By OBINNA EZUGWU
Interacting with everyday people in Awka, Anambra’s administrative capital, one can feel an intense sense of optimism, but also anxiety, ahead of the March 17 inauguration of the state’s governor-elect, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo.
“We expect him to do well; everyone, except those profiting from Obiano’s government, is hopeful,” said Mr. Chidi Nwafor, a rice dealer at Eke Awka, the city’s market. “He should bring sanity to governance, put a stop to the menace of touts and give infrastructure.
“Anambra people don’t expect government to solve their problems. All they need is for the right environment to be created. I expect Soludo to build roads, and if possible, connect the cities with rail. When these are done, the people will do the rest themselves.”
A core professional; a professor of economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, whose work profile includes member of the British Department for International Development International Advisory Group, visiting scholar at the International Monetary Fund, the University of Cambridge, the Brookings Institution, the University of Warwick, the University of Oxford and Swarthmore College (USA), as well 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, Anambra could not have hoped for a better governor at this stage when in many people’s views, the successes recorded under Mr. Peter Obi who was governor between 2006 and 2014, have been rolled back by his successor, Chief Willie Obiano who is billed to handover to Soludo next month.
Anambra had started on a very positive trajectory after the chaotic reign of its first governor in the Fourth Republic, Mr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, when in 2003 Dr. Chris Ngige, now Minister of Labour, emerged governor under the People’s Democratic Party and decided to put an end to the menace of godfatherism.
He embarked on massive infrastructural development, but his decision to turn against his godfathers, notably the Uba Family, cost him his seat, paving the way for Mr. Obi who reclaimed his 2003 mandate through the court in 2006 and carried on from where Ngige stopped.
By the time Obi left office in 2014, Anambra had been radically transformed, boasting of the best intrastate road network of any state in the country, even as he saved billions for the state. But Chief Obiano, the outgoing governor who replaced Mr. Obi in 2014, had failed to measure up in many people’s reckoning to the standard set by his predecessor.
Touts have returned to Onitsha, the state’s commercial city; roads have become bad, and within the eight years he’s been governor, Anambra has gone from a domestic debt profile of N2.5 billion as at December 31, 2014 to N54.6 billion as at September 30, 2021, according to DMO figures. The external debt profile also went from $45 million as at December 31, 2014 to $108 million as at December 31, 2020.
“Obiano’s tenure has been generally uninspiring,” said Charles Okeke, a political analyst. “If you look at his tenure holistically, you will see that he performed poorly. He allowed political jobbers to have a field day. Most of them are angry now because they have seen that it won’t be business as usual under Soludo.
“Regardless, he built some roads and and gave Anambra its first airport. That’s also commendable, even if we can argue about the amount spent not being commensurate with the quality of work done.”
Obiano also uplifted the face of Awka, developing it into a relatively modern state capital with three flyovers among other projects, but generally fell short of building on Obi’s legacy. Ahead of Soludo’s inauguration, many say they are hopeful of a return to the Obi years, or even something better.
“Soludo has what it takes to do well,” Okeke said. “He has the pedigree, the experience and from his pronouncements so far, we have reason to be very hopeful. But let’s not be too optimistic because you never know.”
Activities leading up to the inauguration have indeed given many of the state’s populace, if not the entire Southeast region, reasons to be hopeful that this time, Anambra has gotten it right.
First was the transition committee the governor-elect set up, which included seasoned professionals like Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, former minister of education and World Bank Vice President who heads the committee; Prof. Benedict Oramah, president of Afreximbank; foremost economist, Prof. Pat Utomi; Mr. Osita Chidika, former Aviation Minister, among other high profile individuals.
The transition committee list, which has also been criticised for being too long, regardless passes across two key messages: one, that his administration won’t be about job for the boys, and two, that he is out to run a pan Igbo government and won’t be limited to his Anambra enclave.
He had indeed promised to poach talents from everywhere, and speaking at the transition committee’s inauguration ceremony on Wednesday, January 26, he noted that Anambra is a state in the South East and is not an island unto itself, “so we will seek the cooperation and collaboration of other states, especially South-East and South-South states, this will be critical for creating this prosperous homeland.”
Apart delivering good governance, Soludo, as Anambra governor and the only governor of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), will also shoulder the responsibility of rallying the Igbo politically. He has to strive to ensure that APGA grows beyond Anambra in keeping with the original objective of the party.
“His election as the governor of Anambra places enormous responsibility on his shoulders,” said Prof. Uzodinma Nwala, president of Alaigbo Development Foundation. “We, in ADF expect him to become one of the major rallying-point in the liberation of Anambra state in particular and Igboland in general.”
The idea behind APGA’s formation by Chief Chekwas Okorie in 2002, was to have an Eastern oriented platform that would take charge of the region and challenge for power at the regional level. It had done a good job of it initially, taking Anambra eventually in 2006, the year Obi reclaimed his 2003 mandate, and with Ojukwu, a widely respected figure in the Southeast as its founding figure, it looked poised to do exploits.
In the same 2003, its governorship candidate in Enugu State, Mr. Ugochukwu Agbala, was widely popular and was only denied victory by then governor, Chimaroke Nnamani, who deployed state power apparatus in the most brutal manner to retain his seat. And in 2011, it took Imo State, with Rochas Okorocha as candidate.
