Between Ngige, Obi And Soludo
As the dust generated by the recent PDP ward congress in Anambra state and the subsequent emergence of Professor Chukwuma Soludo as the party's flag bearer for the February 2010 elections settles, it is tempting to speculate on how the campaign will turn out. Which of the candidates is best positioned to create a new narrative that will harness the current individual achievements of the people into an imagined community to which all the citizens will proudly tap into, and gratefully subordinate themselves to? What qualities and baggage do these candidates bring to the table?
If the election does take place, it will be safe to assume that based on current political configuration, and barring a re-enactment of the Ifeanyi Ararume scenario in Imo state, it will be a-three horse race between Dr Chris Ngige, Governor Peter Obi and Chukwuma Soludo, the immediate past governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Dr Chris Ngige
Whatever his critics may say, Dr Chris Ngige was perhaps the first Governor of the state to pay workers salary on time and construct roads on a scale never seen before in the state. It is generally believed that after Ngige, it will be really difficult for any Governor of the state to use insufficient receipts from the Federation Account to justify non-performance or to owe teachers and other state government functionaries their salary for months. However, while Ngige remains popular in the state, his candidacy is likely to face a number of challenges:
One, the context, which helped to make Ngige a hero, has changed. Ngige became a hero in the context of a David fighting several goliaths (the political godfathers whom Aso Rock was allegedly protecting). This context exaggerated the cleverness of his moves, including probably his accomplishments. In the 2010 election, the compassion reserved for an underdog will not be there. It will simply be Dr Ngige and other candidates selling themselves to the electorate. Governor Obi for instance claims he has outperformed Ngige in his signature road construction and timely payment of salaries. Similarly, despite the current tsunami in the banking sector, even Professor Soludo's most ardent critics concede he is competent and very likely to 'deliver' transformational change, if elected. It is believed that the entrance of Soludo into the race will affect the perception of competence for both Ngige and Peter Obi.
Two, Ngige's political platform, the AC, could be an albatross. As the AC increasingly becomes a reincarnation of the AD, (itself a reincarnation of Awo's UPN), the party will, in Igboland, unconsciously re-awaken the internalised fallouts from the ageless rivalries between the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and the late Chief Awolowo, which have continued to define the political relations between the Igbos and the Yorubas. This relation, which is sipped in deep distrust, makes it almost impossible for any party thought to be an Igbo or Yoruba-dominated party to win any election in west or east of the country respectively.
Three, Ngige's three-year battle with his 'godfather' Chris Uba, (including his kidnapping, tales of Okija shrine and the associated mayhem), was associated with one of the most divisive and chaotic periods in the politics of the state. Many voters who want a new beginning for the state are likely to worry whether an Ngige victory will not reactivate the fissiparous tendencies in the state and the attendant waves of violence.
Four, there are also many who still see Ngige as basically a shady character who made a pact with the devil at an Okija shrine in order to gain power. It is instructive to note that Senator Emma Anosike, one of Ngige's most ardent supporters in the 2007 elections, is now Soludo's running mate.
Governor Peter Obi
Governor Peter Obi has been a darling of the radical press and Internet bloggers, partly because of the long and arduous struggle he waged against Dr Chris Ngige and his political godfather, Chris Ubah, to actualise a mandate he won at the polls in 2003, but which was stolen from him. Many agree he is genuinely committed to the state, and is doing his level best – though some of the achievements he claims remain contentious. He also has the support of the Ikemba of Nnewi, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, though it remains debatable how much this could help him electorally. Against all odds, Obi emerged the consensus candidate of APGA – a feat that will only cement his image as a cat with more than nine lives.
Despite the above, and in spite of the power of incumbency, Obi's candidacy faces major challenges:
One, many see him as a highly divisive figure, whose tendency to present himself as a saint and the rest as villains (or after the state's treasury) made it impossible for him to calm nerves and lower the state's political temperature. Rather than be a unifying symbol, critics say he worsened the situation by introducing religion into the politics of the state and by being at war with virtually everyone, including the deputy governor, Dame Virgy Etiabam. Critics also accuse his regime of having the largest number of resignations of key state functionaries in the history of the state and say it is a conclusive evidence of his lack of skills in managing people. Additionally, they say that under his watch, Anambra state became both the crime and kidnap capital of the country. The critics equally argue that Obi is incapable of unifying the state, formulating a big visionary idea or generating a big narrative to which many stakeholders in the sate will willingly subordinate themselves.
