By OBINNA EZUGWU
When in 2009, former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Prof. Chukwuma Charles Soludo, riding on the back of his perceived strong performance as governor of the apex bank, sought to govern Anambra State under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) platform, his aspiration ended in a heavy defeat in the hands of then incumbent governor, Mr. Peter Obi who was seeking a second term after a troubled, but nonetheless impressive first term performance. But eleven years down the road, he is back with expectation of a better outcome at November 6, 2021 governorship poll, and he has good reasons to be hopeful. Soludo, last month, officially declared his interest to seek the office of Anambra governor, and there are perhaps factors that might ensure he doesn’t end up as he did the last time out.
In 2010, the former CBN governor, who was then considered to be widely popular, not only lost to Obi, but only managed third place behind the former governor then candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) who polled 97, 833 votes, and Chris Ngige, now Minister of Labour who came second with 60,240 votes as candidate of the then Action Congress.
The former CBN governor was only able to win in two local government areas, polling 59,355 votes in an outcome made more significant by his defeat in his own local government, Aguata by Mr. Obi.
It was to be the last time Soludo, 60, a 1984 First Class graduate of economics at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka – he subsequently obtained an M.Sc Economics in 1987, and a PhD in 1989, winning prizes for the best student at all three levels before being made a professor in the same institution – would attempt to be on the ballot prior to this time.
Obi, upon completing his eight-year tenure, handed over to Chief Willie Obiano who, riding on his support, emerged winner of the governorship polls held in November 2013 under the APGA platform, before ultimately abandoning the party for the PDP following a spat with Obiano.
But 11 years down the road, Soludo is back, and now a member of the state’s ruling party, APGA, which he joined after resigning from the PDP in 2013, and appears poised for a better showing than he managed before.
Perhaps not as highly regarded as he was in 2010, Soludo, who has been a visiting scholar at the International Monetary Fund, the University of Cambridge, the Brookings Institution, the University of Warwick, and the University of Oxford as well as a visiting professor at Swarthmore College (USA), having also worked as a consultant for a number of international organisations, including The World Bank, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and the United Nations Development Programme, is still one of the most highly rated professionals in the country, and would be basking in this reputation as he seeks to achieve what he couldn’t do at the first time of asking.
Speaking on his agenda a fortnight ago, he said he would leverage his international connections to transform the state, and that having served the global community, he is now poised to serve and develop Anambra.
But even he must have realised, with the benefit of hindsight, that parading impressive academic qualifications with hands-on experience to boot, is of little significance in matters of election in Nigeria. He had also courted the support of the incumbent Obiano by throwing his weight behind him during his second term bid in 2017.
Soludo had notably argued at the time that governance in the state under Obiano was not broken, and therefore needed no mending. The governor would go on to win in all 21 local governments of the state, thrashing his closest rival and candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Mr. Tony Nwoye, as well as PDP’s Oseloka Obaze,, economic and social development of the state in the next 50 years and put the former CBN governor as chairman.
The plan, termed Vision 2070, according Obiano was for the security, prosperity and happiness of the state’s people. The team he had noted, “must develop an Anambra Plan” that is robust and has a “broad ownership by the Anambra people and critical stakeholders.”
According to the governor, the team was to define the vision and mission of the state for the development plan; identify specific sectors that the plan will focus on; define broad objectives for each of the identified sectors; develop specific policies, programs and strategies aimed at attaining the vision over the 50-year period; categorize these specific strategies into short-term, medium-term and long-term plans/framework; define expected who came third.
Soludo this time around, would be hoping to get the backing of Governor Obiano which could prove to be very key. Both men have remained political allies for more than half a decade, and in a move that appeared to suggest he was preparing him to take over, Obiano in November 2019 constituted a 48-man think-tank committee to envision a 50 year plan for the state.
While Soludo was named as chairman, other members of the high powered strategy committee comprised of Mr. Patrick Okigbo III, Engr. Chris Okoye, Chief Primus Odili, Dr. (Mrs.) Uju Nwaogu, Prof. Kate Omenugha, Mr. Ifeatu Onejeme, Mr. Mark Okoye Jr., among others.
When last month Soludo officially declared his intention to run, he dedicated much of his time to praise Obiano, remarking that the governor’s administration was one of the best in the country.
“I granted an interview where they asked if I still stand by what I said in 2017 that ‘if Anambra is not broken, why mend it?’ and I told them that Anambra is sounder now,” he had said.
“In 2010, the Federal Bureau of Statistics conducted a survey and said the poverty rate in Anambra was 53 per cent. In 2020, it conducted another survey and said the poverty rate had gone down to 14.7 per cent. What else can you use to measure good governance?
“Anambra is doing well under Obiano and my mission is to continue and complete all the governor’s legacy projects.”
Though not yet guaranteed, Obiano’s support could very well ensure that he clinches the APGA ticket and the governorship seat ahead of other equally formidable candidates in what will be a contest of Anambra South Senatorial District or the old Aguata zone, whose turn, by the state’s unwritten rotation principle, it is to produce the next governor.
