Soludo and the limits of blind ambition, By Sunny Igboanugo

Last month or so, Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment, was on Politics Today, the popular current affairs programme on Channels Television. There, his host, had asked him a direct question about his choice between Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peter Obi, of the Labour Party (LP), both contesting for presidency in 2023. It could have been an attempt to corner or bait him, in some way, for maximum effect, as journalists are trained to do.


But beating the former Governor of Anambra State, two-time Senator and now Minister in the game of politics is akin to carrying coal to New Castle, or selling snow to the Eskimos. Trust the old political horse, to see through the obvious trap. Adept and well pruned, he cleverly did the needful – jump and pass – as the local people would say.


“I have my PVC, I have only one vote. On election day, I’ll go and cast it for a candidate of my choice.”


Now, Ngige, is a serving Minister on the platform of the ruling APC. But he is from Anambra State. Not only that he’s one of the most prominent Igbo men alive today. Given that the generation before him, which tried and failed, is fast receding and thinning out, he shares in the burden of producing an Igbo man as President of Nigeria. So, between party loyalty and that onerous duty, lies the imperative of emotional intelligence. How far critics faulted him for being reticent, during that outing, would therefore be hinged on how such individual appreciated his peculiar circumstances, or politics in general.


Don’t forget the story of Obi and Ngige, which is supposed to make them the bitterest political enemies there is. Indeed, they are, actually. They don’t see eye to eye, politically speaking. But there is a limit when it comes to the larger picture. That’s what the Minister, seems to underscore and for which history would record him at the appropriate time, for recognising the dictum – all politics are local.


Even Dave Umahi, Governor of Ebonyi State, Emeka Ihedioha, former Governor of Imo, seem to be at home with this reality also. Regrettably, Chukwuma Soludo, the current Governor of Anambra State doesn’t. His outing on Channels Television on Thursday, October 10, 2022, exactly a month after Ngige underscored that much. It was the direct opposite of Ngige. Such tactlessness, naivety and total lack of emotional intelligence! For a man who is supposed to be the current father of Anambra State and the bastion upon which the Obi campaign ought to rest on! Terrible.


Hear him on the programme, few hours after presenting a N258.97bn 2023 budget proposal to the Anambra State House of Assembly in Awka, Soludo told his host on the programme: “I think there was something I read about somebody speculating about whatever investment. With what I’ve seen today, the value of those investments is worth next to nothing. So, let’s leave that aside.”


See the background. Obi arrived in office in 2006 with a clear economic template. He decided to keep a fraction of the yearly state revenue as savings as part of its template for long-term economic programme. This was to be followed with investments in businesses with potentials for yielding high dividends that would add to the financial pool.


His thinking was actually tailored at recreating the magical economic feats of countries like China and other Asian Tigers – a strong financial husbandry – a pool of funds the state would rely on in future as a bulwark for massive investments and expansion of the industrial base to the extent that it wouldn’t have to rely anymore on the federal allocations that comes at the end of the month, but transform Anambra into a model of a distinct, self-sustaining entity of an economic hub, not only in Nigeria, but even Africa.


In other words, the investments and savings were never meant for his own government, but his successors, giving that he had just eight years, maximum to be in office. By the time he was exiting office, he had a huge reservoir of N75 billion, captured in local and foreign currencies at various banks.


Outside other investments totalling N27 billion, in such entities as Nigerian Independent Power Project (NIPP), of N9 billion and Orient Petroleum of N4 billion, among others, he made a huge input into the SabMiller company, a local offshoot of the International Breweries Limited, totalling $12.5 million as one of the landmark achievements in this regard.


Now, this is what Soludo, completely rubbished. In fact, the controversy had started when months ago, the governor had to come out openly to debunk a story credited to Obi that the SabMiller investment, had grown to $100 million. It has not been confirmed that the former governor actually made the claim. Nonetheless, the vehemence with which Soludo, who practically came out smoking, went about the rebuttal, raised not a few eyebrows about his intentions.


It is against this background that the Thursday outing is being situated. What was the governor up and about with those snide comments and scornful body language for? What purpose were those sneering, contemptuous and disdainful dismissal of Obi’s efforts meant to achieve?


Now, you don’t need to look further for the answer. It lies in one element – politics. How? Well, this was the selfsame Soludo, who in September 2021, acknowledged the sterling performance of Obi in the state. During the governorship debate prior to his election, when the issue of the former governor’s achievements came up, the same Soludo, rather than dismiss, actually hugged them with pride, only that he argued that the feats were achieved as governor of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).


He couldn’t bring himself to cricise Obi then, knowing the consequences, but rather retorted – yes, those achievements were made because he was implementing APGA programmes. What has changed between then and now that the mention of Obi’s name, would conduce such obvious disdain?


As he had always argued, if he were any other Nigerian governor, he would have pocketed the money he lodged in those investments and savings and heavens wouldn’t fall. After all, Nigerians were witnesses to how Willie Obiano, his immediate successor sweated it out in the confines of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) the exact day he handed over and tried to sneak out of Nigeria.


Has anyone heard about the case again? With the frenzy created initially, anyone would have thought that Obiano would be in and out of the courts trying to extricate himself from the allegations of monumental pillaging of the commonwealth of Anambra, he was accused of. Obi never suffered such indignity, either as governor or any other public office he has held, including as Chairman of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE).


So, where did he go wrong? That he decided to invest money and not steal it or that he saved for posterity and not steal same? Intriguingly, Soludo, a supposed world-class economist, who ought to be at home with figures, should have told his audience, what the investments were worth, even if just one kobo. But did he?


By implication, he appears to be telling the world that Chief Obafemi Awolowo is to be blamed for the collapse of the O’odua Investment Group (OIG), and the companies under it that saw the rapid growth of Western Region at his time, including the effortless prosecution of free education or that Saduana of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, should similarly be blamed for the collapse of the Kaduna Textile established by then Northern Nigerian Development Company (NNDC) or that Michael Okpara should be assailed for the the parlous situation of Golden Guinea Brewery, Nigercem or Hotel Presidential Enugu.


Anyway, the governor should be told by those close to him that hiding under one finger is impossible. He should quit being clever by half, because no one can eat a crab in secret. The walls have ears and what is hidden in the dark is usually exposed by light. Many know where he’s coming and that road has been trod in the past.


We hear that he has been promised that he would be the next President if only he could scuttle Obi’s chances. It was said that immediately he showed early signs of supporting Obi, including offering him the Anambra Government House to launch his campaign, the hounds moved in to sow the evil seed of ambition in his heart. Don’t you know you’re the one we’re preparing for the job? That was it. Like Macbeth, whose vaulting ambition led astray, our governor has not relented in providing his own bit to the massive plot to stop Obi, ever since.


How sad that in his obvious blindness, he couldn’t hear that the same promise is being made to his compatriots next door by the same people. Sadder still is that he couldn’t even recollect the fate of others before him. But ambition is a deadly phenomenon sometimes.


Our governor, my governor, must however not forget that though envy and jealousy made the brothers of Joseph throw him into a well and later sold him as slave, God gave him authority with which he saved Israel. That Soludo doesn’t see the hand of God in Obi’s present journey, even with his education, is what beats me. But, passing six no be passing sense!


Sunny Igboanugo, publisher of Whirlwindnews, wrote from Lagos


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