The IMO State Government recently announced through the various media organs that that an election into the Community Government Councils (CGC) would take place on the 1st March 2014.The decision to hold the CGC election at this point in time has been received with mixed feelings by the populace. A large section of the electorate feel betrayed that the government which had earlier announced plans to hold a Local Government Election in March is now settling down for a CGC election, even though a large percent of the populace would have preferred a Local Government Election. The reason for the negative interest of the electorate on the CGC election is not far-fetched. While presenting the 2014 fiscal budget in December, 2013, Governor Okorocha announced to the applause of the electorate that a Local Government Election would hold in March, 2014.The government’s decision to back down on the Local Government election is an unfortunate afterthought which does no one any good. In the first place, it casts a pall of doubt on the place of integrity in government business. Ordinarily, a responsible government is driven by the policy of “Our word is our bond”. There is something intrinsically wrong in a situation where a government cannot stand on a pledge it made on its own volition, more so, a pledge made while making a Fiscal Budget presentation. Although a CGC tier of government is an aberration in a genuine democracy, my intention in this viewpoint is not to question its legality or constitutionality. We had criticized the idea of a CGC when Governor Okorocha mooted it in the early stage of his Administration. In spite of our trenchant and vociferous criticisms , the Imo State Legislature went ahead to legalize it when it instituted the IMO State Autonomous Community Law NO 1 of 2012 Volume 36 – a law which has since been processed in the Imo State of Nigeria Official Gazette on the 21st August,2012.So, I am not questioning its legality; rather I wish to ask for some clarifications in regard to the CGC election which is slated for March 8th.
The clarifications I seek include a wish to know the body that will supervise this election. This question becomes pertinent because it has been widely reported that the supervising body is the Imo State Independent Election Tribunal (ISIEC). Is this a rumour or the truth? Now, is it legal for ISIEC, a creation of the Constitution with the sole responsibility of conducting Local Government Elections, to be hijacked for the conduct of an election into a CGC-an outfit that is not recognized by the Nigerian Constitution? Furthermore, how will the CGC election be funded since there is no provision for the CGC election in the Year 2014 Fiscal Budget which was presented by Governor Okorocha on Friday, 20th December, 2013 and no supplementary appropriation for the election has been made as at now? How much will the election cost the State? It has always been the practice /procedure for governments to make a public declaration of the cost implications of any election, whether state or federal. Why are we kept in the dark on the cost of the CGC election? What makes the CGC election more important than a Local Government Election, more so, since the Governor had earlier promised that a LG election would be conducted in March? Is it not an oddity that at a time the fever of LG elections is spreading across the nation like an epidemic, our state, IMO, may be spending a huge amount in conducting an election which is not necessary? The CGC election is not necessary because no other political party is interested in the CGC.It’s Governor Okorocha’s pet project and there is no competition from elsewhere. So, what is the rationale in getting involved in an election when no other political party is competing with you? I am not aware of any other political party that is interested in the CGC thing. In a situation like this, the ideal thing is to use executive fiat to appoint those who you deem fit for the CGC offices. There is no need in spending scarce funds in conducting the CGC election. It is an avoidable waste of the commonwealth and the people’s patrimony at a time when the imperatives of frugal husbandry of scarce resources cannot be overstressed. Or does the election not have cost implications? I ask these questions because it will tantamount to a humongous fraud if in the long run we are given a bill of a billion plus Naira as the cost of the purported election. Long before the CGC intervention was introduced by Governor Okorocha, communities were already using their own templates in electing or choosing the members of the EZE’S cabinet. Such elections were always funded by the communities. Governments did not have any business interfering or injecting funds into such events. It was a purely community affair for the indigenes and I pray that IMO State Government does not introduce a situation where the state government will now finance elections of members of the Eze’s Cabinet. If this CGC election will involve the state government in spending, then, the exercise must be jettisoned.
The emphasis on the cost implication stems from the fact that elections have always been very expensive. It will be foolhardy for any responsible government to go into funding elections into 637 autonomous communities, more so, when most of these communities are far-flung and above all reeking with communal crises of dangerous proportions. If the INEC could not conduct election into Oguta State Assembly (just one LGA), how feasible will it be for the government to conduct CGC election into 637 autonomous communities in 27 Local Government Areas? This is a classic case of fishing in troubled waters. It is a huge act of financial profligacy for any government to waste such huge amount in conducting a purported election in regard to a tier of government that is not known to the Constitution .The traditional rulers should be left alone to select, elect or appoint members of the EZE-in Council and submit same to the government for adoption. Any community that cannot carry out this exercise peacefully and without government funding is not fit to be an autonomous community. Any funding by the Government in respect of the CGC election is tantamount to politicizing the traditional communities; this is also a way of truncating the culture of the people. There is a need for the government to know that the CGC election can culminate into crises which will destroy Governor Okorocha’s 2015 agenda. If he goes ahead to conduct the CGC election, he will have set up a Frankenstein’s monster which ends up destroying its creator. The task of resolving election disputes in 637 autonomous communities are not a task for the faint of heart. So, Gov. Okorocha should be wary of what he does and its ramifications.
