There was a time I thought that Prof Dora Akunyili would be PDP's candidate for governorship of the punch drunk Anambra State, until she was made the Information Minister. Then I thought of Oby Ezekwesili and Ernest Ndukwe as viable candidates with the right pedigree to run and become governor. On second thought I considered Oby Ezekwesili a long shot who may not want her squeaky clean image sullied in the murky waters of Nigerian politics. She got a sneak review of it when some battle axes of the presidency tried to manufacture a scandal against her on the mere suspicion she must have given the visiting United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton information with which she highlighted the huge gap between the promise and the reality of the Nigerian condition. Any sensible man should have known that Hilary Clinton did not need Nigerians to tell her of the level of corruption, almost nonexistent infrastructure, power outages as a way of life, the festering sore that is the Niger Delta, the urgent need for electoral reforms, the falling cost of dying etc. It is like hitting the nail on the head and the nail is complaining.
So when Prof. Charles Soludo's second term as Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria was not granted, I offhandedly told a few friends that the man might be positioned to run as PDP's governorship candidate for my home state. The premise for my thinking was that the PDP is desperate to capture Anambra state back into its fold and would need someone untainted by the series of very recent crisis that culminated in the wilful destruction of the state's infrastructure by Chris Uba's henchmen. The anti Uba sentiment in the state is still so high that anyone associated with him would lose in a free and fair election.
In the face of the regrettable Ekiti state gubernatorial rerun election, it became incumbent on the PDP to demonstrate that it can win elections without rigging. To do this, the party must present a credible candidate in the next battle field which happens to be Anambra state, such that even if it ends up rigging the election, most people would take such accusations by the opposition party with more than a pinch of salt. Anyone of the aforementioned personalities drawn from the rich deposit of competent personalities from the state would fit the bill as such candidate. The fact of history is that of all of them mentioned above only Prof Soludo threw his hat into the ring. Political tea leaves readers could discern from the comments of Tony Anene (Nee Anenih) which way the political wind would blow. What played out on October 9th, 2009, may have been scripted to end that way. It is therefore not surprising that the party has willy-nilly nominated or selected Soludo as their candidate.
Months ago, we were all made to believe that Anambra State PDP had been handed over to Chris Uba. The negative reaction that followed was long and virulent. It was clear that to beat Peter Obi and Chris Ngige, PDP needed to rethink its strategy. Peter Obi in particular had shown an uncanny ability to use the courts to get justice. If the PDP primary went ahead as planned, Chris Uba's candidate would win, a scenario that would immensely help the opposition, particularly Chris Ngige. So in essence, if the primary held, the outcome would be unpredictable and against the strategic interest of the PDP and the Presidency. It was not surprising that the election of delegates was so riddled with fraud that someone, sponsored or not went to court to abort the process. Attempts to get a consensus candidate predictably failed. Out of the hat came another option called statutory delegates. But even this has an embedded problem. Given the reported power of Chris Uba, most of the statutory delegates would be people he put there. The outcome would be the emergence of Chris Uba's man with feared consequences. Attempts by Olisa Metu, the National Vice Chairman of PDP, South East to submit the name of Dr Alex Ekwueme and substitute it with the party's flag bearer on or before December 12, 2009 was rejected because it could throw up an unacceptable candidate. The PDP did not want to shake the bushes and take whatever ran out.
Then came the ultimate bombshell that took the wind off the sail of Metu's argument and in fact any other argument different from the predetermined one. The bombshell came in the form of a letter written by INEC on October 8th, 2009, to the PDP to the effect that it does not have a democratically elected state executive in Anambra state. With INEC's letter several objectives were achieved. If the delegates' election was illegal on account of the absence of a democratically elected executive, all legal actions including the one that stopped the primary have been aborted because as they say in legalese, they have no locus standi, which means they have no legal grounds to sue.
Was INEC not aware of the long published plan to hold the primary in Awka? Why did INEC wait till October 8th to write this letter? By this, INEC has shown that it is acting like a department of the PDP, timing its letter and declaration for maximum effect. INEC's action also signals the beginning of the end for Chris Uba, the grandstanding political thug created and nurtured by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to destabilise Anambra state. If anyone is in doubt of Uba's waning clout, why did the Presidency reject Nicholas Ukadike, the man who was eventually picked and settle for Soludo? Because Ukadike is Chris Uba's man. The calculations are political. It is very likely that in settling for Soludo, the Presidency must have consulted with men like Dr Alex Ekweme, Emeka Anyaoku and Tony Anenih and their choice would have been Soludo which will tally with the Presidency's choice. This will immediately make Anambra state, the nation's premier political laboratory and guinea pig, once again a PDP strong hold especially for the coming elections in 2011, during which President Yar'Adua would need men like Ekwueme and Anyaoku for political payback. It is known that no patriotic Igbo man would want anything to do with Chris Uba or his ilk.
In normal times and places and in a free and fair primary, there is no reason why Soludo should not emerge as the PDP's flag bearer. Picking him, even if the process is flawed is a masterstroke. Of all the aspirants, he is the only one in a clean election capable of beating the incumbent Peter Obi and Chris Ngige. Even if the election is rigged in his favour, protests would be muted because everyone would think that he should have won anyway. It would be rigging coated in honey, made palatable to swallow.
