The victory in early November of Charles Soludo, the candidate for the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) party, in the gubernatorial elections in Anambra State, Nigeria, has been remarked upon as a turning point in Nigerian politics. For one, it produced an election free of the sort of violence that is prevalent in Nigerian polling events. It has also brought to power someone viewed by his followers as a man of ideas and a technocrat capable of pioneering a ground-breaking plan for tangible development within a nation which, despite its abundant human and natural resources, has failed to achieve the status of having a developed economy. Soludo faces a daunting task: While far from being a ‘poor’ state by Nigerian standards, it contends with an array of problems related to poor infrastructure, the deliverance of healthcare and environmental pollution. There is also the perennial incumbrance of dwindling federal allocation of funds. And as is the case with the rest of the country, its residents face day-to-day security concerns related to the activities of armed herdsmen, armed robbers and the actions of the militant organisation Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) whose goal is to secede from Nigeria. But amid this complicated backdrop remains the overarching problem faced by the leader of every African constituent or sovereign state, that is, the challenge of transforming a former colonial entity into a truly modern industrial society.
Charles Soludo, who was confirmed as the governor-elect of the Nigerian state of Anambra by the Independent Nigeria Electoral Commission (INEC), is an economist by training, a former academic and a former Chairman of the Central Bank of Nigeria. His party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), was formed in the early 2000s with what its founder Chekwas Okorie described as “the Igbo initiative”; giving the Igbo ethnic group, who dominated the failed secessionist enterprise of Biafra, a platform to engage with the rest of the country while proselytising the idea of “inclusion and restructuring”.
The party thus represented, and, in terms of its present support, arguably still represents a political expression of Igbo sentiment that points to the marginalisation many Igbos complain has not ceased since the ending in 1970 of the Nigerian Civil War, as well as the perennial urge to configure a looser, more decentralised relationship with the federal polity, an aim of the former Eastern region during its negotiations with the rest of the country prior to the outbreak of the civil war.
The APGA is not a mainstream party and in a sense it negotiates a fine line between the pragmatism of maintaining a continued union with the Nigerian state on the one hand and the conscious or unconscious desire of many Igbos to be independent of Nigeria on the other. The party’s first presidential candidate was Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, who as a young lieutenant colonel had declared the secession of the old Eastern Region from Nigeria. Later reabsorbed into the Nigerian establishment, Ojukwu, while continuing to serve as a spiritus rector for the passive yearnings of separatism, nonetheless was party to an agreement with Muhammadu Buhari, a fellow presidential aspirant, which was known as the Daura Declaration. Made as part of a pact when both were challenging the legitimacy of the 2003 poll which re-elected Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military ruler, as president, the declaration reiterated both men’s strong conviction about “the unity, oneness and indivisibility of Nigeria”.
This ‘accommodation’ with the Nigerian state contrasts with the avowed aim of secession expressed by the IPOB led by Nnamdi Kanu.
Although not on the gubernatorial ballot, the proscribed IPOB was a key player in the election. Its uncompromising stance has been manifested by attacks on establishments and personnel of the Nigerian state, as well as on prominent Igbos deemed to be ‘collaborators’. The group has also instituted a series of sit-at-home edicts to populations in Igboland, one of which threatened to coincide with the Anambra election. However, no terroristic acts were taken by the IPOB during the election, the result of discreet missives sent by prominent and ordinary members of the Igbo community who beseeched the organisation to not play into the hands of the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, who had deployed a large contingent of security forces to Anambra. The messages warned that IPOB action would have prompted the authorities to use maximum force in operations which would have led to the loss of innocent lives, as well as provide Buhari with a pretext to declare a state of emergency.
The election passed without incident and Soludo was duly elected.
The only impediment to Soludo assuming office would appear to be a possible legal challenge mounted by Andy Uba, one of the defeated candidates, who is mulling over going to court to “reclaim the stolen mandate” which he claims was caused by the defection of APGA ward chairmen to the All Progressive Congress (APC), one of the mainstream political parties. Anambra has had a torrid history during the 4th Republic which was born in 1999 after the handover of power by the military government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar to the civilian administration led by the retired General Olusegun Obasanjo. There have been several disputes related to the results of gubernatorial elections and an episode of impeachment, all of which were referred to the judiciary.
But assuming he is able to assume the office unimpeded, Soludo faces many problems. There is the perennial problem of underdeveloped, and in many instances, decaying statewide infrastructure. Nothing illustrates this malaise better than the condition of many roads. For example, the Federal Government-made Onitsha to Owerri expressway, which connects Anambra (Onitsha is an historically important city and commercial hub in Anambra) with Imo State. The road was described as a “death trap”, and some months ago, images of a giant sinkhole in a section of the highway swallowing a diesel tanker went viral on social media.