My other grouse against the CGC election is that most of the communities in IMO State are under investigation in order to know whether they will receive the stamp of legitimacy as autonomous communities or be shut down. It is on account of this that Governor Okorocha set up a Judicial Panel of enquiry headed by Justice Chikeka to screen the communities in order to ascertain their suitability for autonomy. According to the terms of reference given to the three panels, they are required to investigate the contracts awarded by former Governor Ohakim from May 30 ,2007 to May 29, 2011.Another panel will investigate how the Local Government Areas (LGAs) were administered during Ohakim’s tenure ,while one of the panels was assigned the task of investigating the creation and functions of the autonomous communities during the regime of Ikedi Ohakim.One of the panels headed by Justice Goddy Anunihu was charged with the task of identifying all contracts awarded by or on behalf of IMO Government or its Parastatals,Ministries,Departments and Agencies(MDAs) within the specified period in order to ascertain the extent of work done. Governor Okorocha also charged the Commission of Enquiry to headed by Hon Justice Paul Onumajuru(Retd) to identify all types of employees in the Local Government System)temporary, casual permanent) method of recruitment staff structure and staff strength of each Local Government in the State.
The panel on autonomous communities and traditional rulers headed by Hon Justice T.E.Chuemeka Chikeka is to ascertain whether all the autonomous communities in IMO State were ab initio qualified to be given autonomous status in accordance with the law that was in force when they were created. The Panel was further charged by the Governor to identify all traditional rulers who have been recognized but were not qualified to be recognized in accordance with the relevant law, as well as identify all traditional rulers who have been involved in or committed acts which are incompatible with their status as monarchs. Governor Okorocha also charged the Panel to make recommendations which in the opinion of the Panel will enhance the effectiveness of the autonomous communities and the traditional institution in IMO State. The Panels were asked to submit their findings within three months .The panels which were set up around January 14th, 2013 or thereabout was supposed to have submitted their reports/findings within three months –which is around March/April, 2013.It is pathetic that after a year of inaugurating the panels, I am not aware the Panels(especially the one on the EZES and autonomous communities) have submitted their reports or whether the Imo State Government has issued a White Paper to that effect. No responsible Government will set up such a panel of eminent citizens and still proceed to conduct elections into the CGCs without first considering the reports of the Justice Chikeka Panel and also issuing a White Paper on the findings of the Committee. So, any talk of conducting a CGC election without first issuing a White Paper on the Justice Chikeka Commission of Enquiry is a charade as well as a ruse. It is like putting a cart before the horse as well as making a mockery of bureaucracy /democracy. So, there is a need for Governor Okorocha to study the report of Hon Justice Chikeka Judicial Panel on the CGCs and the traditional rulers and issue a White Paper on the Panel’s report. Information from the grape vine shows that the Panel recommended a severe downsizing of the autonomous. There are many people who feel that the number of autonomous communities in IMO State is bloated and outrageous. Such people want to see a downsizing of the 637 autonomous communities to a manageable number. In the South East geo-political zone, Imo State has the highest number of autonomous communities and Traditional rulers. Anambra State has a modest 177 autonomous communities
It is distressing to note that most of the people parading themselves as EZEs of their autonomous communities have not satisfied the minimum guidelines in the Imo State Law No 6 of 2006(as amended)as well as Imo State Administration Law No 1 of 2012 which has since been published in Imo State of Nigeria Official Gazette .Some of the requirements include that “the EZE has been educated up to at least the School Certificate level or its equivalent”;(2) The recognition of a person as the EZE or the withdrawal of such recognition shall be published in the Government Official Gazette;(3)The Governor at any time after the date of publication in the Official Gazette of the recognition of an EZE of an autonomous community shall issue a certificate of recognition to the EZE. Furthermore, a release from the office of the Chairman Ad Hoc Committee on a bill to establish CGC s, Hon Barr.Ikenna Emeh, stipulates that, under the law establishing the CGC, a community must have the following minimum requirements to be recognized as an autonomous community:(1) Five thousand population or more;(2)Administrative block of not less than 10 rooms;(3)Community hall; (4)Market; (5)School(at least primary school;(6)Church/Churches. The document also posits that where a community does not have the minimum requirements listed above, the Governor may by an instrument suspend the legal existence or autonomy of any community that does not meet the minimum requirements.It is very glaring that so many of these communities, especially in the so-called 107 communities, have not satisfied the minimum standards to be classified as autonomous communities or to have traditional rulers.
