Thursday, June 13, 2024

Can Soludo do it?

I request that you do not ask me to sink my teeth into the messy matter of slapping and being slapped that took place on March 17, 2022 when Chukwuma Soludo was about to be sworn in as the fifth Governor of Anambra State. That trivial intervention at the moment of the Professor’s anointment as the man of the moment has gone down in history as a fly in the ointment. The story of the two women, Bianca Ojukwu, wife of a dead warlord Emeka Ojukwu and Ebelechukwu Obiano, wife of the flamboyant ex-Governor of Anambra who engaged in an unscheduled fisticuff of the day to mark the end of one regime and the beginning of another need not detain us here eventhough it has all the juicy ingredients of a soap opera. Instead, let us shift our attention to how this brilliant man who became a professor at age 35 came into the coveted office at the third attempt. He becomes the second Central Bank Governor, after Dr Clement Isong to become Governor of a State. Isong became the Chief Executive of Cross River State in 1979 under the flag of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Since his exit from the Central Bank in 2010 Soludo has tried once through the PDP and twice through the APGA to step into the Anambra Government House as its temporary landlord but lady luck never smiled at him until now.

Soludo had a first class degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, and went on to earn a doctorate degree in the same subject from the same university. He has travelled to 45 countries, lived in Nigeria, Ethiopia, United Kingdom and United States. This means that he is well exposed, very cosmopolitan and well briefed on how the world runs. He belongs to various think tanks, meaning that he has a good idea of what moves the world or what ought to make the world a better place to live in. Flowing from the above, the question to ask is: Will or can Soludo make the difference? Will or can he raise the bar with his glittering accomplishments and exposure? The answer is in the lap of the gods.

His inaugural address was the equivalent of poetry in motion: deep, cerebral, distinctive and brilliant. The public will be waiting to see how he plans to translate the four broad pillars of his agenda: economic transformation, governance, social agenda and environment into bite pieces that are actionable. They will be waiting to see how he intends to turn Anambra into Africa’s Dubai-Taiwan. Two cities in Anambra, Nnewi and Onitsha have immense potentials for technology and commerce respectively and they can become the hub of the expected transformation. Soludo already has a blueprint, produced by the Vision 2070 Committee which he chaired under Governor Willie Obiano’s government. What remains is to be able to command other factors to fall into place: resources and people. The most important is people. Nigeria is a country that takes one step forward and two steps backward. A few examples will suffice.

Some years ago Nigeria decided it was going to get the cars it needs assembled in Nigeria. We had Peugeot assembly plant in Kaduna, Volkswagon plant in Lagos, Anamco in Enugu and Steyr in Ibadan. Where are they now? Gone with the wind. We also established four refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna to produce finished petroleum products for the country. Where are they now? Gone with the wind. Now we simply export our crude oil and import refined products. Now that crude oil price has hit the roof we should be rejoicing but we are, ironically, crying that we cannot fund some mago mago stuff called subsidy. The response to that is simply this: what a country? Many years ago we established three huge paper factories at Oku Iboku (Akwa Ibom State), Iwopin (Ogun State) and Jebba (Kogi State) to produce various grades of paper for our consumption. Today, none of them is producing any paper. We import every rim of paper we use. Those three factories are gone with the wind.

A few years ago we got our tyres from Dunlop in Lagos and Michelin in Port Harcourt. Today, those two tyre factories are shut. We import tyres, used, fairly used, roughly used and new tyres from all over the world. Where are our two tyre factories? Gone with the wind. Many years ago the Federal Government of Nigeria designated the teaching hospitals of the five premier universities as Centres of Excellence. Each of them was assigned a major tertiary ailment in which it was supposed to specialise. Those centres of excellence are today centres of indolence. No drugs, no electricity, no major diagnostic equipment. They are simply what General Sani Abacha in his coup speech described as consulting clinics except that those who need them are not excited to consult them. Some state governments are now partially funding those hospitals. Some experts have left those hospitals to go and work for state government or private hospitals. Even the clinic at Aso Villa which was supposed to take care of highly placed government officials is now seriously sick. You hear of tons of money being voted every year for it but no tangible results. Our First Lady, Aisha, drew our attention to the sordid state of affairs there some time ago. It is doubtful if despite our murmurings, there has been any substantial change in the state of affairs there. If there had been, the President would not have had to hop into London often for “routine check-up.” I wonder what Britons think of us when they see the retinue of Nigerian politicians flying into London to consult a sick President on partisan matters of state. We have simply confirmed our idiocy as a nation, a nation that ought to have in Nigeria whatever medical equipment Britain has in its territory.