And while a portion of the road was fixed by the Federal Government after the public outcry, Soludo will know that the problem of roads is not delimited to those which are the responsibility of the Federal Government alone. A report in the Premium Times media outlet which was published on November 23rd 2021 quoted a resident of Akwa, the capital of Anambra State, as saying that “virtually all roads that lead to schools, markets, hospitals, business outlets, and residential areas are not passable.” Another resident felt that the city had become a “laughing stock” given the comprehensive failure of the road-networks in the city.
It goes without saying that the poor state of roads has a negative effect on the economy starting with the constant need of those in the transport industry to repair their vehicles which are damaged when negotiating the roads.
Another issue which Soludo will need to confront is that of air pollution. In 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Onitsha to be the world’s most polluted city for air quality. The city recorded 30 times more than WHO’s recommended level of PM10. (Three other Nigerian cities featured in the top 20 ‘worst offenders. They were Kaduna, Aba and Umuahia). The source of this brand of pollution which include cooking fires, burning rubbish and the use of older model, environmentally unfriendly vehicle engines point to an overall lack of amenities and endemic social poverty. The resulting negative impact of the health of the community in terms of respiratory ailments and death rates is largely ignored and the state government has so far not made any strenuous efforts to tackle the problem.
The state of hospitals is another key challenge facing Soludo. Outbreaks of cholera and measles have occurred in the past, this and other problems being caused by a lack of essential equipment and drugs. The maladies associated with health encompass both federal and state health establishments and the frustration of the people over the delivery of health services led to the extraordinary scene in May of 2021 of protesters storming the Nnamdi Azikiwe Teaching Hospital in Nnewi. A group calling itself Advocates For Good Governance, which included patients, their relatives and staff, signed and delivered a letter to news media which was titled “Abuse of Due Process, Racketeering, Extortion, Graft and Celebration of Corruption at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi”. They complained that poor management had resulted in many avoidable deaths.
The problem of the brain drain of locally produced doctors is intimately bound with the maladies associated with health care. And while a nationwide problem, Soludo will need to deal with the issue in a more purposeful manner than one of his predecessors Chris Ngige. Two years ago Ngige, the Federal Minister for Employment and Labour, told an interviewer that doctors were free to leave Nigeria to practice elsewhere. “We have surplus”, he shrugged. “If you have surplus, you export”. Two years later his tone had changed when calling on the Federal Government to get doctors to sign a bond that would compel them to practise in Nigeria for a minimum of 9 years before they are able to relocate to another country.
The education sector is also in a poor condition. A survey carried out by an NGO known as Evidence and Collaboration for Inclusive development, which was released in September 2021, revealed that “no fewer than 90,000 children are out of school in Anambra State”. The figure is largely caused by disparities between those who live in urban and rural areas and has raised concerns in a state which prides itself as being one of the most advantaged in Nigeria in the area of education.
Besides these issues of administration are those of social malaise and communal conflict. The problem of security is one which presently bedevils Nigeria, and Anambra State has to contend with the herdsman crisis, as well as with an enduring problem of armed robbery. The aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War saw a rise in armed robberies in the cities of what had been the secessionist republic of Biafra. Today, the problems caused by underdevelopment form the basis of the rise of dangerous armed robbers and cultists.
An article published in This Day news media on July 21st 2021 stated that “...in Anambra, besides the reign of “unknown gunmen”, cultists and armed robbers have seized the opportunity to add to the fear in the state by having free reign. For example, no day passes by without incidences of armed robbery and cult killings. In many neighbourhoods in towns across the state, including the state capital (Akwa), armed robbers consisting of youths sack a whole street , moving from one end of the street to the other, robbing shops and residential buildings, most times at day, without any form of challenge.”
The absence of law enforcement, caused by armed attacks on security officials by bandits referred to as “unknown gunmen”, has caused a spike in the crime rate, ranging from petty thievery to armed robberies. One effect of this has been an increase in vigilantism by ordinary people who have meted out instant and brutal ‘justice’ when suspects have been caught.
The unknown gunmen have also attacked politicians and prominent persons including Dr. Chike Akunyili, the widower of the late Dr. Dora Akunyili, who was assassinated. The suspicion -despite strenuous denials- is that these victims of murder and arson have been targeted by the Eastern Security Network, the paramilitary wing of IPOB, who view federal establishments as manifestations of an unjust imposition on the sovereignty of Igbos and those on mainstream political figures as actions befitting for ‘collaborators’ with the Nigerian state.
