By Odimegwu Onwumere
They were recalled by the end of January 2012 in the suspension the Rivers State House of Assembly on Monday 16th January gave its support for. The 11 Local Government Areas (LGAs) chairmen in the state were relieved of their offices by the Rivers State Governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi. The Speaker of the Assembly, Rt. Hon. Otelemaba Amachree, took the chair of the debate that gave the nod for the suspension. The exercise got an undisputedly vote in support of the suspension of Chimbiko Akarolo, Port Harcourt City LGA; Theodore Georgewill, Akuku Toru LGA; Ojikaye Flag Amachree, Asari Toru LGA; Orom Nte, Andoni LGA; Barr. Miller Awori, Ahoada West LGA; Cassidy Ikegbidi, Ahoada East LGA; Allen Mma, Emohua LGA; Raymond Wokocha, Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni LGA; Bar.Tamuno Williams, Okrika LGA; Welendu Amadi, Ikwerre LGA; and Maclean Uranta, Opobo/Nkoro LGA. These were the chairmen that were once suspended and their vice Chairmen were sworn in by Amaechi in acting capacity.
The concurrent brouhaha visiting LGAs in Rivers State didn’t start with the suspension of the 11 LGAs chairmen. It could be recalled that in 2009, Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area (ONELGA), nearly went into fire because the thirteen out of seventeen councilors allegedly impeached both their suspended chairman, Hon. Chris Okey Ochije, and the Acting Vice Chairman, Hon. Ikechukwu Awari Nwabrije. This shamefaced action made some observers described the action as “thunder striking at the same place twice.”
The residents of Port Harcourt were told that the alleged impeachment was to put paid to a possible return to office by Hon. Ochije, who was charging his suspension by the Rivers State House Assembly, while the court was expected to deliver its ruling on Monday, November 2, 2009. The motion for impeachment of Chris Ochije, Hon. Amua cited, among other things, the residents were told, was the “overspending of council’s funds on Okwuzi-Ugada road, where he allegedly spent N29million instead of the N5million provided for it in the 2008 budget.”
In reports, the motion was supported by Hon. (Engr) Hector Masi, representing Ward 16, while 12 other councilors voted in support of the actual impeachment. Hon. Franklin Nwaobakata, councilor representing Ward 3 in the legislature, moved the motion for the impeachment of the vice chairman/acting chairman, Hon. Ikechukwu Awari Nwabrije, said it was unacceptable that the “acting chairman paid the whopping sum of N4.3million to Krisdera Hotels for two unoccupied rooms in September 2009.” This, Nwabrije admitted when officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) came calling last month, Nwaobakata disclosed. Further, the motion was backed by Hon. Oputa Ndubuisi (Ward 15), while 12 councilors voted in favour of outright impeachments of the acting council chairman.
Afterwards, reports had it that Amua informed that the leader of the ONELGA Legislative Assembly, Hon. Uzah Douglas (Ward 10), formally adopted the motions for the impeachment of the suspended and acting chairmen of the council, thus allegedly confirming their official impeachment. There was no counter motion, according to the same source, just as the leader was also confirmed as the acting chairman of the council. Before the impeachment, as the councilors put it, “the pair of Ochije and Nwabrije was formally served notices of impeachment, in line with legal and constitutional provisions. They were also given the required number of days for their replies or objections, but those that served them said that they saw none and so they had to act within the law. Other councilors who joined to impeach the embattled duo were Hons. Kingsley Nweze (Ward 7), Raymond Nwokocha (Ward 12), Ogini Onyema (Ward 11), Obiosa Fidelis (Ward 14). Others include Opene Charles (Deputy Leader, Ward 13), Oputa Ndubuisi (Ward 15), Avra Kenneth (Ward 9), Alex Izeogu (Ward 8) and Ego Ahiakwo (Ward 6). In a swift reaction, like an American movie, Chief Whip, Hon. Augustine Azubuike Nwadibia (Ward 1), reportedly, got so frustrated and infuriated and he smashed the glass door of the legislative chambers, injuring himself in the process of trying to defend Ochije and Nwabrije, perhaps when he saw that there was no counter motion on the floor of the House. These men he was defending were accused largely of non-performance and siphoning of funds away from the council.
