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Rochas Okorocha’s gaffes

By Obi Nwakanma

Rochas Okorocha, recently elected governor of Imo State, still has his head in some cloud where he lives as some military-imperator. This is apparent from some of his key actions and declarations since his election in May.

The new Imo State governor projects the image of someone in a great hurry to make changes; he has declared that his administration is on a “rescue mission” and this apparently demands bold and extraordinary steps. This is all so good. He has touching enthusiasm.  But one must just generally point out to Mr. Okorocha that Democracy is not “surugede” – the vigorous dance of primitive strength- it is “egwu-ozo,” the slow, deliberate, dignified and elegant dance of the enlightened.

The soldiers did “surugede” with us, and see where it got us! They were very busy doing nothing at all. Many of us grew up seeing military governors strutting about the place, acting very busy and holier-than-thou; locking out workers who came late to work; humiliating the citizen with military-style brutality in the name of “discipline” and generally breaking down the foundations of the rule of law and civilised living.

The base word “civil” that makes up the words “civility” and “civilisation” and “civilian”derives from the Greek root “civis” which pertains to civics: instructions on how to live the life of a courteous, affable, respected, orderly citizenship and the making of a polite society.

The “civilised” is one who adheres to that general sense of decorous living under the generally accepted laws of the city or nation conducive to informed citizenship. We talk thus of civilian governance as the basis of democracy. Attempts, therefore, to break the laws of the state, and to act outside of the established civil laws of the land is not only “uncivilised” and “undemocratic,” it is deleterious to the maintenance of public order. That was the downside of military rule: in its attempt to create order by force it created chaos and dysfunction instead. It damaged the system of laws and the rights of citizenship on which a civilised social order is built. I think that Rochas Okorocha is moving gingerly and inadvertently in that direction.

The inflection of his conducts with a dose of the vainglorious ultimatum reminiscent of military era officialdom is evidence of this. In the past number of weeks the governor has unilaterallyordered the sacking of the elected officials of local governments of the state, garnished 50  per cent  from the wages of Permanent Secretaries in the State’s Civil Service who came late to work with ”immediate effect,” and most recently declared that he has unilaterally “empowered” Traditional Rulers in Imo State to be the “governors of their domains” with security votes and all what not. As a trade-off to this new power unilaterally granted them by the governor, these “Traditional rulers” are not to engage in politics or live outside their domains.  A number of issues of legality arise out of the governor’s action.

First, it is important that Okorocha, as well-indeed all other people in public office in Nigeria, understands that the powers of his office are regulated and limited by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

I do not know if Okorocha was put through a proper orientation by his Cabinet office on assuming office, or whether he consults his advisory team before making these embarrassing administrative gaffes, but it is important to remind him that he cannot, for instance, order the garnishing of the salary of any civil servant, not to talk of superannuated officers like Permanent Secretaries. He cannot not even issue a query directly to a civil servant.

All disciplinary actions pertaining to the work of the civil service are handled by the Civil Service Commission. That is the rule. As a political leader, the governor has no mandate to interfere in the functioning of the permanent administrative cadre of the state service whose tenure are guaranteed by the Civil Service Act.

If the governor is dissatisfied with the conduct of any office or department of the service, he refers his concerns to the Civil Service Board which must raise a query and give fair hearing, and in the event that it finds any officer lacking, deal with such matters appropriately within the regulation of the service. This is the law. The civil servants do not work for the governor. They work for the government.

My point is that there are well-laid out guidelines for dealing with the situation of unproductivity or even corruption in the civil service. The political leadership of the state must not be seen to act arbitrarily and thus further corrupt the system.  On his latest moves to arbitrarily “empower” the so-called Traditional Rulers as “governors of their domains” and thus create a fourth level of government in Imo State under a monarchy, the governor acts beyond his powers. First, there is no legislative mandate and no constitutional grounds for his action. Only the National Assembly can restructure the federation into a fourth tier.

Currently, under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, there are three levels of government under the single-tier structure. I should point Okorocha to the Fourth Schedule of the 1979 and 1999 constitutions of the Federal Republic of Nigeria delineating the powers of the local governments. It is clear that Okorocha has simply overstepped his constitutional bounds by impinging on the powers of the local governments as constituted by law.

His actions are. therefore, ultra vires and should be resisted. Indeed, not even the Imo State House of Assembly can grant him the authority to grant extraordinary powers to these “Traditional Rulers.” Every right-thinking citizen in Imo State must feel outraged by this attempt to solidify a primitive and unproductive monarchical system in Imo State by the unilateral and unreflective act of this governor.

For one, aside from the potential for exacerbating intra-communal conflict in Imo State by Imo citizens who will inevitably confront and resist the new powers given to these new warrant chiefs as overlords of Imo communities, Rochas Okorocha is laying grounds for rendering the democratic foundations of the third-tier of government, the local government, redundant.

Under the local government administration in Igboland, the various communities constitute the county government, whose real leaders are not the “Traditional Rulers” but the elected Executives of the Town Union governments. These Town Union governments have always propelled development in Igboland, and have functioned within the traditional democratic culture of the Igbo.

Okorocha is attempting to empower and force down an alien system by unilaterally endowing these Traditional Rulers with extraordinary powers and “security votes” paid from public funds in Imo State. It will be more productive, however, under a civil democracy, to pay this money meant for “security vote” for the “traditional rulers” into the accounts of the various Community Development Unions, as development grants to be accounted through proper state auditing.

This will galvanize local development, ensure more transparency, and create a true democratic dividend. But Okorocha is not thinking strategically. He is making administrative and political flubs that would soon erode the current public support he is enjoying. He has time to change course.

And, it must be soon enough.


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