Anambra Guber: A chequered victory replete with political lessons
For Soludo, it was a journey that began some 12 years ago. The road was snaky and the aspiration very shaky. There were bumps and crevices, betrayals and backstabbing. He was humbled by what he suffered, but he persevered. In the early hours of Wednesday November 10, 2021, posterity made good the golden opportunity he lost in 2010.
At exactly 1.15am, the Returning Officer for the governorship election, Prof. Florence Obi, declared, “That Charles Chukwuma Soludo of APGA, having satisfied the requirements of the law is hereby declared the winner and is returned elected.”
It was a glorious moment that banished every doubt that the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) standard bearer would sustain his winning streak, which was briefly arrested by the postponement of the ballot in Ihiala Local Government Area of the state.
While voters in Ihiala waited to cast their votes, the state was put on edge in apprehension over the delay in concluding the enthralling poll. With the intervening period, Prof. Soludo, perhaps reflecting on his quest to serve Anambra people from the position of governor, dropped some philosophical lines on his social media handle.
He wrote: “A cool Sunday evening. It is indeed the Lord’s Day and we must first thank God Almighty for his mercy. Indeed, “many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him from them all.” Good evening my people.”
Not quite long after, children from his Isuofia community thronged his country home and he addressed them. After asking the mostly children visitors what their mission was and learning that they were in his place to offer prayers that God will crown him with success in the supplementary ballot scheduled for the following Tuesday, Soludo, told them, “it is like God has already answered your prayers.”
The APGA standard bearer then sang: “Who can battle with the Lord, I say nobody.” Although the children chorused that Christian worship song, their young minds could not understand the depth and rich meaning hidden in that singular melody.”
In that one song, the former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor summarised his travails in the 11-year-journey to breast the tape in his race to be governor of Anambra State. Those who remember the former top banker’s odyssey would not fail to observe that it was not an easy journey.
The fact that courage and determination pays is exemplified by the many ups and downs that characterised Soludo’s efforts to transform from a boardroom and classroom giant to a political leader.
From conversation to conversion
BY his accounts, Prof. Soludo disclosed that it was two former Nigerian Presidents, namely, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and late Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua that talked him into considering serious participation in partisan politics.
In a well circulated essay in 2013, after he had lost two successive attempts to be governor, the Professor of Econometrics, narrated how his wife, who had a vehement distaste for partisan politics had informed him to return a verdict of ‘No’ to Yar’Adua as the outcome of his consultations with political leaders in Anambra State over the call on him to aspire to be governor.
“The date was Friday, March 17, 2006. At the morning prayer session with President Olusegun Obasanjo at the ‘red carpet’ in the Villa, I raised a special prayer point and asked the congregation to pray for the new governor of my state, Anambra, Peter Obi (who was on his way from Abuja to Awka to be sworn in same day), as well as for Anambra State, so that Obi’s regime may mark an end to the brigandage and misrule in the state. We were all upstanding.
“The President cut in, and pointing in my direction, remarked: “We shall pray as you have requested, but the problem with you people from Anambra is that those of you who have something to offer shy away from politics and hooligans have taken over your state”.
“To the best of my recollection, that was the only prayer point during the four years of daily devotion that received a commentary. ‘Baba’, as we fondly call him was basically telling us to ‘get involved or stop complaining’. Periodically, the three of us from Anambra who were regular members of the prayer group (Oby Ezekwesili, Rev. William Okoye and I) had cause to brainstorm on the challenges and limitations of participation in politics especially by those of us who were ‘technocrats’. While we were obsessed with ‘good governance’, we had little interest in the process of acquiring power,” Soludo stated.
Those conversant with Prof. Soludo’s bitter experience in his attempt to take “interest in the process of acquiring (political) power” knew what he was alluding to through the praise worship song he raised for little children of Isuofia community.
It was obvious from the governor-elect’s narrative eight years ago that he was an unwilling politician, but definitely not an accidental leader. According to him: “After leaving office as governor of the central bank, I was in London when twice in June 2009, I received calls from Alhaji Mangal to the effect that President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua wanted to see me anytime I was in Nigeria.
“I returned with my family late July and on Sunday, July 26, I received a call that the President wanted to see me by 9:30pm. After a few banter, he asked what I was doing abroad. As I explained the three offers I was considering, he was shaking his head.
“Well”, he started, “it is not because you are here, but I have said this several times to you. Given your age, skills, and your accomplishments for our economy and financial system, it would be a waste for you not to continue to be involved in Nigeria’s public service… For example, there is going to be an election in your state early next year and I want to strongly urge you to show interest… You know that your state has been unfortunate with leadership, and our party has been in crisis there…”
Being a studied leader, President Yar’Adua seemed to know the attitude of public intellectuals to partisan politics and therefore, did not offer Soludo the opportunity to dismiss the proposal, as he was wont.
Though it is said that to obey is better than sacrifice, the following 11 years were to witness, not only huge sacrifices on the part of the former CBN governor, but also to bring him face to with the cloudy details of what makes the Nigeria political waters very murky.
First in the 2010 governorship contest, despite the support of party leaders, including Mr. Fix It, the late Chief Tony Anenih, Soludo’s emergence as the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) candidate could not receive ultimate Presidential support at the main election.
On account of Yar’Adua’s ailment, which took him to Saudi Arabia, the acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, had his own plans, preparatory to the larger picture of 2011, decided on a political alliance with Mr. Peter Obi of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Obi was supported to win his re-election with the understanding that he would in turn support Jonathan in 2015.
In his account, Soludo explained: “Conspiracy theorists took over and I saw treachery, intrigues, blackmail and mischief at their most banal forms. Propaganda was hatched and effectively marketed that Soludo is not contesting for governor; he is preparing to contest for president in 2015.”