Like the Arab Spring, the commotion in ONELGA appeared to had swept into Degema Local Government Area (DELGA), a sister council in Rivers West Senatorial District, as the legislative arm, under the leadership of Hon. Boma Dappa, a former Supervisor for Health, summoned Hon. (Chief) Abiye Davies, chairman of the council, to appear before the grassroots lawmakers and present a statement of account for the past eleven months. According to the information many Port Harcourt based news desks confirmed, it showed that all efforts made by the legislators of Degema to bring the council boss and his principal officers to explain some financial actions was unsuccessful, forcing the worried councilors to go public with their invitation. It was confirmed by the news desks that in a radio announcement before the incident, the leader, Hon. Boma Dappa, on behalf of the legislative council, summoned the chairman of DELGA, Chief Abiye Davies, in the company of the Head of Personnel Management, Treasurer, Director of Works and the Director of Budget, to appear before them Monday, November 2, 2009.
In Ikwerre Local Government Area (KELGA), the story of the Hurricane was not different. Hon. Kieran Wobodo, chairman, was not summoned yet, but the decision by the Hon. Lawrence Amadi-led legislature to have detailed explanations of the movement of council funds from the Head of Personnel Management (HPM) seemed to be an adjacent strike at the leadership of KELGA. Lawrence Amadi and his colleagues reportedly expressed disgust with the alleged uncooperative stance of the council’s HPM and had already petitioned the Local Government Service Commission that he should be recalled or redeployed, adding that they were worried about the huge amount of money spent on salaries and allowances of staff and political appointees, querying, “who are these appointees and staff?”
The gathering storms reportedly also moved over to Ahoada East LGA, where High Chief Cassidy Ikegbidi was said might had found it hard to continue as chairman. His case was said that he had to fight for survival in High Court 10 of the Rivers State Judiciary, where the suit instituted against him for illegal spending of AELGA’s money by Hon. Bright Nelson, Ward 7 councilor, was to be heard on Wednesday, November 4, 2009. But Hon. Ikegbidi, contrary to statutory provisions, denied Hon. Nelson his September 2009 salaries for questioning his activities in court, after a series of unanswered petitions to the House of Assembly and the Ministry of Local Government Affairs.
While that lasted, Asari-Toru LGA (ASALGA), led by Hon. Ojukaye Flagg Amachree, was reported to have remained calm and far from the snowstorm that blew across others, in what reports described as, “from Okrika LGA through Ogu/Bolo, AKULGA and PHALGA”, for different reasons. Some worried former political officeholders had taken their matter of financial accruements to court and got an order freezing ASALGA’s account in First Bank and UBA on Wednesday, October 28, same day that the suspended chairman and acting vice chairman of ONELGA were reportedly impeached. The Press Secretary of Asari-Toru Local Government Area, Asi Prince Dateme, demystified such prohibition, and submitted that such rumour had been the handiwork of those who rather than chose the path of dialogue to resolve issues had been blackmailing the council. Journalists were baffled. They poised whether the alleged impeachment of Ochije and Nwabrije was proper and acceptable in the eyes of the law and due process. The worry was that if a man in court, as Hon. Ochije was, be hurt further on the same matter that he was challenging?
The then chairman of Port Harcourt City LGA (PHALGA) and Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), Rivers State, Chief (Hon) Azubuike Nmerukini reportedly was adamant that he and his co-chairmen of councils in the state were doing well. In his words on this issue as reported in an interview, he said, “We are executing various projects in all parts of the state and it is not true that we are not performing.” This statement was observed to be contrary with what Amaechi echoed at the NUJ Platform on Tuesday, October 27, 2009, while referring to the recommendation of the Dame Aleruchi Cookey-Gam-led Local Government Projects Assessment Committee, which submitted its report after a painstaking tour of all councils in the state. Oyigbo LGA was not left out of this thunderstorm.