Two, Obi's greatest asset – his 'saintly' image of a prudent and incorruptible Governor - took a bartering recently by the still unexplained N250m in cash intercepted in an official car in the Governor's convoy, heading to his house in Lagos - on a Sunday, earlier this year. It is very likely that his opponents will make a huge political capital out of this during the elections.
Three, Obi is also accused of being selfish, and of wanting to be the only star in the firmament. He is for instance accused of missing many opportunities to form a grand political alliance with Orji Kalu's PPA, which would have made APGA (or the alliance) the party to beat in the state. His critics similarly accuse him of failing to make efforts to unite his bitterly divided APGA until the last minute when it dawned on him that he might not have a platform to run for re-election.
Professor Chukwuma Soludo
Professor Chukwuma Charles Soludo is perhaps one of the best-known names in Nigeria today, largely because of the gusto with which he carried the bank consolidation exercise. Though some are beginning to question whether the consolidation was as successful as it was made out to be following the recent revelations of non-performing loans, his supporters argue that under him Nigerian banks became the fastest growing in Africa, expanding globally into 21 countries, with asset growth of approximately 277 per cent and a 42 per cent increase in employment in the sector as at March 2009. Soludo's supporters argue that without his consolidation exercise (which turned 89 relatively weak banks into 25 mega banks), and his vision in building up a huge foreign reserve of about $53billion at the time of peak oil prices (when many governors were calling for it to be shared out), the impact of the global economic meltdown on the country would have been much more calamitous. Soludo's supporters exonerate him from the current crisis in the banking sector, arguing that banks across the world have been facing difficulties since the financial crisis began, not just Nigerian banks (Iceland for instance lost all of its banks within two weeks of the global financial crisis). They equally deny that Soludo had a 'cosy' relationship with bank chief executives and was lax in his oversight functions, arguing that he in fact sacked some bank executives - Mrs Joy Udensi Ifegwu, chairman of Citizens Bank, and Adebisi Omoyeni, Group Managing Director of Wema Bank – on poor governance grounds. Soludo's supporters equally claim that he was seriously addressing some of the issues being raised by the new CBN governor but was doing so discreetly in order not to panic the financial system which was at risk from a global loss of confidence in banking and financial services.
Soludo is also often accused of arrogance, though his supporters swear that he is a humble and compassionate man, and that what is often mistaken as arrogance is his
supreme self-confidence, charisma and decisiveness. Whatever may be the true situation, it is likely that his opponents will try to make a political capital out of it.
Despite the hurdles facing Soludo, there are certain things that seem to favour him in the race:
One, he is generally seen as someone who likes to dream big and accomplish big. At the CBN, he embarked on consolidation when few gave the exercise any chance of success. Already he is talking of making Anambra state another Dubai and Taiwan – something that is likely to resonate well in a state that likes to believe it is populated by geniuses and daring entrepreneurs.
Two, while Ngige and Obi appear to be divisive figures and are closely associated with the politics of infamy, kidnapping, and high crime rate in the state, even Soludo's critics concede he has good people's skills and knows when to pick his fights. He is for instance one of the few members of the Obasanjo kitchen cabinet to retain the support of the Yar'Adua regime. His supporters believe he has the charisma to deliver a grand vision that will inspire order and end the chaotic and fractious nature of Anambra politics.
Three, the political history of Anambra state also favours Soludo. No Governor from the state has ever been given a second term in office – something that could work against both Peter Obi and Dr Ngige. Similarly all who have contested and won elections in the state - from Jim Nwobodo to Dr Mbadinuju, Peter Obi, Dr Ngige and even Chief Andy Uba - have been 'dark horses', who appeared to emerge from nowhere only few months to the election. No one who has announced his candidacy more than a few months to the actual election in the state has ever won the contest. If this trend continues, Soludo will be the prime beneficiary, just as he is likely to benefit from the determination of the PDP to win the state.
Jideofor Adibe is editor of the multidisciplinary journal, African Renaissance and publisher of the London-based Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd (www.adonis-abbey.com). He can be reached [email protected]@yahoo.com