Reviewing Soludo’s highbrow non-aligned team
“Democracy, good governance and modernity cannot be imported or imposed from outside the country.” — Emile Lahoud
Last November, Anambra voters elected a vibrant and young academic (1984 grad of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka) to replace outgoing banker, Willie Obiano, at the Government House, Awka. In a bid to hit the ground running, the governor-elect, Chukwuma Charles Soludo, has impanelled a mega transition committee with hot-headed Oby Ezekwesili, another UNN graduate (1984), leading.
Our discourse this week is a spinoff from the controversies generated by Soludo’s first appointments as a politician.
Anambra State has had its fair share of good and bad governance from the beginning. It is also blessed to have had men [and women too] of letters at the helm of affairs.
Anambra’s first civilian governor, Okwadike Igboukwu Chukwuemeka Ezeife, is a Harvard-trained PhD holder (Economics). The second, Chinwoke Mbadinuju, is also a PhD holder from Cornell University. The next was a medical doctor and astute administrator trained at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN. Then followed another UNN-trained philosopher and Onitsha trader, Peter Obi, and now the renowned banker Willie Obiano.
From the incumbent Governor Obiano, the baton is to be passed on to Prof Soludo, the UNN-trained Economics, former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
From the foregoing, it can be said that Anambra has not been lacking well-educated men [and women too]. So wherever there is a failure of governance, it is not due to a shortage of learned men lettered in various disciplines and fields of endeavour. This amply demonstrates that governance largely derives not from the academics of office holders but more from their levels of commitment and focus, plus numerous other man-made factors.
Easily, the most outstanding of governors who ruled Anambra State is Okute Peter Obi. Though he is not the topmost educationally, he enriched himself with a series of executive training programmes at some of the world’s best institutions. His performance in office earned him the award of the governor of the decade. There is still no serving or former governor whose performance has outmatched that of Obi in terms of prudence and physical development.
Next to Obi comes Chris Ngige, a medical doctor who laid a huge infrastructural foundation before Obi, the valid winner of the Anambra gubernatorial mandate, took off from where he stopped.
Anambra means a lot to many people depending on where you are and what you are looking for at a time. For the Igbo, Anambra is the business hub of Igboland. It has the largest industrial cluster in the region and has several billionaires, more than any state outside Lagos.
Politically, Anambra is the melting pot of the South East. If Anambra coughs politically and in business the entire South East catches a cold. It’s a state of history and is not suffering the scarcity of iconic personages. It’s home to the first President of Nigeria, later Owelle of Onitsha, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. It is home to the Biafra hero, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the Ikemba Nnewi. Two former presidents of the Senate Abyssinia Akweke Nwafor-Orizu, and Dr Chuba Okadigbo, two former Speakers of the House of Representatives, Edwin Umezeoke and Agunwa Anekwe, the former Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme, are all Anambarians.
On the religious side, the man who almost became the first black Pope of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Francis Arinze is also from Anambra and remains the youngest African ever ordained a Catholic Bishop. Philip Emeagwali, the computer guru in the US, is also an Anambrian, the late iconic writer, Prof Chinua Achebe, was also from here, ditto the reigning global literary lady, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The one-time richest man in West Africa Odumegwu Ojukwu, the father of the Biafra leader Emeka was also from here. Not to talk of the new generations in Anambra State today, the Innosons and the Ibetos who are at the forefront of the unfolding industrial revolution on these shores. The list is endless and going ahead with it may derail the main gist of this week’s discourse.
Last week, the local media space was awash with names of about 80 Igbo personalities from all walks of life and across party lines, from different states and backgrounds raised by the Anambra governor-elect, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, to serve in his transition committee. I choose to tag the committee non-aligned because they are not pinned to any particular socio-political and economic interests. Serious concerns were raised over the list and the fact that most members, although full of ideas, are mostly distanced from the reality on the ground in Anambra State.
