Following a reported ₦10m charitable donation to support ANSG coronavirus containment effort, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo faces a storm of innuendo about his finances and handling of a personal project to honor his late mother. His defenders claim the clamor is political fodder, but the altercation could create unwelcome bother as competition intensifies to succeed the incumbent governor.
By Chudi Okoye
It is still nearly two full years before the incumbent governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano, leaves office, after two tumultuous terms. But the opening skirmish in the battle to succeed Obiano seems have started in earnest. Within the past 36 hours, one of the likely contenders in the succession race, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), became the target of salacious insinuations in an editorial piece hinting at possible financial impropriety on his part. While the likely contender has so far kept mum in public about the slander, his surrogates have risen to his defense, suggesting that the smear was nothing but politically-motivated kite-flying, allegedly a cynical foray to foil Soludo’s political agenda.
The drama began on 3 April 2020 when news broke that Prof. Chukwuma Soludo had made a donation of ₦10m to support the Anambra State government in its efforts to forestall the spread of coronavirus in the state. Soludo also promised to rally his local and global contacts to assist the state with needed medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE).
The Anambra State government, which had been calling for such interventions, was effusive in thanking Soludo for his gesture. The Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu, issued a statement on behalf of Governor Willie Obiano – who is also the Chairman of Anambra State COVID-19 Action Committee – thanking Prof. Soludo for his gesture, describing him as “ezigbo onye Anambra”. The SSG did also “thank all those that have donated money and medical supplies so far”, but it seemed that he specifically wanted to call out Prof. Soludo’s largesse.
The Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. C. Don Adinuba, also personally called Prof. Soludo to thank him, and then wrote up a glowing press release dutifully carried by state media. One of the news reports about Soludo’s gesture was written by no less a personage than Mr. Uche Nworah, Managing Director/CEO of the state-owned Anambra Broadcasting Service.
Pals in Succession Waltz
Prof. Charles Soludo has long been considered a luminary in a tutelary relationship with the incumbent governor, Willie Obiano. The ex-CBN governor – a member of the Economic Advisory Council set up by the Nigerian president, Rtd. Major-General Muhammadu Buhari – was recently, in late 2019, selected as chairman of the Anambra State Vision 2070 Committee, a 46-person group set up to formulate a 50-year development plan for Anambra State. The committee’s task, as articulated by Governor Obiano during its inauguration, includes defining a vision and detailed plans for sectoral development in Anambra State, identifying areas of focus, programmes and strategies, and classifying them into short, medium and long-term targets as development signposts for subsequent administrations.
▲ Anambra State Vision 2070 Committee, inaugurated in Nov 2019
Opposition politicians in Anambra State had wondered why Governor Willie Obiano should be setting a long-term development agenda halfway into his ultimate term. Some speculated that despite his power of incumbency, the array of political forces in Anambra State is such that Obiano could not easily impose his preference of successor. Some of the powerful figures who contested against him in 2013 remain in rotation and appear to be mobilizing for the November 2021 election that will usher in Obiano’s successor.
Political wags in the state claim that the Anambra State Vision 2070 Committee is a sleight-of-hand meant simply, for reasons of continuity and sundry considerations, to confer advantage on Obiano’s preferred successor.
This speculation was intensified by a cultural event that took place in Obiano’s hometown, Aguleri, soon after Prof. Soludo was chosen by the governor to lead his strategic committee. On 4 January 2020, the traditional ruler of Aguleri, Eze Michael Chinemelum Idigo, invested Prof. Charles Soludo with a prestigious chieftaincy title (‘Odenjiji Aguleri’), making him an honorary chief in the incumbent governor’s hometown and presumably further binding him to the governor and his party.
As Awka Times reported at the time, the chieftaincy conferment event had all the trappings of a political gathering, with a retinue of Anambra State government officials in notable attendance:
Though laden with heavy cultural symbolism, the Aguleri event felt for all the world like a political outing for Prof. Soludo. The highly-credentialed policy whiz seems to be at the centre of high-octane political maneuverings for the control of Anambra State, arguably the leading state in Igboland in the south east of Nigeria. Anambra is a strategic battleground, hotly contested by the leading political parties in Nigeria. In the 20 years since the establishment of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic in 1999, two political parties – the current ruling party in the state, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), and the previous ruling party in the state, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – have competed fiercely for control of the state.
