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January 20, 2024

Soludo and his Small-minded Solutions, by Ugoji Egbujo

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Ugoji Egbujo

Contrary to his name, Soludo seems to love squabbles. Contrary to his reputation, Soludo is busy with small things. Soludo had come with intellect and clout. So, the people hoped. But he has since left the elephants in the room to chase rats and lizards. The presumed methodical governor who would set a template for effective moral and transformative leadership and elevate politics in the southeast now wanders from controversies with traditional rulers to quarrels with bishops. Who would have thought he would be a champion for small things? 

Many had listened to him and believed Okpoko would be gentrified. Soludo was supposed to unlock foreign direct investment flows. The times are hard but Soludo wasn’t the everyday politician. A first-class economist and former central bank governor, he was supposed to be a man of ideas. There was a little anxiety about his ego, but he was supposed to be above the fray of political pettiness and restlessness of political hyenas. The Igbo had craved a breath of fresh air in Southeast where politics had been hijacked by moneyed scoundrels and their glutinous godfathers. But since Soludo came to power with his bag of solutions, the people have waited and waited for the big ideas. 

In truth, Soludo met a crippling security situation. But Soludo hasn’t managed to keep away flies and gnats; he has courted them. A few had feared that he might dwell on colourful theories and pursue fantastical projects like Tinapa. The worry had been that he might use Anambra as an economic guinea pig. But the man has failed to figure out his basic priorities. And he has had little time for ambitious social or economic experimentation. Soludo’s appetite for gratuitous disputes has proved distracting, even debilitating. 

Recently Soudo suspended the Igwe of Neni because he conferred a chieftaincy title on Senator Ifeanyi Uba. The man who was supposed to materialize Lee Kuan Yew has time to chase around traditional rulers to compel them to withdraw other titles they conferred on a senator. Soludo might deem Ifeanyi Uba a glorified agbero, but he is a senator of the federal republic. Let’s assume Soludo chose to chase this shadow not because Ubah is his political opponent. Let’s assume that Soludo is keen to sanitize the chieftaincy mess and moral order by enforcing a code of conduct adopted by the traditional rulers’ council. That code of conduct, by its most expansive interpretation by the state government, says that chieftaincy titles can only be conferred on individuals after clearance from their local traditional ruler and approval from the relevant state ministry because titles have been bastardized. But how does the conferment of a village chieftaincy title on a serving senator approximate the mischief the code was established to cure?

In the last few weeks, the Obi of Onitsha and the Catholic archbishop of the Onitsha have written Soludo painful letters. I will summarise them. The Obi said that Soludo had chosen willful deprecation of the traditional institution above critical governance. He said Soludo’s penchant for Okpoko-backyard-type bickering has left the state stagnant. Soludo’s predatoriness miffed the Obi. He said that the selective enforcement of a self-regulatory code of conduct adopted by the Anambra Traditional Rulers’ Council without engaging the royal fathers wasn’t just political rascality; it was crass also vindictiveness. Rascality might mean innocent delinquence or power drunkenness. But the sort of vindictiveness that is mediated through the withdrawal of a banal thing like a Neni chieftaincy title from a political opponent must connote rabid malice. When an enlightened governor’s pettiness drives him to trample on revered royal fathers in a bid to snatch a feather from the hat of a political opponent, then the people of that state must pray.

Archbishop Valerian Okeke of the Onitsha Catholic diocese in his letter came short of calling Soludo a huge disappointment. after the assumption of office, Soludo announced his intention to reduce the cost and flamboyance of burials. To achieve this aim, he dusted up the state’s burial law which was signed into law in May 2020, in the thick of the Covid epidemic. The law amongst other provisions prohibits ostentation and the printing of posters and brochures at funerals. The idea was to strip funerals of frivolity and make them more solemn.

When Soludo’s father died, the governor kept it simple. Then Rev Fr Obimma, popularly known as Ebube Mmuonso lost his mother and Gov Soludo attended. Brimming with righteousness and sounding like a biblical Pharisee Soludo took the microphone and castigated the grieving family for failing to keep the funeral free of pomp and ostention. He threatened to apply the law because the Reverend Father’s brother was one of the legislators who wrote the burial law in 2020. In his response, the Archbishop of Onitsha rebuked Soludo for insolence. He said Soludo had abandoned critical matters of state to pursue inanities and dictate to the church and clergy.  

Soludo’s fixation with small things might signal frustration. When a man has no big projects, he quarrels with his wife about bathroom slippers. Soludo should know that the people’s liberty can only be circumscribed to prevent them from harm, personal or otherwise. A government that criminalizes the printing of brochures at funerals is idle. When a governor comes to power, he will meet many laws. Laws are tools. If his priorities are right, he will choose the laws to enforce to promote peace and progress. Some laws are meant for the dust. A government should hesitate to criminalize harmless cultural and religious activities that do not pose a challenge to public health, morality and security. 

Soludo’s government often appears disoriented. The governor sets up a committee to rethink education in the state, and people clap. Then, he sets up a task force that bashes people in the head and destroys their goods with glee. The videos of economic cannibalism go viral, and the state tenders no apologies for naked abuse of power against a people with psychological scars. Yet the governor goes everywhere preaching peace. Soludo wants to banish ndi agbero, but Soludo’s agents come to the public and behave like agberos. When Soludo leaves office, he might discover he wasted time pursuing shadows. At a time when he needed to weave social cohesion and focus state energy on the vampires terrorizing the state, he couldn’t even play elementary politics. With ego on his head, he went on television to antagonize the Obidients and so needlessly estranged the youths. Soludo was supposed to be a Solomon but his government acts Mc oluomoish. 

Awka is still a ramshackle city. Onitsha and Nnewi are bleeding investments to Asaba and Abeokuta. There are no big plans to attract investments. Yet of all the laws in Anambra that Soludo wants to enforce with all his might it is burial laws. In Anambra, where drug dealers and crooked politicians are already chiefs, Soludo is perturbed by a small title given to a senator by a small village. The Igbo say that a man whose house is on fire shouldn’t chase rats. If Soludo were even chasing rats and not shadows he could be forgiven. But Soludo is chasing shadows and breaking hopes and goodwill. 

If Soludo keeps his gaze on Security, Education, Health, Foreign and Local investments, and Job creation, he won’t have time for chieftaincy titles and burial brochures.