However, its fortunes quickly went downhill, not helped by Ojukwus death in 2011, Okorochas decision to abandon it in 2013 to join the emergent All Progressive Congress, and subsequent uninspiring mercantile leadership that emerged following the ouster of Okorie as national chairman.
Today, nearly 20 years on, APGAs dream appears closer to evaporation than actualisation. And turning this story around, especially as the country prepares for another general election in 2023, is responsibility that has fallen on the shoulders of Soludo.
“This June will make it 20 years since APGA was formed and that’s quite an age for a political party in Nigeria,” said Chief Okorie. “So at 20, I will say that APGA is not at the level it should be. It is not even in total control of Anambra state; it is just in control of the executive and a substantial part of the state assembly. The national assembly is in the hands of other parties and that is not an enviable record.”
Okorie who was forced out of the party, following a protracted leadership rift with Chief Victor Umeh, noted that the plan he had for it, has failed to materialize.
“If I was asked 20 years ago, where I thought the party would be today, I would have said it will be the ruling party in Nigeria today, because it was supposed to be growing in leaps and bounds. If in the first attempt, we got Anambra State which was 2003, the chances were so bright. We would have done far better in subsequent elections.”
Obi, and Obiano, who should have succeeded Ojukwu as the party’s leader, failed to live up the responsibility. Hawks took charge, and on account of mercantile posture of successive leadership, the party departed from its original mandate of being a rallying point for Ndigbo, to become like most other political platforms, a place where positions went to highest bidders.
The consequence of which is the alienation of many who had invested their emotions to it, including the Southeast street which initially saw it, especially with Ojukwu as a leading figure, as a platform for the rekindling of Biafra spirit.
Soludo’s emergence as governor, represents another opportunity to relaunch the party, a project he has promised to undertake. Speaking in a chat with Arise TV after his victory in November, he pledged that APGA under his leadership is going to work very hard to drive popularity in other parts of the country, and that it should not be categorised as a regional party, as it will soon spread across that country.
The governor-elect had emphasized that APGA will mainstream our neo-progressivism and get Nigerians to buy into its ideas and begin to flood into the party, while noting that APGA will leverage on its bases in some parts of the country to build a systematic approach to getting the rest of the country…”
“We’ve won elections sporadically in some parts of the country but were now going to build on that to really have a systematic approach to getting the rest of the country.”
Soludo’s commitment will be refreshing to hear for many who had watched the party stagnate in the hands of leaders who saw no need to actively drive it beyond its original enclave. Its a vision that Okorie welcomes with open arms, and says he is readily available to help relaunch the platform and drive the project, even as he is full of confidence in Soludos ability to make a difference.
“I am optimistic that Professor Soludo will make a difference in APGA in many ways, both in rebuilding the party and delivering good governance in Anambra State, Okorie said. “My confidence stems from the fact that from the time Soludo left the Central Bank as governor and became more involved in politics, he has been paying attention to events in Ohanaeze, and has been given assignments.”
Coming down to the real business of governing, Anambra is a potential industrial hub and Soludo now has the responsibility of making this a reality. Again, his commitment in this regard has warmed many hearts. Having already promised to leverage his international connections to transform Anambra, Soludo, while addressing the transition committee few days ago, made a resounding pledge to, as a matter of policy, support local industries, beginning from wearing local fabrics known as Akwete and using Innoson Vehicles as official car.
“My Akwete dress is not just a dress, its a statement. I want to make a statement with it. You know, in the entire South-East, this is the only textile thing alive, and its handmade, by the women of Akwaete in Abia State,” he said.
“Igbo land is one and we must protect it. We want to bring back the zeal of patronizing our own. I have said it even during campaigns, and I meant it, that if I win, the official car of the governor of Anambra State will be Innoson motors.
“The dresses I will wear are those made in our place here. We must protect the things that are made in our place. Something is about to happen in Igboland, and together we will get there.”
One of the major factors in former governor, Obi’s success was prudence. He shunned the flamboyance of public office and awarded contracts to core professionals. It’s a road Soludo has promised to travel much the elation of his admirers.
The governor-elect also noted during his remarks fortnight ago, that his swearing-in would be no fanfare, just as not a Kobo would be spent on it.
According to him, “the day was simply his first day at work, and even though it is a weekend, he would spend eight hours of the day working.
I have made a wish that not even one Kobo of Anambra peoples money will be spent on that swearing-in ceremony. It is a wish, and I mean it. What are we spending money on? Just a few people coming to the inauguration and witnessing it, then I will open office and get down to work immediately.
“I do not wish any event, dancers or players and all that. I just want to show up for work, like every first workday. Though it is going to be a Friday, which is the weekend, Im going to work for over eight hours that day.
“No ceremony, no event, no party, nothing. Not even 10 Kobo will be spent. So the people who are saying N20 million has been budgeted should go and tell us where they will get that money. It is going to be work, work, work, and that is what we epitomize.”
The governor-in-wait has also rejected His Excellency title, and opted for Mr. Governor or Charlie Nwangbafor, noting that “people will have to learn to call him by his name.
I was called his excellency a while ago, but may I plead that that excellency tag should please wait for now. That is part of what we will discuss in this committee.
“You may just need to learn how to call me by my name, but if that isnt good for you, then, may I request that you simply call me Charlie Nwangbafor (Charles son of Mgbafor).
If that one is so difficult for you that you must be formal in addressing me, then you can address me as Mr. Governor.”