The former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu has narrated his venture into several businesses and how he made his billions.
Mr Kalu, a senator representing Abia North District and the Chief Whip of the Nigerian Senate, has an ambition to run for president in 2023.
He is said to be one of the richest politicians from Nigeria’s South-east.
The senator, in an interview with Arise TV on Thursday, said he has been involved in different kinds of businesses, ranging from the sales of palm oil to crude oil export and the importation of sugar.
He said he had also been involved in supplies of military equipment to the Nigerian Army and food to soldiers at the battlefronts.
Reuben Abati, a renowned writer, was among the Arise TV crew which interviewed the senator.
Mr Kalu said he started moving palm oil from the south to the north, specifically to Maiduguri, when he was a student at the University of Maiduguri.
“When I went to Maiduguri I found out that palm oil is very lucrative in Maiduguri, they don’t have it. So whenever I am back in the house for holiday, I will buy palm oil and go back. When I go back on another holiday, I will buy dried fish and sell (them). I started like that,” Mr Kalu said in the interview.
The senator said he ran into Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari when both were top officers in the army, but he did not disclose how the two men, who later ruled Nigeria, helped him to advance his business interests.
He said he was into massive importation of sugar and rice at some point in his life, and that he was a strong competitor with Aliko Dangote, the man who is Africa’s richest man today.
“I was one of the largest importers of rice and sugar. For me, making money is an art,” Mr Kalu said. “Then I started building industries in Aba and Ota.”
Although he did not talk about this in the Arise TV interview, Mr Kalu has investments in the media – he owns the Sun and the Telegraph newspapers.
Alleged involvement in N7.65 billion fraud
When Arise TV crew asked the senator about his trial for alleged N7.65 billion fraud, he said he was too wealthy to suddenly become a thief in Nigeria.
“Everybody, even you Reuben (Abati), you know me pre-1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, you know I bankrolled everything, all the money politicians paid during that period, you know I was the one who brought the money in the PDP. So, how can I become a thief suddenly?” he said.
The senator said the fraud story against him was a creation of the media. He did not, however, want his interviewees to press on with the matter. “I am not supposed to talk about matters in court,” he said.
Mr Kalu was prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission which accused him of diverting money belonging to the Abia State Government when he was the governor.
The Guardian newspaper quoted Mr Kalu as telling the court in 2019, during his trial, that he gave the Peoples Democratic Party N500 million when the party was at its formative stage and that he also gave former President Olusegun Obasanjo N100 million when he (Obasanjo) came out of prison in 1998.
The senator was sentenced to 12 years in prison in December 2019 but his conviction was later nullified by the Supreme Court and he was eventually released from prison in May 2020.
Mr Kalu told Arise TV that his trial was orchestrated by people who were envious of him and wanted him destroyed.
“A lot of people think I became very successful at (an) early age, why must I have money and power. These people carelessly put me in prison for six months for doing nothing.”