ADELANI ADEPEGBA and DIRISU YAKUBU x-ray Governor Charles Soludo’s recent harsh evaluation of the performance of Peter Obi as governor of Anambra State, his dismissal of the chances of the Labour Party flagbearer in the coming presidential poll, and his criticism of the Igbo’s style in its quest for the nation’s number one seat, a development that has drawn the wrath of many
No one saw it coming but Anambra State governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo’s long and critical treatise on the chances of the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, has sent tongues wagging about a possible tiff between the two Anambrarians as the state’s citizens liked to be called.
Soludo in his article titled, ‘History Beckons and I Will Not Be Silent (Part 1),’ was very frank in his appraisal of Obi’s ambition, Ndigbo’s political future, South-East development and security, and other issues touching on Obi’s stewardship when he was Anambra State governor as well as his controversial investment in a brewery company and others.
Soludo said the LP candidate is playing a game, adding that with LP, Obi did not have the necessary structure in place to win the presidency.
The governor’s statement was in response to criticisms of his statement that investments credited to Obi while he was the state governor were worth ‘’next to nothing.’’
Obi ruled Anambra State between 2006 and 2014 on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance before he decamped to the People’s Democratic Party and later, the Labour Party.
The former Central Bank Governor’s earlier criticism of his predecessor triggered a series of backlashes from Obi’s supporters, particularly on social media. His Monday article has further inflamed passion among Obi’s supporters, commonly called ‘Obidients,’ with many of them accusing Soludo of envy.
Obi in a measured response to the current worth of the investments by his administration appeared to have confirmed Soludo’s allegation that the billions of naira he invested in the private firms on behalf of the state had dropped precipitously.
Responding to the allegation during a meeting with the Lagos Business School alumni, he said, “The one that they are saying is worthless, we invested $3.5 billion in International Breweries. International Breweries is what you can call a global company. It is part of AB beer, which is the biggest brewer in the whole world.
“The share was at a time being sold at N50. Today the share is about N5 or so and then maybe that was what was referred to. But overall, what I left is less than five per cent, that particular investment is less than five per cent.’’
Though the presidential candidate also attempted to defend the huge savings he left for his predecessor, Willie Obiano, his explanations did not address the fact that the savings did not reduce the poverty in the state which Soludo said grew from less than 25 per cent in 2005 to about 53 per cent under Obi in 2010/2011 but fell under Obiano to 14.78 per cent in 2020.
But beyond the social media vituperations, the key issues which Soludo attempted to frontload seemed to have been buried under the rabble-rousing that trailed his article. No one is talking about the political future of Ndigbo and how they can actualise their aspiration through negotiation and alignments. Soludo had urged South-East leaders to strategise and bargain with the two candidates likely to win the 2023 general elections to bring an end to the problem facing the South-East region.
The economics professor argued that the bargaining was necessary to bring lasting peace to the region as well as secure the release of the detained Indigenous People of Biafra leader, Nnamdi Kanu; South-East economic transformation and restructuring, among others.
He equally stressed the imperative of rail lines to the five state capitals, speedy access to the sea, highways linking the South-East to the North and South-South and the problems of gully erosion, Free Trade and Export Processing Zones and other projects.
The governor’s worries that the attempt to muscle out those who were not in support of Obi’s presidential ambition may endanger the future political and economic interests of the Igbos, did not also attract any interrogation as his critics seemed to be evaluating his stance through an ethnic lens.
Citing the strategy employed by the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, the governor argued that the South-East must be strategic in their alliances to lead the country. He dismissed the accusations that he was probably against Obi’s aspiration, noting that the current Nzogbu song and dance strategy would lead Ndigbo nowhere.
He said, ‘’When will Ndigbo understand and learn politics, especially of Nigeria? When Bola Ahmed Tinubu defied the political wind of the time and stood out as the “only man standing” in AD and later AC (before ACN) against a sitting president of Yoruba descent, no one accused him of being anti-Yoruba.
‘’Indeed, everyone recalls that both Tinubu and President Obasanjo disagreed politically, and probably still disagree — but neither is being accused of being anti-Yoruba.
‘’Under Tinubu, the South-West strategically organised under a different political party, the ACN and went into a formidable alliance that kicked out a sitting president, and that alliance is not broken yet. Igbos, in their frenzied Nzogbu nzogbu (it is our turn dance”) but without organisation or strategy) politics, have sadly found themselves in a political cul-de-sac. Tragic indeed! When will my people smell the morning coffee?’’
Though Obi’s popularity appears to be soaring but as noted earlier, translating the social media support to actual votes would determine his electoral fortunes in 2023. And as the governor asserted, converting anger and social media agitation into political outcomes requires humongous work.
“Let’s be clear: Peter Obi knows that he can’t and won’t win. He knows the game he is playing, and we know too, and he knows that we know. The brutal truth (and some will say, God forbid) is that there are two persons/parties seriously contesting for president: the rest is exciting drama,’’ Soludo stated to the chagrin of those who already see Obi as the next president.
The economist did not mince words in dismissing the social media popularity wave his kinsman may be banking on to win the election, insisting that without structures, Obi’s presidential dream may just remain a pipe dream.
Stating that Obi might not even come third in the race, Soludo contended that the LP lacked the structure to win the presidential election in 2023.
‘’Analysts tell him you don’t need ‘structure’ to win. Fantasy! Of course, LP won governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun on social media and via phantom polls, while getting barely 2,000 votes on ground,’’ he stated sardonically.
However, rather than harangue the economics professor over his critical observation, Obi and his party ought to double down on the mobilisation of people at the grassroots to address the absence of the party in the rural areas. In fact, the best way to hit back at the former Central Bank Governor or prove him wrong is for ‘Obidients’ to work twice as hard as the leading political parties and translate their pain and anger into electoral victory for their candidate.
Commenting on the issues, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome said there was nothing wrong in Soludo hitting Obi, stressing that those faulting the governor because both men are of the Igbo ethnic nationality missed the point.
He said, “I don’t believe in ethnic politics. I believe in the politics of inclusiveness and ‘Nigerianity.’ No Nigerian can win the next election on the basis of his tribe or ethnic group. (President) Buhari tried it in 2003, 2007 and 2011 and failed. It was when he stretched his hand across Niger and Benue in 2015 that he won.”
On his part, Anthony Sani, former Secretary General of the Arewa Consultative Forum said the Anambra governor was spot on in his rating of the Labour Party presidential candidate.
He noted, “There is nothing new that Governor Soludo has said that has not been said by some of us. For example, because of resolutions by Southern Governors and their socio-cultural platforms that the president must come from the South; this time, the votes in the south will be shared by Peter Obi of the Labour Party and Bola Tinubu of APC.
“Because Peter Obi defected from PDP, his votes will come largely from his supporters in PDP who have defected with him. In the North, the votes will be shared between Atiku of PDP, Kwankwaso of NNPP who decamped from PDP and Bola Tinubu of APC who the 14 APC governors aided his emergence in the primaries. Bola Tinubu will carry the day in the North because of APC governors and the fact that NNPP has weakened PDP.
“And when you add the fact that the Labour Party has not fielded candidates for governorship, Senate, House of Reps and State Assemblies’ seats in many states for lack of capacity and the matter of the G-5 governors led by Governor Wike; then you cannot fault Governor Soludo’s political arithmetic.’’