He came with aplomb. High expectations. And there was no denying the fact that the new Governor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, was well received by Ndi Anambra and the entire Southeast.
A few days to his inauguration last year, I wrote an article titled “Soludo and The Audacity of Hope” which was published on the continental news platform, Prime Business Africa (www.primebusiness.africa). The piece captured the background and the essence of a groundswell of expectations that followed Professor Soludo’s emergence as Governor-elect and, of course, the landmines that could lead to under-performance.
The introductory part of the article read: “Many wonder if he can scale the high jump he seems to have set before time. Someone recently remarked that if Soludo’s tenure were a UEFA Champions League Game, he would have loved to bet on high odds for failure, despite the initial garagara. Expectedly, every leader begins on a note of high optimism, but Soludo’s case was a bit super high-pitched. The stridence and pungency of his speeches after electoral victory smacked of a messiah; but sometimes of an emperor whose decrees will know no extra political, legislative and judicial obstacles. Perhaps, Soludo was stunned by the audacity of optimism, having scaled daunting odds to triumph at the polls ahead of over 25 initial contenders. At times, his emergence calls up memories of the kind of belief that spurred Obama from the intimidations of racial disadvantage to the apogee of global power. Soludo, no doubt, came to the contest with intimidating credentials as a professor of Economics and former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria through whom Nigerian banks overcame a hitherto perennial history of crashing and liquidation. But it was as if Soludo was going to be stopped by Nigeria’s loss of appetite for promising leaders. Having contested unsuccessfully in 2014, and sacrificing his ambition for Governor Obiano’s second term in 2018, Soludo declared his ambition in 2020. In March 2021, Soludo narrowly escaped death when gunmen struck at a civic centre, while he was meeting with the youth of his Isuofia community. Three policemen attached to him were killed. In July 2021, the battle for the soul of APGA saw Soludo’s name dropped as the party’s gubernatorial candidate by INEC. As of November 1, 2021, less than five days to the November 6 polls, it was not clear if Ndi Igbo would participate in the elections owing to a subsisting IPOB order for voters to abstain from the elections, with crisscrossing security threats here and there.”
The above excerpts from the article on Soludo’s emergence as governor will suffice to set the stage for examining the challenges he currently faces despite his honest efforts and incontrovertible success in the areas of security, infrastructure and agriculture, among others.
Perhaps, the concluding paragraph of that same article published on March 13, 2022 will suffice to nail the essence of this one:
“Between six months and one year henceforth (March 13, 2022), the results of those who have bet on Soludo will start to show. As history beckons, Soludo can continue to coast on the crest of the high tides he has caused to move on the sea of governance. Mr Governor, history is here. It’s Anambra for posterity!”
Now, it’s obvious that Soludo broke the jinx; his election was to be the first time a thorough-bred economist, a professor, would govern the elitist Anambra – a state that boasts of intellectuals and industrialists alike but hitherto experienced series of political upheavals, with many of its intellectuals shunning active politics. So, Soludo was most welcome and celebrated far and wide by the Anambra/Southeast elite and the international community. The likes of Professor Pat Utomi, Dr Oby Ezekwesili and the crème de la crème of the Nigerian intelligentsia of Southeast and South South extraction all had a hand in the process leading to Soludo’s inauguration.
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As expected, the Committee put the best foot forward: Soludo’s potential commissioners and other appointees were to apply and go through a job interview – the first time a Nigerian government (national or subnational) would be toeing that line of leadership recruitment process. It was indeed a novel initiative, one expected from a governor-elect of Soludo’s standing.
I am particularly one of those who had great expectations of what Soludo could achieve for Anambra, and I still do, considering not just the credibility that came with his election but also the much I gleaned from his days at CBN Governor. As a senior journalist during the banking consolidation era of 2005/2006 when Soludo was governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)), I had studied his approach to things that border on personal integrity and came to the conclusion that he is probably one of the few Nigerians who would give their hands and legs to defend their official actions. Of course, his insistence on due process and his readiness to defend it saw him through the bumpy road of the banking consolidation project, a reform that equally gave him much trouble ‘the morning after.’