Settling the other 46 candidates will not be easy. PDP would soon start asking them the question they want to hear, ÔÇśwhat do you want?' The talk that they would all head for the courts is part of the negotiation process for compensation, a word that even every illiterate Igbo man understands. Those who spent N20 million will claim they spent N150 million and want refund and may end up getting a weighted refund up to N100 million and a commitment to keep quiet and be loyal. Some would want to be made commissioners or get appointments to ÔÇśjuicy' parastatals. These last options are essentially the target for at least 90% of the aspirants who got into the race for such crumbs. Before long newspapers will be awash with settled former aspirants calling on their ÔÇśsupporters' which in most cases means just himself to join the Soludo campaign.
Prof Charles Soludo, a competent man with demonstrated abilities, celebrated global vision and world view has delivered some masterstrokes of his own. The timing of his declaration to run for governor so close to the primary robbed his opponents of the opportunity to redefine who he is. It must have destabilised the campaign strategies of his opponents who if they had the luxury of time, would have tried to dismantle his main legacy as CBN governor. Because he is a very well known name and brand, he did not need to come out earlier. He practically stole the thunder. Soludo even stealthily got his opponent, Peter Obi, the incumbent governor of Anambra state, whose job he wants, to practically endorse him before the world during a grand reception held in his honour in Enugu on August 22, 2009. Even if Peter Obi had suspected that Soludo had gubernatorial ambitions, there was no way he could have dodged that event or uttered less friendly praise. It was a political ambush, similar to the banking consolidation exercise.
If and I hope he is elected governor, Soludo gets to government house Awka, the problems he will meet may not be comparable to those he met in the banking industry but that experience should be put to good use. In the Central Bank of Nigeria, he saw it all, taking all the pressures and never buckling. His consolidation of the banking industry is the sole reason the global melt down did not wipe out the banking industry. Such tough skin and abilities are required to successfully navigate the political tinder box that Anambra state has become. His time at the CBN was a test run for this time and what lies ahead. I like to characterise him as a man who whenever he sees a dark cloud begins searching for a silver lining. The expectations will be extremely high as we wait for the rising of Taiwan out of political and economic chaos that Anambra state has become.
The election come February 6, 2010 will be something else. Of course Charles Soludo will win in a free and fair election. But will INEC and PDP reject an opportunity to live true to form and deal the rebranding project another deadly body blow? I doubt it. Let me try to second guess INEC. Soludo will win, beating Peter Obi by a narrow margin. The narrow margin is to console Peter Obi as a gallant loser and hopefully preventing him from heading to the courts where he has seemingly become invisible. Chris Ngige will be shunted to third place with less than ten percent of the votes cast. It will be irresistible for his enemies', still entrenched in the PDP to show Ngige as a paper tiger, his folk hero status, a creation of the media with no basis in reality. He will be lucky to be ÔÇśallowed' to win in his ward, in a bid to once and for all put him to political pasture. In Soludo, the PDP has the man to beat, that is if Chris Uba's face or voice is not associated with his campaign. John McCain similarly avoided George W Bush because of the negative impact any association would have on his campaign. It will be a close election of three gladiators. For once, let it be said that the leopard changed its spots. Let the election be free and fair.
The PDP and the presidency should not stop until Chris Uba is completely demystified. He is the only man to kidnap a serving elected governor and was never hauled in to account for that affront to democracy. He is on record to have taken Chris Ngige to Okija shrine to swear to an oath of servitude to him. He privately admitted to president Obasanjo and subsequently publicly that he rigged the 2003 gubernatorial election in favour of Chris Ngige and yet he was not held accountable for subverting the will of the citizens of Anambra state. Through that rigging, Chris Uba was to have unlimited access to the treasury of the state and determine who would be appointed what at a cost to the appointees. What else needs to be said or written about Chris Uba before he is held accountable for horrendous acts of perfidy? People, political parties and even nations are judged by the company and friends they keep. Chris Uba is the face of the PDP citizens of Anambra state see every time they pass any of the numerous state properties his men destroyed under the watchful eyes of the police. He is the unjustified face of Igbo politicians all Nigerians see. A face that suggests that for the Igbo man everything is for sale.
Igbos will never forget former president Obasanjo for deliberately looking the other way while Anambra state was ravaged by predators, turning the state within his first four years into what is, with the benefit of hindsight his desired outcome of a successful failure. Between 2003 and 2007 when he unleashed Chris Uba like a guided missile, the aim was creative looting of the state resources and destruction. On the later he largely succeeded. Under Obasanjo, Anambra state witnessed not just tolerance but an elevation of mediocrity of a man who cannot stitch together a simple sentence in the English language. Obasanjo's other legacy include the fact that never again will the election of governors of the 36 states hold on the same day. Even if the PDP shirks its responsibilities and keeps him in positions of power within its fold, Chris Uba will be remembered by all Nigerians for his politics of extreme bitterness. The PDP's body language should stop signalling that Anambra state will continue to be the political laboratory to test out its strategies, perhaps for the fast approaching 2011 elections. No one should forget that the evil political experiments started in Anambra state were replicated in different ways in Plateau, Oyo, Ekiti and Bayelsa states under Obasanjo's watch. If this is perceived to be happening again, the people will still elect Soludo and turn its back on PDP come 2011.
If Charles Soludo is elected governor, perhaps Anambra State will take its destiny back into its hands. Imagine where the state will be if after eight years of Soludo, we elect Dora Akunyili for another eight years. That is if there is no return of the likes of Chris Uba to the state politics. It is up to the people of the state to stand as one and proclaim, ÔÇśnever again!'
Think about it, Charles Soludo might after eight years become President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and change for good and for all times the way the Igbo man is perceived.
Okechukwu Peter Nwobu