stop the former governor’s return to the party.

While trying to convince Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, PDP National Chairman, on why Kalu should be frozen out, Colonel Austin Akobundu (retd.), PDP South-East National Vice-Chairman, said: “His exit from the party seemed a settled matter from the beginning and there is no need to revisit it without the real risk of destroying the foundation of harmony and progress upon which the party presently stands. PDP in Abia State has moved on. The former governor too should move on. The only predictable outcome of his readmission will be to launch Abia PDP into violent crisis and recrimination.” He further alleged that the sole objective of the former governor is to use its platform to pursue his presidential ambition, a plot he said would escalate tensions within the party.

Despite the protestations, Kalu, in January, announced that he had been readmitted into PDP at his Igbere Ward A of the state. The former governor said he rejoined the party on 17 January 2013 and was issued a registration number 9,787,945 at a reception he had organised for party members in his ward. This, however, was followed by swift denial by the state PDP leadership.

Senator Emma Nwaka, Abia State PDP Chairman, debunked Kalu’s claims. He displayed the party registers of the two wards in Igbere – A and B – and a stack of unissued membership cards said to belong to the two wards. He also announced that the members of the executive committees in the two wards resigned on 10 January and had handed over to him all the documents in their possession, including the membership registers and the unused membership cards. “If they gave him  any card, it is fake,” said Nwaka, who also noted that while the serial number of the cards issued to members in Igbere Ward A starts with “95”, the card purportedly issued to Kalu bore “97”. He also said it was not enough for the former governor to brandish a membership card, as his name must be in the party’s register to be regarded as a member.

Also, PDP stakeholders in Bende Local Government Area had, in a communiqué issued after a meeting on 21 January, affirmed that the party “has not changed its position nor lifted the embargo on the readmission of Chief Orji Uzor Kalu into PDP in Bende”. The Zonal Vice Chairman of PDP in the South-East also reaffirmed that Kalu had not returned and will not return to the party under any circumstance. On his part, Kalu claimed that members of the party’s executive of his ward were sacked because they re-admitted him.

Analysts believe that Kalu’s desperation to return to PDP is borne out of his quest to ensure that he has a hand in who becomes the next governor of the state and to have a bigger platform for a more impactful participation in national politics. It is also doubtful if the former governor, who has been engaged in promoting Igbo presidency of late, has abandoned his dream of being a senator. But with all stakeholders in the party against him, observers wonder how Kalu is going to be relevant in the PDP, let alone contest an elective position.

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