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Intrigues As Ihedioha ‘Sacks’ Imo Local Govt Chairmen

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In this report, EMMANUEL MGBEAHURUIKE captures the intrigues surrounding the recent suspension of local government chairmen in Imo State.

The immediate past governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha never knew he was setting a precedent in 2011 when he sacked 27 elected local council chairmen in the state. Okorocha’s predecessor in office, Ikedi Ohakim, had conducted local government election at the twilight of his first tenure with the belief that he would be re-elected in 2011. However, Okorocha scuttled that ambition. Condemnations trailed the ill-timed decision by Okorocha as pundits condemned the total cancellation of the elections, which was adjudged free and fair. Okorocha, basking in the euphoria of his new office, did not listen to suggestions from Imo people for him to reverse the sack.

He went ahead to dismantle some of the people-oriented policies put in place by his predecessors. The council chairmen felt aggrieved and approached the court for redress. Interestingly, the embattled council chairmen have continued to win the case from inception till date. The case is still pending at the Supreme Court. Just like Ohakim, Okorocha conducted his version of the elections to fill the council Intrigues As Ihedioha ‘Sacks’ Imo Local Govt Chairmen positions at the tail end of his second tenure in office. However, almost all the political parties boycotted the election, citing lack of a level playing field. The immediate past governor did not listen to such complaints and grumblings from various quarters and dismissed same with a wave of hand as he went ahead with the elections.

He thought that it was a fait accompli and that there was nothing anybody could do about the scenario, since he was in charge. Some analysts averred that he was hoping that at the end of his tenure in May 2019, his hand-picked successor in office would do his bidding and most likely retain the council chairmen he had put in place, thereby consolidating his political grip on power in the state. But his plan to install a successor crumbled, no thanks to the controversial All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship primary section in the state, which saw his preferred candidate and son-in-law, Uche Nwosu and APC eventually losing out. Enters the new governor, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who has started to reverse the policies of Okorocha’s administration. Consequently, the new governor suspended all the local government chairmen, their vice chairmen and councilors and in their stead, constituted Interim Management Committees (IMCs) for 27 local government area..

A statement by the chief press secretary to the governor, Chibuike Onyeukwu, disclosed that Ihedioha has appointed the chairmen and members of the Interim Management Committees for the local government areas in the state. The predicament of elected council chairmen started with the suspension slammed on them by the 8th Imo House of Assembly. The House accused them of insubordination, recalled them and finally nailed the council chairmen for alleged misappropriation of public funds. But prior to the suspension, the councillors and the 27 chairmen of the local government areas, staged a protest, blocking the entrance to the State House of Assembly complex located in new Owerri.

They had besieged the Assembly complex then over the rumour that the outgoing lawmakers would dissolve the elected local councils at plenary. The chairman of the Association of Imo State Elected Councillors Forum, Godwin Nwankwo, who addressed journalists at the gate of the Assembly complex, said that they heard a rumour that the state lawmakers wanted to dissolve their councils. He said, “We are here to be part of the plenary today and to remind our senior colleagues that the LGA administration will expire in 2021. We were only elected in 2018 for a three-year tenure. The state lawmakers can’t approbate and reprobate at the same time.

“They don’t have the legal right to dissolve a duly elected LGA administration. Several Supreme Court judgments have confirmed that. We can’t be dissolved because we were democratically elected and we are not even up to one year in office. Our tenure will run for three years,” Nwankwo said.

But the suspension hammer still fell on them. The present governor leveraged on the resolution of the House to place the embattled council chairmen on an indefinite suspension, which now has culminated into what is likened to dissolution of Okorocha’s elected council chairmen. Meanwhile, Ihedioha has approved the suspension of chairmen, vice chairmen, councilors and political appointees of the local governments of Imo State and constitution of Interim Management Committees for six months. The suspension is contained in the instrument signed by the governor pursuant to the recommendation made to him by the Imo State House of Assembly.

This is in pursuant also, to the provisions of Sections 4, 5, and 6 of the Local Government Administration (Amendment) law, 2019 and S.73(3) of Imo State Local Government Administration Law No 15 of 2000 (as amended) and all other laws enabling him. The Governor has set up Interim Management Committees to manage the affairs of each Local Government. Consequently, the Directors of Administration and General Services (DAGS)  of each local government were directed to take over management, pending the confirmation of Interim Management Committees by the State Assembly. For now, caretaker committees have been put in place to oversee the affairs of the 27 local government areas across the state. The latest development of course seems to be the end of the road for the ‘displaced’ council chairmen as they don’t have the financial muscle and the paraphernalia of office to confront the new governor and fight back to reclaim what they perceived as their constitutional right.

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