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When the Anambra governor speaks

What is it about governing Anambra State that transforms men this way and that?  In the past 22 years, this state of great education and…

What is it about governing Anambra State that transforms men this way and that?  In the past 22 years, this state of great education and great wealth has produced what appears to be Nigeria’s most fascinating gubernatorial chair.

To see one Chris Ngige now conduct an entire federal ministry like something of a pantomime, you might forget that he was the one who, in 2003, took over as governor from the totally-regrettable Chinwoke Mbadinuju.

But Ngige was soon exposed by Chris Uba, the very man responsible for one of the earliest and clearest cases of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rigging in the Fourth Republic.

But Chris was a close friend of President Olusegun Obasanjo, so Anambra was considered to be ‘good’ rigging for a political party which often openly declared that it would control Nigeria for 60 or 100 years.  The man Chris had rigged out for Ngige?  His name was Peter Obi.

In 2007, with Obasanjo on his way to the political mortuary, he chose Andy Uba, another close friend of his and a brother of Chris Uba, to run for governor.  If you are old enough, you would remember Obasanjo campaigning for Andy, his former domestic servant, his most potent advert being perhaps this one: “He wakes me up and watches me till I sleep.”

Anambra has not recovered from those early stumbles.  Current governor Charles Soludo first arrived on its gubernatorial scene in 2009, having joined the ranks not only of the state’s highly educated but also its wealthy following his stint as chief of the Central Bank of Nigeria governor.  He had no democratic pretensions: the PDP handpicked him as its candidate.

But as we all know, all of that was futile for him.  Soludo lost to the same Peter Obi, who, in the intervening years had kept the Anambra governorship carousel going by recovering his mandates through the court.

If you are an election loser and you must wait four years for another shot at your coveted position, those must be long and tortuous.  I imagine that they indeed were for the former CBN governor, and that the eight following that might have been even longer as he was disqualified from the governorship race in his new APGA party in 2013.

Willie Obiano was the governorship winner, paving the way for Soludo in 2021.  He is remembered for two embarrassing incidents on his last day in office: his wife being publicly slapped by Bianca Ojukwu at Soludo’s inauguration, while he was arrested by the EFCC as he fled the country for the United States.

Anambra’s colourful governorship returned to the limelight last week following Soludo’s dismissal of the presidency chances of the man who defeated him for the top seat 12 years ago.  The original claims having been made on television, he returned in a verbose statement to explain his position, one that has annoyed a broad spectrum of people.

My position is that in the spirit of democracy, Soludo should be permitted to speak.  He has already begun, anyway, writing “History Beckons and I will not be Silent (Part 1).”

Let Soludo speak, as he appears to be prepared to do.  But he must speak in full, not in part and not in tongues, as an elected official about the past and the present.  I write this article not because of the Peter Obi dimension but because the arena to which Soludo has returned—the national—has not changed from the one in which he served as CBN governor and about which some questions are outstanding.  Several my articles about this are available online.

In “History Beckons,” Soludo establishes a fascinating platform: “…As a Christian, I know that telling the truth can be very costly, even suicidal. Our Lord and saviour was crucified simply for telling the truth the people did not want to hear. I promised that I won’t be the usual politician, and will not knowingly lie to the people. I am not an Angel but rather than knowingly repeat the same deceitful character that politicians are known for, I would leave public office. It is a vow I made to my God and to my family…”

In practice then, let us see how this deep this vow of holiness is.  One: The US imposed a $15 million fine on Nigeria’s UBA New York in April 2008 for violations of the Bank Secrecy Act, following the activities of the African Finance Corporation (AFC) which Soludo had set up, illegally appointed himself chairman of, and managed into international scandal.

That order followed two Cease and Desist Orders on UBA in January 2007 and February 2008 for failing “to implement the law and report money laundering or other suspicious activity involving approximately $197 million in suspicious transactions.”

I wrote about this in a story called “Rusting Gold” in August 2008, following a criminal investigation which founded Soludo guilty of gross negligence and poor executive judgment.  I observed: “The just-published report of the Presidential Committee to Investigate the Activities of the AFC reads like a Mafioso diary…As a result, not only is Soludo’s reputation now chin-deep in the sewers, the AFC may have died a premature and ignominious death.”

Two: In a story in September 2021, Pointblanknews reported the indictment of Soludo over his role in a $462 million AFC scandal during the Umaru Yar’Adua presidency, following an investigation by the ICPC.  Among others, that report accused him of manipulation and round-tripping, charging: “Prof. Soludo Should be held accountable for the rot in the Central Bank of Nigeria and the financial sector. His tenure should be probed and if found wanting arraigned in court and prosecuted.”

Three: In stories by 234NEXT and SaharaReporters, at the time, serious questions were asked as to how Soludo had managed to occupy a £2.1 million home in the London suburb of Brondesbury Park and to send his children to expensive schools there on his N12m a year salary.

Four: How, it was also asked, had the official residence of the CBN governor that Soludo used in Abuja during his tenure become his private possession, and for a paltry N200m?

As I have stated, these questions have nothing to do with Soludo’s brutal dismissal of Peter Obi’s quest for the presidency; I protect his freedom of speech as a Nigerian.  But I am far more interested in the right of the public to hear from elected and former officials particularly concerning stories of wealth that have not been publicly told or examined.

To that end, Soludo has never clarified the questions in this story.  I return them to the table now because, citing the word of God, he has declared he will tell the truth.  “I promised that I won’t be the usual politician, and will not knowingly lie to the people,” the governor affirmed last week.

What this means is that we can finally hear from him the full story of his journey to the Anambra governorship through the Obasanjo government and the United Kingdom into Awka, to infuse his words not only with eloquence, but with dignity and character.

Please clear your throat, governor.  The microphone is yours.

[I welcome public response, in 100 words or fewer, to this column.]

This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials.     

• sonala.olumhense@gmail.com

• @Sonala.Olumhense