With all the epiphenomena of political maneuvers, the impression has congealed in Anambra political society that Prof. Soludo has been handpicked as Obiano’s successor, although there is as yet speculative reporting that the governor’s wife, Mrs. Ebele Obiano, favors a different contender altogether.
Commotion After Donation
Given the context sketched out above, it was perhaps not unexpected that some would sense political machination behind the philanthropic donation of Prof. Soludo towards the Covid-19 containment effort of the Anambra State government.
In a speedy reaction that probably reflects the intensity of subterranean efforts afoot to succeed Willie Obiano, within hours of the announcement of Soludo’s donation there was a vicious sortie from one Ikechukwu Emeka Onyia raising questions about Prof. Chukwuma Soludo’s handling of monies allegedly collected from private and corporate donors in 2008 to build a hospital/diagnostic centre in honor of his mother who had died in 1968 during the Nigerian Civil War.
Soludo himself seemed to have mentioned the matter of his hospital project when the Anambra State Commissioner for Information called to thank him for his donation. Mr. Adinuba reported that Soludo had told him:
“I am working hard with my foundation and friends on the finishing phase of a 120-bed hospital we are building, which will be managed by the Church, as well as contribution to my Party’s COVID-19 Fund.”
It is unclear if this was the reference that triggered Mr. Onyia’s commentary. Onyia’s piece had been posted on Facebook and was also published online on a platform named The Trent, which describes itself as “Nigeria’s Internet Newspaper”. The platform is owned by a company known as Ziza Concepts and Brands Ltd., a Lagos-based entity registered with the Nigerian Corporate Affairs Commission since 2009 (RC847923).
Ikechukwu Onyia himself was described by The Trent as “a public relations practitioner, researcher, and a political satirist based in Abuja.” Mr. Onyia, apparently an indigene of Nise who attended the University of Nigeria Nsukka, describes himself on his Facebook page as a “Public Relations (PR) Practitioner /Satirist of Political Economy / Public Policy Researcher / Writer”.
In his opinion piece published on April 4th and titled “Why Chukwuma Soludo Must Account For ₦2 Billion He Raised For An ‘Audio Hospital’”, Mr. Onyia began by saying: “Let’s thank Prof. Chukwuma Soludo CFR for donating ₦10 million to Anambra.” He then launched into a highly controversial insinuation about Soludo’s management of project funds, claiming that “Soludo failed to build Standard Hospital at Isuofia with about ₦2 billion raised for that by the public in 2008 and given to him [sic]”.
Mr. Onyia claimed in his published piece that:
“In 2008, Prof Chukwuma Charlse [sic] Soludo, the then Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, assembled high profile individuals and corporate Organizations for the purpose of celebrating his late mother, Mgbafor Soludo who died in 1968 and also raising fund to build International rated [sic] Hospital in the memory of the late mother, Mgbafor Soludo.
“During the fund raising, banks donated about ₦100 million each, Governors and so many high profile individuals also donated.
“Soludo’s then CBN Governorship status also made most of them to redeem their donations within one week.
“Soludo raked [sic] about ₦2 billion for Mother and Child Hospital which was to be built at Isuofia.”
The foundation stone for the hospital had been laid on Friday 26 December 2008 by the Rt. Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, at the time the Auxiliary Catholic Bishop of Awka. Soludo was still CBN governor then. Onyia claimed, and his claim is corroborated by contemporaneous media reports, that many dignitaries were present at the foundation laying ceremony, including Peter Obi (then Governor of Anambra State), Chief Victor Umeh (then APGA National Chairman), Chief Theodore Orji (then Abia State Governor), late Prof. Dora Akunyili (then Minister of Information and Communication), Senator Joy Emordi (then representing Anambra North), and others.
Having categorically reported a windfall of ₦2 billion at the 2008 fund-raising event, Onyia’s then raised the question as to why, “12 years after raising this fund for the international standard Hospital in Isuofia, Soludo could not produce this Hospital…” Continuing, Onyia raised the poser: “So what will happen if we ask Soludo where is the Hospital about ₦2 billion [sic] was raised for him to build in Isuofia…? Where is the Hospital my own Bishop laid the foundation stone on 26th December 2008 in Isuofia [sic]?”