Despite being troubled by insecurity and general dissatisfaction in Anambra, Soludo, no doubt, took off well, coasting with infrastructure projects, security and fixing the revenue collection jigsaw created by agents ready to milk the state dry. In doing all of these he acquired more enemies than friends.
Soludo government has no doubt made visible progress in tackling insecurity, especially the unknown gunmen phenomenon. His Administration first created the Ministry of Homeland Affairs and appointed a Commissioner to head it, with a supporting Special Adviser on Security. He also set up the Anambra State Strike Force under the State’s vigilante law and tasked them to flush out criminals in 8 local government areas, 7 of which are in the southern Senatorial District and Ogbaru. These same feats he replicated in Road infrastructure (where more than 200 kilometres of roads have already been flagged off) as well as in Education and Agriculture.
The synergy he created among the security agencies in Anambra midwifed a formidable Joint Task Force (JTF), now the major vanguard for the fight against insurrection and other forms of insecurity. The AVG is part of the operations of the JTF, which, under the leadership of the Commissioner of Police carried the war to camps of the unknown gunmen and has tamed the problem to a large extent. The JTF liberated the hitherto occupied Local Government Areas and life has since returned to normal in the affected parts.
In the fight against insecurity, valuable contributions were made by some Ndi Anambra through the Anambra State Security Trust Fund (ASSTF). The contributions were deployed to deepen security related activities. Soludo government now boasts that criminals have fled the state to border communities
Politics of Governance
Yes, the governor was quite on point until he miscalculated the national political landscape by taking on Mr Peter Obi, his predecessor and now Presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the just-concluded Presidential Election. His political brush with Mr Peter Obi has more or less become his albatross in the 2023 elections in Anambra, where he is not in ballot).
He obviously took a miscalculated step. The Governor was on national television programme to provide insights on his 2023 Budget when the Channels Television Anchor asked him about the millions of dollars and naira reportedly saved for the Anambra State Government by Obi’s government. His response was something close to the point that the so-called savings by Obi as governor was “next to nothing.”
Expectedly, a flurry of attacks followed and Soludo, thinking the criticisms were orchestrated by Obi and his team, responded by a more damning long letter which further sought to reduce Obi’s argument, even though that was the pivot on which Obi’s campaign of integrity and prudent management of resources revolved.
Soludo had concluded he was talking to Peter Obi. Little did the Anambra State governor realise that he was addressing an angry crowd of ‘Obidients’ who had no clear personality figure as leader. The Obidient Movement, a product of the EndSARS protests that saw millions of Nigerian youths file out against Police brutality and bad governance but were violently quelled by government, had seen a suitable political symbol around which they would take power from the “old brigade of oppressors.” And that was Peter Obi, whose co-incidental fallout with the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) provided a new platform for desperate Nigerian youths to seek to take power from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Obidients, home and abroad, unleashed their pent-up anger on Soludo, a professor governor who had come to governance amid great hopes and fanfare. His social, if not political, ranking started looking south, irrespective of the good he was doing to infrastructure and security – two critical factors of governance in his context.
Angered by the attacks he got, Soludo went further to insist in his widely circulated letter that Mr Peter Obi was not the best candidate from the Southeast and should have, in fact, joined the All-progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to pursue his presidential ambition. For Soludo, APGA meant a lot for the Igbos and should have been the right platform for Obi to negotiate his way and that of the Southeast into national politics. For him, Obi had no chance of winning the election and will, at best, come a distant third when the roll is called.
Indeed, his position on Obi’s candidacy has become a reference point at home, at least for the State Assembly elections in Anambra, considering the controversial outcomes of the February 25 Presidential election in which APC candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu was declared winner in what has become Nigeria’s most controversial election since 1999.
Ndi Anambra and youths, who were predominantly APGA, had voted massively for Peter Obi of the Labour Party in the presidential election few weeks ago, and with Soludo not being on the ballot, there are concerns that the ripple effect could see Labour Party gearing for some sort of good showing in Anambra.
