BY EMEKA EJERE
In a clime where corruption scandal is a common tag for public office holders, maintaining a spotless public image years after a five-year term of overseeing Nigeria’s number one treasury house is not a common feat. That is the story of the last but one governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Chukwuma Charles Soludo.
On July 28, Mr. Soludo attained the diamond age of 60 incidentally at a time his chances of realizing an age-long dream of occupying the number one political office of Anambra State are very bright. Since leaving the CBN top job, the professor of Economics has remained a star, meaning different things to different people who view him from the angles of excellence, integrity, performance or the rest of his core values.
As CBN governor, he demystified the banking sector by performing what most Nigerians thought was impossible, including the banking sector reform, including a revolutionary recapitalization exercise that pruned operators with less than N25 billion capital base off the nation’s banking landscape. The motive was to put an end to hitherto recurring bank liquidations that saw customers losing hard-earned deposits.
There is no gainsaying that the multiplier effect of that historic step was phenomenal as thousands of people secured jobs in the bigger banks that eventually emerged; many more jobs were created in companies financed by these bigger banks just as thousands of small, medium and large enterprises saw opportunities to access credit facilities from the banks.
Also, hundreds of people that now have bureau de change and microfinance bank licenses, among others, owe their gratitude to the ingenuity of this radical economic thinker. Soludo served the federal government as chief economic adviser to former President Olusegum Obasanjo and chief executive officer of National Planning Commission during which he authored the economic agenda of the government called NEEDS.
Many years down the line, the nation has not stopped tapping from his wealth of experience and contribution. Soludo currently serves as a member of the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) appointed by President Mohammadu Buhari, to replace the Economic Management Team of the federal government. EAC’s mandate is to advise the president on economic policy matters, including fiscal analysis, economic growth, and a range of internal and global economic issues working with the relevant cabinet members and heads of monetary and fiscal agencies.
An eminent patriot, Mr. Soludo has continued to contribute to nation-building, taking positions on issues of serious national importance and proffering solutions to economic problems. For instance, in 2017, he insisted that Nigeria must take steps to eliminate the regime of multiple exchange rates, advising that the difference between the then official and parallel market exchange rates of the naira must be reduced to three to five per cent.
“Nigeria must get out of multiple exchange rates and we must eliminate the premium, get it back on track at a competitive exchange rate regime”, he had cautioned.
“The uncertainty that is created by that is so enormous; and with the oil price rising and with the increase in oil earnings, this is the time to take bold steps and do the needful.” He has been vindicated by the realities of today.
On the ravaging Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, Mr. Soludo argued that it was wrong to adopt the ‘cut and paste’ approach to mitigating the pandemic in Nigeria and Africa. He advised African leaders to re-assess the total lockdown, insisting that the continent could not sustain a total economic shutdown. Arguing that the structures to support the lockdown in most African countries do not exist, he maintained that African leaders cannot continue to shut in citizens without food.
His words: “Covid-19 numbers will continue to rise. But the exit strategy is important. Do you keep locking down until the numbers begin to decrease or when the curve flattens? For how long do you continue to lock down without food? Do you have an exit strategy?
Little wonder when the lockdown was eased off, he commended the federal government and state governors for the decision, saying a more prolonged lockdown would have done the nation much more harm than good.
Speaking during an interview on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily, he said, “I congratulate the government for realising that you cannot lock down the people. That is actually suicide. So the steps they have taken so far, so good”, Soludo said.
“My expectation is that as we go on, especially in places where they have this draconian lockdown, it should have been loosened. And they realised they can’t actually do that. You will be killing much more people than otherwise.”
With a distinction in the West African School Certificate (WASC) from the Uga Boys Secondary School in Anambra State, a first class honours in Economics, M. Sc and PhD in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and promoted professor at the age of 38, having met the requirements to be professor at 32, Soludo has proved to be a gifted solution provider to social and economic problems of the world in general and Nigeria in particular.
A world class technocrat and scholar, Soludo had lived in Ethiopia, UK, USA and travelled to 45 other countries around the world as consultant to countries and about 20 international development and financial institutions even before the federal government called him to serve Nigeria. His advice saved many countries and created millions of jobs. His is a story of a man who has earned his place as a global citizen and still remains a humble village boy as he prefers to call himself.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the world has honoured him with scores of awards among which was the best governor of the central bank in Africa and in the world at the time. Even many years after leaving office, Soludo is still recognized as one of the 100 most influential Africans. In Nigeria, he has received over 100 awards and honours, including the third highest national honour, Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR).
Former President Obasanjo once described him as “one of the leading lights of our nation whose leadership qualities are admirable and his willingness to listen and learn is simply infectious”.
It is heartwarming to note that in line with the saying that charity begins at home, while Soludo was transforming Nigeria and the world, he did not forget his root. Even before he joined government, he founded the African Institute for Applied Economics, Enugu — one of the top African think-tanks. Currently, he serves as chairman of Ohanaeze Ndigbo planning and strategy committee. It is in the public domain that over 1000 students benefit every year from Prof. Charles Soludo’s scholarships and bursaries scheme.
Also to his credit are micro credit funds for thousands of women and widows; tarring of over 4Km of rural roads; hospital project, empowerment programmes, sports development among others. Soludo once again wrote his name in gold when in 2017 he resolved a 20-year old crisis in his community, Isuofia, to give it a new identity of a united and peaceful community.
His philanthropy has also manifested in his response to Covid-19 with a cash donation of N10 million to the COVID-19 account launched by the Anambra State Government to fight the pandemic in the state. Announcing the donation, Soludo also pledged to mobilize his friends locally and internationally to donate needed medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) such as facial masks, protective clothes for care givers.
“I will mobilize my friends within Nigeria and outside the country to donate to ensure we prosecute this task”, he said.
Although he has not made a formal declaration, Soludo is making a second attempt to occupy the Agu Awka seat of power. Many are eager to see him doing it. So far, he appears to be the most favoured of the aspirants to grab power come 2022. His wide acceptance both at home and abroad may not be far from his many exploits, including his achievements during his captaincy of CBN.
To many political watchers, the former CBN governor, as an economist, has what it takes to bring about a much desired paradigm shift in the state. Two weeks ago, wife of a former Vice President, late Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Ifeoma and a women’s group called on Soludo to officially declare for the Anambra 2021 governorship race. Mrs. Ekwueme and Orumba North Women under the aegis of Anambra Demands Soludo (ADS) said they had commenced mobilisation of women for Soludo’s governorship race while waiting for his official declaration.
Mr. Jude Emecheta, a resident of Awka said, “I was impressed by his (Soludo’s) passion in championing the reform agenda of the Obasanjo’s presidency. Since then I believe, like many others, that he has a lot to offer our country especially our state, Anambra.
“Indeed, there is no doubt that a post COVID-19 pandemic Anambra state needs a governor who has the capacity for disruptive ideas and actions. This is what even Soludo’s foes agree he has demonstrated time and time again”.
A columnist from Orumba South Local Council, Joe Anatune, cautioned that politicians and indeed the people of Anambra should look beyond party politics and save the state by unanimously adopting Soludo’s candidacy.
He wrote: “Anambra should do something new and different and teach the rest of the country how to do politics of development. All the political parties should agree to adopt Soludo as the consensus candidate for 2021.
“He is a rare asset for the entire Anambra and no one party should appropriate him alone. They should agree on what party platform he should contest. Without any fear of contradiction, I believe that Soludo will easily win one million votes or more than 75 per cent of the votes in the next election if he contests.”
Born in Isuofia, Aguata LGA with a humble beginning, Soludo is married with children.