Mr. Onyia invited his readers to imagine what difference Prof. Soludo’s hospital might have made had it been completed and functional before the current menace of coronavirus pandemic.
Having laid his predicate, Mr. Onyia then moved in with an apparent coup de grâce: “We are building a society,” he wrote, “where there is No Consquencies [sic] for bad behaviour and I believe that we should stand up and question actions and inactions of public office holders if we must build a society that can take care of itself.”
Quite as quick as Mr. Ikechukwu Onyia’s attack on Prof. Soludo had been after the announcement of the latter’s Covid-19 largesse, an instant response came from a defender of Soludo’s, one Mr. Joe C. Anatune. In a social media piece entitled “Who is Afraid of Soludo?” circulated on April 4th, Anatune opened with the statement that “Our attention has been drawn to a funny but fallacious and libellous [sic] propaganda by the agitated PDP media team in Anambra, making a bogus claim that some people donated ₦2 billion to Prof. Soludo for a hospital project in 2008, and that after the foundation ceremony, the hospital was not built.”
Anatune then tried to contextualize the issue:
“We are not surprised (indeed we expected a push-back) especially after Ndi Anambra widely celebrated and continue to celebrate Soludo’s donation of ₦10m in support of the State Government’s fight against COVID-19.
“Opposition politicians, especially of the PDP, were rattled by the public acclaim and goodwill towards Soludo and needed to fabricate some mud. Who else but their media hack writer, Ikechukwu Onyia (media aide of one of the PDP Governorship aspirants), was called to duty and he did not disappoint, except that this time, his lies and fabrications are too obvious and laughable [sic].”
Mr. Anatune claimed that “the opposition politicians don’t want Gov Obiano’s initiative on COVID-19 to succeed and are afraid that Soludo’s donation and appeal could spur greater response by Ndi Anambra. They decided to try to change the narrative and momentum. But they have failed, as thousands of Ndi Anambra are already energized to contribute even in their communities, etc.”
Next, Anatune laid out what he said were “the facts”, which he described as follows:
“In December 2008, at the memorial service of his late mother, Soludo announced a project to construct a Diagnostics hospital plus a Nursing School, in honour of his late mum who died during the civil war probably due to poor medical services. Prof. Soludo announced that the project was estimated to cost ₦2 billion then.
“Several people in attendance made PLEDGES, including a prominent Anambra politician who PLEDGED to fund the construction of the Nursing School building, and a company pledged to construct the Diagnostics Building.
“The fact is that as at today, 98% of those PLEDGES, still remain what they were, PLEDGES.
“We challenge Ikechukwu Onyia and his sponsors to name the person(s) or corporates that ‘gave Soludo ₦2 billion within one week’”.
Mr. Anatune stated that “Prof. Soludo did not use his office as CBN Governor to start soliciting for fund.” Rather, he said, the professor “left those who made pledges to their conscience and to redeem at their own convenience.” Once Soludo left his post as CBN governor in 2009, Anatune reported, he “repeatedly reminded those who pledged and most of them have continued to indicate ‘commitment to redeem the pledge’, but yet to do so.”
Anatune claimed that “after waiting for years for those pledges to be redeemed, Prof. Soludo has used his wide networks and contacts to mobilize resources to embark on a hospital complex much bigger in scope than the original concept…”
He said that today “a magnificent 120-bed hospital building, together with a Doctors Quarters building, are standing at the hospital site, undergoing various stages of finishing.” When completed, Anatune said, “the hospital is to be managed by the Church, and expected to possibly become a teaching hospital of one of the new universities.”
Anatune concluded with his own punchline: “Politicians who are afraid of Soludo know that they won’t be able to match him in the field when the time comes and that most Anambra people are yearning for him, and hence their only game is to throw mud.”
