Will Anambra State’s Professor Soludo Govern as a Pan-African or as a Neo-Colonialist?

One of the challenges of Pan-Africanism has been to translate its ethos into African states

One of the challenges of Pan-Africanism has been to translate its ethos into African states, most of which have remained colonial in thought and practice. For many pan-Africanists, once in power, rather than turn the state pan-African, the state has turned them colonial. The examples are many. Suffice to say that there is a handful of those who have tamed the violent state to serve the Africans and bring them dignity. Either of the two fates awaits Professor Chukwuma Soludo, the recently elected Governor of Anambra State, in Southern Eastern Nigeria, which has the second-highest population density in the country, coming after Lagos State.

The Oil Curse

In the introduction to his manifesto, Soludo states that “oil has proven to be a curse” to Nigeria. This statement goes beyond Nigeria to encompass all of Africa, where natural resources have become one central reason for the continent’s economic stalemate. The statement may also hold true for other oil-rich regions of the world. That statement in Soludo’s manifesto is heavy with meanings and implications as a pan-Africanist who is ready to take on the leadership of a key state in Nigeria, a state known for producing such eminent citizens as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Pius Okigbo, Odumegwu Ojukwu, Emeka Anyaoku, Chimamanda Adichie, to mention but a few.

According to Soludo, the structures and institutions built around oil consumption have created a rentier state — a wasteful distributional/sharing system, with debilitating entitlement and a something-for-nothing culture. Because one does not need any special skills to “share,” governance became another kind of “business” dominated by transactions and little productivity. Indeed, Africa’s natural resources, such as oil, rather than being a source of advancement for its people, have become a cause for dependence on others, a major reason why industrialization, production, creativity and innovation have been stifled in the region for decades.

Recourse to History

Given his pan-Africanist credentials, it is surprising that Soludo overlooked any reference to the highly organized and wealthy pre-colonial history of the Igbo. Among the Igbo ethnic group, Anambrarians are known for their high level of economic independence at the individual level. The space to create and build wealth is at the core of the Anambra person’s economic passion. This penchant for independence wealth creation is not peculiar to Anambrarians in Africa because the history of Africa, before the forced dependence on colonial authorities, was one of self-sustenance and economic independence. However, slavery, then colonialism, turned Africa into a supplier of labour and natural resources and an importer of finished products. Although Soludo’s made reference to the richness of the economic history of South-eastern Nigeria in terms of development, he went only as far as the first republic, which was immediately after Nigeria’s independence. He would have at least made reference to the pre-colonial history of the Igbo, when great wealth was created through the several industries and trading sites that thrived across Igbo land prior to the colonial incursion. African history, when turned to for inspiration, must side-step the colonially induced trap of beginning from when the colonialists manufactured the current territorial boundaries and periodising.

Economic Transformation

Soludo’s economic transformation agenda as a state governor will hopefully be deeply rooted in a conviction of the possibilities that exist within the human resource in Anambra State. According to his manifesto, Soludo’s administration will train and equip thousands of Anambrarians in digital technology to enable them to work across borders, just as is obtainable in India and the rest of the world. He has also promised to work to improve the tourism profile of the state by developing some neglected tourist attractions, including the Ogbunike Cave, as well as create an enabling environment for the creative arts and entertainment to thrive in the state.

Indigenous Knowledge-Based Economic Transformation

I am convinced that Soludo’s administration will do well to focus on the numerous traditional knowledge-based resources of Anambra State as foundational in transforming the State’s economic situation. Anambra’s traditional dances, food, architecture, trade and apprenticeship systems, the Igbo language, especially the much-admired Anambra accent, should be promoted.

Under agriculture, Soludo’s manifesto shows a deep understanding of the need for the revitalization of indigenous foods when he mentioned that “Investments will be made in research to invent improved varieties and accelerate the mass production of endangered lgbo-specific products such as ukwa, efi lgbo, okuko lgbo, okpa, ogili, uda, uziza, utazi, etc.”  Africa’s indigenous food systems, though much more nutritious and cost-effective than their western counterparts, run the risk of being lost – some are already lost, and many are endangered if active policy backing does not promote them. Soludo’s emphasis on revolutionizing palm production, not necessarily through some white elephant palm plantation projects, but by empowering farmers and households, shows a deep understanding of community and grassroots-based growth model, which is foundational for other forms of advancement to occur. Under road construction, however, Soludo seems to rely excessively on collaboration with the private sector. For instance, he notes that his administration will “deploy alternative models/technology of building durable roads in collaboration with the private sector.” He completely leaves out community involvement in road building and repairs, as well as the use of alternative sources of labour within the state, such as volunteer workers, prisoners, youth corps members etc. This should be reconsidered. 

In addition, Soludo will do well to involve indigenous architectural knowledge in exploring homegrown and grassroots-based materials and construction in his road projects.

