Charles Soludo & The Battle For Government House, Awka

“His delivery of the bank consolidation exercise between mid 2004 and the end of 2005, is the single most complex change management and restructuring endeavour ever successfully executed in Nigeria if not in Africa”

Charles Soludo (photo credit: premium times)

PEGASUS REPORTERS, LAGOS | SEPTEMBER 25, 2021

Without offering support to any particular party or person, I would like to debunk the aspersions being cast on Soludo, regarding his aspirations. I also met him in University, while he was in 4th year studying Economics and I was in my first year studying Civil Engineering, at UNN.

I recall he contested for the Students Union Presidency against the likes of Charles Nwodo, Sixtus from Mbaise, among others, and we used to troop out to the field next to Margaret Ekpo Refectory to listen to the contestants jostle for positions.

Regarding the student’s union elections of 1983/84, the issues referenced here by Senior Engr. Ifeanyi Anizoba were still in play.

The insect, Paapa continued to cause havoc and cause “burn-like” injuries to the bodies and faces of students, especially those residents in Zik’s Flats, including myself when I received a hostile facial attack from this noxious insect. It remained a major manifesto point throughout my stay in the university.

I recall when Olu Oguibe came out to deliver his manifesto on one of those nights at UNN, and the students broke down in laughter. Olu Oguibe was very very short and small, and the students, who were typically schooled to admire beauty and carriage in their candidates could not fathom why such a person could come out to contest.

At the same election, Chima Ubani of blessed memory among others were contesting against Olu Oguibe for the position of Secretary.

Chima Ubani, who would later become one of the most effective Human Rights campaigners in Nigeria came to the rostrum after long and hard campaigning, having lost his voice.

He said, “…the voice is gone but the message is there…,” in the croaky whisper that had become his voice. He was booed off the stage and lost. It is a testament to Chima’s tenacity, eloquence and mobilisation capacity that he came back a year later and won the Presidency of the Student’s Union, possessed of one of the most eloquent voices to grace the firmament of students’ politics in UNN. His sudden death in the line of duty some years ago was a truly terrible loss to Nigeria.

I return to Olu Oguibe.

When this Fine Arts student mounted the rostrum to deliver his speech, the entire congregation of students burst into laughter. What was a midget doing trying to become the Secretary-General of the Great Lions and Lionesses, some asked.

They had underrated Olu. Many people did.

Olu Oguibe waited for the melee to die down, then proceeded to rebuke the audience with truly exceptional eloquence. He recalled several exceptional people in history who were very short, and ultimately became great leaders, including Napoleon Bonaparte.

His knowledge of history was astounding, and the crowd was left open-mouthed with his mastery of the English language. and its pungent delivery
Within 5 minutes of his appearance, the throng of students was singing his praises.

Olu Oguibe became the General Secretary of the UNN Students Union. In the darkest days of Buhari’s first military regime in 1984, when he and Idiagbon imposed a sudden change in all Naira currency notes (as an anti-corruption drive, no less 😉), and people nearly starved and some died in bank queues trying to get little drips of new money in order to survive, the Students Union launched one of it’s most potent strikes.

No person I know has the capacity to hold a group spellbound with their writing, the way Olu Oguibe could. He would produce 10 pages of cyclostyled (the parent of photocopied 😁) speeches which he would paste on notice boards, and students would devour the entire content, again and again.

Olu Oguibe, now a lecturer, ultimately graduated in Fine Arts from the University of Nigeria Nsukka as the best graduating student in the University, with the highest GPA up to that date. Not only that, he was the first person to make a First Class in Fine Arts in the University, since its founding.

For someone who was often at loggerheads with the authorities to achieve such credentials was truly astonishing. Having set the stage, we shall return to Soludo. Charles Chukwuma Soludo contested for the Presidency of the Students’ Union of 1983/84 against various notables, as discussed above.

His slogan, as today, 38 years later, was: “Soludo the Solution.”

He did not win; not for lack of trying. There were no mobile phones then, and the quality and profusion of posters was a key ingredient in moving your candidacy along.

Sixtus, from Mbaise, became mired in the sub-Igbo politics of the time. Our brothers from Mbaise have always put great stock in education, and at that time, several leading professors in the University hailed from this community, including a quite handsome and articulate professor of English, named Donatus Nwoga. Donatus was the arrowhead of 9 professors, most of them from Mbaise, who were rigidly against the Vice-Chancellorship of Professor Frank Ndili, a then professor of Physics and Astronomy.

This resentment of Ndili by this group was deep-seated, and its fallout continues to negatively affect the university 4 decades later (the jury is still out on whether Ndigbo can actually live together peacefully in their own country, of that were to be achieved. 🤔).

Donatus Nwoga went as far as canvassing the Federal Government to remove Ndili, by levelling various allegations against him.

At the time, Ndili was exceptionally popular, which is why these Professors had to seek external help, as the Senate was solidly behind the physicist.

The students loved Ndili in a manner I do not think any Vice-Chancellor has ever been adored in any other institution. He started the grandest projects ever in the University, including the Franco Hostels of Mbanefo, Eni Njoku and Alvan Ikoku, along with others in Enugu, he built the impressive Abuja Complex for the Physical Sciences, he started the construction of the largest library in Africa to replace the then Nnamdi Azikiwe Library, he commenced the building of a new Students Centre, a New Arts Faculty….. UNN was a grand development and construction site during his tenure.

Above all, Ndili promoted the celebration of Igbo culture through the Ofala festivals organised by respective hostels in UNN, led by the then Okeke and Isa Keita Halls, and made even grander by the Franco Hostels.

The most sumptuous Ofala Festivals in Igboland, in the mid-’80s, was held in UNN, complete with the attendance of grand masquerades, high government officials and traditional rulers from various communities.

The Halls had their own Igwes and Ndichie, and the female hostels held equivalently charming ceremonies for Lolos.

Altogether, this made for the most extraordinary University environment.

Because the students loved Ndili, who was opposed by the Donatus Nwoga led professors, they developed a general antipathy towards these professors.

Because Sixtus was associated with Nwoga’s homestead of Mbaise, he never had any hope in the election and lost.

The person who won that election was from my department. I didn’t know him personally, but his posters spoke volumes.

He looked so dashing in the posters, and when he appeared to speak, the students, especially the ladies, were so carried away by the handsome Charles Nwodo that no one remembers anything he said. He was not a great speaker or writer.

However, in the manner of the fickleness of man and his priorities, his looks and carriage were enough. A scion of the Nwodo family of Nsukka, nothing more need be said.

Charles Nwodo won in a landslide, to become the President of the Students Union of the Great Lions and Lionesses.

It is instructive, though not a negation of Charles’s sterling gentleman’s qualities that the real leader and communicator of that regime was Olu Oguibe, with his provocative speeches and effusive writing.

Soludo lost to sterling competitors in that charming season of discovery in UNN, and would ultimately return as a lecturer, professor, then end up at the Central Bank of Nigeria as its Governor.

With my modes 30 years and continuing experience as a Banker, I had a front-row seat during Soludo’s effort to consolidate the Nigerian banking industry by imposing onerous capital requirements that increased the minimum requirement by 12.5 times, from N2 billion to N25 billion, within 2 years.

I represented my bank at the time, Citibank, directly, at some of those tense meetings leading up to the deadline.

I can therefore say this about Soludo, having witnessed his work and its outcomes.

His delivery of the bank consolidation exercise between mid-2004 and the end of 2005, is the single most complex change management and restructuring endeavour ever successfully executed in Nigeria if not in Africa.

This involved exceptionally complicated negotiations, extraordinary packaging, overcoming of the most extreme forms of tribalism and ethnicity, a collaboration of innumerable agencies of government, the greatest ever infusion of investment capital into the Nigerian stock exchange and the Nigerian banking system, the elevation, within 2 years of at least 5 Nigerian banks into the top 20 in Africa, from a position where none was in the top 30, the reality of Nigerian banks now becoming global banks in the mould of UBA, Access, GTB and co, etc.

For anyone to suggest that a man who has been executed in such a humongous assignment under constant fire from detractors and opponents cannot govern a state due to what the person refers to as “intellectual arrogance’ is completely disingenuous and untenable.

I will not vote in the Anambra election. However, if Soludo wins, I would consider it a most profound and positive divine intervention.

I will end this narrative by going back to the profound weaknesses Ndigbo impose on themselves through internal treachery and by inviting outside influences in order to win internal ego battles.

Professor Donatus Nwoga and his group were resolute in their efforts to remove Ndili from office by whatever means, as they themselves covered his position as Vice-Chancellor and envied his extraordinary success in attracting investments to the University. They continued to canvass Federal authorities to do their bidding.

After Babangida overthrew Buhari from power in 1985, he appointed a certain Professor Jibril Aminu, then Vice-Chancellor of University of Maiduguri, as the Minister of Education. Finally, the nine professors had a keen listening ear. Jibril Aminu, a doctor, who had gained accelerated elevation to the status of professor had an axe to grind with Ndili, who had apparently made an off-hand deprecating remark about the speed of his promotion to professorship during a shared forum from their common history.

Aminu did not hesitate in constituting a visitation panel and removing Ndili from office.

Presumably, Prof. Nwoga and his group must have been very happy, waiting in the wings for elevation.

However, only the destructive elements of their “ambition” were achieved.

The probes and spiteful backbiting that ensued destroyed the camaraderie among the staff of the university. All the projects were stopped, and some have remained uncompleted over 30 years later, deep opposing and implacable camps emerged in the University. Student activism, strikes and battles with the authorities escalated in the following years. Cultism, which had been resisted in UNN for decades took hold.

Donatus Nwoga did not become the Vice-Chancellor of UNN despite his vigorous efforts. None of his 8 leading professor colleagues attained that position. Actually, for the next 10 years, no lecturers of professors from UNN attained the Vice Chancellorship of the University. In a final coup de grâce to exact revenge for a perceived slight, Jibril Aminu appointed a new Vice Chancellor for the university to succeed Prof. Frank Ndili. A man with no prior history or links to the University. No cultural or emotional connectivity. A certain Professor Umaru Shehu. The rest, as they say, is history.

As the battle for Government House, Awka is fought to a conclusion in the coming weeks, we should all pray that our mutual battles, dissension and mutual sabotage do not create the UNN saga of the 1980s.

It is easy for quarrelling brothers and sisters to lose the plot and create conditions that will ensure their own failure and subjugation…. Very easy…. We see this already very flagrantly in our neighbourhood.

An anonymous reader sent in this piece via Whatsapp 

Contribute to the discussion in the reply section and share this story.

©Pegasus Reporters: making news that reaches your audience|Advertise with us!|Join our readers’ list on Telegram (+234 813 308 8344) Follow us on Twitter @pegasusreporters | We are on Facebook; The Pegasus Reporters | Chat with the Editor on WhatsApp (+234 815 444 5334) |Contact the Editor or send your articles to pegasusreporters@gmail.com