February 3, 2023

The ‘Soludo alternative’

By Donu Kogbara

TOWARDS the end of last year, Chukwuma Charles Soludo, the current Governor of Anambra State, made scathing observations that did not portray Peter Obi, his onetime predecessor, in a good light.

For example, he accused Obi of displaying some undemocratic tendencies when he was the governor of Anambra and disputed the claim that Obi, now one of three front-runners in the presidential race, invested state revenues wisely during his gubernatorial tenure.

Soludo has said that he was ferociously punished by Obi supporters for daring to make comments he regarded as objective and truthful. He has complained about suffering “internecine abuse and harassment even to my family”.

Soludo went on to say (in an open letter dated November 14) that a respected Igbo elder statesman called him to advise him to “ignore Peter Obi and his social media mob…[because] everyone knows that he is going nowhere, but they are looking for who to blame”.

Soludo then described his detractors as desperate, intolerant bullies who cannot cope with the slightest whiff of dissent and think that any high-profile Igbo who is not a member of the “Obi-dient” fan club is an ethnic saboteur or jealous of Obi’s popularity.

Regular readers of this column will be aware that I have always spoken well of Soludo…whom I have met but don’t really know.

And I believe him when he insists that he is not motivated by envy and sees Peter Obi as a brother, despite “political differences” (Soludo has stayed loyal to APGA since 2013, while Obi has moved from APGA to the PDP to the Labour Party).

I also understand why Soludo feels that he and other Igbos are not morally obliged to be cheerleaders for Obi’s presidential bid if they don’t feel inspired by it. And I definitely don’t think that they deserve to be belittled and accused of treachery if they simply don’t (for whatever reasons) see Obi as a South-Eastern Messiah.

I agree with Soludo when he points out that: “In his time, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was the undisputed all-time leader of the Igbos but he had his arch rivals and even independent candidates won landslide elections against his party, NCNC, in Igboland. Obafemi Awolowo had stiff opposition among the Yorubas while Ahmadu Bello had his share of opponents in the Northern region. Today, no one has accused Afenifere or other strong presidential candidates from the South- West of being “anti-Yoruba” because Tinubu is a front-runner, nor has anyone accused Kwankwaso and several other Northern candidates of being “anti-North” for not supporting Atiku.”

However, I strongly urge Soludo to bite his lip and keep any reservations he has about Obi to himself at a hypersensitive time like this because whether he likes it or not, he IS being viewed by some as an Obi rival. And within this context, he will be suspected of self-serving, competitive destructiveness if he says anything remotely unflattering about Obi. Even neutral remarks that aren’t necessarily negative can be easily misunderstood and weaponised.

A prominent Igbo media colleague contacted me a few weeks ago and told me that quite a few Igbos prefer Soludo for various reasons, including the fact that he is a professor and more erudite than Obi.

According to my friend, the “Soludo Alternative” group are convinced (or hoping!) that Obi will lose next month and are planning to put Soludo forward in 2027.

Fair enough. They are entitled to their opinions. But it is Obi who is capturing the imagination of millions of Nigerians at the moment!

And, as a classical scholar, I keep remembering CARPE DIEM, a Latin phrase that urges people to seize today and not dwell too much on tomorrow….and to just generally make hay while the sun shines.

Long story short: there is no guarantee that any of us will still be alive in 2027. Nor is there any guarantee that Soludo will ever be able to acquire the kind of prominence that Obi has acquired.

So why should Igbo advocates of the Soludo Alternative not concentrate on backing the candidate they have now to the hilt, instead of dreaming about the candidate they can MAYBE have in four years time?

A bird in the hand is worth two birds in the bush!

They can even eat their cake and have it!…as in if Obi doesn’t make it in 2023, they can switch to grooming Soludo for the big job in 2027.

The idea of avoiding or undermining Obi because they prefer Soludo is insane!…and almost childish.

When Dr Goodluck Jonathan was selected to represent the Niger Delta in 2007 as Vice President to Yar’Adua, many Niger Deltans were unsure that he possessed the smarts and strength to represent us vigorously. But an opportunity is an opportunity; and an opportunity is rare, so most of us rallied behind him, enthusiastically.

I remember telling the small minority who refused to stand by him that they were being short-sighted. When the anti-Goodluck brigade said that there were other politicians from our region who would do a far better job, I asked them whether they were 100% sure that those allegedly superior politicians would ever be given a chance to grab the Number Two or Number One slot in our lifetimes.

They were so sure that Goodluck was not our only option.

They were wrong.

If Peter Obi wins, he will be voted for nationwide and be president of ALL Nigerians. But he needs all the help he can get from his home zone.

A word is enough for the wise.