 Social Agenda

Education tops Soludo’s social agenda. He rightly identifies that sector as being foundational to Anambra State’s sustainable prosperity.  Soludo listed numerous strategies he will embark upon to ensure quality teaching and learning. From a pan-African perspective, Soludo’s agenda for education does need a serious re-evaluation in two areas.

First, Soludo identifies that 60% of pupils in Anambra State are in private schools. This statistic is detrimental to the growth of the state for many reasons. First, most young, middle-income Nigerians who have emigrated to Canada and other nations cite the high cost of private education as the reason for their emigration. They love Nigeria and want to stay and contribute their quota to national advancement; however, they also want the best for their children, and they would rather go abroad where public education is good and free.

Secondly, as Soludo rightly mentioned in his book, private schools represent the height of ultra-capitalism.  Education was privatized in Nigeria as a result of the Global North’s imposed Structural Adjustment Programme. But it is clear that the privatization of education has torn the very fabric of Nigeria’s society because it has greatly increased the gap and social distance between the haves and have-nots. The rate of crime has gone up as well since many criminals will justify their actions as necessary in order to pay school fees for their children.

Professor Soludo should consider the 60% enrolment of students in Anambra State private schools a misnomer. He should be passionate about investing in public education in a way that will make them stand out as better supported than private schools in order to draw parents back to public schools. Indeed, a lot of Anambrarians in the diaspora in Lagos, Abuja and other states will return to Anambra State if they are sure of the quality of public education for their children.

Second, Soludo’s manifesto makes no mention of overturning the colonially bequeathed curricula that still thrive across the state and the rest of Nigeria. As argued by many scholars, indigenous knowledge is foundational for advancement in any society. The Western world’s present advancement is anchored on their respect for and acknowledgement of their indigenous knowledge, and Africa can only grow if the continent’s indigenous knowledge is mainstreamed in teaching, learning and other sectors.

Healthcare

Soludo presents a robust manifesto for healthcare in Anambra State. From a pan-African perspective, however, it makes no mention of supporting the growth of the state’s traditional medical sector. Anambra State is replete with traditional pharmacology, some of which Soludo, who grew up in the rural area, should be aware of. There is a need to strongly support the growth of the indigenous medical practice in the state.

Under Sports development, Soludo pledges, among others, to “develop modern sports facilities (football, basketball, track &. field) across all local governments to harness talent and develop future Olympic champions and global sports champions.” As a  pan-Africanist who is also interested in promoting tourism in Anambra State, Soludo needs to do a lot more to promote traditional sports in the state. Sports such as traditional wrestling, climbing and other sports.

Governance, Rule of Law and Value System

Soludo’s pan-African persuasions are clearly elucidated when he notes that “The ethics and values of a society constitute its fabric and its collective conscience and humanity. Most people agree that our private and public lives are drifting dangerously without the fabric that made us who we were.” He proposes to go on social evangelism to restore communalism and respect for values among Anambra people rather than respect for money. One way Soludo can achieve this noble aim is by providing free and quality education for all. One of the quickest ways to speak is action. If people get to see that you care so much about (for example, that you’re investing so much in educating the children of the poor), you are inadvertently letting them know that poverty is not a crime and that poor people are valued and respected.

Under governance and rule of law, Soludo clearly defined his dignified aims to leverage “technology to optimize the efficiency of service delivery; eliminate waste, capture and corruption.” If that is achieved, Anambra State will make much progress in the area of governance in his tenure. On the pan-African level, however, Soludo is silent about his engagement of traditional governance and legal institutions during his tenure. This is one omission that must be immediately redressed. Perhaps, the leadership of Soludo might learn a lesson or two from Rwanda, where indigenous governance and legal mechanisms have strengthened the post-genocide leadership of the country.

Environment

The last aspect of Soludo’s manifesto for Anambra State is a welcome development in the conversation around development in Africa.  Anambra State is in critical need of sound environmental planning to mitigate the menace of erosion, flooding etc. Soludo outlines ways of working with the federal government and the private sector but leaves out the critical role of communities in sustainable environmental preservation. In pan-African philosophy, the role of communities is considered decisive, and the power of such will need to be harnessed in order to ensure a long-lasting impact.

One of the causes of flooding in Anambra state is the increasing use of plastics and plastic materials in the state. Plastic shopping bags, ‘pure’ water bags, disposable plastic plates used by food vendors have blocked most drainage systems around the state. Soludo can take the lead in Nigeria, following the Rwandan example by banning the use of plastic shopping bags, plastic ‘pure’ water bags and bottles, and disposable plastic plates in the state. Biodegradable materials such as paper plates, reusable bottles, raffia baskets etc are options we can turn to. Soludo will also have to explore Anambra’s indigenous environmental knowledge in his efforts towards transforming the state.

In conclusion, governing a state like Anambra offers Soludo an opportunity to build pan-African models across sectors, which, if successful, will set an example for the rest of Nigeria and Africa.

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