Professor Soludo said he would not be using foreign made vehicles but the one manufactured by Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company based in Anambra. He has kept his word. He said he would hit the ground running. He started work immediately after the swearing in; he said he would start work at Okpoko, a slum on the outskirts of Onitsha. He did precisely that, promising to clean up the place and make it liveable.

The Obiano government wanted to spend 50 million naira for Soludo’s inauguration. Soludo objected on the ground that the budget was excessive. It had to be reduced to, I think, 20 million naira. He said he wanted a very brief ceremony, below one hour and a small crowd, 50 maximum. He achieved both. This low profile posture has offended some Anambrarians who love grandiloquence and conspicuous consumption. They have said that the people were shut out from the swearing in of their new Governor. Soludo is likely to meet with stiff opposition on his low-profile approach to governance because there will not be much to “chop” and “chopping” is the name of the political game in Nigeria. He must be ready to stand by his decisions. They will ask him to employ hundreds of Pas and SAs who will also have their Pas and SAs. That means a lot of money down the rat hole, but does it matter to the promoters of this syndrome? It doesn’t.

If he wants technology he must worry about electricity by providing it instead of waiting to be hooked on to the national grid which hasn’t got enough to spare. We have been talking of 4000 megawatts for ages, no upward movement. Many communities in the country still live in pitch darkness for ages. While Soludo attempts to demystify governance he must realise that those who are around him enjoy the awe and flamboyance and stomach infrastructure of government and prefer to see rows and rows of cars breaking the Anambra soil in an endless convoy. That is power on wheels. If he wants to be a servant-governor as he has announced he must remember that those around him enjoy the awesome and intimidating aura around power. They don’t want to be seen as other ordinary folks. Those are the ones who mislead governors and presidents. They do so largely for their own gratifications and self-importance and full stomachs. What Soludo is advocating is revolutionary. If he wants to succeed he must get the buy-in of the major sectors of Anambra: civil servants, traditional rulers, business elite, religious leaders, members of the State House of Assembly and opinion leaders. This can be done by organising a retreat to which representatives of these groups can be invited. Without their buy-in, his grand plans will just remain that: Grand Plans. He must remember how some fellows have been harassing the prudent Registrar of JAMB, Professor Ishaq Oloyede for returning JAMB;s surplus funds to the Treasury. I assure him that a similar fate awaits him. He must be ready to deal with it with an iron will.

Ray Ekpu
Ray Ekpu
Ray Ekpu has two degrees from the University of Lagos, a bachelors degree and masters degree in Mass Communication. He also has a diploma in Advanced Journalism from Indiana University, Bloomington, USA. He cut his journalism teeth at the Nigerian Chronicle where he rose like a meteor to its editorship position in 1977. Apart from editing the Sunday Times, Africa's highest selling newspaper at the time, he also edited the Business Times and later became Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Concord Group of Newspapers. In 1984, he along with three other friends - Dele Giwa, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed - established the path-breaking newsmagazine, Newswatch. He became the magazine's Editor in Chief and Chief Executive in 1986. His writings have been published in several Nigerian newspapers and magazines as well as in such foreign publications as the Portland Oregonian, Milwaukee Sentinel, New York Times, International Herald Tribune, and the Journal of Democracy. He has contributed chapters to several books and edited Newswatch Best, A leap of Faith, Jogging in the Jungle: The Newswatch Story, Ojukwu and co-edited with Yakubu Mohammed Nigeria's Business and Trade Fair Journal. Mr. Ekpu's writing style has been studied in several Nigerian Universities while he has delivered Journalism lectures in several universities and media houses in Africa, Europe and America over the years. He has been given many awards, national and international including the International Editor of the year Award (1987) for Journalism Excellence


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