In Soludo, so long a journey, Columnist Ogbuagu Anikwe excavates facts and history to profile the Professor’s tortuous political odyssey
One paragraph jumped out while reading Prof. Chukwuma Soludo’s acceptance speech last week. He said: “On February 7th, 2010, INEC declared as winner of the Anambra Governorship election a candidate who had described the election as a sham on Channels TV and refused to vote in protest. Two hours after the declaration, I addressed a press conference and congratulated him, and walked away without a legal challenge. I was probably the first candidate of a major political party to do that in Nigeria.”
This is only half of the story. The other half is that Soludo, fresh from a tour of duty as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), got rudely introduced to the skullduggery of Nigerian politics and quickly bailed out. While he struggled to become PDP’s flagbearer, many untoward things happened to him. The most traumatic is arguably the kidnapping of his father, a septuagenarian. He faced a formidable field of 47 aspirants seeking the party nomination, each confident of victory.
Although a dozen aspirants were weeded out at the screening stage, they however appealed their exclusion from the primaries contest. They won the appeal as their names were subsequently restored by the appeal panel headed by Sen. Ike Ekweremadu. This panel pored through 1,357 petitions, against the process and against Soludo. Of the lot, it found only 174 deserving and discarded 1,183 petitions.
The subsequent entry of Governor Suswan of Benue State, to calm the situation and conduct ward congresses, did not help matters. The Governor did not achieve much, even after importing 326 of his own people from Benue State to help him manage it!
Forced Consensus Candidate
Soludo so long a journey
In all of the confusion, time almost ran out on the party to submit the name of its candidate. This forced the PDP National Executive Council (NEC) to hurriedly submit Soludo’s name as consensus candidate in order to beat the INEC deadline.
The bickering among aspirants however worsened. Four aggrieved aspirants headed to court to stop INEC from recognizing Soludo as the PDP candidate. Guess who led the charge to the court? Chief Valentine Ozigbo, one of the 12 that benefitted from the Ekweremadu-led appeal committee amnesty.
A high court judge ruled that the matter was beyond a high court’s jurisdiction. Dissatisfied, the quartet appealed the judgement. Justice Mary Odili, then of the Court of Appeal delivered two lead judgements that not only barred Soludo but also stopped INEC from recognizing him as Governor. INEC, never changing, quickly accepted the ruling.
Fortunately, this was the time of Nigeria’s activist, no-nonsense Supreme Court. Justice Odili’s appeal panel ruled against Soludo on 16 December 2019. His lawyers appealed same day to the Supreme Court. The INEC acceptance of Odili panel’s ruling deflated candidate and his supporters. They thought it was a waste of time to witness what the Supreme Court would say.
The Supreme Court met and rubbished the appeal judgement. Justice Oguntade’s lead judgement stated that the appeal court was asked to resolve an issue of jurisdiction and had no business jumping into extraneous matters that were then to be concluded at the originating court. An elated Soludo stormed the Supreme Court with his supporters and made big statements – after he was informed of the outcome.
In the main elections, Soludo finished in third place, behind Gov. Peter Obi (APGA) and Sen. Chris Ngige of ACN in second place.
A second reality check
Soludo so long a journey
With this poor showing, how could he have contested the Peter Obi win in court – and hoped to make a headway. We didn’t have a lapdog Supreme Court, with a master PDP President in power at Aso Rock. He had no choice but to congratulate Obi and walk away.
The story of his tortuous journey to the governorship seat did not end there.
Fast-forward to three years later (2013) when Soludo decided to pitch tent with APGA. He also immediately declared his intention to recontest the governor’s seat. At that time, Gov. Obi was concluding his second and last tenure as governor. I believe it was also at this point that Soludo may have discovered two of APGA’s top taboo secrets.
An Anambra Governor that is not of the ruling party at the Centre must quickly make peace with and become a political ally of whoever is President and his ruling party. Secondly, since Peter Obi, the fortunes of a certain commercial bank has been tied to Anambra governorship electoral outcomes.
This second secret is worth exploring. In 2013, a certain bank executive director, Chief Willie Obiano, was persuaded to join APGA. He did, on the exact same date that Soludo also joined. Ultimately, this opened a discord between party leader, Sen. Victor Umeh and Governor Obi over which of the two should be lifted up to the governorship seat. Sen. Umeh supported Soludo while Gov. Obi favoured the director.
In the high wire lobbying that ensured, Soludo’s lost as the big fishes made up after their fight. It was speculated that President Jonathan, Gov. Obi’s political ally, ordered that Soludo should not be the APGA candidate. Soludo didn’t believe it and refused to budge. APGA chieftains forcibly prevented him from going into the primaries, fearful that he might win.
Easy pass for Obiano
Soludo so long a journey
The strategy adopted was to disqualify Soludo for “failing a question” on his aspirant’s form. Even when the aspirant showed evidence that he did not fail that question, the panel still found a way to interpret his evidence as proof that he indeed failed. Willie Obiano had an easy pass to the throne, thanks to the political machinations of Gov. Obi, teleguided by the PDP presidency.
An embittered Soludo waited for the opportunity to hit back at President Jonathan. The opportunity presented itself during the 2015 presidential elections. Most PDP political office holders were rated as corrupt. But they basked in the administration’s economic successes driven by the stellar performance of Jonathan’s Coordinating Minister of the Economy.
Brilliant mind that he is, Soludo took expert aim and delivered powerful below-the-belt blows to the performance of the Minister, Madam Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. He worked as an expert volunteer to APC’s Gen. Muhammadu Buhari Campaign as they mounted a robust struggle to unseat Jonathan. Dredging up factual and a lot of non-factual matters to back up his disquisition, his essay and disputation became cornerstone articles that eroded Jonathan’s touted economic successes. For many observers, the essays looked like it was payback time for the man who denied him the opportunity to become Governor.
In this context, it appears Soludo received covert support from Aso Rock as reward for his prior anti-Jonathan onslaught. In the runup to the 2021 elections, APGA chairman and the State Governor frequently cried out to “father” Buhari each time they were dealt dirty blows by party insiders and the dreaded APC candidate. Individual members of Buhari’s media team stoutly supported Soludo. They mounted a media campaign against APC’s Sen. Uba. The Anambra APC leader did not hide his disinterest in the party campaign, same as other powerful APC political and economic leaders.
So long a journey
Soludo so long a journey
If anyone is in doubt where the hearts of APC’s national leaders were during the election, they should look at what happened when Soludo was declared winner. President Muhammadu Buhari was among the first to congratulate him. With this presidential endorsement, the door effectively closed for the fourth-placed candidate to enter a promising legal challenge. As was the case in Imo State.
The first secret of APGA therefore remains intact. Prof Soludo mounts the saddle as a strong political ally of the APC, and of the President himself. It also helps that the Governor-elect is a member of the President’s Economic Advisory Council. And that the President watered the grounds for the coming partnership by his preemptive public statement of support.
What will happen to Anambra’s second secret? The Anambra 2021 governorship election represents a seismic shift in the fortunes of the commercial bank in question. Governor-elect Soludo may not have as much interest to protect in this bank as do Obi and Obiano. When provoked, he may not take the drastic step that a certain governor in Enugu State did to deal with a recalcitrant godfather; all he needs to do is to pull State funds out of the bank and it may return to its struggling status before Obi became governor.
In a potential subterranean contest with this godfather, Soludo’s recall of the events of 2010 takes on a different meaning. It can easily be construed as a veiled warning to the man who destroyed his first governorship ambition in 2009.
The months and years ahead will determine whether this secret will continue to remain secret or will be exposed in a future dog fight with the godfather.
Soludo, so long a journey