It is in order to redress these anomalies that impelled Governor Okorocha to set up the HON Justice Chikeka Judicial Panel of Enquiry on NDI EZE and the autonomous communities. The terms of reference of this panel as well as those headed by Hon Justice Goddy Anunihu and Hon Justice Paul Onumajuru(retd) have been discussed earlier in this report. So, it will be absurd and a negation of due process for the CGC election to be held without first issuing a White Paper on the findings of the Justice Chikeka Panel of Enquiry. There is a consensus that the three Hon Judges that head these three Judicial Panels are men of impeccapable and transparent integrity on the Bench. So, why should anybody sweep the reports of such panels under the carpet? What is the urgency in holding the CGC election now?It is expected that the Chikea Panel will recommend a downsizing of the 637 autonomous communities to a reasonable number.
If we have Sultan of Sokoto, Oba of Benin, Asagba of Asaba, Oba of Lagos, Emir of Kano, why do we have 637 traditional rulers in Imo State, more so, when they are all on the pay roll of the tax payer/Government of Imo State? If I had my way, I would have suggested that the persistent balkanization of our traditional empires must cease. I would have recommended that all the autononomous communities created from 1999 must be screened to ascertain if they can pass the test of severe scrutiny .It was from 1999 that the assault on the traditional institution in Imo State started. It was from that period that all manner of people including 419ners, drug addicts, smugglers, kidnappers etc had autonomous communities created for them.It became a status symbol for an autonomous community to be carved out for whoever has become prosperous.In the scramble for autonomous communities, teven those whose fathers were alive ,well and bubbling with good health were made Ezes in the presence of their fathers, If our ancestors could arrive her today to see some of the people who now occupy their thrones, they would simply faint and ,even now, most of them are turning in their graves. Today, in IMO State, we have a situation where a father is a subject to his son who is now the EZE of his community. Those in my generation are afraid and ashamed of this rape on the culture of NDIGBO. From what we imbibed from our parents in our teenage years about the cosmology, norms, mores, nuances and culture of the Igbo, we did not know that time would come when a father would be a subject to his son thus paying homage to his son who now sits on the throne as the EZE of the community. Is this not an abomination? In the traditional Igbo society, the throne could be rotational, elective, or hereditary. Each community had their laid down rules to select an EZE,but today our new generation EZES emerge through a process of TUM Bom ,TUM BOM or casting of ballot in a political forum presided over by outsiders who do not know the laid down rules for an EZE to emerge in a given community.. We have even seen to our chagrin and discomfiture that political party loyalty can give you a mileage in becoming an EZE, even though the throne in your community is hereditary.Tufiakwa! Look around the communities in Imo State today and you will see communities where impostors have hijacked the throne, in spite of the fact that such thrones have been hereditary for over a century.
I am not unmindful of trhe fact that a culture will change and evolve over time. Even then, there will always be a common set of characteristics of a people’s culture which is shared by the group at large and can be traced, even through great changes, over many generations. One of them is that a son cannot sit oin the throne while the father is alive and well. Where age of health challenges make it impossible for the old man to be on throne , he will hand over the throne to his son in a public ceremony which will be celebrated in full glare of all and sundry, The son , now EZE, may be a regent or may be accorded full status of a king. Today, it is calamitous that some of our nouvre riches may not give a damn to eliminating their fathers, should such a father insist on sitting on the throne. This is why such fathers maintain accept the odium .But, if such old men cannot fight, is there any justification for the larger society to maintain a conspiracy of silence?
Culture could be defined as “a way of life developed and shared by a group of people and passed down from generation to generation. It is made up of many complex elements, including religious and political systems, customs and language, as well as tools, clothing, buildings and works of art. The way you dress, your relationships with your parents, and friends, what you expect in a marriage and of a job, the food you eat, the language you speak are all profoundly affected by your culture.” We have continued to desecrate our culture and traditions in Imo State as other subcultures in Igbo nation subsume our culture. Why should a person from Imo State be named Onuorah, Ifeanyi, Chukwurah, Omeife, Ifeoma? Such labels belong to other subcultures in Igbo nation. Even such labels as IGBA NKWU and OWELLE are alien to Imo State. The EZE OHIRI- LED Imo Traditional Rulers’ Parliament should embark on a campaign of restoring the age-old traditions of our people as well as diligently amend those that have overstayed their welcome.
In conclusion, the summary of this report is that the plan to conduct a CGC election in Imo State now is premature and hasty. The emphasis should be on conducting the Local Government election in line with the promise made by Governor Okorocha during the electioneering of 2011.Although the CGC Law talks of election; this should be commuted to appointment/ nomination from the EZE-in- Council in partnership with the State Governor. It will be an unpardonable waste of public fund for the government to spend money on the CGC election or selection, more so, since there was no budget provision for CGC election in the 2014 fiscal Budget which was presented by Governor Okorocha on Friday,20th December,2013 and christened “The Budget of Consolidating Rescue”. Finally, we are anxiously hungry to peruse the findings of the Hon Justice Chikeka Judicial Panel on the EZES and the autonomous communities including the Government White Paper on the report. Anything short of this is akin to putting the cart before the horse.