By Al-Mamun MallamOkonjo-Charles-soludo

Professor Chukwuma Soludo has tried yet again to provoke a debate on a misunderstood subject, and most of the debaters so far are from the most misunderstood ethnic group in Nigeria – the Igbo. The reasons for my characterization of the Igbo as the most misunderstood ethic group in Nigeria will close this piece. And don’t even imagine that I am about to flow on the realm of ethnicity for I am not uneducated enough not to realize that reason will take flight if I do that.

Why did Soludo release his salvos at the time he did, and why did the Minister of Finance, our amiable Madam, react the way she did? This is not the first time Soludo has tried to initiate an important debate, and it will not be the last.

At his inaugural lecture in 2008 in UNN, at the height of the global financial meltdown, Soludo intoned: “What I do here is to provoke debate and not to provide answers. I paint a broad canvass of the issues, and challenge us all to think outside of the box, for these are not ordinary times.” Then in 2011, in the inauguration lecture of MBA in Minna, he forwarded an idea that will help our country to jettison the economics of sharing in which it is now ensconced and embrace an economics of production that is realistically sustainable. To make the idea acceptable, he prescribed that oil and natural resource rents be used exclusively for capital expenditure in human and physical infrastructure while all federating units must, within specified time frame, start meeting all their recurrent expenditures from internally generated revenue. My understanding of the idea was to wean the states off federal allocation gradually in order for them to eventually stand on their feet.

Also, some years ago, when he was the Central Bank Governor, during a World Economic Forum discourse, he eloquently advocated for a free movement of labour across borders just like capital, an idea he made a case for again in his inaugural address. “The unskilled and mid-level skilled labour-force which account for more than 98 percent of the workforce of developing countries are not freely mobile. Trade and capital liberalization are promoted and national governments left to manage the rest of the population (which is confined) with depleting capacities,” Soludo said. Quoting Rodrik, he estimated that if the rich countries were to give temporary work permits of 3 to 5 years to skilled and unskilled workers from developing countries, amounting to just 3 percent of the rich countries’ labour force, the scheme would easily yield $200 billion in annual income to developing countries.

So it is pretty obvious that Soludo has always tried to provoke debates that will advance the frontiers of knowledge and solve economic problems. Madam is aware of this and so her response should be considered not as representing her usual response to issues or even to provocations, but as a representation of the prism from which President Jonathan sees loyalty.

Anytime President Jonathan is embroiled in an altercation with someone, he expects his allies to forget their own minds and haul epithets at the other guy. Wike’s relevance in his government and Ama Beppeli’s forced exit from the same government illustrates our president’s mindset on loyalty.

Because she is conscious of the president’s view on loyalty, she encoded part of her response to Soludo’s allegations in a language that the President could not easily decipher. According to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, “corruption has persisted in Nigeria because the country lacks the institutions, systems and processes to prevent it”. This is like saying: I’m not the one to provide political will for the EFCC and ICPC to perform their function, nor am I the one to provide the necessary coordination of these agencies for the system to function effectively.

I agree with many aspects of Soludo’s submissions, but I also have issues with some aspects. For example, since division of labour entails shared responsibilities, then it is not fair for Soludo to now heap the blames for the said missing trillions on Madam only for him to try and monopolize the glory for debt relief and other successes recorded during Obasanjo’s era when Ngozi Okonja Iweala was the finance minister. He should have applied the same logic to credit her for all the successes recorded in that sector then.

Soludo also made it look as if leading a team to strike a debt relief deal or publishing of states and LGs monthly allocation in newspapers are small achievements. One can understand where these sentiments are coming from. People that operate in Soludo’s galaxy should be excused for assuming that everything is simple; Wole Soyinka used to think that graphic recollection of events that one encountered as a two or three year old was universal.

Also we have to understand that Soludo has not come round to realizing that corruption is the monster holding us down; he believes that all we need is some new theory, some framework, some model and we will be there, high in the ups. So gazetteng funds accruing to our tiers of governments will not impress Soludo.

In her response, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala said during Soludo’s time, “…there was a very little separation between the regulators and the regulated,” I wouldn’t know of this, but I remember Soludo once using the phrase “Iron lady of the Nigerian banking sector” or words to this effect to describe Cecelia Ibru.

Now back to the reasons for my characterization of the Igbo as the most misunderstood ethnic group in Nigeria. First, the rest of the country seems to harbor some level of suspicion about the Igbo because the group’s secession attempt plunged the nation into a civil war. And to make matters worse, writers from that part of the country that have attempted projecting the war in historical fiction have often passed a judgment that almost always says: the whole fault is on the other ethnic groups; none is on Igbo. This portrayal of an unfortunate event in which every actor has his share of faults only heightens this needless atmosphere of suspicion and has done much damage to the Igbo and indeed the Nigerian cause.

