• Monday, May 20, 2024
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Soludo says Igbos can’t produce president in 2023. Really? When can they?

Soludo woos wealthy individuals to key into sports development in Anambra

Professor Charles Soludo, governor of Anambra State and former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), is a first-class economic technocrat. When he was elected governor last year, I hailed him in this column as a philosopher-king. However, I argued that while he had the skills of a successful applied economist, the jury was out on whether he had the political skills to carry the people along and succeed in transforming Anambra State.

Recent events have shown that Professor Soludo lacks political wisdom. He prides himself on “always saying it as it is” and “not shying away from a good fight.” But, in truth, he lacks the ability to be persuasive without being offensive; he carries an air of omniscience and intellectual arrogance. That’s how he came across in his recent article titled “History Beckons and I will not be Silent (Part 1)”, in which he used sarcasm, mockery and insults against everyone, including “leaders of the socio-cultural groups”, to “make” his points.

Of course, his target was Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of Labour Party and former governor of Anambra State. Soludo ferociously attacked Obi’s economic management as governor and poopooed his chances as a presidential candidate. It was in bad faith. Instructively, the backlash and opprobrium he received didn’t come only from those he repeatedly called “the social media mob”, but also from identifiable and respectable people across the mainstream of society.

Well, since Soludo said he wrote the article “for the records,” it behoves those, like me, who take issue with his comments to respond also for the records. For me, the main issue is Soludo’s analysis and conclusion on the Igbos’ place in Nigerian politics, and his views on how the Igbos could be “in the reckoning” in the political governance of this country.

Recent events have shown that Professor Soludo lacks political wisdom. He prides himself on “always saying it as it is” and “not shying away from a good fight.” But, in truth, he lacks the ability to be persuasive without being offensive

In essence, Professor Soludo suggests that the Igbos must work smarter and harder, instead of playing “Nzogbu-nzogbu” politics, if they want to be relevant politically. But he ignores the structural barriers, particular the cut-throat, inter-ethnic struggle for power and, indeed, for domination, which disadvantage the Igbos. He argues, wrongly, that the Igbos’ best route to the presidency is through becoming a “bargaining force”, using Bola Tinubu’s template, rather than through power rotation or popular vote.

We will come back to all that. But, first, we must touch on Soludo’s attacks on Obi. First is what he disparagingly called Obi’s “claimed investments” and “so-called savings” as Anambra State governor from 2006 to 2014. To be honest, Soludo’s criticisms here hardly merit any response because unless he explicitly accuses Obi of corruption, it’s a cheap shot, unmoored from reason, to blame a predecessor for making investments and savings even if they lost value eight years later. Soludo said he left behind $45 billion foreign reserves as CBN governor from 2004 to 2009. Would he accept blame for what happened to the foreign reserves since he left office 13 years later? They are just about $37 billion today!

As for Obi’s savings, Soludo questioned whether it’s wise to be “saving money in the bank account” in circumstances “where poverty is escalating.” But, equally, was it wise to accumulate $45 billion foreign reserves, as he said he did as CBN governor, at a time when poverty was rife in Nigeria?

Truth is, there are legitimate debate and differences of opinion on investments, savings and spending as government policies. Recently, a British government collapsed because the market lost confidence in its tax and spending policy, in its failure to ensure sustainable public finances.

There was a vague reference to conflict of interest in Soludo’s article, but unless he can be more explicit on that, his criticisms of Obi’s economic management were malicious and unwarranted.

But let’s leave the economics alone. Far more interesting is the politics: Soludo’s prediction on Obi’s electoral chances next year. “Let’s be clear,” he said, “Peter Obi knows that he can’t win and won’t win.” But why? Well, he put it down mainly to the Labour Party’s “lack of structure” and Nigeria’s de facto two-party system.

Soludo cited the US, saying that if Joe Biden and Donald Trump emerged as their parties’ presidential candidates, “definitely one of them will be president in 2024.” In other words, a third force stands no chance!

Well, he forgot France. In 2016, a relatively unknown Emmanuel Macron formed a new party called En Marche. A year later, he defeated candidates of the two dominant parties – the Republican and the Socialist – that, between them, ruled France for decades. Where were their structures? They collapsed. Where was Macron’s structure? The French people! They were simply fed up with the establishment parties and wanted change.

Here in Nigeria, in 2007, Dr Olusegun Mimiko ran under a newly formed Labour Party, with absolutely no structure in Ondo State. Yet, he defeated the incumbent governor, Olusegun Agagu. What happened to Agagu’s structure, after all, state governors are supposed to have structures? Well, Mimiko’s grassroots support crushed it.

Read also: The Soludo verbal salvo and variegated responses

The lesson is simple: power belongs to the people, and, in a democracy, they are the real structure. Truth is, if Nigerians decide to give Obi and the Labour Party a chance next year, and the election is free and fair, no amount of structure would save the APC and PDP!

Professor Soludo’s utter disdain for Obi’s politics and ambition was writ large in his article. Soludo said he invited Obi to join his party, All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, and run as its presidential candidate. He said he knew Obi won’t win under APGA but wanted him to lead the effort “to get our people organised as a bargaining force”.

Soludo cited approvingly the example of Tinubu who led the South-West in bargaining political power with the North. Basically, Soludo wanted APGA to be like the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the South-West, and wanted Obi and, perhaps, himself to be like Tinubu.

This is utterly naïve and shallow. First, in 2013/14, the ACN controlled all the six South-West states, which gave Tinubu real bargaining power in merger negotiations with Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change, CPC. By contrast, APGA is a fringe party in the South-East, controlling only one of the five states – Anambra – since 1999. Second, even if Obi ran for president under APGA, he wouldn’t get the “republican” Igbos fully behind the party, let alone organise them as a “bargaining force.” Even the iconic Odumegwu Ojukwu couldn’t get most Igbos to support APGA. Third, for historical reasons, Igbos won’t attain national leadership through regional or ethnic politics; it needs a national platform.

Truth is, the Igbos’ route to the presidency is through power rotation or popular support, whereby, without power rotation, Nigerians nevertheless decide to elect a presidential candidate of Igbo extraction, as they could next year! But Soludo says Obi can’t win and wants Ndigbo to bargain with Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar, the PDP’s presidential candidate.

But if Obi doesn’t win, Igbos may not get another chance for decades. Assuming Tinubu wins and does eight years, power will go to the North in 2031. When it returns to the South in 2039, the South-East may have to fight the better-resourced South-South for it.

The Igbos have produced Senate presidents and a vice-president. But can they produce president? Yes, they can! But only through power rotation or seismic political change! Soludo is wrong: Igbos can’t produce president through APGA or so-called regional “bargaining force”. Nigeria’s structural imbalance inhibits them. Ultimately, radical restructuring is the solution! But if Obi loses next year, it’s a very long walk to an Igbo-led presidency!