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Anambra: Panic projects, APGA structure may deliver second term to Soludo

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Anambra: Panic projects, APGA structure may deliver second term to Soludo

– But he is petty, vindictive and lacks temperament for leadership – Observers

Walking through the streets of Anambra on the eve of the 2023 general election, it was easy to conclude that Prof. Charles Chukwuma Soludo, the state governor, was destined to be the second chief executive, after Chinweoke Mbadinuju, to be booted out of office after just four years at the helm. But three years on, perceptions have vastly changed. Courtesy of his recent strides in infrastructure, the governor has endeared himself to many at the grassroots, such that from available feedback, securing a second term of office seems already guaranteed, long before the campaigns officially begin next year.

But the governor will face a tough challenge from Valentine Ozigbo, a member of the Labour Party, who is presently the leading opposition voice, with the backing of the young, internet savvy segment of the state’s populace, who constitute the engine of the Obidient Movement; as well as Senator Ifeanyi Ubah, the senator representing Anambra South District, who recently ditched the Young Progressives Party (YPP) for the country’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in readiness for the 2025 governorship contest.

Ubah, though popular within his Nnewi constituency, has a reputation challenge that could make winning statewide support unlikely, but he will be looking to rely on federal might to shore up his chances. However, even that may be difficult, given the close relationship Soludo enjoys with the APC led federal government, which had also led to speculations about his possible move to the ruling party, post 2025.

The governor’s main headache as preparations and positioning begin ahead of the 2025 polls remains Ozigbo of Labour Party, who, backed by Peter Obi, came second in the 2021 election under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and is looking to rally the Labour Party to achieve an electoral feat no other party has been able to achieve in Anambra for nearly two decades – topple the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

Soludo’s open antagonism towards Obi, a former governor of the state and then presidential candidate of the Labour Party, who was vastly popular in the state during the 2023 polls – and remains so – shocked many. And coming from a sitting governor, who promised so much on his campaign trail, but had delivered so little in his third year in office, Soludo went from a celebrated intellectual welcomed with fanfare to Agu Awka, the location of the state’s seat of power, to a villain, who embodied the pulldown syndrome often associated with Southeast politicians.

Many, including religious figures, came out strongly against him and his party, APGA, such that not only did Obi secure over 95 percent of votes in the presidential election in the state, the Labour Party also took two of the state’s three senatorial seats, with only Ubah, then of YPP surviving the onslaught. Labour also took a lion share of the House of Representatives seats, raking in six, to APGA’s four, while the YPP managed a single seat.

In the state assembly elections, despite issuing threats to neglect constituencies that did not return APGA members to the house, the governor needed strong arm tactics on election day to retain majority seats in the house. And perhaps sensing trouble, after the elections, he began rapid construction of roads and other infrastructure, even as he appears to have found sustainable solution to the perennial challenge of touts in Onitsha. A survey of the state’s populace by Business Hallmark last week showed that the governor now enjoys substantial grassroots support.

“People no longer remember the things he said against Peter Obi because he’s working, unlike Willie Obiano, who didn’t do anything,” noted Chidi Nwafor, a political observer and business owner in Akwa, the state capital. “You know, he also has presidential ambition. So, he was attacking Obi because he knows that if Obi becomes president, he won’t get it again. He was supporting Atiku at the time hoping that when power returns to the South in 2031, he will get it, but that didn’t work. So, he’s now switched support for Tinubu.”

In the Anambra election of November 2021, Soludo, who ran on the APGA platform, backed by then incumbent, Willie Obiano, secured 46.47 percent of the votes to defeat Ozigbo of the PDP, who had 22.28 percent, and Senator Andy Uba of the APC, who had 17.92 percent to place third (Uba’s candidacy was subsequently annulled), while Ifeanyi Ubah of YPP came fourth distant with 8.80 percent of the votes.

The 2025 election promises to be largely a rematch among the trio of Ozigbo, now of the Labour Party; Ifeanyi Ubah, who has since joined the APC, and Soludo. But, while anyone following the state politics on social media would predict a likely victory for Ozigbo, who has the support of the Obidient Movement, which remains prominent in Anambra, amid calls for Obi to have his home state under the control of his own party, the reality on ground vastly favours Soludo retaining his seat on account of three strong factors: grassroots support, zoning and power of incumbency.

Firstly, the governor, after a slow start to life in power, has endeared himself to many with his strides in infrastructure. Under the reign of his predecessor, Obiano, Anambra regressed substantially from the heights it attained under Obi. Under Obiano, touts returned to Onitsha, heaps of garbage also returned to city centres, even as infrastructure decayed across the state, as he appeared out of sorts. Within the last one year, however, Soludo has changed the story. He has cleaned up the cities, gotten rid of touts and completed a number of roads across the state, especially within his primary Old Aguata constituency.

The second strong factor weighing in favour of Soludo is the state’s zoning arrangement. The incumbent governor is from Anambra South senatorial District, consisting mostly of the Old Aguata zone, and the expectation is that after his eight years in office, power will shift to Anambra Central Senatorial District, the zone of Peter Obi, who was governor between 2006 and early 2014.

Obi took over from Senator Chris Ngige, also from the Central District, who was declared winner of the governorship election in 2003, after a protracted legal battle. Ngige himself had replaced Mbadinuju, from Anambra South, who was denied the ticket of the PDP after one term in office. Obi handed over to Obiano from Anambra North in 2014, and Obiano in turn handed over to Soludo in 2022.