The other pressing security concern is that of the herdsmen, cattle rearers of the Fulani ethnic group. Many communities across the length and breadth of Nigeria have complained of armed herdsmen mounting deadly attacks on their person and properties. (The groups representing Fulani herdsmen claim that they need to be armed for self-protection amid what they see to be the increasingly wholesale demonisation of Fulanis).
But what can be explained fundamentally as a conflict between pastoralists and sedentary farmers over access to land due to the effects of the southward expansion of the Sahara desert and the increasing aridity of the Sahel region is also interpreted as an insurgency aimed at establishing Fulani hegemony over all parts of the country. It is an explanation which has great resonance in many parts of the heartland of what was the secessionist state of Biafra including Anambra. One plank of Biafran propaganda during the civil war was that the conflict was an attempt by the Muslim Fulani-Hausa to conquer the largely Christianised south after which they would euphemistically “dip the Koran into the Atlantic Ocean”.
The proposal by the current president, Muhammadu Buhari, himself a Fulani, to grant land to Fulani herders in parts of the south was seen by many as an attempt at establishing Fulani “colonies”. The refusal of communities in Anambra State to donate land to herdsmen for settlement was, many Anambra communities maintain, followed by a strategy employed by herdsmen of forcibly entering farmland and destroying the property and crops in order to displace the farm owners and occupy their arable lands.
An article in the Vanguard which was published in July 2020, claimed that “(ten) communities in Akwa North local government area lamented the destruction of their farmlands by herdsmen, which they said had become a daily occurrence.” The destruction of farmland has had an effect of creating food shortages and increasing the price of staple crops, not only in Anambra but in neighbouring states owing to the fact that the western Anambra region is considered as the breadbasket of the sub-region.
The stories of destruction of farmland, murder and rape allegedly committed by herdsmen has created an atmosphere of fear and also fueled revenge attacks by IPOB on Fulani communities.
The combination of the aforementioned problems present formidable obstacles to the task of development, but Soludo who has previously written and spoken about how he feels Nigeria can develop as a nation is confident in his ability to transform his home state into a hub of commercial enterprise and a model of economic development.
He has articulated a vision of “wealth creation” and economic diversification in contrast to the prevailing consumptive culture of sharing oil wealth. He evangelizes about “micro-financing” and of leap-frogging the industrialization ladder. Importantly, he talks of the need for Nigerian politicking to go “beyond sloganeering” and be reinvented as “ideas-based” or ideologically-driven.
Nigerians have listened closely to Soludo’s pronouncements on how he expects to reform and regenerate the economy of Anambra State during and after the election campaign. Development requires funding, and given the problematic issue of dwindling fund allocations from the Federal Government, the question of how he will raise the necessary financing is ever present.
Over the years, it has become increasingly clear to those who run state governments that reliance on the monies disbursed from the coffers of the Federal Government as the sole basis of income is self-defeating. Indeed, it is often claimed that the monies released are often not enough to cover the remuneration of state employees and pensions.
Unfortunately, Soludo has disappointed many by intimating in post-election interviews that he will call upon the network of contacts he has built up while working for international organisations to help fund his economic programme. The negative response to this strategy is understandable. Such a move would create the circumstances through which external agencies will have leverage over domestic policies and specific projects. What is more, the raison d'etre of lending institutions is to create indebtedness; a burden that can be ill-afforded.
It is clear that if Soludo’s aim of creating the conditions conducive to economic transformation are to be met, he will need to think creatively about how to raise money for the state coffers. The methods by which this can be achieved relate to contriving an efficient method of raising taxes within the state, as well as providing the basis through which people within Anambra State or otherwise connected to it, that is, those indigenes living in the diaspora, can be part of the money generating process.
Tax plays a key role in economic development and Nigeria’s governments at both national and sub-national level have failed to implement comprehensive tax regimes through which the income generated can be maximised and purposefully used for developmental purposes. Revenue collecting mechanisms are often inefficient and susceptible to “leakage” and corruption. Anambra State is no different in this regard. Indeed, the state relies on an archaic and crude method involving mobile touts who navigate its towns and cities demanding payment from people on the roads, motor parks, bus stops and market areas. Blaming the state of affairs on the state ministries of Transport and Trade & Commerce, one prominent businessman described the system of using mobile agents as tantamount to “corruption and economic sabotage”.
Broadening the tax base and implementing unused levies is a strategy of action which some Nigerian states are already adopting. For instance, the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, has instituted a regime of property taxation including a straightforward process of registering land title deeds. Speaking in November 2020 in a keynote address to the Annual Tax Conference of the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN) which was themed “Taxation and Economic Competitiveness: Imperatives for National Development - a Nigerian Subnational Perspective”, El-Rufai informed his audience about the steady rise in revenue collection in his state over a four year period. In 2019, the state had succeeded in increasing revenues from 23 billion Naira in 2016 to 44.9 billion Naira -an increase of 21.9 billion Naira. Total revenues collected in 2015 had been 13.55 billion Naira.