Oyigbo is a town and Local Government Area of its own in Rivers State. Some people call it a satellite of Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. Oyigbo is lying a few kilometers to the Aba city of Abia State. Sir Precious Oforji was elected Chairman of the Oyigbo Local Government Area (LGA) in 2008, after spending two terms of eight years both in the Rivers State House of Assembly – 1999-2007. The same Rivers State House of Assembly he was one time its member suspended Oforji on Monday 29th November 2010. The lawmakers were quoted as saying that he misrepresented the House, and that was his sin. The lawmakers also were quoted as saying that the suspended Oforji incurred their wrath because of alleged budget improprieties.
When this news filtered into the town, the entire town was like a ghost area. Investigations proved some of the residents were saying that the lawmakers intervened rather late in the long clarion calls by the inhabitants that the embattled chairman was a titular. The residents said that the lawmakers’ decision came rather late because Oforji just had few weeks or probably months to abdicate power as the LGA’s boss before the sledge hammer of suspension from the House was descended on him. However, many of them thanked the lawmakers for standing to the occasion with a view that justice gotten is justice no matter the period it came. But those close to Oforji were rather abusive, saying that the lawmakers were acting on the scripts of Oforji’s traducers.
Following the suspension, the House directed that the Vice Chairman, Mr. Innocent Ajelo to take over the administration of the affairs of the local government area in the interim. This decision was welcomed by many who saw the young man as a down-to-earth personality. But whether a letter of permission from the Rivers State government to start work immediately was sent to the young amiable man was of great concern to the people of the area who voraciously accused the House of allowing Oforji to engage in a war of lobbying his way back to superintend the affairs of the embittered council again.
Investigations revealed that many residents of Oyigbo were not happy with the allegation that Oforji was lobbying for a comeback, which they said was the setback the vice chairman had, to receive the almighty permission letter. They said that the House should remember that its decisions followed the appearance of the members of Oyigbo legislative arm (councilors) on the floor of the House, which was on the invitation of the members of 23 local government legislative arms by the state legislature. On that floor, the residents learnt that the Oyigbo councilors told the Rivers lawmakers that their legislative chamber had been under lock and key since August 2010. They stated that the situation arose when the councilors detected alleged fraud in the 2010 budget estimate of the council forwarded to the House for consideration. Many residents in Oyigbo said that the House should remember that the councilors had in several incursions accused the embattled Oforji of expending from the 2010 council estimate without the House giving a legal backing by way of passing the budget into law. They also reminded the Rivers Assembly legislators, that it was on this premise that they (lawmakers) were angered and moved that the council should be put on hold till the crisis between the executive and legislative arm in Oyigbo was resolved.
Many people in Oyigbo thanked from their houses, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly then, Rt. Hon. Tonye Harry, who presided over the sitting, which put the motion into vote. The residents gathered that 13 legislators voted for the suspension of Oforji from office, while one lawmaker voted against and four absented. It was due to this development, that the vice chairman of Oyigbo, was directed to take over the administration of the council till the resolution of the matter. Meanwhile, as the Speaker Tonye Harry walked-out the suspended chairman of Oyigbo council from the Assembly chambers and reportedly spoke pointblank to Oforji who came to the House upon hearing the news of his suspension by the lawmakers, that he cannot be allowed to enter into the hallow chambers of the house again until his suspension is lifted by the House. Many people said that the Vice Chairman should be empowered with a letter on acting capacity pending the resolution. They said that for now, they had not really understood the true nature of the suspension, if the Vice Chairman who had been coming to the LGA secretariat was made to be confused.
This applied to how Mrs. Emelia Gilbert Nte, the chairman of Andoni Local Government Area was suspended by the Rivers State House of Assembly from office on allegation of security breach in the area and directed the vice chairman of the council to take over the governance of the local government council pending conclusion of investigation by the House. Unlike the suspension of the 11 LGA chairmen that was presided by Rt. Hon. Otelemaba Amachree. Rivers citizens were told that following the suspension, the House appointed a seven-man ad-hoc committee headed by the Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon Dumnamene Deekor, predecessor of Amachree, to investigate the allegations of insecurity in Andoni Local Government Area and report back to the House, within two weeks. Investigations revealed that the House’s decision followed a motion of urgent public importance moved by the House Leader, Hon. Chidi Lloyd.
