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Democracy at dead-end:How preference for administrators stalls grassroots elections, devt in Imo



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Typical of many states nationwide, democracy is suffering at the grassroots as governors prefer cronies-turned-administrators instead of conducting statutory local council elections. The case of Imo State is worsening with non-accountability and non-performance of local councils, which is impacting negatively on the welfare of the people, CHARLES OGUGBUAJA reports.

It is now five years and still counting. No council election has been held in Imo State and it is still uncertain when Governor Hope Uzodimma will conduct elections into the local councils in the state.

The last time a semblance of election for the 27 local government councils in the state was held was at the twilight of the Rochas Okorocha administration in 2019.

Okorocha had warded off every stumbling block to conduct election and swore in all that emerged as chairmen and councillors for the various local governments in the state in a few weeks to complete his second term in office. If these elected officials had been allowed to stay in office after Okorocha’s tenure, they would have served for two years by the laws on local government systems in the state.

But Emeka Ihedioha, who stepped in as governor after Okorocha in May 2019, dissolved the elected executives and set up caretaker committees to continue to run the affairs of the councils.

Unfortunately, Ihedioha was sacked by the Supreme Court for Uzodimma in January 2020. He immediately removed those appointed by Ihedioha and appointed sole administrators to direct the affairs of the local councils with the promise to use the sole administrators to prepare for election at the grassroots.

Five years later, the administrators who have been changed from time to time have continued in office. The body language of Governor Uzodimma does not suggest that he is ready to fulfill his promise to conduct elections in the local governments soon. He has never announced a date or prepared for the election, rather, the governor has continued to blame insecurity for his inability to conduct the exercise.

But while the back and forth lingers, is a dying local government system, whose workers are rarely seen at work, whose offices have continued to dilapidate due to lack of maintenance among others, despite several billions of naira meant for the local governments in the state that had flowed in since then.

Findings by The Guardian from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that over N88.3 billion was received as allocation for the 27 local governments in Imo State in two years (2021 and 2022). The local governments got N73.3 billion with each of them getting N2.27 billion on average in 2023. The monthly allocation since June last year has soared due to the removal of subsidies in petroleum products, which increased money into the federal, states and local councils’ purse.

Despite an increase in the allocations from the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC), there is no ongoing construction work anywhere in the state by the local governments. In fact, a visit to some local council headquarters and some rural communities reveals their sorry states. Some of the roads into the councils are barely motorable as some of the offices look abandoned and unkempt.

Many of the workers reside in the cities and go to work from there any day they wish to go to work and close as they wish. It was also gathered that payment of their salary has also become a herculean task. One of the workers, who confided in The Guardian, is reportedly owed nine months alongside his wife who also works in the local government. He alleged that activities at the Payment and Data Centre had also left many other workers with several months of unpaid salary, adding that in terms of pension, none was owed below two years.

Perturbed by the underdevelopment of the councils amid these allocations and absence of elections, some non-governmental organisations, which met in the state recently have given the state government three months to democratise councils by conducting elections.

The groups, Tax Justice and Governance Platform (TJ&GP), and Christian Aid in partnership with Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), stated that conducting elections in the councils will enable the citizenry to enjoy good governance and development at that level and reduce the influx of people from the rural areas to the capital city for greener pastures.

Representative of the groups, Chibundu Uchegbu, stated that the non-conduct of the election is a clear violation of Section 7 (1) of 1999 Constitution as amended, which ensures “local government system by democratically elected local government councils” that the government of every state shall subject to Section 8 of the Constitution ensure their existence under a Law, which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance functions of such councils.”

He continued:  “While we are calling on the governor to do the needful, the House of Assembly should pass a resolution of urgent importance compelling the Imo State Independence Electoral Commission (ISIEC) to commence the process of conducting council election between now and May this year. Suffix it to emphasise here that the conduct of council election is not an end, but a means to an end.”

Meanwhile, some opposition political parties have openly asked the state government to conduct council elections in the state. The parties, which include the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party (LP), and African Democratic Congress (ADC) stated that doing so would deepen democracy in the state.

For instance, the National Vice Chairman (South East), of the ADC Chilos Godsent, who dared the governor to conduct the election, stated that it would go a long way in ascertaining how concerned the government feels about the people.

“If they are popular as they claim to be, let them conduct an election in the councils. They know the benefits of having elections at that level and it worries us when we are in a democracy but don’t practice democracy. A democratic Local Government Council System in Imo State can economically and politically empower over ten thousand Youths of Imo State, including the rapid development of rural communities and drastic reductions in crimes and criminality.

“ADC recognised that a democratic local government system will enhance the leadership capacity and competence of the youths who will emerge as Council Chairmen, Deputy Council Chairmen, Councilors, and Supervisory Councilors among others.

“ADC wishes to align itself with the popular opinions in the state that a democratic local government system will drastically reduce insecurity and crime rates in the state because some of the youths who indulge in these crimes may be doing so because of joblessness, unemployment and hardship that is currently ravaging our dear nation and state. That is why they say that an idle mind is a devil’s workshop.”

Godsent lamented that resources meant for the councils of the state had for several years been managed by appointees in the guise of caretaker committees, transition committees and sole administrators, saying the trend has provided an opportunity for arbitrary and reckless looting of the local government council funds.

Governor Uzodimma, who was sworn in for his second term in office on January 15, this year, has pointedly stated that the “council elections were yet to be conducted because of the problem of security in the local councils.” He urged for patience, noting that it would hold soon. He also regretted the whopping billions of naira that had been spent to tackle insecurity.

But political watchers insist that the governor should provide more convincing reasons other than insecurity for the delay in the conduct of the elections, stressing that if insecurity did not stop the November 2023 governorship election, which he won, then it should not stop elections in the councils.

A political analyst, Jude Uzoigwe said: “The November governorship election came and APC won in the 27 local governments. I am wondering whether the governor and his party are afraid of going into council elections at least to assert the popularity of the party in the state. The way the governor has carried on so far, seems as if he has relaxed after his re-election. This is the same governor that was sworn in on January 15, this year but from then till now he has not reconstituted his cabinet.

“After his swearing-in, he dissolved his expanded state executive council. It took about two months to submit the first batch list of commissioner-nominees, numbering 12. He later submitted another batch more than two weeks ago including four names, making a total of about 16 nominees, which were yet to be sworn in. No one knows if there will be further nominations. In his first tenure, there were about 35 commissioners and more than 200 Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants, and Special Assistants. The truth is that as someone who has been re-elected, it is not supposed to take anything to get his government fully working.

“What I am saying is that this is overdue. It also makes nonsense of the financial autonomy granted to the local government system. There are so many things people are being denied by the inability of the government to conduct this election. There is no way you could talk about democracy if it does not start at the grassroots. So, let the government change this orientation that we cannot have democracy at the grassroots”, he added.The people of the state are waiting daily, when the council polls will hold, probably after the inauguration of the state executive.