Governor Rochas Okorocha, remains defiant despite an order of the Appeal Court to reinstate sacked council chairmen in Imo state, and his position may hinge on the fear that the chairmen would insist on full payment of their monthly statutory allocations, writes MIKE UBANI.
The local government council administration in Imo state is currently in a flux. Barely one week after he assumed office as governor, Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha, sacked the 27 elected council chairmen in the state alongside their executives. He replaced them with selected transition committee chairmen. The affected officials later went to court to challenge their sack, but got a vague judgment.
But July 5, 2012, the Appeal Court sitting in Owerri, clarified the ruling of the lower court, when it declared that the governor had no constitutional right to sack them, and subsequently ordered their immediate reinstatement. But governor Okorocha demurred. He shut the doors of the various local government secretariats against them. He ordered the council workers to proceed on unsolicited holidays apparently to frustrate any attempt by the elected chairmen to resume duties.
It took the intervention of the Nigeria Police Force, NPF, to get the chairmen and councilors back to work. But the chairmen seem ineffectual as senior civil servants of the various councils, including heads of treasuries and departments are purportedly attending a two-week workshop.
Before last week, a three-day public holiday was slammed on the staff of the 27 councils in the state to keep the victorious local government bosses at bay, as well as give the state government ample time to put its acts together. But the picture on the ground shows that the reinstated council chairmen are ready for a prolonged fight with the Okorocha administration. And no matter which side triumphs at the end of the day, development in the various council areas would have been stultified.
But the on-going conflict would have been avoided. LEADERSHIP SUNDAY gathered from competent sources that at a meeting with Okorocha on June 3, 2011 – five days after he was sworn into office, the 27 council chairmen elected on the banner of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, unreservedly promised to support the Okorocha administration to realise his campaign promises to the Imo electorate. Okorocha became governor on the platform of the rival All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA.
It was further gathered that at that meeting, Governor Okorocha, pledged to give the elected chairmen free hand to run their respective council. He reportedly said that his administration was in a hurry to lift the state from the morass of many years of infrastructural decay; an agenda which the council chairmen wholeheartedly subscribed to.
But on June 6, barely three days after the meeting, the governor ‘unilaterally’ sacked the council chairmen alongside the councilors, and replaced them with hand-picked transition committee chairmen. He reportedly described the elected chairmen and councilors as corrupt, and beyond that, he doubted their ability to successfully drive his rescue agenda at the grassroots level where majority of Imo people live.
During the electioneering campaign that preceded the 2011 gubernatorial election in the state, the PDP elected chairmen and councilors campaigned vigorously for the re-election of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, governorship candidate, Ikedi Ohakim. When Ohakim, then governor was trounced in the election, the council bosses opted to transfer their loyalty to the victorious Okorocha. But they were rebuffed, as exemplified by the sack order of June 6, 2011.
The affected council chairmen later approached a High Court sitting in Owerri, the state capital, to overturn the action of the governor on the basis that as elected public officers, the governor has no right under the 1999 constitution to sack them.
The court presided over by Justice Benjamin Njemanze, ruled that the governor had no right to sack the chairmen and their executives since they were duly elected. But he declined to order their immediate reinstatement on the excuse that there was no documentary evidence before the court to prove that the governor actually sacked them.
But the Court of Appeal where the embattled council chairmen ran to was unambiguous in its ruling of July 5, 2012. The court presided over by Justice Uwani Abaji, ordered the immediate reinstatement of the council chairmen and their executives, after describing the action of the governor as unconstitutional, null and void.
When it became evident that governor Okorocha was not in a hurry to recall the council bosses and their executives, Barrister Enyinnaya, chairman, Ngor Okpala local government council, reportedly led all the affected chairmen to Abuja, where they held a meeting with the deputy speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Nkem Ihedioha, member representing Aboh Mbaise/Ngor Okpala federal constituency of Imo state, in the lower legislative chambers, on how to deal with Okorocha menace.
It was further gathered that the meeting resolved to apprise the Vice President, Architect Namadi Sambo, and National Chairman of the ruling PDP, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, of the development in Imo state.
The PDP, drew the attention of President Goodluck Jonathan, to the development in Imo state, while it is certain that the president asked the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, to treat the matter expeditiously in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 constitution (as amended) and the rule of law.
And according to media reports, the AGF urged Okorocha to reinstate the sacked local government chairmen and councilors, insisting that the judgment of the Court of Appeal must be obeyed.
He said in a statement issued in Abuja that: “it is apposite to note that section 7 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, guarantees a system of democratically elected Local Government Councils throughout the federation.
The judgment of the Court of Appeal aforementioned has only confirmed this position”. He therefore, pushed for the respect of the judgment of the court, adding that this would “inspire confidence in the polity, and deepen our democracy”.
Soronadi Njoku, the Imo state attorney general and commissioner of justice had while reacting to the position of the AGF, argued that since the state government had already filed a motion on notice for stay of execution, the federal government ought not to have interfered in the matter by using police men to effect the reinstatement of the sacked council bosses.
But following the federal government’s position on the matter, the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Mohammed Abubakar, ordered the Imo state Police Command to effect the return of the council chairmen and councilors to their duty posts.
On July 18, divisional police officers- accompanied by heavily armed police personnel, led the sacked council chairmen and councilors to their respective local government secretariats, amid jubilation by employees of the various councils. Though some of them gained access into their offices, many couldn’t due to the activities of vigilantes drafted by the state government to the council areas to prevent the chairmen from re-occupying their offices.
According to sources close to Douglas House, Owerri, the official residence of Governor Okorocha, Professor Tony Anwuka, secretary to the state government, SSG, and several other government officials, made several frenzied telephone calls, to the governor who was then in the United States of America, USA, urging him to give directives on how to deal with the Imo debacle.
It was after these trans-Atlantic telephone calls that Okorocha reportedly directed the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters, Chief Jerry Okolie, to order council workers’ in the state, particularly the Directors of Administration and General Services, DAGS and treasurers of councils’ to proceed on a three-day leave, apparently to undercut the reinstated council chairmen.
On his return to Owerri from the US, governor Okorocha extended the period of the forced holiday, as well as directed the heads of treasuries and departments in the councils to attend a two-week workshop whose theme was not disclosed.