Hon. Lloyd was disappointed and he told the lawmakers that his office had been flooded with various petitions on the security lapses in Andoni, while moving the motion on the floor of the House. He stated that the issue required urgent attention as procrastination might result to ruining the security achievements of the administration in the state. The Deputy House Leader, Hon. Hope Ikiriko (Ahoada-East constituency), seconded the motion. The Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Tonye Harry (now former), who presided over the sitting of the Assembly later divided the House. The outcome of the voting showed that 21 lawmakers voted for the suspension of the council chairman, while no member voted against the decision. However, Nte was later re-instated, and Ochije was ordered by a High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, presided over by Justice B.A. Georgewill, who faulted the suspension of the Chairman by Rivers State House of Assembly (RSHA), for his immediate re-instatement.
By February 24, 2011, reports revealed that the Gokana LGA boss absolved self of smugness in communal clash. The LGA boss was Hon. Victor Tombari Giadom. He pleaded with the judicial commission of inquiry set up to look into the K-Dere and B-Dere communal conflict, to wave allegations leveled against him by any of the conflicting communities. He was reported to have made the appeal while answering questions from counsel of the commission in Port Harcourt. He told the commission, when fielding information, that he immediately called the security operatives in Gokana to send their men to the crisis areas to restore peace. This was done when he received a phone call about the crisis from the K-Dere community. His disclosure further showed that he visited the crisis scene the following morning to see things for himself. He boasted that he called a meeting of the leadership of both communities after his visit. The communities leaders were later asked to go back to their various communities and maintain peace.
Disclosing further, Giadom said that he had earlier composed a board of inquiry to look into the remote and immediate causes of the internal crisis in K-Dere community. The board was headed by one Bishop S.L Kegbara. He also disclosed that Amaechi was duly informed through an official letter sent to him to inform him of the lingering crisis so that security operatives were deployed to the area to ensure peace and order. There came a report that in Okrika, the LGA Chairman, Mr. Tamuno Belama Moses Datoru, was investigated for financial thoughtlessness and unpleasant misdemeanor by twelve councilors of his government. He was later said to have narrowly escaped lynching by angry youths and women of Okrika on a Monday for non performance. If not for the intervention of the combined security operatives deployed by the Rivers State Government to lead the Judiciary Panel to the sites of the alleged projects at Okrika, the chairman would have been dealt with properly, as he was repeatedly being booed by aged women and youths. The Panel was led by Justice Emmanuel Ogbuji, who inspected over 21 projects claimed to have been executed by the sacked Okrika chairman.
When a three man Panel visited a mortuary road claimed to have been constructed for the tune of N2 million, they were surprised to meet a farm path covered with weeds while at the council office, he also showed the panel three toilets renovated with N8.200m, according to reports. It was noted that the Panel also inspected Council gate only painted by the sacked chairman for N3 million and the construction of three thatch huts at the AK Dikibo Pavilion for N3m. The Panel also inspected AK Dikkibo Pavilion alleged to have been constructed for N120 million and the Okochiri Evil Forest Road in Okrika over taken by weeds also claimed to have gulfed N4 million from the council coffer. It turned out to look like a drama at the Okrika Police Station, which the respondent acclaimed to have invested over N13m, where the investigating team was surprised to meet the project abandoned at the DPC level. At Ogoloma Community where the sacked chairman alleged to have executed street lights projects for N10m and another at Abam Road for N10m, the Panel was surprised as none was seen. Counsel to the Petitioners, Nemi Erema, speaking shortly after the inspection, said the aim of the inspection was for fact finding by the Panel and also see the projects professed to have been executed by the sacked chairman. Erema also told a Nigerian daily that, Tamuno Datoru also altered the 2008 supplementary budget of the council and inflated the budget figures without the knowledge of the twelve councilors.