As the sentiment mobilised those with Presidential ambition against the former CBN governor, he effectively lost the governorship ballot. Having lost the election, Soludo went back to his business of offering consultancy services to international organisations and foreign countries. At the approach of the 2013 governorship poll, Sir Victor Umeh and other party leaders lured him into APGA, with the promise of automatic ticket.
At the end of the day, not only was he disqualified alongside the consensus candidate of Anambra North Senatorial District, Dr. Chike Obidigbo, much money went out of his pocket by way of donation for party’s mobilisation.
Entreaties from Dr. Oby Ezekwesili on the outgoing governor, Obi, to ensure that Soludo succeeded him didn’t work. However, having come into APGA, Soludo decided to align with Governor Willie Obiano, who won the 2013 governorship poll.
As former bankers, it did not take long for Governor Obiano and Soludo to form a political and professional alliance, with the former stating his intention to support the governor-elect to succeed him in 2022.
Based on that secret pact and common understanding, Prof. Soludo, shunned all gestures from PDP to field him against Obiano in 2017. It was said that pleas by former Governor Obi, who had by then crossed over to PDP, for Soludo to join PDP and battle Obiano was related to the governor and Catholic Bishop of Onitsha Diocese, Rev Father Valerian Okeke.
Soludo, who related the series of calls and consultations by some well-heeled PDP leaders to Obiano, saw through the plot to mess with him a second time, prompting his legendary statement during Obiano’s third anniversary in office that “if it ain’t broken, you cannot mend it.”
Borrowing Obi’s scheme with PDP in 2010, Obiano and Soludo latched unto the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and ensured the governor’s election for a second term after vanquishing Obi’s protégé, Mr. Oseloka Obase and Hon. Tony Nwoye of APC.
Three years after that epic contest, Obiano remembered his promise and decided to set the political arrangement in motion. But, adversaries both from within and without, knowing the high profile and huge political goodwill available to Soludo, mounted stiff resistance.
First, while addressing a town hall meeting in his Isuofia Community, in April this year, armed men struck, killing three law enforcement officers, all in a bid to frighten the anointed APGA candidate out of the contest.
Then internal opposition to his candidacy spiralled, as some men, emerged from nowhere to, not only sack the APGA Board of Trustees, but also suspend the former CBN chief. Legal disputations took over.
Barely one week after the Supreme Court affirmed his nomination as authentic APGA standard bearer, some unknown gunmen struck again. This time at Ihiala, where the campaign train was billed to address voters. It was the same Ihiala that became a metaphor for Soludo’s journey to electoral victory, when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) scheduled a supplementary ballot for the Local Government in reaction to violence and disruption of electoral process.
Victory at last
HOWEVER, at the end of balloting on Tuesday November 9, 2021, the long awaited victory was attained. The APGA flag bearer netted more than 8, 000 votes to consolidate his wining run.
The former CBN governor confessed; “the election itself tested the integrity of our federal institutions. Many times there were tensions, especially as one party boasted that it must take or ‘conquer’ but the judiciary stood for the integrity of the judiciary.”
Judging from the vote tally of the first six candidates, it was clear as crystal that Prof. Soludo won by a clear margin. The result announced by Prof. Obi showed that while APGA (Soludo) returned a total of 112, 229 votes to beat his closest rivals: PDP (Valentine Ozigbo) 53,807 and APC (Uba) 43,285; the other three parties and their candidates trailing with the following ballot: YPP (21,261), NP (2,806) and ZLP (2,082).
Having persevered to the winning post, what remains is to see how far the governor-elect would go in infusing the experience of the last 11 years into governance. Would he be magnanimous in victory or pay back his detractors, most of who have turned from adversaries to supporters?
Just as it is known that Prof. Soludo is not lacking in courage or vision, it would be seen how he confronts the misgivings of the past. Above all, in the next four months, it would be time for him to put his words and ideas into action.
While narrating his encounter with Yar’Adua, the governor-elect had stated: “If I would contest, my vision was to transform Anambra’s economy such that after eight years, it would no longer need federation account allocation for recurrent expenditures, but would devote 100 per cent of it to capital budget.
“Consequently, I requested eight things the Federal Government would do to enable me quickly transform the state into an international city, including: an airport; modern seaport for Onitsha and dredging of River Niger to enable medium-sized ship to come to Onitsha; dualisation of Anambra- Kogi road to speed up commerce between the North and Anambra.
“Anambra as a special line item for Ecological Fund as one third of its land mass was under threat by erosion; completion of the greater Onitsha water scheme; inclusion of Anambra as an oil producing state; Anambra as one of the pilot states for the large scale commercial agricultural scheme; and speeding up the second Niger bridge.
“Surprisingly, Yar’Adua accepted all of them at the meeting that lasted 76 minutes.
“We agreed that the agenda of transforming Anambra would require full eight years of working 24 hours a day. He was happy and said that if he could have two states per geopolitical zone that would become ‘models’, he would have succeeded as President.”
No doubt, there are a lot to learn from Soludo’s political trajectory, the learning curve continues as he moves from contemplation to construction and reconstruction. He has now got the opportunity to coalesce LEEDS (Local Government Economic Empowerment Development Strategy) and SEEDS (State Economic Empowerment Development Strategy), which were his special offering while in charge of National Planning.
When he mounts the saddle on March 17, 2022, whatever his attitude to the issue of local government election would be known. So also the issue of renewing APGA to set a new paradigm for leadership.
Above all, he has a burden to deliver on the promises he made to Anambra people and President Yar’Adua of blessed memory as well as the expectation of Nigerians who look up to a new crop of leaders for national transformation.
Would Charlie Nwamgbafor live up to his unique selling proposition of Mr. Solution? His time has already started counting.