Lure of short cut. Strategic manoeuvering to success without substance.
Around 1976, Orji Uzor Kalu was one of the students attracted, and possibly, headhunted into Government College Umuahia (GCU) by the Principal, O.O. Otisi. The Principal had eased the mobility of footballers into the college with the aim of strengthening the legs of the school senior football team towards winning the Academicals Cup.
It turned out that Orji Kalu who came along with players like Okey Uduko, Ohaka, etc was anything but a footballer. It wasn’t long before a good number of his new school mates began to feel that he had opportunistically exploited the policy to transfer himself from a regional champion, Eziama Boys Secondary School, to the globally-branded Government College Umuahia. The students were very proud of their school and of themselves, in the light of the very high academic standards they surmounted to gain Admission. It was bad enough that O.O. had lowered the bar. It was unbearable that one of those for whom the bar was lowered did not bring along the expected value in the area of football prowess. If the school had lashed at Orji Uzor Kalu at this juncture with a reprimand for what was perceived as deception, Orji may have begun that early to realize that there could be unsavory consequences for tricks of confidence. But he got away with it.
On arriving ‘Umuahia’, as Government College Umuahia is sometimes fondly called, Orji Kalu naturally hung out with his ABU (Aba Brought Up) colleagues, particularly the Ex Eziama footballers. He would religiously escort them to Lower Field for football practice. Junior students helped to carry needed materials like football, first-aid box, etc and Orji Kalu’d guard the items by the sidelines of the field as they practiced. After a while, he began to arrogate to himself the title of Team Manager. Again, Orji Uzor Kalu got away with it.
GCU is not a very easy place for students who join in any year later than class one. Such a joiner is called a WHITE SHIRT and subjected to untold bullying (refered to in the school as molestation, harassment and punishment) by seniors, classmates and even confident juniors. Orji Kalu managed to escape the bullying by pressing his false identify as a school senior team footballer. Infact, he even became privileged, like other players. They were exempted from promptness for breakfast at the dinning hall, they were not checked for attending Morning Assembly and even attending the first two or three lessons in class. Players would stroll into class long after other students had taken a number of lessons and were preparing for break. Lunch hour promptness which was a rule in GCU was also below them. Same for dinner. Whereas students that are late to the refectory are denied food, school players had their meals specially reserved for them and even brought back to the hostel. Such were the privileges that Orji Uzor Kalu enjoyed and appropriated by supposedly being a school footballer – which he really wasn’t. At this stage, he had learnt to play the system against itself. He had begun to note that rules are for dummies and that there is neither absolute black or white, only shades of grey.
Academically, Orji Kalu wasn’t the brightest in his class. Let’s say he wasn’t bright at all. But he was bold, audacious and pretentious. What he lacked in classroom strength, he more than had in social skills. By the time football season ended, Orji had become so entrenched in the system and, like many of us, he’d learnt how to play school criminal (‘crimgwo’). The problem is that he had learnt how to benefit from the underbelly of the school without ever paying his dues. He didn’t grow in the system and couldn’t grow the system. In his mind, he remained an outsider, appropriating any benefit he could and not paying any tax to support and grow the system. I’m of the impression that Orji Kalu remains till this day a WHITE SHIRT in his heart and in his head. On the inside, his school shirt never really transmuted to pink, our unique weekday school uniform. He remains a bird of passage, a visitor. It’s doubtful, for instance if Orji Kalu can remember that the school’s acronym, GCU was sometimes said to mean Grass Cutting University. It’s doubtful if he knows the underpinnings of the School’s quasi Motto, OBC (Obey Before Complain). There’s no better evidence of this than the fact that after 8 years as Governor of Abia state in which the school is located, one didn’t see him raise a finger to support the many efforts of the vibrant Old Boys Association. It isn’t that he was not reminded. He had all the reminding in the world. But he saw our Noble Alma mater as a territory he conquered on his way to the top. To him, it was a prostitute to transact with at a time of need, not a girlfriend, concubine, wife or mother which features looped intricacies. I hear that the situation is worse with Eziama Boys in the sense that he doesn’t even want people to know he ever stepped foot at Eziama Boys as a student. Around 1999 some of our classmates said they were noticing a claim in his public profile that he had attended Barewa College. And they were wondering if it was after or before Government College Umuahia. Of course, Barewa College is reputed to have produced more than a fair share of leaders of Northern Nigeria, including, at least, 3 Presidents. So, it’s understandable that an identification with Government College Umuahia would reduce his platform for interacting with northerners whose favor he may specifically have targeted for whatever reason. It has therefore to be Barewa College. By magic, Orji Uzor Kalu became an old boy of Barewa College, Zaria.
Back to the narration about Orji at GCU. After the football season, he became friends with Ukata (I think, the son of a High Court Judge). They were often seen together. I remember one evening when many boys drooled as these two boys strolled with Miss Otulaja, a female corper, down the long stretch that runs from from the roundabout near the Principal’s quarter to the Parade Ground. For all one knows, the young female corper may just have sought a stroll; but the interpretations of that threesome stroll had ethereal dimensions.
