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Imo: The quadruplet albatross of a govt
About four months ago, power changed hands in Imo State Governor’s Office in Owerri. On that day, the new man at the helm of affairs, Chief Rochas Okorocha, took some drastic policy measures. Four major of those decisions appear to be presenting the new administration its toughest challenges, reports Joe Nwachukwu.
On Saturday, May 7, there was change of leadership in Imo State when the result of the election conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was announced, indicating that candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Rochas Okorocha, was the winner.
He defeated candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Ikedi Ohakim, who was the incumbent governor of the state; and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Senator Ifeanyichukwu Araraume, among others.
In his maiden broadcast to the people of Imo State after he was sworn in as state governor, Chief Okorocha immediately dissolved the 27 local government councils. In the same vein, he dissolved the development centres as constituted by the preceding administration.
According to him, the local government system was characterised by corruption and indiscipline and that the people had lost confidence in it.
His government, he explained, was determined to fight “evil and corruption” and would not tolerate any form of indiscipline or evil from any one, no matter how highly placed. He said his administration was determined to make the state better; it could not afford to fail; it ought to act quickly under the situation on the need to save the lives of numerous poor Imo citizens, while also protecting the interest of the very few rich.
Not done yet, the governor equally dissolved the Imo State council of traditional rulers, led by the monarch of Obinugwu, Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, who is also the chairman of South-East council of traditional rulers.
It became so bad that the state government got into a running battle with this traditional ruler so much so that it took the intervention of some people in Abuja to calm frayed nerves.
Another burning issue which the new administration equally touched was the recent appointment of 10,000 workers into the state public service, an action the new governor described as cheap political gain that the immediate past administration offered the people one month to its expiration. This, the governor said, was not acceptable to his government.
The government explained that public servants’ wage bill in the state, with a strenght of 13,000 workers, was N1.9 billion monthly. With the inclusion of 10,000 new jobs, he said the wage bill would increase even over the N2.2 billion monthly allocation the state got.
With the approval of the new N18,000 minimum wage by the outgone administration, the wage bill would be about twice the total income of the state, the government had claimed.
This administration, Governor Okorocha pointed out, was not worried about this situation, but about the fact that most of the workers, especially in the local government areas, literally sat down without responsibilities in the offices.
“We shall review the civil service structure with the view to getting every one to work. There will be no room for laziness; professionalism will be respected,” he said.
Investigation carried out by Sunday Tribune revealed that the four major problems confronting the government are the issues of these 10,000 jobs offered by the Ohakim-led administration, the dissolution of the state council of traditional rulers, the dissolution of the local government councils and particularly the sack of 106 traditional rulers who were given staff of office by the immediate-past government.
Speaking to journalists recently about the problem between the government and Eze Ilomuanya, the state’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Soronnadi Njoku, said the Eze was listed among 34 names of those who had refused to surrender government’s properties in their custody to the committee set up by the government to recover its properties in the possession of former political office holders in the state.
According to him, when all the efforts made by this committee, led by one Placid Ekwueme, through series of letters to the traditional ruler had failed, the matter was brought to him, as the chief law officer to the government. He said he recommended that the commissioner of police in the state should assist the committee to recover the properties in the Eze’s custody. This, he said, was done and they recovered about three vehicles.
However, reacting to what he described as laying siege to the Eze’s palace on August 5, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the traditional ruler, Mr. Kennedy Eweama, said security operatives, numbering about 30 and armed, including other unidentified persons from Government House, Owerri, stormed the Eze’s house.
According to him, these security operatives, “on directive of the authorities at Government House, Owerri, in the morning of Friday, August 5, at about 9.05 a.m. , laid siege to Eze’s residence at Owerri, while he was away attending to official matters in Abuja.”
He pointed out that the group was led by one Mr. Ekwueme, alias Commander, who he said claimed to be chairman of the task force on recovery of government properties, saying that “in a commando style, they forced themselves into Eze Ilomuanya’s premises and held at gun point, the Civil Defence corps man at the gate and the monarch’s Chief Security Officer (CSO) who attempted explaining that they should come when the traditional ruler returns.”
According to him, they threatened to shoot them or anyone who attempted to obstruct them from carrying out their mission. He added that some of them, “for reasons best known to them, even tried to force themselves into the main building,” saying, however, that they could not gain entrance due to the nature of the security doors.
“It took the intervention of the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Hafiz Ringim, who, on being alerted of the goings on, promptly directed the arrest and evacuation of all policemen who perpetrated the condemnable act. But for the intervention of the police, there could have been loss of lives or, at least, several causalties.”
Everybody, he explained, was held at gun point, a situation he said could have degenerated if the Eze’s aides had resisted. He said they eventually forcefully towed away three vehicles from the premises, pointing out that the vehicles were still parked in the Government House.
The matter became worse when, apparently worried about the Eze’s refusal to release the government vehicles in his possession to the task force after series of letter from the state council of traditional rulers, the new chairman of the traditional rulers’ council and ruler of Orodo, Eze Samuel Ohiri, directed Eze Ilomuanya to stop using siren; that he should stay in his palace, Obinugwu, to rule his subjects, unless he does not want to continue with his Ezeship. He said any attempt to disobey the directive would be met with full weight of the law.
The uproar over the matter of rejection of the new 10,000 employees that he inherited from the last administration is believed to be gradually subsiding after those who were affected staged a demonstration against the government.
Sunday Tribune gathered that a committee has been set up to took into the recruitment exercise and it has commenced work. It is to review the entire exercise after which those found to have qualified would be offered employment, either in the civil service or in the teaching profession.
Yet, there is the issue of the 106 traditional rules whose staff of office were revoked. But Governor Okorocha has promised that their case would be reviewed as well and that those who merit Ezeship would have their staff of office back “after government has sorted things out.”
Also, there is the uproar over the controversial local government dissolution over which the sacked council chairmen had taken the governor, his government and the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice to court.
Njoku, while briefing journalists in Owerri recently, warned the ousted local government chairmen “and their sponsors” that if there was any break of law and order in the state through their actions, they were to be held responsible.
According to him, all the prayers sought by the chairmen before Justice Benjamin Njemanze, the Chief Judge of Imo State, were dismissed by the High Court. He said a cost of N10,000 each was awarded against the local government chairmen to be paid to the three defendants.
“How could they have rushed to their various local government areas to force their way into office when they have lost in the process of regaining power? During this period, the local government secretariats were under lock and key, a development that prevented both workers and visitors from from gaining entrance to the local government headquarters.
However, he explained that they had gone to the Court of Appeal to challenge the judgment of the lower court, adding that, “this is what they were supposed to have done, rather than to force their way into office.”
Speaking further, Njoku explained that no date had been fixed for hearing of the case in the Court of Appeal.
The confusion over this dissolution saga, many have contended, could have arisen from the fact that at the lower court, the judge, delivering the judgment on the matter, pointed out that the governor had no power to dissolve the local government councils, but added that the chairmen failed to provide exhibit of both newspaper reports and radio announcement of the dissolution of local governments in Imo State. Meanwhile, the government has sworn in caretaker committees to run the 27 councils, pending the time elections would be conducted into them.
How Governor Okorocha manages these seeming governmental headaches might determine the success or otherwise of his tenure.