By Oladeinde Olawoyin
There is something around Charles Chukwuma Soludo’s neck. Immersed in his characteristic self-assertiveness, both in rhetoric and actions, it would appear that the governor-elect is oblivious to this thing. But the thing remains, still, perhaps as the sword of Damocles, dangling around his (now) bejeweled neck.
Since he won convincingly in the Anambra governorship election last November, Soludo has been the subject of well-deserved eulogies across media platforms. From Awka through Onitsha, it’s been celebrations galore. Yet in the middle of the melodic sounds of Ogene, the sorcery of Atilogwu dancers, the rich taste of Nkwu Elu, I reckon now that some form of reflection could, perhaps, be useful.
Shortly before Soludo was appointed governor of Nigeria’s apex bank in 2004, a tale that could afterall be apocryphal materialized among bankers and followers of economic trends in Nigeria at the time. It was said that then president Olusegun Obasanjo had “invaded” the Bankers’ Committee meeting in Lagos, taken the committee to the cleaners, and complained about the then (double digit) interest rate. Obasanjo was said to have tongue-lashed the people present at the meeting, and in his characteristically bucolic style, dismissed the banking sector as a non-value adding behemoth.
Soon afterwards, Obasanjo appointed Soludo as Nigeria’s apex bank’s governor to replace Joseph Sanusi, an accountant whose tenure is largely remembered more for its fixation on book balancing and less for wider economic concerns.
Confident and self-assertive, Soludo came with ‘big ideas’ that shaped the banking sector: the Bank recapitalisation effort that brought forward 25 ‘mega banks’, Financial Strategy System (FSS), introduction of new notes, and the naira denomination exercise. But those ideas equally came with their baggage of imperfection, the most ghastly being the eventual unraveling of the ‘recapitalised’ banks as mega outlets of bad loans, poor corporate governance, insider dealings, and gross impunity!
Amid the turbulence of the 2008/09 financial crisis, Sanusi Lamido, the CBN governor that succeeded Soludo, took the veil off the faces of the “mega banks” and exposed them as havens of corporate malfeasance. The Sanusi reform—although riddled with its own imperfections—showed that paying attention to corporate governance, and not sheer size of assets, was most significant in banking reform.
What I found quite instructive in the wake of the crisis was that despite the avalanche of evidence showing corporate malfeasance (some bank CEOs were jailed!), Soludo did not admit that his reign and reforms, like all human endeavors, were imperfect. In several otherwise brilliant interventions on the state of the economy, he only fell short of declaring his tenure as CBN governor the best thing to happen to Nigeria in its banking history.
And so the thing around Soludo’s neck is the exuberance of the intellectual as an excitable idealist, whose ‘impeccable’ solutions and self-conceited demeanors could push toward the cliff of hubris. As he steps forward to lead Anambra, a complex industrial hub populated by maverick moneybags, one hopes that the hubris would be kept at bay.
Peter Obi, easily among the best gubernatorial assets Anambra (and indeed Nigeria!) has thrown up in recent years, once quipped that Anambra is the most difficult state to govern in Nigeria. His own weaknesses notwithstanding, Obi left Anambra in a relatively sound fiscal state.
After Obi came Obiano, about whom there is a near-general—even if unstated—consensus of opinions among the people, including Soludo’s supporters, that his reign is only a tad short of a monumental disaster. For someone who inherited a state with relative fiscal stability, the state of development in Anambra today underscores the developmental challenges Soludo must face head-on before he can achieve any tangible result.
And herein lies the significance of tactful, measured engagement with and implementation of ideals and ideas; the import of deep thinking and self-reflection; and the ultimate need to keep one’s excitement in check while making far-reaching decisions, pausing on a few occasions to reflect and check whether one’s ‘solution’ is indeed ‘impeccable’, or flawed as alleged by critics.
Soludo, without doubt, comes to the stage with impressive records of academic and administrative excellence. If gubernatorial success is determined only by those criteria, there isn’t any iota of doubt that he would succeed. But he is going to govern a state of moneyed elites who understand the power of influence and the influence of power, ever scheming to own and wield both in their desires to outpace one another. So he has his work cut out for him.
As Anambra State Governor, for me, Soludo carries three distinct burdens into his tenure. There is the burden of a much-maligned policy expert and ‘bookish’ leader tasked with the job of reforming a chaos-riddled system that his traducers have derisively described as defying ‘academic’ pontification. Then the burden of an ‘outlier’ politician saddled with the responsibility of providing ‘alternative’ platform for the South East, nay Nigerians, using good governance as bait. Then, finally, there’s the burden of showing indigenous Igbo people, through performance, whether the Nigerian project is worth reconsidering, especially in a state and region torn apart by a security conundrum fueled by secessionist agitations. Whether he would scale through all three hurdles remains in the womb of time, but the beauty of it is that by making a success of the first task, he would perhaps have tackled the two others.
Agriculture is significant to Anambra’s economy, and attention must be given to the development of Onitsha, the business and economic hub, as well as Nnewi, the home of industries. The development of the Onitsha Inland River Ports would go a long way in helping to rejig the economy, just as relative security could help drive traffic towards tourist centres like Ogba Waterfalls, Ogbunike Caves, and Agulu Lake. In the face of dwindling oil revenue and poor IGR remittances, addressing the inadequacies around ease of doing business in these hubs could help improve productivity in the short term and pave the way for far-reaching reforms in the medium to long terms.
The governor-elect recently announced an Eighty-man transition committee, and then declared that he would rather be addressed as ‘Mr Governor’. Both decisions, quite expectedly, generated ripples in the media. With regard to the committee, it’s been argued that it was no jamboree and the terms of reference state clearly so. Although a more compact committee could have been more desirable for better coordination and less chaotic deliberation, the caliber of people who made the list reassures one of the governor’s desires to tap the best of human resources from within and outside Anambra.
The ‘Mr Governor’ nomenclature reminds one of the dramatic aspects of the Soludo persona. Some commentators have reminded him that we’ve had the Ogbenis and Arakunrins before him, and that governance goes beyond empty sloganeering. There was even the case of a ‘Chief Servant’ who ended his reign with a litany of corruption allegations. Yet for those who understand optics and how otherwise well-meaning persons could fall beside the grandeur of power, the import of that decision remains understandable, still.
Anambra State is known as the Light of the Nation, and given its human endowments, it should be the light. The state gifted us with Zik, the Owelle Onitsha, and Ojukwu, the warlord upon whose shoulders the Biafran dream fell. Anambra threw up Oliver De Coque, who brought joy along with his guitar harmonics, as well as P-Square Brothers, who danced their way to the zenith of Nigeria’s pop industry. Emeka Anyaoku, whose eloquence booms with reason, also hails from the state, just like Ekwensi—for me Nigeria’s most underrated writer of his generation. In Ogidi, the state also gave us the gift that was Achebe, from whose literary well of wisdom generations of Nigerians continue to drink, as well as Akunyili, the amazon who helped cleanse the land of the scourge of fake drugs.
If he can marry his wealth of experience with tact in policy execution, and then eschew needless braggadocio, Soludo can illuminate the dark alleys in Anambra, and help shine the light.
He must not fail.
Oladeinde tweets via @Ola_deinde