The twenty seven Local Government Areas inImoStateare now a shadow of what a local government ought to be. Their present state is a contrast to what obtained some years ago.
In 1999 when the present civilian administration inNigeriawas ushered in, the LGAs were bubbling with activities. ThenImoStatehad elected council chairmen.
While Dr Achike Udenwa, the then Governor was of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the 27 LGAs were shared between the PDP and All Nigerian Peoples Party ANPP, who both slugged it out during the elections.
Imo was full of life, right from the grass roots. The masses were galvanized and council headquarters were the centre of actions. This situation created jobs for the youths, while migration to Owerri, the state capital was limited to only those who have important business at the Government House.
Udenwa as the Governor had ample time to face the task of governing the state, as minor issues were naturally taken to the council chairmen, who wielded enormous power then.
For instance in Ngor Okpala where I come from, the chairman Chief Livy Okereafor was like our “Governor” that you had no need to go to Owerri for anything when “Dem Livy” as we called him, was there. We believed he could solve any problem, and Umuneke, the LGA Headquarter was a bee hive of activities.
During this era, there was mutual competition among the LGA Chairmen. It was Livy Okereafor who brought electricity to the whole of Ngor Okpala. Ngor Okpala people then had no course to beg the state or federal government for amenities. Everybody believed that even if there was need for such, it could only be achieved through the LGA Chairman.
When Okereafor left, Hon Emma Nwaogu took over as elected chairman and awarded road contracts.
In Isu LGA, the likes of Uche Diogu as council chairman constructed a mini sports stadium that if built today by a state, will attract the President for commissioning.
The man in Ehime Mbano built a Hall at the council headquarter that still remains a reference point till date.
Today, paying statutory salaries to workers by an LGA chairman sounds like a miracle, and would be applauded to high heavens. Is it not a shame?
After the expiration of tenure of the elected chairmen, the Governor Chief Achike Udenwa appointed Transition Committee Chairmen, instead of conducting elections immediately. This was the beginning of the rot in Imo LGAs today.
With this scenario, the appointed TC Chairmen saw the Governor as the source of their mandates, and not the masses of the LGAs any longer.
This development unfortunately emasculated the chairmen, who could abandon a serious meeting at the council headquarters and dash down to Owerri to go and see the Governor. “Please, the Governor just sent for me now” and the chairman dashes off to Owerri, and may not come back again that day.
Gradually, they started living in Owerri or stay in hotels where they could easily reach “His Excellency”. Infact, in most cases, the allocations of the LGAs were distributed to “projects” right from Owerri, and not in the councils which own the funds.
This situation rendered the people powerless and frustrated, and before you know it, the grass root became suspicious of their leaders and they began to stay away from the LGA headquarters which used to serve as the mobilization points for the masses. Therefore, the regular visitors to the councils began to look for the chairmen in Owerri and everybody now moved to Government House Owerri. That is the reason when you visit Government House today, the crowd of people waiting for the Governor is mammoth. The reason being that simple responsibilities that ought to have been under the purview of the council chairmen have been taken over by the state government.
This was the scenario before Governor Udenwa conducted an election, in which most TC Chairmen then emerged elected chairmen. There was an election under which these people emerged. People may have criticized such exercise, but there is no perfect election in the world.
When Ikedi Ohakim became Governor of Imo State, in 2007, he inherited the Council Chairmen elected under Udenwa’s regime, and after the expiration of their tenure, he appointed TC Chairmen, instead of conducting elections too. When asked why, he said he just assumed office and needed to set up a State Electoral Commission.
After two years in office, Ohakim set up the state electoral commission and conducted election where twenty seven candidates of the PDP emerged council chairmen.
This is one of the allegations some people hold against that election. But if we must tell ourselves the truth, an election really took place inImoState, where elected council chairmen emerged. It may not have been perfect. But which election is error-proof in the world?
That twenty seven PDP candidates emerged winners was simply because of the skepticism with which the opposition party held that election. Frankly speaking, the opposition parties were not prepared for that election as they ran helter skelter seeking for means of stopping the election through litigation instead of campaigning.
The opposition parties, mainly ANPP and APGA had no solution to the PDP rolling steam and could not make any impression at last.
I witnessed the PDP candidate in Ngor Okpala LGA, Barr Enyinna Onuegbu traverse the nook and cranny of the Area, with elders like Dr Eustace Eke in toe. Please, I am not holding brief for any party, but stating the obvious.
However, the PDP could not win the Governorship elections in 2011 and the APGA candidate, who came tops, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, inherited these council chairmen, just as Ikedi Ohakim of the PPA inherited those from Udenwa in 2007.
While Ohakim waited patiently until they out-lived their tenure before appointing TC Chairmen, Owelle Okorocha sacked the elected council chairmen he inherited, this against the norms of democracy and due process, which led the sacked council chairmen to head to court, where it was affirmed that no Governor has the right to sack elected chairmen.
Ever since April this year, it has been ding dong affair between Okorocha and the Chairmen , to the extent that Imo people, the main cannon fodder in this debacle, are confused and angry.
As I write this piece, no one knows who is in charge of Imo Local Government Areas. Every plot has been exhibited by the Okorocha administration to frustrate the elected council chairmen.
While the council chairmen have physically taken over in their various LGAs, the lubricator, which is the fund to run the affairs of the grass roots, has been denied them by Okorocha.
This has reduced Imo LGAs to a ghost town, where everything is on standstill. The main people suffering the consequences are the Imo people, whose elected representatives have been denied funds by an autocratic civilian administration.
We hear about parallel administrations in the LGAs and operates like “Guerrilla Government” in the LGAs” which invites LGA staff in the Bush or hotels where salaries are paid secretly after which everybody disappears, till the next month. If you pay the staff, what happens to the entire LGA population that owns the fund?
Should this travesty continue before 2015, there would be nothing like Imo LGAs anymore. All the gains recorded about two years ago in the LGAs have been eroded, all in the fight for political supremacy between the chairmen and a Governor who is afraid of due process.
A school of thought says the council chairmen deserve what they have gotten from Okorocha. But we should remember that when two Elephants fight, the poor grass suffers. In this battle now, it is the poor masses of these LGAs that are suffering. No matter what these people, their party or leaders must have done to Okorocha, it is not personal, as the rule of law and due process must prevail.
A lecturer cannot say because his student-girlfriend denied him sex and therefore cannot graduate even after the Institution’s Senate has awarded a degree to the damsel.
I still believe that if Governor Okorocha had played his political game very well, without attaching sentiment or vengeance to it, he would have been enjoying a cozy relationship with these council chairmen ever since.
It is on record that immediately Okorocha was pronounced Governor, these chairmen rushed went to his house with gifts. That was when he missed it as a leader and Governor, who after emerging governor has become the father of all and should eschew vendetta.
Had Okorocha maximized that gesture from the council chairmen then, he would simply have allowed them to remain in office to complete their tenure, while he “worked” on them. Ohakim did it and it paid off.
By now, these council chairmen, atleast most of them, would have since decamped to APGA, and from the grass roots convince their followers to join Rescue Mission. There is no politics of Idealolgy here, but that of stomach.
Today, Okorocha has boxed them into full fledged Activists, who for over two years have been living in penury without their salaries and their families suffering. Therefore, who that is down fears no fall. The battle will continue to rage.
However, it is all left for Governor Okorocha, to exhibit statesmanship, by looking between the gradual death of Imo LGAs, and political ego of his office.
One thing clear is that history is recording all that is happening now in the Imo LGAs, and the verdict of posterity will give report, even after Okorocha has left office, asImoStatewill out live all of us.