So while Soludo has correctly complained in the past about tax powers being “concentrated in the Federal Assembly with corporate and value added tax being paid into the federal account”, there is a great deal of room for manoeuvre in generating monies from state level taxes. For instance, in the United States, states which are rich in natural resources are disposed to raising revenues from non-tax sources such as mining minerals and metals. Anambra State is rich in a good number of these including bauxite, iron ore and ceramics. The dividends and profits generated from economically viable State Public Sector Enterprises along with user charges on services provided by the state could also form the basis of funding the sort of development Soludo envisages.
The other source of developmental capital can come from the citizens of the state. This is an avenue which some have sought to tread in the past. Back in the 1980s during the military regime led by General Ibrahim Babangida, the military governor of the original Anambra State (Anambra was later divided into a further state named Enugu), Group Captain Emeka Omeruah, reached the conclusion that short of a miracle, the Federal Government would be incapable of funding and developing tertiary education to a desired level. So, lacking the funds for his ambitious plans for rural development, as well as education and technological advancement, he appealed to “the people’s culture of self-help”.
The Igbo pride themselves for being an industrious people and indeed one famous manifestation of this was centred in Onitsha. The Onitsha Chapbook culture developed prior to Nigeria’s independence instilled a sentiment of aspiration and an enterprise culture undergirded by entrepreneurial and Christian precepts. Throughout the vast Nigerian diaspora, Igbo social unions exist not only for the purposes of networking and preserving their culture, but also to facilitate the collection of monies to undertake projects such as the building of amenities in the towns and villages from which members originate.
This could be taken to a much higher level, involving the financing of large scale projects. Lessons can be drawn for instance from the funding of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam. Denied access to IMF loans, it was funded in large measure by government bonds and private donations. Note should also be made of the manner by which Israel funded its secret quest for a nuclear capability. Much of the financing for the Dimona nuclear project came from private citizens of the Jewish Diaspora.
But the disposition to individualism by Igbos often sits uneasily with achieving communal goals.
Group Captain Omeruah’s Anambra State Education and Technology Fund (ASET), a parastatal which he envisaged in 1986 as “a new method of enshrining and putting the finishing touch to our self-help culture”, was hampered by a lack of funding. The problem of funding reared its head in relation to the issue of primary education, years after the initial declaration of a universal primary education scheme in 1976 by the military regime headed by Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo. Federal spending on education had dipped markedly in the 1980s during the period the Babangida regime was implementing cuts in social spending in accord with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund-backed Structural Adjustment Policy. Omeruah’s optimistic goal of establishing free primary education in his state by 1987 was frustrated by the lack of revenues from taxation. He had envisaged that each taxable adult in the state would have contributed a total of 35 million Naira to make it a viable objective. However, in 1986 he admitted this would be “difficult” because, as he put it, “all we have in the kitty is 6 million Naira, which means people are not paying their taxes.”
There is much to learn from past mistakes and shortcomings. Soludo has several options. He may choose to work towards establishing a state development trust fund and engage with the people of the state including those who live abroad if his efforts are to yield results. There is also the option of working with other state governors to facilitate the establishment of special municipal bonds of the sort which would enable states to float debt with interest costs subsidized by the Federal Government.
Yet, such measures and initiatives, while laudable and offering a distinctly different path to the future will not be enough if it falls short of aiming for the wholesale transformation of Anambra State into an entity with an industrial base. This means that Soludo should attempt what few African leaders have done: build a foundation for future industries by setting out a radical plan which aims to change the agricultural sector into a full-fledged mechanised industry alongside the development of chemical, manufacturing, and technological industries.
This would necessarily have to be bound to a corresponding plan to educate the population beyond mere competence in basic literacy. The revenues accrued from strengthening industrial capacity including the maximising of steel production and electrical generation would be used to pay for a policy of mass education which would encompass basic, vocational and university education to produce the requisite level of professional and technical expertise to sustain an industrial economy and society.
In a 2019 speech entitled “Economic and Institutional Restructuring for the Next Nigeria”, Soludo made reference to China’s “Made in 2025”, a 10-year plan to update China’s manufacturing base. But it would have been more thoughtful of him if he had referred to the initial economic plan which was set in motion at the time of Deng Xioping’s reforms in the late 1970s and made a coherent analogy as to how a long-term plan for economic transformation could be thought out and engineered in an African context.
