Chukwuma Soludo: What Obasanjo and Yar’Adua told me

by Charles Chukwuma Soludo

The president cut in, and pointing in my direction remarked: “We shall pray as you have requested but the problem with you people from Anambra is that those of you who have something to offer shy away from politics and hooligans have taken over your state”

A central issue in the quest for Nigeria’s greatness is leadership selection. Some 2,400 years ago, the great philosopher, Plato, argued that “As a just and healthy person is governed by knowledge and reason, a just society must be under the control of society’s most cultivated and best informed minds, its ‘lovers of wisdom’…” I have chosen to share the thoughts of our two presidents to encourage a debate on the matter, especially given the pervasive indifference or downright loathsomeness to matters of politics and governance by the so called ‘lovers of wisdom’. I served Nigeria under two presidents. This piece is not part of ‘the book’ on presidential governance.

The date was Friday, March 17, 2006. At the morning prayer session with President Olusegun Obasanjo at the ‘red carpet’ in the villa, I raised a special prayer point and asked the congregation to pray for the new governor of my state Anambra, Peter Obi (who was on his way from Abuja to Awka to be sworn in same day), as well as for Anambra State so that Obi’s regime may mark an end to the brigandage and misrule in the state. We were all upstanding.

The president cut in, and pointing in my direction remarked: “We shall pray as you have requested but the problem with you people from Anambra is that those of you who have something to offer shy away from politics and hooligans have taken over your state”. To the best of my recollection, that was the only prayer point during the four years of daily devotion that received a commentary.  ‘Baba’, as we fondly call him was basically telling us to ‘get involved or stop complaining’.  Periodically, the three of us from Anambra who were regular members of the prayer group (Oby Ezekwesili, Rev.William Okoye and I) had cause to brainstorm on the challenges and limitations of participation in politics especially by those of us who were ‘technocrats’. While we were obsessed with ‘good governance’, we had little interest in the process of acquiring power.

After leaving office as governor of the central bank, I was in London when twice in June 2009 I received calls from Alhaji Mangal to the effect that President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua wanted to see me anytime I was in Nigeria. I returned with my family late July and on Sunday, July 26, I received a call that the president wanted to see me by 9:30pm. After a few banter, he asked what I was doing abroad. As I explained the three offers I was considering, he was shaking his head. “Well”, he started, “it is not because you are here, but I have said this several times to you. Given your age, skills, and your accomplishments for our economy and financial system, it would be a waste for you not to continue to be involved in Nigeria’s public service… For example, there is going to be an election in your state early next year and I want to strongly urge you to show interest… You know that your state has been unfortunate with leadership, and our party has been in crisis there…”

At that point, my heart beat was racing. Before I left office, many people from Anambra had suggested that I should run for governor but it did not make any sense to me and my family. As I began my response, Yar’Adua cut in and suggested that I did not need to respond immediately but instead that I should go home and ‘consult’ with some of the political leaders in the state. He then raised his two thumbs and assured that “if you accept to do this, I will come out fully to make sure that you get there”. If he had allowed me to respond immediately, the answer would have been an unambiguous ‘NO’.  I thanked him and left.

On getting home, my wife was curious. I summarized what the president said, and she asked: ‘so what was your response?’ I told her the president would not let me respond but asked that I go and ‘consult’. “Then go back tomorrow and tell him that you have finished consulting and that the answer is No”, she ruled. I pleaded with her that we should at least give some time, out of respect, before reporting our decision. I confided in a few people and sought their advice. Within a week, the ‘rumours’ were everywhere. In the meantime, Yar’Adua also told a few people of his plans for Anambra and how he wanted to ‘use Soludo to make Anambra a model state’. He specifically requested Chief Tony Anenih to help him make it happen. My wife and I came under inestimable pressure — ‘to go and serve our people’. Some even said it was a ‘divine call to serve’, etc. My wife loathes politics and can’t stand it.

On August 12, 2009, I gave Yar’Adua the ‘preliminary report’ on my consultations. To enable me take a decision, I presented the challenges and threats to his proposal to which he laid out solutions. I told him that after three offices at the Federal Government (as chief economic adviser, de facto Minister of National Planning; and governor of the central bank) I believed I had had my day on duty as far as government was concerned and wanted to return to the international community, academia and private sector. The only reason another public office would make sense to me in the circumstance was if I believed I could really make a fundamental difference.

