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Seven years after, Imo holds council polls

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Rochas Okorocha


Seven years after Governor Rochas Okorocha sacked elected 27 Local Council chairmen and about 645 councilors in Imo State, the electorate will head to the poll to elect their replacement tomorrow.

Shortly after Okorocha was sworn into office in May 29, 2011, he held his maiden radio and television broadcast in the state-owned Imo Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), during which he announced the sacking of the democratically elected 27 local councils and about 645 councilors. Okorocha had defeated erstwhile Governor Ikedi Ohakim, who was seeking re-election in the 2011 gubernatorial poll. While flushing out the council officials, Okorocha accused the Ohakim administration of breaching the court ruling that restrained the government from conducting the council election.

While Ohakim was of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Okorocha had used the platform of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to defeat him in the hotly contested gubernatorial election. As such, the council chiefs being PDP members, Okorocha wanted his party men.It should be recalled that Ohakim had similarly held a council election immediately he mounted the saddle as governor on the platform of Progressive People Alliance (PPA) after wining the 2007 gubernatorial election, in which PDP did not field a candidate. As governor, Ohakim ensured that the council poll took place, just few months before the 2011 election.

Okorocha in his broadcast however alleged that his decision to sack council officials was informed by the strings of irregularities, unconstitutional breaches among other issues.And to fill the ensuing vacuum, he appointed chairmen and members of the Transition Caretaker Committees in each of the 27 local councils. But, faulting the governor, the sacked council officials made attempts to regain their offices. They headed to courts to challenge their removal.

After a pronouncement of the court, both parties (claimants and respondents) went further to the appellate court. The matter is now at the Supreme Court. The case at apex court worked in Okorocha’s favour. The governor did not feel any compunction for council election as he continued to say the matter is in court. Not only were the sacked PDP council officials protesting that their tenures were truncated, they prayed the court to order their reinstatement and payment of the arrears of their salaries and allowances/ entitlements.

None of those demands was pleasing to the governor, even when eminent stakeholders joined their voice to task the administration on the running of the councils without elected officials. With the effortless way the governor was making references to the matter in court, some people started blaming Okorocha for the stalled suit.

Signs of reprieve
Few years ago, Imo citizens believed that at last election into the councils could hold when the governor inaugurated members of the state Independent Electoral Commission (ISIEC), with Amaechi Nwoha as its chairman. But Nwoha occupied the position for over a year without any election. He was later relieved of his position in intriguing circumstances. The governor swiftly appointed a replacement in the person of Ethelbert Ibeabuchi, even as Nwoha challenged his removal in court.

Perhaps, on account of the cloudy circumstances that surrounded Nwoha’s removal and the stagnated case at the Supreme Court, a lot of people started alleging that the Okorocha administration was not rendering satisfactory account of Federal Allocations accruing to the 27 councils in the state for the seven years.

At the height of the claims, Okorocha defended his administration, citing the construction of rural roads, construction of 27 General Hospitals at the councils, chapels, and Information Communication Technology (ICT) centres, among others.

Internal crisis
IF Okorocha was dribbling the state, his grip was stoutly challenged by a group within his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), known as Coalition Allied Forces, comprising the state chairman, Hilary Eke, embattled former deputy governor, Prince Eze Madumere, Senators Ifeanyi Ararume, Benjamin Uwajumogu and Osita Izunaso.

Irked by the governor’s decision to endorse his first son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, as his successor, against the expectations of his estranged deputy, Madumere. The group succeeded in returning Eke as the state chairman and worked to take the party structure from Okorocha through the first APC congresses. The effort was to be expanded to all levels of the government, but the governor quickly mobilized and challenged the outcome of the congresses. His perceived loyalists at the Federal High Court, Owerri, succeeded in nullifying the congress and ordering a fresh one.

The respondents’ challenge of the ruling is still at the court of Appeal. But, falling back on the judicial pronouncement, Okorocha convened a meeting of APC members, where he announced dates for fresh congresses. He had also gained the upper hand in the party’s national headquarters in Abuja during the convention that produced Adams Oshiomhole as national chairman.

Having held a repeat party congress in which his loyalists emerged triumphant, Okorocha, in strategic move to have duly elected council officials as foot soldiers for next year’s election, especially the governorship, felt it was time to hold the council poll despite the case in apex court. August 25, 2018 was subsequently chosen for the council poll. ISIEC chairman, Ethelbert Ibeabuchi, announced that 13 political parties have fielded candidates for the council poll.

But, while the APC announced its readiness, the major opposition party, PDP, said would boycott the exercise. The party expressed fears that the poll would not be credible, even as it cited the pending case in court.The state Publicity Secretary, Damian Opara told The Guardian that Imo PDP will not participate, stressing: “It is a fraud. We won’t participate in illegality. Until the court clears the matter, we are not going to join them in the local government election.”

Yet, Okorocha said everything was ready for the poll and solicited the support of the electorate. In a statement by his chief Press Secretary, Sam Onwuemeodo, Okorocha said: “On Saturday, August 25, 2018, Imo people will be electing 27 Chairmen for the twenty-seven local governments in the state and about 645 councilors, in the local government election slated for Saturday, August 25, 2018 and to be conducted by the State Independent Electoral Commission (ISIEC).

“In line with the vision of Governor Rochas Okorocha and policy of the state government to take government to the communities, the state House of Assembly enacted a law that has warranted every autonomous community to elect a councilor, with the state now having about 645 autonomous communities.”The governor said: “Having seen the great impact of the Community Government Council (CGC) in the communities, an executive bill was sent to the State House of Assembly for a law that would enable autonomous communities to elect their councilors and the councilors would be the link between the government at all levels in the state and the individual communities for development.

“The Councilors will also be working hand-in-glove with their respective traditional rulers for the Development or Progress of the autonomous communities involved.”
While calling for a peaceful exercise, Okorocha urged the ISIEC to ensure free and fair election. Imo council poll would be of great interest to a lot of people in Nigeria, especially Imo people. The election would help to provider further indices on the level of democracy that exists at the grass roots. And although the ISIEC has assured for level playing field it would be seen tomorrow how independent the commission is, as well as how far the preferences of the voters are respected.


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