Imo Assembly and the Rochanisation of Community Government (Part 1)

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I hail from a sleepy community, Umuagwo-Ohaji, in Ohaji/Egbema LGA of Imo state. One remarkable aspect of my beloved town is that inspite of its Niger Delta background where militancy reigns supreme and borders with troublesome Ikwere-speaking communities of River State, peace and tranquility are the watchwords. Even as the community plays host to a tertiary institution, the Imo State Polytechnic, and a cosmopolitan town with non-indigene population of more than 70%, its peace was never compromised.

 

However, the reigning peace and cohesion nose-dived to anarchy and confusion sometime last year courtesy of the introduction of the controversial Community Government Council, CGC, otherwise known as Fourth Tier Government. At the expiration of the tenure of the immediate past government of my Town Union Executives in 2011, the community met on 30th Dec 2011 for the way forward. Apparently dissatisfied with the performance of the out-going administration, members of the community met at the Women Hall where it not only rejected an extension of tenure but also appointed a caretaker committee comprising one person each drawn from each of the six villages to among other things update the constitution and set up a framework for a free and fair election next Easter, April 2013, to usher in a new exco. The resolution was amicably agreed upon and it calmed all frayed nerves and silenced warning factions who were almost at each others throat for some sensitive positions ahead of the Dec 31st 2011 dissolution of Exco tenure.

Many of us playing patriotic roles and advocating for continued unity of purpose, peace and tranquility of the community were relieved. Everybody looked forward to the coming Easter festive for the conduct of the Town Union Election, before the Okorocha-led government struck. In his statement of the state address on February 14, 2012, at the Heroes Square. Governor Okorocha exposed his fourth Tier Government crusade by informing Imolites on the introduction of Community Government Council. Without the necessary constitutional backing, the state Governor in one full swoop dissolved all existing Town Union Executives and sacked all the unions. That verbal order generated pandemonium in most autonomous communities in the state including my town. Okorocha’s pronouncement destabilized our local polity as the scheduled 2012 Easter election became a forgone alternative. As at the time of arranging this commentary, my community is still at crossroads facilitated by unwarranted quagmire inflicted on it by directionless protagonists of CGC. As a practicing journalist in the state and co-editor of this tabloid, there is no gain saying the fact that the introduction of CGC has undoubtedly brought harm than succor to the people of the state and could be said to be in contrast to the tenets of Rescue Missionism being propagated by Okorocha government. Because of discrepancies and flaws that have continues to trail the introduction of CGC, Trumpeta office has been inundated with inglorious stories of sad tales from the various communities. For the first time in my community, interested parties went on air for unprintable comments, disclaimers, claims and counter-claims against each other prompting operatives of the State Security Service, SSS to invite them for questioning in connection to community related crisis based on petitions allegedly sent to the security agency by some persons.

 

Based on the reasons advocated by Gov Okorocha for the introduction of CGC, I was one of those who bought into the novel project believing that it has good tidings. The worrisome development in many autonomous communities in the state buoyed by my personal experience in Umuagwo has forced me to cast doubt about the workability of the CGC and the expected impact at the grassroots level.

In an interview by Okorocha’s first Commissioner for Information and strategy, Dr Obinna Duruji on reasons for the establishment of CGC, the former Commissioner while propagating the philosophy believed to be the Fourth-Tier Government in Imo state noted that “the policy is part and parcel of decentralizing government which is the 4th cardinal principles of “Rochanomics”. During the campaigns prior to the 2011 elections, Okorocha assured the electorates that if elected, he would turn around things by establishing 4th tier government because of the failure of the local government to drive the development of rural areas. The frontiers of government be decentralized from state, local government to communities, hence the concept”, Duruji who has since be replaced added.

 

Speaking during the official inauguration of the CGC on August 16, 2012 at the headquarters of Imo State Councils of Traditional Rulers, Governor Okorocha insisted that the CGC purpose is to decentralize power towards bringing governance to the doorsteps of rural dwellers and unlock the hidden potentials in the rural communities. The inability of a legal framework to authenticate the proposed CGC was a great setback for the Okorocha project as the election could not hold in April 2012.

 

A ranking lawmaker in the Imo state House of Assembly, Hon Ikenna Emeh took up the task to head the committee responsible for midwifing the law. As a seasoned lawyer before delving into politics, Emeh who represents Isu State Constituency brought his weight of experience and legislative expertise to fine-tune the grassroots-oriented law into acceptable standard. Within the pre CGC law period, autonomous communities were in coma as Governor Okorocha’s pronouncement stifled life out of the rural-based structure. The ensuring confusion, ignited fire over most autonomous communities.

 

Governor Okorocha’s sweet-coated expressions that each of the autonomous community in the state will be entitled to N5m monthly grant from the state coffers for projects aggravated the struggle for positions. With the appointments of Community Speakers christened Community Liaison Officers selected from APGA family as compensation for assisting the Governor win the 2011 Guber Election, the PG, youth and women leaders position were up for grab.

 

Okorocha during the inauguration disclosed that the 49-page CGC law passed by the House captured all the autonomous communities in the state as well as the operational framework of the community government. The Traditional Rulers will serve as Chairman, while PG serves as secretary, the CLO, women leader and youth leader will serve as members.

 

Despite passing the CGC Bill into law to authenticate the Fourth Tier Government, confusion never abated in implementation and execution. While the state work force kicked against the unwarranted mass deployment of civil servants to the communities to the rural communities which contravened the law, stakeholders in the state were amazed by the state government’s volte face on the amount to be made available as grants to the various communities. From N5m, it was reduced to N1m where the autonomous communities shall pay counterpart fund of N250,000 after paying N10,000 to bank for account opening and registration. Again, communities who were not properly registered were meant to cough out money to register with the ministry of local government and community government.

 

Few months after the Governor accented to the law, Dec 15, 2012 was pronounced as official date for election into the various positions except the CLO which will be the state Government’s nominee. Interested persons were asked to pay certain amounts for forms to qualify. Barely 24 hours to the proposed election, a lawyer reported to be from one of the chambers of a prominent appointee serving in Okorocha’s government rushed to the law court to stop the election. The decision of the court did not come as a surprise package to many who have been witnessing government indifference approach and lack purpose in the much vaunted Fourth-Tier government. Prior to the cancelled Dec 15, 2013 election, there was nothing from the state government especially, the concerned ministry that had been collecting monies from communities and candidates that elections would take. In my community, no voter education and the public unaware of modalities for the election. The people were kept in the dark over eligibility and method of voting. I was not surprised when the court stopped the election because government was not ready.

 

A month after the failed CGC election, the members of the House of Assembly has added another dimension to the fourth tier government by asking the Governor to appoint caretaker committees. After a prolonged break, the State Assembly resumed plenary to amend the controversial law. More striking in the members’ action was the absence of the lawmaker who polited the law, Ikenna Emeh alongside other PDP members of the House who were inAbujafor a meeting with President Jonathan. Though the House had the needed quorum to undertake deliberations, the method adopted in passing the Bill into law according to some members of PDP extraction was a mere legislative abracadabra.

 

Even as a section of the House Rules was relaxed to accommodate the Bill, the aggrieved lawmakers in an interview disclosed that it was undemocratic as due process never complemented the passage of the Bill into law permit me to stop here. To be concluded next week.