Rivers citizens knew that the fundamental point of establishing the Panel was to unravel the truths and deal with facts and not technicalities. But it dawned on them that most projects claimed to have been executed by the sacked chairman were falsehood. They called for justice and accountability and discreet management of council funds and thanked the state government for instituting the panel to probe the suspended chairman. But the Lead Defense Council, Mr. Aaron Abraham Brown said, the panel had seen most projects executed by his clients while in office. On Thursday, March 11, 2010, both counsels were to address the Panel before the Panel would submit its findings and reports to the Rivers State House of Assembly for further action.
It was presumed that LGA chairmen in the 774 LGAs of the Federation underuse the funds allocated to them. In its economic report for the third quarter of 2011, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced that the total receipts by the 774 LGAs from the Federation and VAT pool Accounts for the period of July, August and September, was N493.77 billion. Some Nigerians had said that the LGAs chairmen should not be blamed much for their underperformance, because allocations to LGAs were been highjacked by the state governors.
The Media once reported how state governors redistribute allocations meant for the LGAs from the Federation Account and give fewer funds of what was expected to each LGA to pay salaries, and take care of their overhead costs. Reportedly, a Hon. Felix Akhabue, National President of Association of local government of Nigeria ALGON, in his memo to Nigerians, said: “A situation where allocations already made to the local governments by the Federation Allocation Account Committee (FAAC) are subjected to redistribution by the state government is a clear breach of the constitution. The question is can the Federal Government police funds disbursed to the state governments from Federation Account be altered? The answer is a clear NO. Then where does the state derive the legal and moral backing to do the same to local governments? Statutory allocations to each tier of government should be sacrosanct; it is only by being so that you can hold that tier of government responsible and accountable.”
There are 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Nigeria. Chief Executive of any LGA is regarded as chairman, while Councillors are the elected members who work with the chairman. It is surprising that the functions of Local Governments as are enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution are not being carried out by the LGAs. According some reports, the functions many of the LGAs chairmen had recklessly abandoned include Economic recommendations to the State; Collection of taxes and fees; Establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm; Licensing of bicycles, trucks (other than mechanically propelled trucks), canoes, wheel barrows and carts; Establishment, maintenance and regulation of markets, motor parks and public conveniences; Construction and maintenance of roads, streets, drains and other public highways, parks, and open spaces; Naming of roads and streets and numbering of houses; Provision and maintenance of public transportation and refuse disposal; Registration of births, deaths and marriages; Assessment of privately owned houses or tenements for the purpose of levying such rates as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of a State; and, Control and regulation of out-door advertising, movement and keeping of pets of all descriptions, shops and kiosks, restaurants and other places for sale of food to the public, and laundries.
Conversely, what is amiss is how the authorities of the State Governments easily do not recognize the Constitution of Nigeria, which states in Section 7(1) thus: “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed and, accordingly, the government of every state shall ensure their existence.” The neglect of this section of the law has made many state governors conduct elections in the LGAs at will. The governors suspend these Chairmen as at when willed. Taking this point home, Bauchi State, once suspended the entire 20 LGAs chairmen for eight months for an offence that was alleged, indicted none of them. The Court of Appeal ordered the Abia State Government to reinstate the 17 sacked LGAs chairmen it once sacked in what the court described as “because they were yet to complete their tenure.” The Kaduna State House of Assembly once set out to replace the 17 LGAs chairmen with Sole Administrators, even before the expiration of their tenure in March in 2011. In Benue State, there was the LGAs reform. This reform once landed 12 LGAs Chairmen in the state to the Economic and Financial and Control Commission (EFCC), after they were swept out of office. In Rivers State, during the suspension of the 11 LGAs chairmen, a lot of people supported the action while others condemned it. Those that were against the action of Amaechi said that his conduct violated every legal provisions stipulated in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Others said that LGA chairmen are lame dock. Many people in the state characterized the House of Assembly as a “mere rubber-stamp” of Amaechi. Because of this single act, it was noted that the recalled 11 LGAs chairmen were walking on waters in jubilation.
Odimegwu Onwumere, Poet/Author, Media/Writing Consultant and Motivator, is the Coordinator, Concerned Non-Indigenes In Rivers State (CONIRIV); and Founder, Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA), Rivers State. Mobile: +2348032552855. Email:email@example.com