But as this debate has shown, the Igbo are very passionate about the success of the Nigerian project. Soludo disagreed with Okonjo-Iweala because, “… What is at stake is the survival and prosperity of Nigeria.” Ezekwesili expectedly brought in her ever patriotic voice, “…the article by Soludo on the state of the economy is a new opportunity for us as a nation to debate not [to] war,” she advised. Then there is Ifeanyi Izeze, who, in his dissection of Okojo-Iweala’s lamentation about lack of institution, system and processes, observed that Madam’s words “carries some weight of credibility and should not just be casually dismissed as it sounded more like a wakeup call or rather an alert of obvious government’s impotence in addressing the spate and magnitude of corruption by the government people against the Nigerian people.”  Of course, that erudite scholar, Professor Pat Utomi, has always lent a voice when it concerns Nigeria. “I also think that those who turn to divisive emotion-laden typecasting of others rather than issues pertaining to the well being of the Nigerian people do a grave disservice not only to democracy but to the long term common good of all,” Pat Utomi said.

A common cord linking these Nigerians, besides being Igbo, is their undeniable interest in the common good of Nigeria.

Nigeria is reasonably integrated and you will find Nigerians far away from their ancestral home earning a living and socializing with other Nigerians from different ethnic backgrounds, but it is the Igbo that is the most widely travelled, the one you will find in the furthest corner of the remotest community freely mingling with others.

Nigeria brims with ironies and President Jonathan may add to these overflowing ironies by realizing that handing over to the opposition after a credible election will obliterate his mistakes and place him on a pedestal reserved for great men thereby escaping the lake of ignominy that Fayose, Fani Kayode, Asari Dokubo and other self-centered characters are trying to shove him into.

It is not by accident that Idiagbon trails Buhari’s name like a suffix whenever that era is being discussed; Buhari had proclaimed, as a military head of state, that neither the Head of State nor the Military Governors should use the term: ‘My government’ or ‘My administration.’ Instead everyone should use ‘This government’ or ‘This administration,’ and nobody in that era violated that instruction. So Osinbanjo would be very, very visible because, like Idiagbon, they shared an ideal with Buhari. We should expect ‘Buhari/Osinbanjo’ and not just ‘Buhari Presidency.’ But after the four years he is likely to spend, if Buhari is convinced that justness demands the country produce a president of Igbo extraction, he will work for it, especially if a known principled Igbo is on the horizon, but he will not force it on us. We have many competent Igbo, but Buhari places much premium on principle and because of the ethical campaign or revolution he is likely to unleash, Nigerians will also be placing much premium of principle.

I believe that when the time comes, Nigerian should turn to the Igbo technocrats for the country’s leadership and not the typical Igbo politician, if the nation really wants to have the full benefits of the resourcefulness, resilience and ingenuity of the Igbo, illustrated in Soludo’s exhortation to the world to get new tools for better understanding and managing of the global economy and in Pat Utomi’s belief that current oil price slump should be regarded as an opportunity rather than a threat.

We should remember how the typical Igbo politician bungled opportunities that kept going to the south east. The group kept on changing our senate president like ‘babanriga’ until Pius Ayim Pius brought a maturity that simply escaped his older kinsmen and predecessors in that position. How many times have the north-central politicians changed our senate president in this dispensation?

When the late President Yar’adua wanted to groom Soludo for the presidency by first facilitating his election as Anambra State governor, it was bungled. The Igbo may wish to draw a lesson from the manner Governor Wamako promoted the candidacy of Aminu Tambuwal for the Sokoto governorship position because of the benefits Wamako believes will accrue to the state and the zone from the social capital investment of the Speaker of House of Rep as well as the multiplier effects of this social capital investment. Wamako may also have seen the opportunity in grooming Tambuwal for future national assignment.

Even Rochas Okorocha that is not your typical Igbo politician once bungled that chance when he walked out of ANPP convention in which Buhari was certain to win. Had he participated fully in that convention, Buhari would have picked him as his running mate and together – Rochas was that popular – they would have defeated Obasanjo, and we would now probably be discussing Okorocha’s presidency.

Both Soludo and Okonjo-Iweala are competent technocrats, no question; and Soludo in particular is very likely to bring creativity, vibrancy and positive charisma to the presidency, but I’m not sure if Nigerians will give these two high rating on the principle scale. And, under Buhari, Nigerians would be mobilized to give consideration to principle when choosing a leader. We should expect what these two say against each other to resonate in 2019, which, if almighty God preserves us, will come like a blink of an eye. And this is where I believe Ezekwesili or Pat Utomi and a few others whose ethical standard cannot be called into question will have the edge.


Mamun Mallam works as a development practitioner in Minna, Niger State, and can be reached via the email: