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Enter Benjamin Kalu, the new eye of Ndigbo in Nigeria’s national politics



By Ben Benson-Okoli

A very prominent priest once sent a woman, who had come to baptise his son back. Why? The mother had chosen the name, Thomas. “Didn’t you read the bible to know the role of Thomas?” he had asked the utterly bemused mother. “Thomas was a doubter. So, I’ll not name him Thomas. Go home with your child. When you choose an appropriate name, come back for the baptism,” he added.

It might sound funny, as it did to the many people who heard the story of the encounter in that little village and beyond, but there was no doubt as to the point the priest was trying to make. Even though today, many people still bear that name, he was simply trying to emphasise the position that there is something to a name. So many people have made a similar point about the names they choose for their children.

Nobody knows what influenced his parents to name him Benjamin. But going by the narrative about the original bearer of that name in the scriptures, it seems to be turning prophetic in the place  of Benjamin Kalu, the new kid on the block in the trajectory of Ndigbo in the Nigerian political firmament.

Recall the biblical story. Jacob the father of Benjamin loved Rachael so much that he had to work for the father for years to marry her. But tragedy came when she died while at childbirth. But not before she named her son Benoni – child of sorrow. But instead of retaining the name, that would have reminded him permanently of the trauma of losing his beloved wife, Jacob had to change his name to Benjamin – child of my right hand, in other words, child of consolation rather than pain

So, will Benjamin Okezie (made perfect) Kalu, bring the succour and consolation to Ndigbo as the biblical namesake did to the father? That journey has begun for the 52-year-old lawyer, thinker and purveyor of fresh ideas. Somehow, the answer is also becoming more germane now that a new perspective is opening to the consistent community builder, conscientious agitator, eloquent pleader, awakened mind, and transformational leader.

He might be seen as a man ahead of his times, but he seems to be aware of the task ahead, hence he had started early to prepare as if he knew that at a point, the task of carrying on where others stopped would one day rest on his shoulders.

That day seems to have come as he would definitely become the highest ranking Igbo political leader at the national level, by the time he assumes the position of the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, by the time the National Assembly is inaugurated on Tuesday, June 13, going by the choice of the All Progressives Congress (APC), which specifically named him for the job, last month.

At 23, the same age Thomas Sankara took over the affairs of his country as President of Burkina Faso, Kalu was already on top of the game in student union politics at the University of Calabar. And before his 35th birthday he had served in various capacities in his Abia State, including Senior Special Adviser (SSA) to the Governor on Mellenium Development Goals (MDGs) and International Relations, which further prepared him as a leader of the people, apart from opening new vistas in politics. For close to two decades, he has demonstrated strong passion and commitment to the things that bother his community, the Bende people in the same state. Devoting himself in the area of human capital development, he invested heavily in scholarships for students, giving business grants and offering employment opportunities through his Benjamin Kalu Foundation.

Even outside the shores of Nigeria, he never forgot home. During his period as diaspora Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), then Africa’s largest party, controlling about six provinces, while on a short stint in South Africa, he led the campaign for Nigerians in the diasporas to be given the right to vote in elections.

Apart from playing strong roles in the formation of the Nigerian Community in South Africa, he also promoted groups like the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, South African chapter, which he led. Typical of people like him, his unquenchable appetite to learning, saw him picking up an MBA from one of the best Business Schools in the world to further equip himself before returning to Nigeria.

A proven grassroots player, who prides himself as a messenger of his people rather than their boss,  his leadership trajectory, was one in which he held weekly engagements with his constituents as a member of the House of Representatives, a sharp deviation from what obtains in most places, where his contemporaries are merely seen but always out of reach to those they represent.

As Chairman of the Committee on Media and Public Affairs, of the Green Chambers in the ninth assembly, he was both the voice and the face at the same time, assuming the responsibility of selling it favourably to the public, a job entrusted in him, ostensibly due to not only his versatility and communication abilities, but his appealing personality.

Coming at this time when Ndigbo seem to be in sorrow, due to their parlous political situation, Kalu – like Benjamin, who was a consolation to his father, Jacob might well be what the South East need at the moment to ease their pain. Pain! Bruised and wounded! Pain, because a once strong, vibrant leg of a tripod now appears very weak, if not broken by continued and deliberate pummelling! Bruised because many years after the civil war that ended with no Victor no Vanquished, there is still the obvious vanquished! Wounded, because of an obvious conspiracy against the Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction – the three Rs agenda of General Yakubu Gowon. All now seem evidential that the Igbo lot has been accentuated by recent years of political wandering.

Would Kalu be the Benjamin, expected to be the ravenous wolf whose hunger to redeem his people meet that expectation? He is expected to employ his attributes as a servant leader with the generational balance, to re-engineer a fresh path to birth a new Nigeria, one where all citizens would have a sense of belonging – a Nigeria where there will be no second class citizen – a Nigeria where no citizen will be judged by his or her sex, creed, language, religion, culture and tribe – a country where no citizen will be inhibited from rising to his or her full potentials. Will he come through?

This was the Nigeria former President, Muhammadu Buhari had the greatest opportunity to create, but squandered by leaving Nigeria in the worst form of division and disunity in its history, a disastrous outcome for which he now awaits the sad verdict of posterity, which would surely come at the appropriate time.

Though President Bola Tinubu might not have indicated his reason for personally endorsing him, there is no doubt that with his propensity as a go-getter, and a man of the people, Kalu might be needed to bring the planks, which when nailed together, would become the platform for the President and APC’s much needed inroad into the South East.

He emphasised this need recently during his appearance on Politics Today, a current affairs programme on Channels Television, when he told his host: “When you talk about nation building you forget about sentiments, you forget about emotions and look at the strongest argument and the strongest argument here is how do we make a diversity sensitive leadership, nation-building effort that will incorporate all the beautiful efforts of all the diverse part of the country coming together to work for what we peach? It’s by unity, peace and progress.

“You may recall that in the last four years, the South-East was not holding any of the presiding officers’ position and it has impacted on this election, among other things. I can assure you, if you neglect South-East again, a whole zone in such sensitive position, then you battle again in 2027, that is a big risk for any great planner to take. If you start now to plan and adopt this spirit of inclusion, South-East is going to yield a better harvest than what was yielded before.”

Kalu’s astuteness, resilience, versetality and ability to play a central role wherever he goes are no longer in doubt. In the ninth Assembly, he moved the first motion, House Motion 001, to address the ecological problems that threatens his people to near extinction which became such a huge success that he received a huge honour from his people, by way of a chieftancy title.

Conscious of the diversity insensitive in Nigeria, he has demonstrated the knack for pursuing his goal with the diligence and resilience that could only produce positive outcomes. This, he has demonstrated to his Bende people.

With Aliyu Betara and Yusuf Gagdi withdrawing from the race for the Speakership contest in the Green Chambers for the Tajudeen Abbas-Benjamin Kalu combination as Speaker and Deputy Speaker, respectively, after a meeting with President Bola Tinubu and Vice President, Kashim Shettima, on Sunday, his ascendency to the new position, is almost a fait accompli.

Now the world awaits him to do what he did for his constituency on a larger scale. Would he be the one to deliver Jonah from the foggy, smelly belly of the fish? Would he be the one to break the glass ceiling for Ndigbo? Would he be the plank for the erection of the platform that would link his people to the national politics, which had left them political orphans in the last eight? Would he repair and strengthen the leg of the tripod that has since become weak and broken? The waiting game begins. Welcome, Tuesday, June 13, day of new beginning! Welcome to history!


Benson-Okoli Esq., a journalist and lawyer, writes from Johannesburg (