By Chioma Onuegbu
THE broad impression in Akwa Ibom state is that the third tier of government has local failed to live up to expectation because of the indifferent attitude of many of the chairmen.
Besides incompetence, council helmsmen also take their inability to pay salaries and other entitlements to workers as convenient reasons to stay away from office.
Visit to Oruk Anam
When Niger Delta Voice visited Oruk Anam council secretariat, penultimate Wednesday and last Friday, the chairman Mr. Tony Akpan, was not on seat, and none of the staff spoken to, was certain of when he would be in office.
In fact, the impression from their reactions was that they were not happy with his style of leadership and happenings in the secretariat, as some of them who spoke on grounds of anonymity, lamented many months of non- payment of salaries and allowances.
Akpabio’s alleged ‘sins’
Human rights activist, Mr. Saviour Akpan, blamed the poor performance of council chairmen in the state on ineptitude.
He said in talking about performance at the local government level, one should first and foremost look at the functions of local government council as enshrined in the Constitution and bye-laws, if any, enacted by the councilors.
His words: “Let all the local governments in Akwa- Ibom state present one, one copy of the bye-laws they have produced since they were sworn into office.
“Okay, Oruk Anam produced one when they made a bye-law that they should accept the cost of the chairman, who died before swearing -in for burial. That is all. Let them tell me any other law that they have made.
”Is it not when the councilors sit that they make laws for the good governance of the local government? How many of the councilors even know the name of their villages?
“Look at the security that Akpabio has built all-round the local government, how many of them are living in that place to cut expenditure on accommodation and have money to do other projects? It is an insult.
“The bottom line is that if there is anything that Akpabio has done badly in Akwa Ibom state, it is that he asked all the 31 local government chairmen to be chairmen.
“He should apologize to the people for bringing them on board, he should have allowed us to choose whoever we want. Gone are the days that you will use the name of local government chairman as current affairs in school.
“This time around, nobody wants to know. If you go to the village children will be telling you that instead of them to be local government chairmen, it is better they go and be cutting palm fruits,” he asserted.
Akpan said he would want Akpabio before leaving office to organize an accountability forum (not town hall) where members of the public would be free without being tele-guided to ask each Council Chairman questions based on their performance, stressing that the reason Oruk Anam was suffering because they know what they should do, but kept quiet, instead of coming out to tell the Chairman and his team that they are not doing well.
Indigenes commend Ibesikpo Asutan chair
However, some indigenes of Ibesikpo Asutan local government area commended the efforts the current council leadership, especially in the area of women, youth empowerment and facelift toe the council secretariat.
A youth leader, Ernest Akpan said, “The chairman has done marvellously well. His administration has done so much in the area of human development, youth and women empowerment.
“The people, especially women and youths are happy with his administration. In fact, he is among the chairmen that have utilized the SURE-P fund well. So, I think he has tried with what is available.”
A council staff, Mr. Patrick Akpan, said besides empowerment of the rural poor, the chairman has been able to pay salaries, adding, “That is why they do not have issues with him like in other councils across the state.”
Council chair defends self
Contacted, the chair, Mr. James Ekpe, said despite the complex and challenging nature of local government administration, his leadership has tried its best to ensure issues that bring about crisis between council administration and the grassroots were tackled.
His words: “I have paid salaries up to date except for negligible aspect of allowances which I am preparing to clear very soon.
“Outside the payment of workers’ salaries, allowances and entitlements, I have done a lot in the area of human empowerment.
“Since I came on board in July 2012; I have created temporary jobs for about 700 people that I pay allowance, not salary.
“I also embarked on people oriented projects. We have built 17- room office Complex, state-of-the- art canteen, and perimeter fencing of our council.”
Problem not with joint account
Ekpe disagreed that the Joints Account contributes to non-performance of chairmen in the state, saying it depends on how prudent the chairman is and ability to manage the available resources at his disposal.
He said that some individuals (chairmen) sometimes create problems for themselves because by embarking on projects they may not be able to complete usually brings problem in local government administration.
It’s not true we don’t go to work—Ekpe
He however denied that council chairmen do not go to office every working day, saying, “that can only happen in a hostile environment, but Akwa Ibom is peaceful.
“At least you have gone to some council and you met with the chairmen on ground. Except on Fridays that I may be engaged in occasions like burial, that is when I may not be in office, otherwise, I go to my office on daily basis.”