By Emeh James Anyalekwa, Ogochukwu Isioma
There was wild jubilation on Friday all over the country as the Supreme Court quashed the judgement that convicted and sentenced a former governor of Abia and Senate Chief Whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, to 12 years imprisonment.
The apex court, in a unanimous decision by a seven-man panel of Justices led by Justice Amina Augie, held that the Federal High Court in Lagos acted without jurisdiction when it convicted Kalu, his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited and former Director of Finance in Abia State, Jones Udeogu.
It held that trial Justice Mohammed Liman was no longer a judge of the Federal High Court as at the time he sat and delivered the judgement that convicted the defendants for allegedly stealing about N7.1billion from Abia state treasury.
According to the Supreme Court, Justice Liman, having been elevated to the Court of Appeal before then, lacked the powers to return to sit as a High Court Judge.
Shortly after the news of his victory was made public, our correspondent observed residents of the former governor’s hometown of Igbere marching along the major streets of the otherwise sleepy town since his departure.
One of the residents, Eze Chukwu, who was caught in joyous mood, amidst wild jubilation, described Orji Kalu representing Abia North senatorial district as “Godfearing and cheerful Senator.”
“We rejoice over the release of our senator. Since his lopsided conviction, we have been fasting and praying for his freedom. We thank God for victory,” he said.
Few other residents were observed in small groups in different locations across the state, apparently discussing the victory of the man who had brought enormous development to Abia as Governor.
When our correspondent approached one of the groups outside the senator’s Abia North district, a spokesperson for it, ‘Mama Chibuzor’, simply said she was happy that their “son” is free, dancing as she spoke.
“I was at home when my son called out to me that ‘mama, mama senator (Kalu) is free.’ I was happy. I simply took my wrapper and jumped outside, meeting my fellow women here.”
Asked why she was particularly happy over the development, even when she is not a primary constituent, the woman said Kalu as governor and senator has never forsaken the people.
“He (Kalu) is a good man, assuming he was here all along, I know what he would have done for the people (during the Coronavirus lockdown) but we give God all the glory.”
Youths were also not left out as motorists and passersby were seen chanting victory songs in Aba, the commercial city of Abia, even in some filling stations in the area.
“If not for some of the restrictions on social gatherings, I would have personally hosted my friends and throw a party even though the Senator is currently not in the state,” said one of the youths.
He described Senator Orji Uzor Kalu as an “uncommon man” who is committed and dedicated to the development of the Igbo nation, Abia state and Nigeria at large.
The celebration was not limited to the senator’s constituency of Abia North, as other parts of the state including the South and Central districts, also joined in the celebrations.
Igbere TV observed that some popular locations across the state, including the roundabout and FMC in Umuahia, erupted in jubilation following the news of Orji Kalu’s victory.
The jubilations were peaceful as even traders joined in singing praises to God over the development, saying they were behind Kalu; urging him not to be deterred by his present ordeals.
They commended the court for quashing the judgement of the lower court, and urged the federal government to stop “lopsided trials and sectional vendetta.”
The victory of the Forbes-rated billionaire fondly called OUK, has dominated social media platforms, including closed groups on Facebook of Ebonyi, Kano and Abuja residents.
Practically most of the discussants were of the view that the former governor was a victim of political persecution rather than for corruption for which he was jailed by the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos.
Some of them believed that Kalu’s victory and return to politics would stir up the political atmosphere not only in Abia where he hails from, but the South East region and Nigeria as a whole.
An official of the Ebonyi state government and long-standing political associate of Senator Kalu, described the court order as a welcome development not only for the people of Abia, but South East as a whole.
“No matter the circumstances, every journey, every venture, every persecution, every cry, and even our lives have a beginning and an end. To God alone be the Glory.”
A Senator from Kano and colleague of the Senate Chief Whip, who described Kalu as a detribalised Nigerian, said he had missed the former governor at the floor of the red chamber.
“On Kalu’s release today, it’s celebrations everywhere in my state (Kano), and I believe it is the same for other states across the country.
“You know why? Kalu is a detribalised Nigerian, everywhere he goes; he does good. His businesses are spread across all over the country employing people of different religion and ethnic background.
“I am particularly happy because I have missed my colleague (Kalu) at the floor of our hallowed chamber, I can’t wait to welcome him and exchange political views.”
President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Alhaji Shettima Yerima, who recently described Kalu’s ordeal as political vowing to unmask the conspirators, said the victory of the former governor was long overdue.
“They see Orji Kalu as a potential threat based on the political permutation of the possibility of the Presidency going to the South East come 2023 and they feel the best is to stop him. But they are not Allah who decides.”
He described Kalu as a popular politician even among the Northern folks, adding, “I must tell you that Kalu is one of the few people from the South East that understands this country very well. He knows Nigeria more than many other politicians from Southern Nigeria and he has remained steadfast till today.
“This is why I said in my last interface with you that we the North will never abandon him even in times of trouble. We all know the truth and cannot afford to keep silence while he suffers for nothing.”
For Ugochi, leader of a popular Igbo residents’ group in Abuja, the nation’s capital, she described Senator Orji Kalu’s victory and release as a welcome development.
“Igbo people all over the world are at this moment celebrating the hero of our time, the resource control guru, the liberator of the oppressed who paid the supreme price for the sake of his people.
“Our joy knows no bound as Igbos and Nigerians at large, are happy over the development. Kalu is a great partner in the One Nigeria project; a patriotic citizen of this great country.
“Like Mandela, Awolowo, Obasanjo and many others of his type all over the world, OUK remains our hero,” she told Igbere TV on the telephone.
A chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in South East and one-time vice chairman of the party, said this (the victory) was the greatest thing that has happened to the Igbo nation.
He declared, “Chief Orji Kalu’s victory at the Supreme Court is the greatest thing that has ever happened within the political terrain of Abia State since the creation of the state.”
He noted that the former governor could not be abandoned, as he did not abandon his own even while away, adding that Kalu even reached out to residents during a recent unrest in parts of his Constituency following the killing of a youth by the police.
“We knew that God cannot forsake a good man. We saw clearly that God for His reason alone has ordained a wilderness experience for your refilling for His greater use for the salvation of Nigeria.
“Moses went through the same, separated from his people for saving their good. We never feared, we never floundered, we never got distressed.”
A federal lawmaker from Abia state told Igbere TV on phone that God had freed Kalu because he ruled his people with passion and a good heart, adding: “The political atmosphere in the state will not remain the same with the development.”
The lawmaker, who described Kalu as “the wonder man of Igbere”, added: “We congratulate an illustrious son who fell on evil days, while providing a formidable leadership in Abia.”
He said the Senator had showed sagacity as a politician despite his travails, saying he(Kalu) would come back reinvigorated as a leader of his people.
Describing Orji Kalu as the best politician to emerge from the South East geopolitical zone, the lawmaker noted: “Though he is not a saint (as no one is), Kalu remains the best politician in the South East region.”
“The northerners and westerners will never abandon their own. Why should we dump our political lion?. I celebrate his victory and nullification of his lopsided conviction,” the federal lawmaker added.