Immediately after taking office on March 17, 2022, Governor Charles Soludo appeared to have keyed into a global trend towards populism as he leaned left towards more equality, social justice and reform.
Some governors such as Ademola Adeleke of Osun have done a good job of populism through rapturous dance routines which spice up some good governance.
After a string of social media satires linked to Soludo’s attacks on IPOB and Peter Obi, the governor went the way of populism again on Sunday, October 2, 2023, when he renamed the state’s airport after the late literary sage, Chinua Achebe. Thus, the erstwhile Anambra International Cargo and Passenger Airport, Umueri, is now Chinua Achebe International Airport, Umueri.
The airport covers 1,500 hectares of land in Anambra East Local Government Area of the State. It was inaugurated on October 30, 2021.
Would Achebe Have Accepted the Honour If Alive?
Achebe was born on November 16, 1930 in Ogidi, Anambra State. He died on March 21, 2013, in the United States. Achebe’s fame is highly tied to ‘Things Fall Apart’, which ranks at par with some epic Greek Tragedies, and is one of the most sizzling pieces of fiction from any African writer to date. The novel, published in 1958, has been translated into over 80 languages, selling more than 20 million copies. Achebe’s other epic works are ‘No Longer at Ease’ and ’A Man of the People’.
It is, however, a matter of guesswork whether Achebe would have accepted the honour were he alive. This is because he had rejected national honours twice in the past (2004 and 2011), citing crass government inefficiency and grave national insecurity as reasons. In 2011, for instance, Achebe said, while rejecting a national award: “I have particularly observed the chaos in my own state of Anambra where a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connections in high places, seems determined to turn my homeland into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom. I am appalled by the brazenness of this clique and the silence, if not connivance, of the Presidency.”
Renowned writer Chimamanda Adichie, Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, former Supreme Court Justice Niki Tobi, late fiery lawyer Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), former Petroleum Minister Tam David West, and former Director of Military Intelligence Haliru Akilu, are known to have rejected national awards in the past based on strong principles.
However, for this one, Soludo has received widespread acclaim, which, in fact, seemed to be an addendum to the re-naming of 15 Nigerian airports after some well-known individuals arguably by President Bola Tinubu on June 1, 2023. Achebe was not named in the eye-popping rechristening that had outgone President Buhari as the new definer of the former Maiduguri Airport, Borno State.
Joining a wide section of Anambra people to felicitate with Soludo on the gesture was Peter Obi, the famed presidential candidate of Labour Party in the 2023 presidential elections. Obi remarked that the honour to Achebe was well deserved and that he merited all the honour that the state and nation could bestow. Soludo has also been the centre of mainly positive comments following his pressure on the federal government to release detained IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu.
A Litany of Curious Honours
For a long time, state governors and Nigeria’s presidents have toyed with national awards, leading to criticisms for honouring underserving people. President Buhari particularly drew the ire of many Nigerians for lavishing and ridiculing national awards on some tainted politicians. In November 2022, Buhari sprayed 450 national awards on different Nigerians. In May, while bestowing the usual Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR), and the Grand Commander of the Order of Niger (GCON) on then president-elect and vice president-elect, Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima, respectively, he also presented highly controversial awards to 10 Supreme Court Justices and INEC lawyers. The 10 justices as well and INEC’s lawyers (Kemi Pinheiro, SAN, and Sunday Ameh, SAN) were honoured despite their connections with cases at the presidential elections petitions tribunal filed by the opposition parties against Tinubu’s victory. No opposition personality was honoured.
In honouring politicians, governments seem to make it look like the reward for corruption is a national award. Critics have said that it was premature to give Buhari such awards because his administration is still under scrutiny, with pervasive allegations of being the most corrupt in Nigeria’s history. Note however that past coup plotters like Sani Abacha, Tunde Idiagbon, Murtala Muhhammed, etc. have received national awards. Also, apart from the documentary unease that name changes can cause, critics also caution government against preferring individual names to ancient geo-political names. All 15 airports seen to have been renamed by Tinubu now bear the names of people instead of the names of places. Right or wrong, there was this argument that President Tinubu’s predecessor (Buhari) actually did the renaming but waited for him to take over power to do the ‘public unveiling’. Cities such as Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Ilorin will sell outfits like airports more than individuals who are much less well-known around the world. It is the same reason that airports and sports clubs around the world bear the name of cities far more than those of individuals.
Besides the responses of the prominent people to awards, governments at all levels should remember the less privileged who have lived outstanding lives while in underprivileged positions. While some names have been mentioned in the past, one believes that government has the necessary apparatus to find deserving people among farmers, former captives of bandits, transport workers, victims of election violence, petty traders, local vigilante operatives, etc. For instance, Soludo himself remarked shortly after his electoral victory that: “The heroes of November 6 [Anambra gubernatorial election] are the 5% registered voters who went out to vote despite the intimidating show of force (33000 policemen, 10,000 soldiers and other uniformed and non-uniformed persons)”.