Prof Chukwuma Soludo
It was not for lack of trying that I couldn’t do a one-on-one with Chukwuma Soludo. Until I went to bed last night, I was still hopeful of getting the chance to feel the pulse of the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in light of his current “discussion” with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The nearest I got was a number of very short telephone conversations.
He assumed, quite rightly, that I wanted an interview, and hoped that I would understand why he has preferred not to grant one at the moment. On my insistence, however, he wasn’t entirely averse to the idea of meeting him to feel the environment around him. It’s just that, to use his words, “Let me see…I have a series of meetings lined up, starting in an hour’s time.” In this business, there’s always how far you can go. It then became a matter of praying and hoping…
And, to be quite honest, I didn’t expect much from the encounter, even if he were to consent to a full-blown interview. You can always tell what his reply would be to the question: Did you do it? “No, I swear to God, I didn’t do it.” There will also be the bit about “They are after me”. Who are “they”? “My political enemies, of course!”
Among the entries about him in Wikipedia is that “Soludo is a core professional in the business of macroeconomics.” That’s ok considering that the man, in the process of obtaining degrees, including a First Class Honours from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, won prizes for the best student at all three levels.
Fittingly and deservedly, he has been visiting scholar at the International Monetary Fund, the University of Cambridge, the Brookings Institution, the University of Warwick and the University of Oxford, and a visiting professor at Swarthmore College (USA). He has also worked as a consultant for a number of international organisations, including The World Bank, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and the United Nations Development Programme.
However, looking at his life so far, Soludo, born July 28, 1960, has earned more fame – or notoriety, depending on your value judgment of his position – for his activities as a political officeholder and politician.
Among those who will settle for notoriety are 23 of the 47 aspirants for the ticket of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) who raised issues around the transparency of the process that led to settling for Soludo as the consensus candidate for the position on October 9, 2009 to contest the Anambra gubernatorial election of February 9, 2010. This was after attempts to hold elective primaries were stalled by court injunctions.
Indeed, Soludo is the first CBN governor to draw attention to himself the way politicians would. In the process, he made political statements where technical perspectives on issues would have been more appropriate. An example was when he swore that the Nigerian economy was immune to the then festering global economic meltdown.
There were also many who questioned the rationale for the polymerisation of the paper currency; not to mention the justification for the huge sums sunk on the project, ignoring the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company and, instead, heading overseas to get printers to do the job.
Not long after, he came up with the idea, a la Ghana, to re-decimalise the naira. Of course, the whole nation stood in unison against implementation of what was widely viewed as stupendous brainwave.
Interestingly, this is where the “enemies” who have been stalking the baritone-voiced Soludo have sneaked in from.
It can also be said that Soludo has an incompetent media aide. That’s the only way you can describe someone who will subscribe to the issuance of the following statement in response to the hot news that his principal had been arrested by EFCC: “We want to put it on record clearly that the media reports that Professor Chukwuma Soludo was arrested by the operatives of the EFCC in Abuja is totally false or written in error.” Even if he was instructed to release such a statement, he should have been professional enough to advise against the embarrassing piece of information that contradicted the facts on ground. Does he not realise that EFCC has its own media professionals whose briefs, among others, is to alert the media to its intended action?
What purpose was the denial intended to serve? Does he still controvert the fact that, stemming from a complaint by a non-governmental organisation, Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) dating back to May 23, 2012, last Thursday, EFCC interrogated and released Soludo at about 8 pm on administrative bail?
It is now public knowledge that an Australian newspaper, The Age, first published the allegation that Securency International bribed some Nigerian officials to the tune of about N750 million to be awarded polymer banknote printing contracts. Securency is the world’s leading producer of the polymer substrate used in the production of plastic banknotes.
The report alleged that the money was passed to Nigerian officials through two British businessmen, Benoy Berry and Michael Harvey. The petition recalled that the Australian Federal Police Authority had sent a top confidential memo to the presidency through the Office of the National Security Adviser.
The petition gave an account of the investigations into the allegations that Securency funnelled several millions of dollars in bribe into the offshore bank accounts of the two British businessmen for payment to Nigerian officials to facilitate the award of the contract to the company.
Soludo joined the federal government in 2003. Prior to his May 2004 appointment to the CBN governorship, he held the positions of chief economic adviser to former President Obasanjo and chief executive of the National Planning Commission of Nigeria.
Having had his expectation of a second term as CBN governor turned down by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Soludo announced his aspiration for the seat of the governor of Anambra in September 2009.
In a May 14, 2012 post on his facebook page, Soludo shares his thoughts on Nigerian politics with his fans. Saying that it is no longer complimentary to describe somebody as a politician, he adds: “To many people, a politician is a liar, a corrupt person, a thug, or simply a dishonourable person.” He continued: “My experience so far tells me that Nigeria is in a deep trouble.”
However, he doesn’t despair, saying: “But my most useful years were the years I was into the murky waters of politics. I have no regrets because there was contribution to make.”
I wanted, even without the benefit of a full-blown interview, to find out if the man’s optimism is still intact. I won’t give up until I catch up with Charles Chukwuma Soludo, CFR.
I pray he survives this.
Adieu, Victor Akinloye Ogundipe
By the time I joined The Guardian early in 1983, Victor Ogundipe was already a household name in the kind of journalism that I’m now involved in. As editor of Financial Punch, he was up there in a way that gave the impression that he was an older person. Yet, he was only 58 when he died!
The nearest I got to knowing him was his younger sister Gloria, a most beautiful lady then in the Advert section who later got married to our good friend Bisi Ogunbadejo. Based in the UK, she currently writes a column on mental health for Punch. I remember getting invited to a bash at the residence of the Ogundipes in Maryland in those days. What a night!
Last December, Victor gave up the ghost. Between them, Victor’s children in the US and Nigeria, his wife and sister Gloria gave some of the most moving tributes and in some of the most compelling prose on Victor. Much as I feel obliged to take my turn, how much of him did I know to be able to do justice to the effort, beyond what professionally closer persons have done? It then occurred to me that my friend Yomi Tunde Adepoju, who is now based in the US, was in a far better position than anyone else in the banking sector to put Victor in perspective. But was he aware that Victor had passed on? Over to Tunde:
Wow, what a tragedy! Yes, I met Victor (sounds moot). Our paths crossed in what was then an enviable IBWA/Afribank. We both passed through Commerce at different times. I was surprised that as recently as 2011, Victor was here (at Georgia State) on a graduate program.
Victor was one of those 80s’ symbols of a quintessential future that Nigeria seemed poised to claim, but squandered with reckless abandon. A beloved motherland was hijacked by political adventurers and conniving military misfits, serially infected with rudderless leadership (Drucker’s “mis-leadership”) and left prostrate. I agree with those who posit that a followership deserves the leadership it gets. As passionless as that might sound, the theory seemed as true today as it did yesterday. Nigerians had, and still have, a choice: whether or not they exercise that choice is a different proposition.
May the gentle, brilliant soul of Victor Ogundipe abide with his Maker. Give my condolences to his families, immediate and extended. And thank you, Tommy, for keeping me in the loop.