But feelers suggest it won’t be an easy task. Already, other notable persons like Capital Oil CEO and senator representing Anambra South, Ifeanyi Ubah; his predecessor, Senator Andy Ubah; Anambra Central Senator, Mrs. Uche Ekwunife; U.S. based medical doctor, Godwin Maduka; Mr. Valentine Ozigbo, among others are campaigning vigorously. And indeed, Obiano’s support, observers note, while not guaranteed, could be counterproductive given the growing amount of discontent with his administration.
“At the moment, Soludo, Ifeanyi Ubah and Uche Ekwunife are the most popular contenders,” said Onitsha based analyst, Oliver Nwafor. “If Obiano finally decides to support Soludo, that would give him an edge, but my feeling is that he might dump him for somebody he knows he can control, so that his tracks will be covered when he leaves office.”
Nwafor admits, however, that given how unpopular Obiano has become, fielding a candidate that doesn’t have the pedigree of someone like the former CBN governor, could spell doom for APGA which has been in power in the state since 2006.
“If he (Obiano) just brings anybody, APGA will lose. The party is no longer popular because of him. He has not done anything for Ndi Anambra. The only thing he talks about is Anambra airport, but if you go there, nothing serious is happening.”
Indeed, the election appear to have already divided the Anambra political class into two groups: those opposed to Governor Obiano and those in support of him. The governor’s opponents include many in the state who are upset about his apparent lack of performance in his second term and those, particularly Nnewi big wigs who are against him over an alleged betrayal. Both mostly have Senator Ubah as rallying point.
Though the Anambra South Senator was among those who supported Obiano and vigorously campaigned for him in 2017, with the possible understanding that he would be supported by the governor in 2021, both men eventually fell apart when the Obiano led APGA, in the lead up to the 2019 general election, denied Ubah the party’s Anambra South senatorial ticket.
Ubah had sought the APGA senatorial ticket, hoping to use the senate as springboard to launch his governorship bid. But Obiano apparently chose to make his intention known early enough by ensuring that he never took the party’s senatorial ticket. Ubah would, however, defect to the newly formed Young Democratic Party (YDP) and on the platform, actualised his senatorial ambition.
Supported by those who saw Obiano’s move as betrayal, and particularly, people of his Nnewi constituency to whom the governor’s action was yet another ploy to keep them out of power, Ubah despite being in a smaller political party, defeated candidates of the PDP, APGA and APC to emerge winner of the zone’s senatorial election. But his victory meant that an open war was now declared between him and the governor who is evidently determined to stop him from becoming governor.
Among those in the governor’s camp on the other hand, Soludo appears to be the most prominent figure and perhaps the only person in APGA at the moment, who can defeat Ubah. And of all the candidates, the odds favour Soludo for a number of reasons.
Already, sources within the country’s ruling party, APC, suggest that the party had resolved to throw its weight behind him when, and if, he emerges APGA candidate; the idea being that he would subsequently defect to the party upon taking office as governor.
“Soludo will become governor, because the APC will back him,” a source who craved anonymity said. “He will take APGA ticket, but will later join the APC.”
Soludo was one of the notable intellectuals who backed President Buhari in 2015, and his appointment by Buhari in 2019 as a member of an 8-member Economic Advisory Council (EAC), suggests he has the support of the president.
Again, in Nigeria’s political space, power of incumbency plays a huge role in deciding outcome of elections. Should Obiano throw his weight behind Soludo as he is widely expected to do, it might be the added impetus the former CBN governor needs to fight off challenges from the likes of Senator Ubah and other strong candidates to emerge next governor of Anambra in 2022.
Soludo also has the advantage of coming from the old Aguata zone, same as Senator Ubah, Chris Ubah and indeed Uche Ekwunife, who though currently represents the Central Senatorial Zone where she belongs to by marriage, hails from Aguata local government by birth. The zone, as noted earlier, is widely expected to produce the next governor of the state in line with the informal zoning arrangement of the state governorship.
With the return of democracy in 1999, Chinwoke Mbadinuju who is from the South Senatorial District became governor. He would, however, spend only four years as both lack of performance in office and a rift with his then godfather, Emeka Offor, ensured that he lost the PDP primary ticket to Dr. Ngige.
Ngige from the Central Senatorial Zone would go on to be declared winner of the 2003 governorship election in the state. He governed until 2006 when Mr. Obi defeated him in the court to emerge new governor.
Mr. Obi, also from Anambra Central, would go on to do eight years in office before handing over to Obiano who is from Anambra North Senatorial Zone. It is widely expected therefore, that upon the completion of Obiano’s eight years, power would naturally return to the South Senatorial Zone.
“Our traditional rulers, all our elder statesmen have come together with the current government to say that look, power should go to the South,” Mr. Chidozie Nwankwo, CEO of Wichtech Group told Business Hallmark.
Nwankwo, who is also a contender for the governorship under the APC platform, argued that, “If you look at it, it’s become imperative that power shifts to the South because the Central Senatorial District has been in power for so long; the North is just finishing its tenure. It has to go to the South because the district has actually not produced governor in recent times, so we need to have that equity. That will also ensure that our agitation at the federal level for rotational presidency should be listened to.
“If the Igbo are saying that look, we should go back to the recommendations of the national conference, but we are not able to show that equity in our own states, believe me, we won’t have the justification to ask for it at the national level. So, what we are trying to do is the right thing. Everyone should have a sense of belonging.”