Beyond all the hype and intriguing debates, the nonaligned list points to the mindset of the incoming governor and the style of governance he intends to deploy in a star-studded state as Anambra.
The anxiety is not unfounded because Prof Soludo is familiar with crazy ideas. The CBN bank reforms under him readily come to mind. That one worked but when he came up with the maddening Naira devaluation he was seriously challenged and stopped.
All eyes are on Anambra State to see what kind of reform Prof Soludo will bring to the table now that he is going to enjoy the executive position. He is sure going to think outside the box but will his revolutionary ideas work for Anambra?
The success of Soludo in the South East will have a far-reaching effect on governance there in particular and Nigeria at large. Who says the nation cannot pick a workable template from a state?
A committee chaired by a former Vice President of the World Bank and former Minister of Education, Obiageli Ezekwesili, who is also associated with zany ideas along with other hotheads of international repute like Prof Osita Ogbu should be able to bring ideas that will help Soludo make the expected difference. But further grilling of the list brings out possible areas that make it look like too many cooks endangering the broth. Most of the members of the transition committee are residents outside Anambra and are far removed from the local realities. All of the foot soldiers who made victory possible both at primaries and the general election are missing on the list.
Anambra houses the largest market in West Africa in Onitsha. Virtually every part of Anambra State is a market and most residents are traders, yet none of the traders is in the committee to help formulate policies that will govern the state for the next four years.
It may sound pragmatic and reasonable to look for and tap ideas wherever you may find it but to do it in breach of the political party’s understanding might generate the heat that will make the best ideas impossible and infertile.
The intimidating list has set fears into members of the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, in the state who are already apprehensive about their future. We were privy to the fact that there was a strong disagreement earlier for Soludo candidacy within the party hierarchy. There were also strong indications that some allies from Governor Obiano’s kitchen cabinet opposed Soludo but the governor stood his ground. Those originally opposed to Soludo were apprehensive that with his known arrogance [professors are generally made of such stuff], he would sideline them if he gets power. To such people, this list is a confirmation of their fears.
Those familiar with local politics know that Soludo’s journey to Eldorado in governance will be dead on arrival if he fails to recognize and accommodate all the stairs from which he hopes to climb to the first of the four-floor journey. If he fails to realise this, he will discover to his shock that he may not be able to climb to the next floor even with wonderful templates. This list certainly did not come accidentally, it was carefully selected from seven Igbo-speaking states. It could be Soludo’s way of announcing where he is headed politically.
But to go far, Soludo has a lot to learn from the two most successful governors in Anambra State, Chris Ngige and Peter Obi. The duo succeeded because they applied a mix of native intelligence in their governance style. Ngige was determined to be able to survive the onslaught of the Ubas [Chris and Andy] who were then enjoying the federal might and were breathing over his shoulders. He aligned himself with the people who protected him even when the federal government withdrew his security personnel.
Governor Obi was unconventional in his governance style but he also stayed glued to the ordinary people. His prudence and noiseless nature endeared him to the downtrodden who were happy he was protecting and investing their money. He refused to join the crowd in the noise of titles as he remained a Mr until he left office eight years after. Obi was not popular with the elite for obvious reasons. He was ready to call their bluff, having seen how they ruined Dr Mbadinuju. But besides his conviction, affinity with the ordinary people his frugality policy stood him out vividly.
At Governor Peter Obi’s farewell conference in Awka, the state capital to mark the end of his tenure in 2014, the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, WTO, who was then Nigeria’s Coordinating Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, described how Obi as a member of the national economic team was always bringing in the trader mentality which was more practicable than the theories of most other members. Soludo’s committee needs such trader mentality if what they are doing is to have the desired impact.
Even with members’ intimidating credentials, the Soludo team has failed to factor in all these variables. For this, his tenure will be turbulent as he will be assured of reasonable distractions. Good governance idea that fails to factor in the people will be hard to implement. After all, good governance and good politics are symbiotic.
God, bless Anambra State.