If I would contest, my vision was to transform Anambra’s economy such that after eight years, it would no longer need federation account allocation for recurrent expenditures but would devote 100% of it to capital budget. Consequently, I requested eight things the Federal Government would do to enable me quickly transform the state into an international city, including: an airport; modern seaport for Onitsha and dredging of River Niger to enable medium-sized ship to come to Onitsha; dualisation of Anambra- Kogi road to speed up commerce between the North and Anambra; Anambra as a special line item for Ecological Fund as one third of its land mass was under threat by erosion; completion of the greater Onitsha water scheme; inclusion of Anambra as an oil producing state; Anambra as one of the pilot states for the large scale commercial agricultural scheme; and speeding up the second Niger bridge. Surprisingly, Yar’Adua accepted all of them at the meeting that lasted 76 minutes.

We agreed that the agenda of transforming Anambra would require full eight years of working 24 hours a day. He was happy and said that if he could have two states per geopolitical zone that would become ‘models’, he would have succeeded as president.  I then requested another four weeks to undertake ‘extensive consultations’ and report back early September.

In the meantime, while the ‘consultation’ was to proceed, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) announced a sudden timetable to collect and return an expression of interest form. I was advised to pick the form— almost akin to jumping into the river while still unsure whether or not to swim. Yar’Adua fell ill and travelled to Saudi Arabia. Conspiracy theorists took over and I saw treachery, intrigues, blackmail and mischief at their most banal forms. Propaganda was hatched and effectively marketed that “Soludo is not contesting for governor; he is preparing to contest for president in 2015”.

I was shocked to the marrow about the wicked plot. Of course, the game plan was to put me on a collision course with all those with an eye on the presidency. It worked. The more I tried to explain that I was drafted into the race by President Yar’Adua, the worse my case became because, as I learnt much later, it was interpreted that since Yar’Adua was the one who asked me to run, it meant that he was grooming a successor. In my various positions at the Federal Government, I survived hundreds of evil plots, but this was a different baptism of fire. Yar’Adua never returned and with an electoral body then that literally determined which candidate to ‘return’ or ‘deliver’, the rest, they say, is history! This is subject of a book project.

To be honest, I remain grateful to God and to those who supported and opposed me, for the lifetime experience. I tell my friends that what I learnt in the last five years about human nature is priceless.

To some readers, the foregoing might appear discouraging. Most professionals or so-called technocrats are scared of being ‘rubbished’ by politicians, or fear that politics is so dirty that it is not meant for ‘decent people’. At a recent church event in a neighbouring state to mine, one of the officiating bishops pulled me aside and pleaded with me: “I beg you in the name of God, please leave politics. You are too decent for that”. An elder statesman and my mentor once advised that “God did not create you a politician: He created you an economist. Please leave those people”.

There lies the dilemma for our country. Chinua Achebe was quoted as saying that on matters of leadership, Nigeria is a country that goes for a football match with its 10th Eleven. When Achebe joined the PRP in early 1980s, many people wondered what he was doing with ‘politicians’.  Most people believe that Nigeria can only be transformed if a critical mass of capable people take charge at all levels of governance. How would such people emerge without going through the political process? Power, they say, is not given; it is taken!  Under a democracy, the electorate can only choose their leaders from among the candidates contesting elections. If Lagos State Governor Babtunde Fashola (a cerebral and successful Senior Advocate of Nigeria) did not go through the political process as a ‘politician’, perhaps Lagos would have missed the on-going transformation.

Yes, the system is very rough indeed, and the admission fee for new entrants (without godfathers) is too high. If you are not careful, the crude Nigerian system can destroy you if you are seen as a threat. Is the solution then to shy away and complain in our bedrooms? Now that Prof. Attahiru Jega and the new INEC are restoring confidence in the electoral system that votes count, is it time then for all those who have anything to offer to stand up? Surely I understand the enormous cost that very busy professionals bear by abandoning the glassy offices and certainty of office and income to dabble into the shark-infested waters of politics. Not everyone can or should be in politics. But in an underdeveloped country such as ours, the potential marginal contribution of one skilled professional is many times that of his counterpart in advanced societies.

Thus, the society loses greatly for every one knowledgeable person who stands akimbo as the duty of development beckons.  As I ponder these issues myself, I can only surmise that the import of what Obasanjo and Yar’Adua told me is a reminder to us of the eternal wisdom of Plato that “the penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men”.



Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (18)

  1. I believe you sir. Nigeria politics need honest and credible people in Government. Nigerians are poor because of the kind of leaders we have in power. God is politician and He played the God kind of politics. It is until we realise this mystery we will not be making progress in our country. We need this credible men in our today politics to bear the sins of the evil politicians but today no one is ready to sacrify to another person because of the fear of death. Even pastors or imams could not sacrify to her members. I am coming out with a God kind of book that will unveil today politics and encourage the right into politics. I will like you sir to help me in taken a second look in my book before publication. This is my email:[email protected]

    1. This article is so sweet that one could just be asked to give u the mandate immediately but how much can we trust u because what u have just said cannot be as sweet as what these people that turned our state upside down told us before they became governors. The prayer point of every Anambarian is that God should give us a governor that have conscience,governor that know he will only be buried with just a cloth,without shoe,with casket not hummer jeep,not on his mansion but outside ALL IS VARNITY UPON VARNTY .

  2. nice piece.i believe if u will b allowed to play a role in d lives of d people of anambra sate,it will definately experience a new dawn but… i fear naija's dirty

  3. nice piece.i believe if u will b allow to play a role in d lives of d people of anambra sate,it will definately experience a newn dawn but… i fear naija dirty

  4. a nice piece

  5. What one can conclude from this is that you will contest come 2015, but in what capacity and platform not clear yet. Whatever platform, either local or central, be faithful to your vision and pursue it with drive, those who misjudge you now will applaud if you deliver at the end of the day. Some of us believe you have the capacity to deliver. Tnx

  6. Former president obasanjo is the man that produced this holigans &empoerwerd dem 2 wreak havoc on de state.

  7. I must confess this was a good read. If you'll agree with me sir we don't know you much, not more than an accomplished economist who 'seem' to stand for whatever the PDP has come to represent. A couple of us revere you a bit but it is less stressful to pack you with the lot. In other words you play too safe, you hardly take a clear stance on public issues (even that concerning Anambra), there is no strength in your advocacy. Prof these are floaters for the shark-infested seas. I think your ultra-decent disposition has made you a readily available punching bag for everyone's fist. The onus is on you to constantly explain to the people how you are one of them but not part of them. PDP is not all evil, atleast a few in power have demonstrated. Persuasion is the currency of politics sir. Talk more

  8. I can comfortably beat my chest and say ANAMBRA is on the way to recovery. The caliber of people who gunned for senate last time put the mind at ease, I'm quite sure Dr. Chris Ngige, Prof Dora Akunyili and your humble self prof. Soludo will go gubernatorial, though from the same senatorial district but who cares. Whoever wins, Anambra will be in safe hands.
    Nice article, you are a man of vision.

  9. You are highly respected in the economy class, why do you allow your image to be staned, why don't u obey your wife adivce that night ? You can't clean the stain again.

  10. Please read

  11. sorry to say this but i doubt if u truely believe in d ideas of the pdp and if why not contest under their umberella?

    cos their obbssesion for power is a thing of shame!

  12. An encouraging piece, I must confess. At the beginning it sounds as if the realm of politics is å disaster prone realm. As read along, the words came clear †̥ me ₪d̶̲̥̅̊ it says: "the Shark infested river of politics beckons on those who have the professional expertise †̥ make å difference, those with the required fishing skills that could rid the water of sharks".

  13. Oh! I wont forget the dubai of africa.

    Had it happened, anambra would have been better than dubai.

    Ur vision was superb. Even so was ur opponents dumbfounded.

    Give up not.

    But do not compete against Ngige. I will be like a house divided against itself.

    Make sure to forge with him and anambra will live.

  14. There is no doubt that if many Nigerians read this article, it would take much steam out of their dislike for you. Coz in recent times, the media has painted you in much in bad light even worse than the current CBN governor Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. But what intrigues me the most about this piece, is your tactical and obvious, if not deliberate, refusal to mention president Goodluck Jonathan or his administration. Does this portend that you do not like his administration or you have some personal grouse with his person or better still some axe to grind? Worry not professor, millions of Nigerians feel the same way. Judging by your closing remarks, it means we're expecting you in the race for Anambra government house or Aso Rock in 2015… NO? Okay, like you said, only time will tell. PS, my above assessment is not an endorsement of your person or candidature, but an expression of opinion based upon your article.

  15. hmmn. The penalty good men pay for indiffernce in public matters, is to be ruled by evil men..

  16. For all his shortcomings, I believe, Obasanjo was an excellent leader who meant well for Nigeria. I have tremendous respect for his courage and gut. As for YarAdua, I would say Nigeria lost a visionary who would have been Africa's new Mandela. His vision, organisational skills and decency are unrivalled. May his soul rest in peace.

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