Confusion in Reporting
Awka Times did some digging to find the contours of fact in this ensuing altercation. Our investigation did turn up contemporaneous reporting about the launching of Prof. Soludo’s maternamorial hospital project. However, there is no firm reporting as to whether any monies were raised at the event. The late Awka-based Vanguard reporter, Enyim Enyim, wrote as follows in a report reproduced by Allfrica.com on 1 January 2009:
About ₦700m has been raked in for the building of a diagnostic hospital in memory of the mother of the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Chukwuma Soludo in his country home [in] Umueze, Isuanaocha in Aguata local government area. Prof. Soludo stated this on the occasion of the 40 years memorial anniversary of the mother, Mrs Mgbafor Soludo who died in 1968 at the age of 35 years.
Awka Times did not find any other media account corroborating this claim that ₦700m had been raised towards Soludo’s project. The Vanguard report was not even available in the paper’s own database but could only be surfaced through a third-party platform. At the time, social media wags were commenting on a topic titled “I hope this was not done with ‘our’ money” which started to trend following news of Soludo’s hospital project. There had seemed to be a supposition that the project had already been completed. One commenter on Nigeria Village Square put her finger on the issue riling the social media:
“What we know is [that] Soludo was [a] wretched professor living on meagre government wages at Nsukka before he became the governor of Central Bank a few years ago. How come he is able to build a hospital diagnostic center worthy of any mention by the press?”
Apart from the predictable social media paroxysm though, at the time that Soludo’s hospital project was announced, there was an overhang of reputable media reporting – intensified as the question of Prof. Soludo’s second term as CBN governor loomed – about his lifestyle and apparent new-found comfort. As far back as 2006, two years into Prof. Soludo’s five-year tenure as CBN governor, reports had started to emerge about his lavish circumstances.
An investigative report first published on Timbuktu Media’s website www.234Next.com in 2006 had raised troubling questions about Soludo’s vicissitudes. Following the announcement of Soludo’s plan in late 2008 to build the memorial hospital, Sahara Reporters had republished this story under the headline ‘Chukwuma Soludo is living large’. The report talked about the professor’s family living in an expensive London home; his children being enrolled in exclusive English public schools that would normally stretch beyond the reach of a CBN governor’s salary; his completion of a “palatial country home” in his hometown in Anambra State; his alleged turning of a “blind eye to dodgy loans” in the banking industry that he regulated; and even allegedly his accommodation of favored banks that were “playing games with fx [foreign exchange] transactions”. Some of the allegations even personally implicated Prof. Soludo.
These allegations appeared to have sufficient potency such that they were still being rehashed as lately as last year. In a piece titled “Nigerian loot in London” published in Punch newspaper on 10 March 2019, seasoned columnist Sonala Olumhense ruminated on the impunities of Nigeria’s elites and their penchant for picking up plum properties in the prime neighborhoods of London. Olumhense brought up the famed examples of former CBN governor Paul Ogwuma; former head of state Sani Abacha; the beleaguered former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke; former governors Dipreye Alamieyeseigha, Joshua Dariye and James Ibori, respectively of Bayelsa, Plateau and Delta states; and several others. In the company of such controversial figures Olumhense, in his piece, placed Prof. Soludo without blinking, recalling the www.234Next.com story about an exclusive home and public school in London. Olumhense also added that “in Abuja, [Soludo] owned another expensive mansion: the official residence of the CBN governor he had somehow purchased for just ₦200m.”
In a little over 36 hours since Prof. Chukwuma Soludo’s humanitarian contribution to the Anambra State Covid-19 relief effort, a storm has broken in social media which he probably never anticipated in making his charitable gesture. Allegations and counter-allegations, rumors and outlandish insinuations have ruled the waves. Not many of the claims and innuendos sound logical or believable, but it is an indication of the extreme competitiveness of Anambra State gubernatorial politics, how taut and fraught the political atmosphere has become even before real hustings have begun, that what seemed like a benevolent contribution by Prof. Soludo to support the fight against a deadly pandemic has instead generated a fiery polemic all its own, poking at the professor’s political operation.
Awka Times did reach out to Prof. Soludo hoping for a decisive statement to clear up the issues from his perspective. Although we already have a strong defense of the professor with the referenced intervention of ‘Joe C. Anatune’, our story will be updated as soon as we hear directly from Chukwuma Soludo himself.
• Awka Times guest writer, Kene Chukwudi, contributed to this story