By Obi Nwakanma
In one of the most debated statements in the Holy Writ, the Roman Governor of Palestine, Pontius Pilate asks the Nazarene Rabbi, Yeshua, brought before him for trial, “Qui Est Veritas?” So, What is Truth? It is a very complicated question, because the truth is like light passing.
As it passes, you might see a shade of gray, or you might see gray itself. It is complicated. And this was precisely what Dr. Charles Soludo, former Professor of Economics at the University of Nigeria; former Federal Economic Adviser; former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, and current Governor of Anambra State could not fathom when he wrote that long rambling treatise on Peter Obi last week.
It all began when he came on air for an interview on Channels TV, and he was asked about the state of the investments purportedly made by Mr. Obi, who is running on the Labour Party ticket, and who has made capital about his prudence while he was in office in Anambra State as governor. He not only saved N75 billion in cash for Anambra State, he made investments for the state from which it presumably still benefits.
This question by the Chanel’s TV Anchor elicited a chuckle from Soludo, who categorically dismissed such claims. In his precise words, whatever investments made by Obi as governor was currently “worth next to nothing.” Yo! That was a crushing blow. It was clearly, carefully aimed directly at the solar plexus of Peter Obi’s cardinal claim, on which he has anchored his electability – his capacity, competence, and all what not.
If Obi’s investment are now worth “next to nothing,” then it must mean that no one can “verify” the basis of his campaign’s thrust. His prudence. His integrity. His visionary impulse. His signature. That thing that makes him very attractive to a new generation of Nigerian voters who are searching for alternatives, and who are investing almost pagan hope on him. It was not long before the “Obidients” – those convinced, Internet savvy phalanx of Peter Obi’s supporters took on Dr. Soludo, and began to interrogate, and counter him with their own facts, which, they had, well, “verified.”
The rustle grew to a din, and Dr. Soludo would have none of it. In what can now only be described as an excess of bile, he fired off a long treatise, in a way only a Professor could – long, coruscating, footnoted – and frankly tedious essay that took on Peter Obi. It was a shocking display. And Soludo might be ruing his decision to write this publicly, although he did claim he was not averse to a good fight.
It was only part 1 of his take on Obi, and he is quite likely to come down with a second part. But what does the first part of this Soludo polemic on Peter Obi say? What does it do? What it says and what it does, I assure you dear reader, are not quite the same. But let us start with what it says.
In his essay, at the risk of needless rehash for the reader quite capable of reading themselves, Dr. Soludo began by drawing an analogy between himself and “Our Lord and saviour” who was crucified for telling the truth. He did not tell us that Pilate had asked our Lord and saviour – “Qui Est Veritas”? What is truth? But never mind.
Charlie Nwa Mgbafor – as Dr. Soludo actually says he prefers to be called – situates his talk about Peter Obi’s investment claims in Anambra State as actually part of his campaign promise to the people: “I promised that I won’t be the usual politician, and will not knowingly lie to the people.”
And so, the question remains, did he lie about Peter Obi’s accomplishments in Anambra, specifically to throw a spanner in his fast spinning political wheel? Did Peter Obi’s administration make investments on behalf of Anambra State government? Where are these investments and what are their current, verifiable worth? Did Peter Obi leave behind substantial money in the coffers of Anambra State as part of a rainy day savings for the state?
Did he meet the Millennium goals set, and in spite of the funds he saved for Anambra State, did he embark on providing other social services in Education, public health, energy, security, and other social services and infrastructure? I do wish to say, on a personal note, and I do not intend this to be an endorsement of Peter Obi, but my personal experience travelling through Anambra state, from Owerri to Abatete through Orlu, and once from Oba, through Nnewi to Awka, was that compared to other states of the South East, and other places in Nigeria through which I had traversed, Anambra State had the best network of really well-built rural roads that I’d seen in Nigeria.
