By Kelechi Okpaleke
Racketeering is simply organized crime. Official racketeering is therefore a criminal abuse of office.
Imo is bedeviled with very high unemployment and underemployment rate, simply because Imo remains basically a rural state with no industrial sector. Consequently, on the average, over 90% of tertiary institution graduates in the State never return back to the State to reside after their National Youth Service. This is mostly responsible for the vanishing Igbo Language because these 90% eventually reside and try to irk out a living in the industrial Southwest and North central. Eventually meaning that they marry and raise their children in these geographical areas of the nation not Igbo speaking.
However, this article focuses on the 10% of tertiary institution graduates that return to reside in Imo State after National Youth Service. This ten percent (10%) seek alternative employment including but not limited to self employment and informal employment is political sector. This phenomenon is partially responsible for the thuggery in elections.
Politics as a vocation in Nigeria is seen as one of the most lucrative vocations or better yet, the fastest road to riches in an economically depressed state like Imo.
This makes political offices both elective and appointive, the most attractive employment to the overwhelming majority of the residents of the State. Just like our psychological disposition to greed as human beings are daily exploited by 419ers in spite of one’s level of skepticisms or cynicisms, the chance to occupy an elective office with tenure has rendered the entirety of Imo public to preys for official criminal racketeering perpetrated with the announcement of local government election or any type of election for a political office. The announcement of an election by any government, be it local government election or even election into the illegal community Government council acts as such as strong afrodisiac akin to Viagra or “magani burantashi” to the Imo public that we lose all our inhibitions.
This propensity of Imo public has become the source of fleecing the unsuspecting public by the current illegitimate Imo State independent electoral commission (ISIEC) when Okorocha introduced what he called commercialization policy of his administration, the unsuspecting Imo public has no way of knowing what such a policy entails in practice. But recent revelations have shown that it is actually a policy of “returns” to the boss akin to “akpata ekee”. Maintaining your appointment in this administration is not based on your ability to make input into the good governance of the State; this is why it has been severally stated that the Governor does not hearken to advise, rather based on your ability to raise money from the unsuspecting Imo public legally and otherwise.
The current chairman of the illegally constituted ISIEC Barrister Akwari does not have to entertain any fear of being replaced because in spite of his legal education and training he understands Okorocha’s mode of illegal administration through and through.
ISIEC members by law have five years tenure. The ISIEC chairmaned by Barrister Emma Nwoye had hardly completed a year and half in office when it was dissolved illegally by Governor Okorocha. The dissolved members led by the chairman went to court to challenge their dissolution since their tenure of five years was yet to elapse. The case is still to be resolved when Okorocha constituted this ISIEC, chairmaned by Barrister Akwari.
In a nutshell, therefore, this pertinent ISIEC’s legitimacy and even legality has just to be authenticated before it embarked on the various legal functions of ISIEC. First, it announced that it was going to embark on creation of new wards in the State, for this, it advertised in all the local newspapers that it was embarking on creation of new wards and interested communities should apply. The application fee was pegged at N50, 000.00, while administrative fee was another N250, 000.00 making a total of N300, 000.00) for each community.
Newspaper reports stated that 353 communities applied for new wards. Imo State already has 305 INEC wards upon which election was conducted in 2010. With 353 communities applying for new wards, this INEC raised N105.9m. Not one single ward has been created at this point and the same ISIEC announced during the first week of this January that local government election will be conducted in 600 wards in the state by April 27, 2013.
By law, election must be announced by the election umpire 90 days before the actual date of the conduct of the election. This really means that any political ward not created at the time of the announcement of the election by the umpire cannot legally be part of the election. In spite of this obvious legal fact, ISIEC is deceiving the unsuspecting Imo public that election will take place in six hundred wards (600) by April 27 2013. Why would ISIEC engage in such public deceit? The answer is simply the commercialization policy of this administration.
ISIEC has become a money spinning commission in consonance to the acclaimed commercialization policy of Okorocha’s administration. Whether funds are raised legally or illegally is not the concern of the government.
Only about a month ago, there was a scheduled election into the elective offices of the community Government council. I advised them through my Radio commentary on Heartland FM that no election will take place. I further stated in private to friends and colleagues that the CGC election was just a ploy to raise Christmas bonuses for the commission through fees charged on candidates. I was vindicated when after charging the fees, the election did not take place, and not one penny was refunded to the candidates. Anybody that pays attention to public issues regarding the law of elections in Nigeria would have made the same conclusion that I did.
First, political parties were not allowed to sponsor the so called CGC election. It is settled since Amaechi’s case that only political parties win election under our constitution. It is further made clear in our constitution that there is no such thing as independent candidacy. So how can ISIEC really conduct election into CGC without political parties sponsoring candidates?
The unsuspecting candidates into the aborted CGC election were first charged N3,000 naira each and later N1,000 election application fee. As you may recall, the elective offices in CGC are three, namely President General, Youth leader and women leader, in essence three elective offices for each autonomous community. Imo State has 637 autonomous communities. With about five contestants for each of the three elective offices in CGC, you have an average of 15 persons in each autonomous community who four thousand (N4, 000) naira was fleeced from by this ISIEC. When you multiply N4, 000 by 15 candidates or aspiration in each autonomous community in the state it gives a total of N60, 000 naira for each autonomous community. Now, with the 637 autonomous communities of Imo State it gives N38, 220,000 naira which is the estimate of what Barrister Akwari’s ISIEC made from the fleecing of Imo public through the deceitful CGC election.
In less than two months, or between October– December, Akwari’s ISIEC raised 144.1 million naira by official racketeering and fleecing of the innocent Imo people and their communities.
But it does not stop there. In spite of this obvious deceit, many are ignoring warnings of well meaning Imolites and again marching towards April 27 alleged or promised local government election. Evidence of how it will eventually turn out is being ignored due to the desperation of Imo people. Desperation borne of lack of traditional employment. For this ISIEC to announce that it was going to conduct the local government election in 600 wards means that the fix is on.
First, it cannot conduct a legal election, even if it has the requisite legitimacy and legality in more than 305 wards since no ward has been created before the announcement. You cannot announce an election as ISIEC in a ward yet to be created by law.
Furthermore, how can Imo State pay the salaries of six hundred councilors their entitlements and allowances? The monthly total benefit of each councilor as set by each RMAC is a little over N300,000. Can Imo State pay such amount in six hundred places from the local government allocations and still meet the recurrent expenditure of the local councils in the State?
Both Barrister Akwari and the rest of the civilized world know that election cannot be conducted in six hundred wards. That the only reason ISIEC stated that election will be conducted in six hundred wards is to make as much money as it could before the courts through its members out of office like they did the TC Chairman.
I have concluded that the only reason that any governor could overlook such blatant fleecing of his public is because he or she may be enjoying returns from this illegal racketeering simply because of the situation with the road contracts.
The Imo government House is still pushing Jeff Imo as solard of my LGA even after N255.6 million was embezzled under his stewardship. If the government would support Jeff Imo to return, the rumour that these illegal T. C. Chairmen are required to make returns must be true. Because no governor or government would support the return of such appointee back to office which is now the alpha and omega, while when he was just a chairman of a committee, he succeeded in embezzling 255.6 million. With the evidence of payment of contract to a company yet to be incorporated by CAC, such a person should not be roaming about lobbying for another appointment and no responsible government House should push such person for confirmation by the House.