By Chioma Onuegbu
The inability of the Akwa State Government to conduct local council polls and its decision to appointment caretaker committees to run the affairs of the third tier of government are still raising dust in the state.
Governor Udom Emmanuel, penultimate Monday, swore-in a new caretaker committee to continue to run the local government administration in the state following the dissolution of the last caretaker committees in June 2016 after their one year tenure.
The State House of Assembly had on June 16 amended the Local Government Administration Law 2007 for the third time in order to empower the governor to appoint another set of Nine-member Caretaker Committees to administer the councils within a period of six months but not exceeding 12 months.
However, the development is not going down well with those who were interested in running for the different elective positions in the 31 councils and their supporters.
Why we could not conduct council polls – State govt
Special Adviser to the governor on Political and Legislative Affairs, Hon Anietie Etuk said that government lacked the funds needed to conduct election due to the current economic downturn and drop in revenue accruing to the state, adding that the caretaker committee was only a temporary arrangement pending when the state will have improved finances to conduct council election.
Why we approved caretaker committees – House
While deliberating on the issue, the lawmakers reasoned that conducting election into the councils now will entail huge financial burden as the state government is still battling to ensure regular payment of salaries, outstanding pensions and gratuities with the lean resources accruing to it.
Speaker Onofiok Luke said,: ‘’the economic realities demand urgent action to salvage the situation… In any circumstance, we will take decisions in the best interest of Akwa Ibom people.”
On his part, the Leader of the House, Sir Udoh Kerian Akpan, said: “There is no way we can bring in more people and we cannot pay them. It will be an additional burden on government, so conducting local government elections is not something that is feasible now.”
These explanations did not sit well with many Akwa Ibom citizens. Some of them were quick to condemn the action of the lawmakers and asked them to be alive to their oversight function.
It’s legislative terrorism – Akpan
Human Rights Activist and Executive Director Community Policing Partners, COMPPART Mr. Saviour Akpan, said: ‘’What Akwa Ibom state government is doing is illegal. Akwa Ibom State is running 31 illegal local governments. It is a disgrace because the lawmakers are supposed to perform their oversight function as provided for in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
‘’Section 7 of the constitutions says that the local government administration is by elected representatives and not by appointed representatives. The amendment of the Akwa Ibom state Administrative Law for the third time in order to give power to the executive to now appoint caretaker committee is legislative terrorism on the people of Akwa Ibom state. It is worse than Boko Haram. And the Administrative Law of the local government is not superior to the constitution. In fact Akwa Ibom people should start now to collect signatures to recall their respective representatives because they are not representing them.”
Akpan described the explanation that government lacks funds to conduct LG elections as a fraud because ‘’in one year of Udom’s administration he has collected 50 percent of what (Victor) Attah collected as a governor for eight years. Throughout the duration of Attah as governor the total allocation that came into Akwa Ibom state was N490 billion. But between May 2015 and May 2016 the total amount of money Udom has collected including internally generated revenue and loans is N 235billion. “
Akpan’s position was shared by the image maker of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the state, Chief Ita Awak, who added that blaming the failure of Akwa Ibom state government to conduct Council election on paucity of funds was ludicrous because Akwa Ibom is still one of the richest state in the country and earns about five times what her neighbouring Cross River State gets in one month.
‘’The federal government just told us that the total revenue accrual from the federation account to Akwa Ibom state in the last one year is about N173billion. So it means that in only one year Udom has gotten almost half of the total revenue that Obong Victor Attah had in eight years,’’ he said.
Describing the situation as sad and unfortunate, Mr. Samuel Udobong, who is aspiring for the chairmanship of Eket Local government Council on the APC platform said: ‘’Many of us know why governors are comfortable running a caretaker at the third tier of government is because of what they gain. Normally, from the federation account there is always allocation to local governments but governors only give the caretaker committee overhead. And that is why those appointed as caretaker committees don’t perform throughout the period their appointment lasts because they don’t have their direct funds from federal allocation. ‘’
The appointment is unconstitutional – APGA
The National Assistant Organizing Secretary South-South and former state Chairman of All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, Mr. Udeme Okon in an interview said besides being unconstitutional the caretaker arrangement has never impacted positively on Akwa Ibom people because ‘’the last caretaker team we had for one year did not make any impact.”
Going forward, some politicians in the state have advised the state government to start setting aside little funds and cut down the budget of the Akwa Ibom State Independent Electoral Commission, AKISIEC, if it is sincere to conduct election after the tenure of the current caretaker.