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When The Commissioners Are Away, The Mice Play – The Avoidable Consequences of Vacuums in Leadership in Imo State Ministries

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By Samuel Akajiaku Obi, Owerri

There is an old saying that “when the cat’s away, the mice would play.” No scenario exemplifies that wisdom than what has happened to the government Ministries in Imo State since Governor Hope Uzodimma dissolved his cabinet on January 16, 2024. In virtually all the ministries (the governor created about 35 of them before the Governorship Election of November, 2023), the absence of clear political leadership in the position of Commissioners, created rooms for all manner of malfeasance, ranging from financial food fights between Acting Permanent Secretaries and Directors over imprest money, to sexual harassment and sexual extortion, to scandalous conducts over palliatives provided for civil servants.

The governor knew in advance that he would contest for reelection. He plotted his reelection campaign, and even stated publicly that he was confident that he would win reelection. In other words, the fact that he would need a team for the second term was not a sudden reality for him. Why he has waited for almost three months to constitute his cabinet is a great puzzle to many, if not an outright disappointment.

The leadership vacuum left in ministries as a result of the absence of commissioners for three months has rendered the ministries as dead zones at best, and cesspools of incompetence and infighting among undisciplined senior civil servants in some cases. The absence of these commissioners and the clear authorities most of them wielded to keep civil servants in line, has exposed the outrageous incompetence of civil servants in some cases, and the outright kleptomania and greed in others. The case of principals of schools under the Ministry of Education and the extortion of parents for exam fees far beyond the official fees, as well as other illegal fees and fraudulent schemes, come to mind.

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In the sensitive Ministry of Homeland Security and Vigilante Affairs, the absence of a commissioner has left some security officers confused about who to take directives from. Reportedly two management officials (the Acting Perm Sec and the Head of Accounts) have allegedly taken advantage of their positions to demand sexual favours from subordinate officers. We read about the ordeal of one security officer, but reports indicate that she is only the one that has mustered the courage to fight back and make a formal complaint.

In the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, the absence of a commissioner and the dissolution of the Local Government Services Commission have left the entire strata of local government administration in disarray. This has been complicated the more by the dissolution of the SOLADS that provided some modicum of political leadership at the local government level.

Oil wells belonging to Imo State hang in legal balance without a commissioner in the Ministry of Petroleum. No one seems to care about the environment for about three months since the vacuum created by the dissolution of commissioners. Not even the commissioners’ quarters has its sanitation attended to in the absence of the Commissioner for Social Welfare and Sanitation. Moreover, hell seems to have broken loose in the oil producing areas without the political leadership of a commissioner for Niger Delta.

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The absence of a commissioner in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Vulnerable Persons has resulted in the ministry lacking the will to investigate and/or come to the aid of a female security officer whose claim of sexual harassment and hostile work environment has gone public.

The Head of Service, Barrister Raymond Ucheoma, whose presence in that position currently hangs on the governor’s extension of his expired tenure, has made matters a lot worse. From the catastrophic imbroglio in rice sharing over which he superintended, to an outrageous mishandling of a sexual harassment and hostile work environment complaint lodged with him, to the seemingly irrational posting and reposting of administrative officers from one ministry to another regardless of competence or fitness, the Head of Service appears to have overstayed his usefulness.

The governor, as a matter of urgency, must end this state of confusion in the state. He needs to do so this week. The mice in the ministries have played long enough and the consequences have been many. Let the commissioners be fully constituted, inaugurated, and given portfolios this week.

 

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