In other words, Soludo’s claimed ambitions and objectives should not be taken seriously unless he clearly conceives and articulates a template providing a way forward which serves notice that a new breed of African leader is determined to create the circumstances in which Africa is no longer willing to subsist as an appendage to the global economy. This will only be achieved if he endeavours to harness local skill and capital to produce quality industrial products from the raw material to the finished product within the local currency regime. African states should thus make use of the advantage they have over those industrial nations who must import the raw materials. African leaders such as Soludo need to break away from the mentality of talking of “attracting investment” which only consolidates a dependency syndrome; one feature of which is the harmful practice of selling exploitation rights to Western and Chinese corporations.
The question of “mentality” is important.
Leaders such as Soludo need to demonstrate that they can synthesize their intellectual and spiritual ideas, largely framed by Western education and training, into ideas which are tailored to meet the needs of the African condition. For instance, Soludo is said to identify as a Catholic. But there is no evidence that he has immersed himself in the study of the intellectual traditions of Catholicism. Familiarity with the works of Heinrich Pesch could arguably give him insight into the relationship between labour and capital and induce personally thought out ideas on how to approach economics. An understanding of Catholic social teaching could give him ideas about how to go about fostering unity and how to mobilise labour by translating Cistercian values into developing a particularised work ethic among his constituents. Unfortunately, some are under the impression that Soludo is a conventional, by-the-textbook economic theorist. They point to his failed attempt to redenominate the Naira while he was governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria as evidence of this.
There are aspects of Soludo’s thinking which need to be challenged and clarified. He has spoken of drawing on the human resources of Nigerians as part of an economic plank, in one instance stating that as “the Western population ages and declines, they would need productive labour and Nigeria can smartly position to become the largest supplier of such labour-indirectly through outsourcing or directly”.
The problem with this idea is that it appears to propose that Nigeria can benefit from being merely an auxiliary piece in the economy of Western Europe when in fact, the “supply” of such labour would be more useful if devised as a strategic part of a plan for financing economic development. For instance, while embarked on the first stage of his decades-long plan for South Korea’s development, President Park Chung-hee reached an agreement to send miners and nurses to West Germany in exchange for monies in a deal which at one point accounted for up to two percent of his country’s earnings. Monies earned from this arrangement were used to fund economic development. This was also the objective in mind when Park sent the South Korean Army to fight as part of the United States coalition in Vietnam. The benefits to the Korean economy were tangible.
The matter of mentality regarding the mass of people Soludo wishes to serve is also worth examining. Again, using religion as a focal point, Anambra is often referred to as a “Catholic State”. But there is little evidence that Catholicism substantively informs the political associations or organisations that have emerged in the state. By this, one is thinking of the ideological constructs that have emerged in parts of the world where large Catholic populations exist. For instance, the emergence in the 20th century of influential Christian Democracy parties in Germany and Italy and the germination of Liberation Theology in South America. Technocrats belonging to Opus Dei were prominent in Francoist Spain and played a prominent role in modernising the Spanish economy. In Anambra, the issue of Catholicism and politics was registered in a negative way during the 2009 gubernatorial campaign involving Soludo, Peter Obi and Chris Ngige when priests were pitted against each other over which candidate they wanted the laity to support.
Soludo, as with other Nigerian politicians who wish to be recognised as leaders of substance, needs to be able to device ways to draw on the strengths of his people. His call for “ideas-based” forms of leadership puts the onus on him to develop strategies that tap into what his predecessor Omeruah referred to as the “self-help culture” of his people. By way of example, in South Korea, the New Village Movement or Saemaul Undong tapped into traditional Korean values associated with communalism (Hyangek and Doorae) to form the basis for marshalling rural communities to participate in the modernisation of the country.
To be sure, well-intentioned leaders such as Soludo have their work cut out. The prevailing structures of governance and the social problems plaguing Nigeria serve as a barrier towards instituting radical change. It is no accident for instance that those non-Western countries which have industrialised have done so under the stable and disciplined circumstances of authoritarianism and even totalitarianism. The USSR under Stalin, Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew, South Korea under Park Chung-hee and China under the Communist Party were able to accomplish their long-term economic objectives because the power wielded by a directing force in government was not disrupted in ways that developing countries operating Western-imported liberal democratic structures often are.
The choice is a stark one. The onus will be on Soludo to make a clear break from the past and approach his economic plan in a bold and innovative manner. Otherwise, he will only be able to effect cosmetic changes. This has unfortunately been the story so far as leadership in Nigeria is concerned. The words of the French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr come to mind: “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”, that is, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.
© Adeyinka Makinde (2021)
Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.