IfeanyiChukwu Afuba writes that Chukwuma Soludo is rowing on in the storm in service of Anambra State
After a year in office as Governor of Anambra State, Chukwuma Charles Soludo stands at the centre of a storm. Soludo, revolutionary in thought and style, has ignited controversy with a pattern of “disruptive change.”
Over four decades past, the acclaimed novelist, Chinua Achebe, paying tribute to the poet Chris Okigbo, had noted that the latter could not walk through a room without leaving a mark of his passage behind. Soludo, it seems, has a way of impacting his constituency and assignments.
As economic adviser to the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, he captured the attention of Nigerians with the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS) and States Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (SEEDS). He was also associated with the creation of Transcorps, the Nigerian mega company. And his tenure at the Central Bank will for long remembered for the bang of banking consolidation.
And so, some were not surprised when from the outset, his governorship began to be defined by departures from the Nigerian standards. The prestigious title of “Your Excellency” was thrown out. The first citizen was to be addressed as Mr Governor or Professor Charles Soludo.
Simplicity of office complemented with the dress sense of akwete cloth, a local fabric, which choice reflected symbolic support for the local textile industry.
The indigenization policy had few more surprises. It knocked imported vehicles out of contention for government patronage. Refreshment at Government House henceforth took native complexion. Though curious about the sustainability, many got the message that to grow, we must look inwards.
Tenor of the new leadership became clearer with emphasis on service rather than entitlement. With refocusing on problem – solving, salaries of political office holders were slashed. Peeling off the perks and perquisites of the old order, the economist – Governor achieved significant reduction in cost of governance. According to an analyst, “facilities management dropped from N137m to N11m thereby saving a whopping N126m every month.”
Endeavours with a physical side were more easily felt. Many appreciated the huge improvement in security. Gunmen had laid siege to Anambra South Senatorial District for sometime. Today, the area is largely safe. And the Governor’s promise to upturn the Monday curfew imposed by militants has come true. How did he do it all? We may never know the closed – door strategic moves but the will is always a decisive factor in challenges. But the importance attached to law and order is seen in the creation of Ministry of Homeland Affairs.
The planting of a million coconut and palm seeds may take a while to blossom and fully appreciated by the public. But the initiative opens a window to the socio – economic engineering of the administration. It seeks to revive a neglected area of comparative advantage. Cash crops will engage the youths, put money in the economy and offer a shield against soil erosion.
The main wealth creation programme has since taken off. 5000 youths are undergoing training in two choice skills. Designed as an annual scheme, Soludo is optimistic that with requisite mentoring, the system will produce hundreds of millionaires.
With 270 kilometres of road construction going on simultaneously across the State, Anambra’s landscape is set to change. Determination to ensure the high quality of the roads are not compromised is easy to see. Okey Maduforo recently observed that the Governor’s regular inspection visit to sites is positively affecting the works. (“How Soludo is Putting Anambra Contractors on their Toes,” New Telegraph, February 26, 2023).
A few months into office, protests greeted the administration’s tax regime. Citizens complained that the items were too many and the rates on the high side. An opposition group seized on the opportunity to regurgitate the sour grapes about Soludo acting stubborn, arrogant and all – knowing. To their consternation, the Governor announced reduction of the tax regime as well as tax waivers for the lower rung of daily income earners after due consideration of the cases. The action was an eye – opener on responsive leadership.
Another test of leadership came with repeated misrepresentations of the State’s cumulative financial profile in the public space. Correcting the sensational claims would be politically inconvenient but condoning the distortion would be disservice to the people he had sworn to serve. What to do? Pander to cheap popularity or the cause of good governance? He elected to stand on the truth.
It’s gratifying to see that Chukwuma Soludo is rowing on in the storm in service of Anambra State.
Afuba is Director, Public Administration Circle, Awka