I do not say this lightly. But Dr. Soludo is that man in the arena to which he refers in his essay, and ought to come clean, knowing that even the name he bears compels him to be wary of overreach. Yes, indeed. Many may not know, Soludo’s last name is, in the Igbo language, something of an ominous warning: SOLU- UDO. It basically means, “Beware of the deity, Udo” – lest he strikes one dead.
I ask because, it does seem to me that Dr. Soludo spent all his ink circling on the questions of Peter Obi’s political decisions and the Igbo “emotive Nzogbu-Nzogbu political dance.” It is a shocking copout! And therein, I thought, lay what essentially was Charles Soludo’s sour grapes.
In that very unambiguous backhand on Obi and Igbo political ambitions and action: “Let’s be clear about it” writes Dr. Charles Soludo, “Peter Obi knows that he can’t win and he won’t win. He knows the game he is playing, and we know too; and he knows we know. The game he is playing is the main reason he didn’t return to APGA. The brutal truth (and some will say God forbid) is there are only two persons/parties seriously contesting the President: the rest is exciting drama.”
But if Peter Obi knows that he will not win, why is he campaigning? Who loves to go through this punishing circuit, and puts his health at risk, just for the fun of it? It is difficult to see the logic of Soludo’s claim. But it is equally foolhardy not to take a pause and listen to him. What does he know that the rest of us do not? He says in politics you don’t get what you deserve. That may well be true. He predicts, based on his own internally generated polling that Peter Obi may not even get more that 25% in 4 States, one of which would most likely be Anambra.
Basically, he suggest that Peter Obi, is somehow working for Bola Tinubu. He says the Igbo are not politically organized enough and are not ready for power. So, here is the question for Charles: when would the Igbo be ready? Perhaps only when Charles Soludo gets to be in the arena? And that brings me to the part of what Soludo’s essay on Peter Obi has done.
It fully, and squarely, exposed the wide chasm between Igbo political actors, and the mass of Igbo people. The contemporary generation of Igbo political leadership is weak and inferior. They lack the confidence and weight of the political leaders of an earlier generation, who were powerful forces.
There is nothing more tragic, and moredangerous for a people than for their own leaders to be nothing more than servants of the leaders of other people. That is what has happened to the Igbo. What played out in the PDP and the APC Primaries, in which every Igbo politician was a bag-carrier to another politician either in the North, the West, or the South-South, highlights the political danger the Igbo faces in the current Nigerian environment with this current generation of leaders.
There are two faces of Igbo politics today whom the Igbo can trust: Mr. Enyinnaya Abaribe, and Mr. Peter Obi. The rest have demonstrated that they can sell Igbo interest for peanuts, and therefore cannot be trusted. That is why most of them are ranged against Peter Obi. They see the kind of political threat he has come to be.
Obi’s unwillingness to be a “Boy-Boy politician” like his Igbo political peers, and his courage to cut his ties with PDP just before a political disgrace, and cut a wide swath with the Labour Party is what has endeared him to a multitude of Nigerians, including the Igbo voters who are settled across Nigeria. In spite of what Soludo seems to suggest, Peter Obi has momentum.
It may well be true that the Labour Party has not been able to field candidates nationwide, but its presidential candidate is enjoying a following that is much more serious than what Charles Soludo thinks is frenzied political theater. His readings of the electoral strength of the South East, does not take into account Igbo spread for instance, across Nigeria, which accounts for significant urban votes, North and South.
He is also not seeing that Peter Obi is deliberately not campaigning as an “Igbo candidate,” or on the premise of the old regionalist political categories: he is campaigning as a Pan-Nigerian candidate. I will refer Charles Soludo to the factors that gave the NCNC a wide plurality of votes in the December 1959 elections.
Those factors may well be at play in the current era in 2023. But that said, Soludo’s admonitions, even if it is, as it clearly seems to be, sour grapes, and left-handed charity, must be taken with some seriousness. Labour Party Stewards must organize the ground floor, if they wish to win,they must not only get out the votes, but they must hold the grounds, and demonstrate electoral strength. That would be the best way to silence Charles Soludo, not by bullying him. Charles Soludo is wrong: Peter Obi is in reckoning. That is the truth.