By Lancelot Obiaku
Fresh in the minds of informed Imo State citizens is the sledgehammer recently struck by the action governor. The casualties are the 27 LGA Chairmen, Vice Chairmen and the 665 Community Councillors who were purportedly elected barely six months to the end of Gov. Rochas Okorocha administration in the state.
Make no mistakes about this. Their suspension by the incumbent governor, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, who acted pursuant to the recommendation of the out gone 8th House of Assembly, was expected and anticipated. On the one hand, the criticisms from the dwindling opposition voices in the state which have trailed that decision were also expected. The opposition elements had no option than to do so. They just have to be critical of such move by the brand new governor, even where it meant that they were forced to say in public [apparently without shame] that their master, Okorocha, is guilty of the same crime they accuse Ihedioha of. Obviously, they know Okorocha did that which is similar to what Gov. Ihedioha has done when he took over the reigns of power in 2011, but according to them, Ihedioha should not toe his predecessor’s line since he has proclaimed himself the ‘rebuilder’ of the state which Okorocha destroyed. They said Gov. Ihedioha has fueled a bad precedent established by Okorocha, their hero.
Some agents of the former governor have also quoted laws that make Gov. Ihedioha’s suspension of the local government officers unlawful. On the other hand, the governor in the Press Release signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Chibuike Onyeukwu, announcing the suspension, clung to the provisions of Sections 4, 5, and 6 of the Local Government Administration (Amendment) law, 2019, and Section 73(3) of Imo State Local Government Administration Law Number 15 of 2000 (as amended). For the governor, those were his enablers and the reasons why the decision he took was lawful.
In all, one fact that should be noted and resounded is that it was the House of Assembly he inherited from Okorocha’s administration that made the recommendation for Gov. Ihedioha, who in accordance with the rule of law, in conformity with due process and having adjudged the resolution of the legislative arm of government right, acted its script.
Evidently, the local government administration and how it is run has become a grave issue in the Eastern Heartland. We have seen governors play negative politics with it. Former governor, Ikedi Ohakim, who ruled between 2007 and 2011 had conducted local government elections towards the end of his tenure. His successor Okorocha dissolved the LG councils and not even court judgements in favour of the affected LG Chairmen, Vice Chairmen and Councillors did he obey. Okorocha unlike Ohakim served out his first tenure without conducting local government elections. It was believed that he would do that upon his reelection. No, instead, he waited until September 2018, eight months to the end of his second term in office, to conduct an election not known to the laws of Nigeria and Imo State. We witnessed a situation where other political parties were illegally schemed out and their candidates unconstitutionally disenfranchised to ensure that candidates of the former governor’s APC had a walk in the park during the purported election. It was a charade of an election which PDP, the incumbent governor’s party, vehemently distanced itself from. For the first time in the history of the state, the masses were told that their Councillors were to be drawn from the various autonomous communities and not the constitutionally recognized INEC electoral Wards as stipulated by the Imo ISIEC Law. Before opting for that arrangement, Okorocha did not, at least, deem necessary to seek amendment of the established laws. As if that was not enough, the winners of the said local government elections were not issued with Certificates of Return by the state’s electoral umpire, ISIEC, until Uche Nwosu, whom Okorocha positioned to succeed him, lost the gubernatorial election.
To be fair, the foundation upon which the supposed mandates of the suspended LG executives was built is faulty and substantially illegal. On the moral scale, it also falls short of average. Why would a governor who ruled a state for eight years conduct local government elections on the eightieth year? The answer is straight forward: to have his loyalists and puppets occupy a major stake in the administration of his successor and consequently form an unwanted opposition to the government, knowing fully that the Imo State local government administration law, Section 23 Number 15 of 2000, allows three year tenure for elected council Chairmen and Councillors. This law was made in the administration of Chief Achike Udenwa and he conformed to it. Local government elections were held and it meant that the winners completed their tenures as authorised by the law. In Undenwa’s regime, the local government system functioned optimally. Ohakim was elected governor in 2007. Even though he waited until the twilight of his first tenure to conduct LG elections, his was better than Okorocha’s. At least, he did not wait to win reelection or the last year of his second tenure to conduct LG elections.
The question therefore becomes: How should the bad precedent be abolished? Gov. Emeka Ihedioha, the man who has come to rebuild has the answers which are reversion to the good precedent set in 2000 and adherence to the Imo State local government administration law of that year, in a more responsible manner.
Upon his inauguration of the 27 local government Interim Management Committee Chairmen on Tuesday, the Imo Chief Executive assured again, just as he promised during his campaigns, that local government elections will hold in six months time. If this happens, the tenures of the would be Chairmen, Vice Chairmen and Councillors would culminate with the expiration of the governor’s first tenure. Therefore, assuming a new governor takes over in 2023, he would not have any LG officer to suspend or sack. He or she will conduct a fresh local government election and save himself/herself troubles.
Indeed, Gov. Ihedioha has come to rebuild and restore sanity in governance in Imo State. The House of Assembly was spot on to recommend the suspension of the LGA Chairmen, Vice, Councillors and appointees of the former administration whose positions do not conform with relevant guiding laws. The governor is as well right to act in the affirmative and will go beyond that, unlike Okorocha and co, to stabilize the local government system by conducting elections within his first year in office. No one can crucify him now. He has only expertly acted a lawful script and deserves commendation.