• Saturday, December 09, 2023
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Nigeria’s 2023 polls: The toxic misjudgements of Soludo, el-Rufai

Nigeria’s 2023 polls: The toxic misjudgements of Soludo, el-Rufai

Someday, when the dust has long settled, chroniclers of history will tell the stories of the 2023 general elections, the worst in Nigeria’s recent history. They will narrate the noble and ignoble roles played, respectively, by heroes and villains of the elections. Of the latter, many abound among the political class. Two of them are of interest to me here: Professor Charles Soludo, current governor of Anambra State, and Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, outgoing governor of Kaduna State. Neither covered himself in glory!

Now, you might ask: why single out Soludo and el-Rufai? Well, few political officeholders in Nigeria today entered politics with the technocratic pedigree of Soludo and el-Rufai: the former was a smart presidential economic adviser who became a reformist governor of the Central Bank; the latter, a brilliant director of the Bureau of Public Enterprises who became a transformative Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Both are first-class technocrats and public administrators.

But that, precisely, is the point of this intervention. Yes, they are outstanding technocrats and public administrators, but they’re dreadful politicians. The truth is that technocracy is not enough. To succeed, “technopols,” as economists Jorge Dominguez and Richard Feinberg called technocrats in politics, must possess non-technocratic qualities, such as integrity, tolerance, and humility. Yet, Nigerians celebrate technocrats without looking for these “soft” qualities in them.

Nigeria needs technocrats in political leadership but beyond technocracy, they must have integrity, character, and sound political judgement

I, too, contributed to the glorification of Soludo and el-Rufai. In 2015, shortly after he was sworn in as governor of Kaduna State, el-Rufai took some radical measures to cut the cost of governance. I praised him in a piece titled “El-Rufai’s exemplary leadership on cost of governance” (BusinessDay, June 29, 2015). Last year, when Soludo became governor of Anambra State, I hailed him in a piece titled “Soludo: A philosopher-king restrained by Nigeria’s unitary federalism ” (BusinessDay, April 4, 2022). I was beguiled by the halo effect of their technocratic past.

But I should have known that they lacked non-technocratic qualities. After all, in his long-running didactic and disparaging articles against Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in 2015, Soludo showed he could fight dirty, prompting the latter’s remark that Nigerians should beware of “so-called intellectuals without character and wisdom.” And didn’t former President Obasanjo describe el-Rufai as “a pathological purveyor of untruths and half-truths with little or no regard for integrity”? Yes, he did (‘My Watch’, Vol 2, pages 110-112)!

Yet, the worst in Soludo and el-Rufai emerged as politicians. They are tragic figures, who, like all tragic figures, possess hamartia, tragic flaws. To varying degrees, they are hubristic, motivated extrinsically by power, intrinsically by pride; they are also intolerant and divisive.

For instance, although he denied the allegations, Soludo was accused of instigating the police arrest of Labour Party activist Chude Nnamdi, and of “spending N3.5bn to buy votes” in the House of Assembly polls on March 18. In one video, he said those who didn’t vote for his party in the elections would suffer consequences. There’s no smoke without fire. And the fact that Soludo is even remotely linked with these allegations undermines his technocratic credentials and the promises in his inaugural speech to be “the chief servant” of Anambra people and to shun profligacy.

In his inaugural speech, Soludo vowed to be guided by two principles when spending Anambra State’s money: 1) “If this is my money, will I spend it this way?” and 2) “Is this the best way to spend the tax collected from the women selling pepper on the roadside or the Okada/Keke drivers?” Yet, consider his lavish “one year in office” celebration. He must be the first civilian governor in Nigeria who marked his one year in office with such a jamboree. His “employer” did not organise the event; he organised it wasting his employer’s money!

As for el-Rufai, well, he’s utterly beyond the pale. His state, Kaduna, is one of Nigeria’s most ethnically and religiously polarised; yet el-Rufai is Nigeria’s most ethnically and religiously divisive governor. He defiantly runs a Muslim-Muslim governorship in utter disregard for, and insensitivity to, the large but marginalised Christian population in Southern Kaduna. Unfortunately, he also has a toxic influence on national politics, acting against the national interest, against the imperatives of religious harmony and internal cohesion in Nigeria.

El-Rufai was the brain behind Bola Tinubu’s Muslim-Muslim ticket. He wanted to escalate the divisive approach that has destabilised Kaduna, a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state, to Nigeria, a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country. Yet, the people of Kaduna State rejected Tinubu’s Muslim-Muslim ticket. Tinubu secured only 29 per cent of the lawful votes cast!

However, once INEC declared Tinubu “winner” of the sham presidential poll, el-Rufai and his party began to use the prospect of a Muslim-Muslim presidency at the centre to campaign for the Muslim-Muslim ticket of his anointed successor, Uba Sani, and his Muslim running mate, Hadiza Balarabe, and viciously unleashed state security forces on the opposition.

Even so, it was evident that the majority of Kaduna State voters rejected the APC candidate. However, after an inordinate delay in announcing the results, intended typically to manipulate the votes, INEC declared Sani “winner” with a margin of 10,000 votes while it invalidated 19,114 votes and ignored the disenfranchisement of voters in opposition strongholds through sponsored violence. Abuse of incumbency and the federal might, as well as collusion by security agents and INEC officials, determined the outcome of the Kaduna State governorship election. With an independent and impartial judiciary, Sani’s “election” won’t stand. But that’s a matter for the election tribunal and the courts.

Read also: 2023 general election sent a clear message to Nigerian politicians – Rev Adeyemi

But what about Soludo and el-Rufai’s irrational and malicious attitude towards Peter Obi? To be sure, as they belonged to different parties, they would be right to oppose Obi on party-political grounds. But their attitude was driven by sheer personal animosity. El-Rufai hated Obi viscerally; Soludo loathed him. But they underestimated Obi in the presidential election.

I mean, el-Rufai said Obi was a “Nollywood actor”, not a serious candidate. Yet, Obi nearly level-pegged Tinubu in Kaduna State, securing 294,494 votes (21%) against Tinubu’s 399,293 (29%). Soludo said the contest was between Tinubu and PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, adding: “the rest is exciting drama.” Really? Exciting drama?!

Sadly, Soludo’s reputation as an economics professor with strong analytical and predictive power is hugely dented. In his polemical article titled “History beckons, and I will not be silent (1)”, Soludo appealed to ethos, to authority, staking his professional credibility on predictions he said were based on “my head and facts on the ground.” He was fixated on “structure,” describing Obi’s party, Labour, as “a party with literally zero structure.” But Soludo’s theory of structure was upended in the election.

Soludo said Obi would get 25% in just four states; he won 12 states outright, including Abuja and Lagos, and got 25% in 17 states. He evidently won Rivers State too! Of course, Soludo’s overall thesis was that Obi “can’t win and won’t win.” Well, truth is, Obi won more than the 6.1m votes and 12 states declared for him by INEC and secured 25% in far more that 17 states. Without a doubt, his votes were distorted nationally. But let the judiciary decide!

Unfortunately, Soludo shows no remorse for so prejudicially underestimating Obi and his party. In his cynical congratulatory message to Tinubu, Soludo said Nigerian youths were the “true heroes” of the election. But who inspired the youths, if not Obi? History beckoned, but Soludo chose to be on the wrong side of it!

Truth be told, Soludo and el-Rufai are brilliant technocrats and administrators, but they are deeply flawed politicians. Nigeria needs technocrats in political leadership but beyond technocracy, they must have integrity, character, and sound political judgement!