Byu Obi Nwakanma
It was reported early last week that the Imo State governor, Anayo ‘Rochas’ Okorocha had appointed the 27 Assembly men representing the 27 local government areas of Imo State in the state House of Assembly as Interim Administrators of these local governments.
This is just one of a series of madcap schemes by the Imo State governor, either aimed at distracting the Imo population from the real issues, or advancing strange propositions that are generally unconstitutional, and often inimical to good governance.
Mr. Okorocha certainly has strange ideas about government, and it is, to say the least, laced with a lot of hokum. Take this recent appointment of Legislators as interim administrators of the local governments. It breaks at least ten constitutional rules, and upturns the entire principle of the separation of powers which is at the foundation of Nigeria’s constitution.
These Assemblymen were elected to represent the people in the Imo State Assembly as parliamentarians. They are to make laws for the good governance of the state, and create the rules by which the Governor of the state shall be guided in the running of the affairs of the state for the highest benefit of the Imo public. Now, Okorocha has acted, either in pure ignorance of the requirements of the constitution, or in pure disregard of same, or worse still, in extending this left-handed gesture to the parliamentarians, has advanced them the highest insults. They are now to be known as “Okorocha’s lackeys.”
They are so subservient to the will and power of the executive. Perhaps Imo Legislators have forgotten what they are elected to do. They seem unaware of the fact that whatever power the governor has, flows from the Assembly, and can be contained by it. The State House of Assembly is the keeper of the Treasury of the state. The legislators have the yam, and they have the knife. Whatever they cut for the governor, that is what he would contend with.
The governor cannot spend state’s money without the approval by normal approbation of the House. The governor cannot initiate certain actions without the necessary Act of the Assembly backing him, otherwise, it would be unfunded mandate, and would lack legal basis. The governor cannot override the Assembly. He does so at the risk of reprimand and impeachment.
That is the kind of power the House of Assembly has. If the Assembly were properly constituted, and had enough membership of the quality or caliber that knew the operations of the law, and who took their constitutional roles as the closest representatives of the people seriously, and had the kind of confidence that would make the governor or his men warier in approaching them for pork, there’d be good governance in Imo state, and I daresay, in all the states of the federation, most of whom are generally bogged down by poor political leadership. This is the reason why corruption is by far more prevalent, sustained, and dangerous, at the states and the local government levels; generally because the Governors have assumed the fearful powers of tyrants, unaccountable to often very weak and compromised Houses of Assembly.
Imo State is a real case in point. It has long been evident that the failure of the state this past sixteen years to record any kind of transformative development rests squarely on the fact that Imo people have generally elected a comatose Assembly, often complicit with the executive branch in the misrule of the state. In some ways, the Imo state House of Assembly seems to attract mostly deadwood: political jobbers, who use it as some ground to discuss only pork. It is not a law making body. It is not an active and engaged Parliamentary Assembly.
It has been an Assembly of Parrots, parroting the “ordained” views of the governors with whom, in league, they have ridden the Imo ass shabbily, and driven it to insolvency and ruin. Its debates from what I’ve seen of its transcripts are poor, shallow, unimaginative, and without the kind of grand vision capable of directing the state and its executive authorities towards sustained development. Perhaps one day, like Balaam’s ass, Imo people might speak. But at the moment, their governor, Rochas, seems intent on further complicating their lives.
His recent appointment of the members of the House of Assembly as Interim Local government Administrators is not only illegal, it insults the sensibility of all those who believe in the rule of law. It disregards the constitutional requirement for the separation of powers, at the very foundations of our democracy; it is also a coup against the people who elected their representatives to the Assembly to provide a fundamental check against the excesses of an executive capable of spinning out of control. Imo state has not paid its workers. Has not paid its pensioners. Has not accounted for the large public funds of the local governments which the governor forcefully, and unconstitutionally appropriated these past five years, and which he must return to the various local governments in the fullness of time.
The move by Okorocha is to further compromise these Assemblymen, and draw them further into the hornet’s nest, because in due course, they too must come before the Imo people and account for their services and the quality of their representation. It is about time the Imo administration is taken to the highest courts of the land and forced not only to account for its misappropriation of public funds derived from the federation accounts for the local governments, but to desist from further impunity on the constitution.
It is also about time for members of the Imo state House of Assembly to sit up to their duties for which they were elected: to defend the rights of their constituents; not to support the immunities of the executive branch.
They must reject these appointments, because it is insensitive to the wishes of the generality of Imo people who wish to be properly served in a democracy.
One of the urgent things this Imo Assembly must do is to amend the Imo State laws that grant the governor the powers to determine when Local government elections must take place. It must also grant financial autonomy to the local governments. If we must solve the problem of poverty and underdevelopment at the local levels, we must return the rights of the people to elect their administrators and form their local governments.
It is pretty simple really: without effective local governments, there will be little grassroots development and empowerment. The members of the Imo Assembly are elected to reflect and defend the desires of the Imo grassroots.
It should be law, therefore, that at every given date in the calendar of the state, irrespective of the assent of the Governor, all local government elections must take place, and all local government chairmen be elected to carry on their constitutional duties. In the last ten years, Imo state has not had elected governments at the local government levels. This needs to be stopped.
This is where the Imo Assemblymen, now bribed with interim positions, should come in: they should reject this move presumably to further subvert the process, and make them complicit with the governor, who wishes to derail once more, the law that established the third tier of government as an independent tier, closer in its operations to the people for whom they provide municipal services. It is power grabbing at its worse, and it is an impeachable offence, not to satisfactorily account for the money taken so far from these local governments.
The Imo Assembly should stop being lackeys of the executive, and Imo people should commence a recall movements for any elected legislator who does not represent them. Okorocha needs to back off this scheme: a grand constitutional larceny.