The expectation, therefore, is that after his second term in 2030, Soludo would hand power back to a candidate from the Central, and voting Ozigbo, who is also from the same zone as Soludo, could distort the zoning arrangement.

“If you ask me, I would say that Ozigbo would win under normal circumstances. Many people like him, and personally, I believe he will be a better governor. But the reality is that the odds clearly favour Soludo retaining his seat. Generally, Anambra people are satisfied with what he’s doing,” said Tony Okafor, a business owner in Ekwulobia.

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“Presently, Soludo is working, at least compared to Obiano, who did almost nothing in eight years. He is building roads and other facilities in Onitsha, Awka and other places. Some people have argued that he’s concentrating more of his projects in the Old Aguata area, but that’s normal. Those of us from the Central are also waiting for our own person to take power and do more for us in 2030. That’s the Idea. It’s only Obiano, who failed to develop his own area. If you go to Aguleri and Umuleri, he didn’t do anything there.”

Okafor maintained that the people of Anambra Central will give block votes to Soludo, declaring that, “Definitely, Soludo will return.”

The third factor that will strongly favour the governor is the power of incumbency. APGA, which has been in power in the state since 2006, has strong grassroots presence, and in a clime, where financial muscle and strong arm go a long way in determining the outcome of elections, many agree that Soludo’s seat is not under serous threat yet.

“From what I see, I think Soludo would win another election easily, because he has incumbency power,” said Edith Echezona, a cosmetics trader in Onitsha. “Again, he is performing better than the former governor. At least, he’s building roads here in Onitsha. He’s done the road from Ochanja to Main Market, and he has also cleaned up the city. When Obiano was governor, there was too much dirt everywhere. But since Soludo came, everywhere is clean. if it was during Obiano’s time, when it rained as it’s doing now, there’d be dirt everywhere but that’s no longer the case. Soludo is serious about sanitation. People are happy with him generally.

“Again, he has gotten rid of touts. Although, in Onitsha here, you can’t really stop touting completely, but he got rid of many and brought his own organized task force.”

Reputation damage

While it’s unlikely that Soludo will lose power in 2025, his attitude as governor may have hurt his reputation beyond the shores of Anambra.

Many in the Southeast had high hopes of Soludo, a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), coming with the pedigree of a first class economist. He was expected to not only provide sound leadership to his state, but also act as a rallying figure for the people of the region.

But since taking took office as governor on March 27, 2022, and especially, on account of his actions during the 2023 elections, Soludo has displayed a major character flaw, with many confessing that they now see him as petty, vindictive and lacking the temperament of a true leader.

After the state’s national assembly election last year, for example, the governor threatened “consequences” for communities and people of the state, who neither supported nor voted for APGA candidates, a position many slammed as an exhibition of pettiness.

Soludo had, standing in front of the Government House, where he spoke with some of his cabinet members, alluded to the time of the Premier of Eastern Nigeria during the First Republic, Michael Iheonukara Okpara, on how he allegedly denied developmental projects from some parts of the Eastern region to those, who did not support his political party – the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC).

“Let me tell you, M.I. Okpara, MI Power, the story is that the NCNC later changed to the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens, was laying pipes everywhere and after voting, it happened that Inyi did not vote for the NCNC, he went back and took all the pipes laid at Inyi,” he had said.

“Yes, he said that if you want this, it is NCNC that brought it. Before we finish giving people, who voted and supported us, if money still remains, then we can look towards those, who did not support us. So, there must be consequences and there must be rewards.”

Prior to the election, he had threatened to frustrate any member of opposition political parties in the state, who emerged a winner in the State House of Assembly election.

Indeed, last month, Soludo admitted refusing to construct roads in some areas due to political affiliation

Speaking, while inaugurating 12 km of roads in Okpoko community, Ogbaru Local Government Area of the State on Monday, March 18, the governor said he initially declined to construct the road because the House of Representatives member representing the area, Noble Igwe, was in the opposition party.

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Soludo said that when the house member complained about the poor state of the road, known as Nwokedi Street, to him, he dismissed his complaints because he was in opposition.

He said, “I rejected the advice to develop Nwokedi Street because the House member representing the area was formerly in the opposition. As of the time he brought the poor state of the road to my attention and advised it should be repaired, he was in the opposition then, and I did not listen to him.

“But one day, I was taking a walk, one guy showed me a road, which the honourable member representing Ogbaru constituency 1, Noble Chukwunoso Igwe, had spoken to me about and because he was an opposition, I could not do any thing on the road then.

“Today, Noble Igwe is in our party, and he is a mainstream member, so we have listened to him. When he was in the opposition, he was in the parlour talking but his voice could not be heard, but today, he is not only a mainstream member of our party, but he is right in the bedroom talking with us. You cannot be outside and be talking, you have to come inside the bedroom so that we can listen to you.”

The governor also had a spat with the traditional institution in the state, following his decision, on January 8, to suspend the traditional ruler of Neni Community in Anaocha Local Government Area of the state, Damian Ezeani, for conferring chieftaincy title on Senator Ifeanyi Ubah.

The suspension attracted angry responses from many, who accused the governor of overreaching himself, with the Obi of Onitsha, and the chairman of Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council (ASTRC), Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka, berated the government for politicizing the traditional institutions. administration for accusing traditional rulers in the state of conferring traditional titles on individuals for pecuniary gains.

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