Now, this is what a sitting governor would not want to contend with: Having the State Assembly dominated by opposition lawmakers who, in the worst case scenario, could even attempt to slow down the pace of work for the governor.
Peter Obi, as an APGA Governor, experienced this scenario and had to pay the ultimate price when he was impeached by the PDP-dominated State Assembly. It took him close to one year to recover his mandate in the court. Should his work in the state continue and not truncated, it is understandable that Governor Soludo must avoid this. And his resolve to ensure that APGA sweeps through the State Assembly ballot is seen in his response to moves by LP. Peter Obi had met with LP State Assembly candidates in Anambra asking them to prepare for victory but ensure they work with the APGA governor, Soludo, when they are sworn in.
Of course, APGA in the state wouldn’t trust Obi and his LP candidates on that.
While Obi as Presidential candidate would need a home base for his Labour Party, Soludo has much more at stake – his projects and ultimately his seat as governor. While it is most unlikely that he would be impeached by LP-dominated House of Assembly because of Obi’s natural disposition in politics, Soludo cannot afford to leave his projects at the mercy of a strong opposition.
The steps he took regarding the Presidential election notwithstanding, Soludo recorded quite a handful of positives, especially in the areas of security, road infrastructure and agriculture. While these may not have been superlatively visible, the sage has been set for very effectively in just one year.
But he has good reason to worry: Obi’s Labour Party did relatively well in Anambra during the Presidential election, having two of the Senatorial seats and 6 of the 11 Federal House of Representatives seats. This feat seems to compound APGA’s fear that the State might be taken over by LP after the March 18 elections.
Governor Soludo could not hide his fears when, on a recent campaign for an APGA House Assembly candidate, he appealed to the people to vote for his party for house of Assembly seats. He warned that if candidates of other parties are voted they would end up receiving their salaries at end of the month and might not work in good harmony with him.
The labour party on the other hand has asked the people to vote for their candidates who would work with Peter Obi should he eventually claim his presidential mandate from the courts.
On this score, both APGA and the LP have a good reason to fight dirty.
Mr Chibuzo Callistus Okeke, one of the political actors in the state , has this to say to me: “APGA being in power, appears to have an uncommon advantage over Labour with firm structural control of most of the Local Government Areas. For one, the Party right from the Governor Willie Obiano days has been in the good books of civil servants, ensuring prompt payment of salaries and giving yearly incentives for festivities.
“Traditional rulers and government-appointed Presidents-General of town unions in would like to keep their rewards and work for the perpetuity of APGA, a political party that has over the years made them family members. APGA will also be looking to having all of its government-appointed Caretaker chairmen and councilors work for its success in the 21 LGAs on Saturday. Over two third of the present members of House of Assembly are of APGA extraction and all of them are on the ballot.”
While LP candidates will be looking to leverage Obi’s goodwill in his home state, it also enjoys the sympathy of some traders, landlords, transporters who view the Governor’s tax module as highly exorbitant.
Those that Soludo dislodged from the revenue collection racket will obviously like to work in concert with Labour candidates. They were the original tax collectors, with many diverting the proceeds to their individual pockets, until the Soludo government came with his tax reforms.
On the whole, Mr Okeke thinks that APGA will need to keep its books clean as Igbo dominated political party; and for this to happen, it must retain firm hold of Anambra, the only state it currently controls. This will, no doubt, guarantee the party a place at the negotiating table, probably just as Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe did through his Nigerian People’s Party (INPP) in 1979 to produce Mbazulike Amaechi as House of Representatives Speaker in Shehu Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria (NPN) government.
It does appear that the thrust of Soludo’s argument is that, to become a formidable regional political party, APGA needs to move beyond Anambra and spread to other states of the Southeast.
For this to happen, it must retain firm control of its State Assembly, and that can only happen if it’s able to ride past the Labour Party State House of Assembly challenge on Saturday March 18, 2023.
Dr Marcel Mbamalu, former Editor at The Guardian, is a Media Expert/Consultant and Publisher