Orji Kalu’s association with Ukata enjoyed an infamous bout of publicity sometime around 1978 when the Debating Society of an all-girls high school had an interaction with the GCU debating society. Such interactions usually commence with interschool debates or quizes and end in ballroom dancing, with exchanges of contacts which mark the possible commencement of amorous relationships. On this occasion, Orji and Ukata disappeared with two of the visiting girls for a large number of minutes. At Assembly the next Monday, the Principal, O.O. Otisi made a public show of them. He said they had claimed that the two girls wanted to drink water, they took them where they could give them water. “And, I suppose, you watered them” the Principal added, to the wild amusement of students and teachers. Orji and Ukata were reprimanded and punished. I don’t remember what the exact punishment was, but I remember that I was mortified by the impunity of Orji Kalu and Ukata. That they were not expelled gives an indication that Orji and his friend got away with a slap on the wrist. Once more, the young man was being taught that there are no limits, no bounds. For a school that took breaking of bounds very seriously, Orji had simply achieved the equivalent of getting away with murder. In future engagements with the society, one will see Orji Kalu riding roughshod over laws, rules, policies, persons and people. Let’s face it. The Seeds were sown at Government College Umuahia.
I don’t know how Orji Kalu’s WASC result turned out. But I will not be surprised if it was a straight F9 failure in all subjects. His classmates didn’t expect him to pass any subject. Nobody could even tell if he was inclined towards the sciences, arts or technicals (Technical Drawing, Metal Work, Wood Work). He was just present. In the academic space, Orji Kalu may as well not have existed. Nobody could bother to contemplate his future with an University in view.
Orji Kalu lacked capability in all subjects. If he wanted to be frank, he wouldn’t lay claim to even average status in any subject. Particularly, not in English Language which was a natural Credit for all Umuahians. Infact, rather than just a fail in English Language, Orji Kalu’s classmates expected him to fail woefully and “lose his deposit” (the political language and practice in 1979 when we sat WASC).
GCU had and still has an automatic English language-improvement culture embedded in
(1) good teaching,
(3) ridicule by peers and juniors for wrong grammar, and
(4) bullying by seniors for language errors. Even students who arrived GCU with terribly poor grasp of verbs and grammatical constructs naturally self-corrected after the first year. Orji Kalu remains the only person, living or dead who, to the best of my knowledge speak better English after one year in Government. I still don’t know how someone can form big boy with mishmash tenses. Even as Governor of Abia state, decades after graduating from our super ivy league GCU, he was still mixing verbs like a comedian immitating a poor village primary school pupil. The story of how he achieved this infamy is instructive and related to his comfort with self-destructive impunity.
Orji Kalu came into Government College Umuahia with a poor academic background from Eziama Boys High School, Aba. Having positioned himself as a footballer (which it turned out that he wasn’t), he would watch over the items of Members of the University Senior Football Team as they practiced each morning. While that gave him a sense of belonging in the school team, it robbed him of hours of learning in which he could have improved his verbiage. Moreover, as a privileged “footballer,” he wasn’t subjected to the peer ridicule and correction by which many of us improved our grammar. So, untaught and uncorrected, Orji emerged a dubious ambassador of Government College Umuahia. A fruit that in no way represents the tree. Even decades after he left secondary school and became Governor of Abia State, his English continued to be an embarrassment. In playing the system, he had played himself big time. Igbos say the man who tenders the wrong foot to an orthopedic surgeon in the hope of avoiding the pain that goes with the treatment of a broken bone will surely end up with a limp. Orji Uzor Kalu’s grammar limps. And so does his fate as he spends his full day today behind the high walls of a correctional facility – not as a visitor, not as a guest, but as a resident, a prisoner. Not a prisoner of conscience. But a prisoner, prisoner. Orji Uzor Kalu, the boy who came to Government College Umuahia over four decades ago with unsubstantiated claims of football prowess has become an awardee for a crime against the state.
In sentencing Orji Uzor Kalu, the judge stated that she couldn’t agree more with the prosecution that this Ex-Umuahian literally packed 7.1 billion Naira from Abia State over which he superintended and shifted it in broad daylight to his private limited liability company, Slok. As I read reports of the charges and judgement, I couldn’t help but perceive that Orji Uzor Kalu may have gotten to the stage where he approached the stealing of government funds without sense, without brain, and without care. That’s what Impunity does. That’s what getting away lightly with offenses at GCU 40 years ago has now led him into. Impunity lowers one’s sense of caution. It endues the bearer with foolishness, assuring him that he’d get away with the present act as he’s gotten away with earlier ones. A false sense of reality. A false sense of right and a warped sense of the not-so-right.
Impunity has turned out a big betrayer. Over time, it had lulled Orji Uzor Kalu into a false sense of security. And time kept watch. Time has turned out again to be on the side of the law. Any lesson here?
Mr X UWADOKA