From George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
Immediate past Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha has joined the cacophony of voices calling for the restructuring of the nation. He also believes that the lack of autonomy for local government has been at the roots of under development in the country. He speaks here on various issues.
As a former principal officer of the House of Representatives, what are your views on the restructuring of the nation?
From a legislative perspective, I have always believed that we need to articulate these ideas in a written form and subject it to the processes that would culminate into an actionable legislation. What the proponents of restructuring are doing is right. It is to create a national awareness and build a consensus, yes it is a way to go, because they need to create the necessary awareness to build a national consensus by raising the bar of national debate in that direction.
What I have always looked at is the possibilities of how they can come up with a bill to the National Assembly. Because the issue has to do with a constitution amendment and it is a rigorous process that requires the majority of both chambers of the National Assembly before you can take it to the state Assemblies and the earlier they do that, the better. I think the problem with our polity could be with the practitioners and perhaps we may have to look at the extant laws to see if they have outlived their usefulness. So, I encourage the debate that is going on and I am sure that sooner than later, we may have to experiment the proposals if adopted by the National Assembly among the elected officials to see it works out.
One of the issues that have remained on the front burner is that of local government autonomy. Currently, there is a bill before the House which, if passed would ensure that any state which does not conduct council elections would not receive allocation for that tier of government. What is your take on that?
The 7th National Assembly where I served as the Deputy Speaker and the Deputy Chairman of the constitutional review committee dealt extensively with this question, and the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted positively to grant autonomy to the local governments as the third tier local government as prescribed by the constitution.
So, we had recommended for the autonomy of local government but unfortunately, ex-president Goodluck Jonathan did not sign that bill into law. What I thought should have been done is for the 8th National Assembly to dust the document that the 7th Assembly had done which had gone through all the processes. This is because more than 24 state Houses of Assembly had already endorsed it; the only thing that remains was the presidential assent. And indeed in that document, we had reasoned that there was the need to amend the ways and means for the ratification of the constitutional amendment and that once the amendment had gone through all the legislative processes, the assent of the president may no longer be required.
May be it was misinterpreted or misrepresented but somehow the bill was not signed into law. So, what the current Assembly is working on is not a new bill because we had already provided autonomy for local governments as the third tier of government.
I want to believe that if there is a similar bill, the committee of the House on Rules and Business should have referred the proponents to what had already been done, and what they should do is to take it from there, because the rules of the House provides for ways and means of dealing with it since it has already gone through all the processes to fast track it so that they don’t have to start all over again.
I have always lent my support for autonomy of the local governments because it is germane. I am against where the local governments should be tied to the aprons of the state governors. What we are doing today is in total breach to the dictates of what the constitution says which provides for three tiers of governments, whereas as in our state today, what we have is two tier of government. This is fundamentally responsible for the under development we have in the country.
Now, the scenario in Imo State is even more worrisome; take for instance, allocation is given to all the 27 local governments in Imo State from the Ministry of Finance as part of their shares from the federation funds.
Ask yourself who have been taking responsibility for all the money that have been accruing to the local governments since the local governments are not functioning; is it the T.C or what are they called. Are they elected to represent the people? Can the chairman of the transition committee say that they are the ones receiving these allocations? Do they have the responsibility in the disbursement of the funds on behalf of the people? I have noticed that some rural roads have been graded. But you ask from which month’s allocation is the money from? I learnt that the state government is spending N20 million in grading of roads in the council areas of the state and the question is from which month’s allocation. The question is where is the backlog of the previous allocations for the past six years or thereabout when you know that in Imo State today, the local governments are practically non-existent. It appears that we are not attuned to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and people are happy to be docile, people are happy to leave their fates in the hands of a dictator in a civilian garb; that is not the way it should be.
Don’t you think that the problem is that members of the PDP, which is the main opposition party have been docile and have refused to talk?
I make informed comment on key issues. My problem with this government is that it is always taking the wrong steps, and one that is uncomfortable with the rule of law, which the governor has consistently expressed. But I believe in the rule of law. So, when you see things being done with negative perception and in ways and manner that is not peculiar with other states, it becomes worrisome. I know that there are well educated people in the state who are more knowledgeable than me. Probably, they refused to comment on actions of the governor which has always put Imo in bad light.
But when an elected governor of a state declares that he does not believe in due process in administering the state, then something is obviously wrong. I don’t think it would be my responsibility to be the whistle blower all the time. But I have a responsibility to be a responsible citizen and to make an informed criticism of certain positions and actions of the governor which I think requires intervention. But it is not right for me on daily basis to condemn every action of the governor even when I know that they are wrong. Already, I am getting sick of the negative actions of the governor all the time and I believe that it is now the wish of Imo people for the life of this government to
come to an end as quickly as possible so that the people can see a new tomorrow and to know how government can be run the way it should be run. Government today in Imo is in ruins because we have a state of anomie and I am sure that the people know that.
I am sure that most people have forgotten that there used to be local government in the state, whereas the constitution provides for three tiers of government. But this government has deliberately killed the local governments. So, it is not my responsibility to tell the people of Ihitte Uboma local government, Ohaji/Egbema or Aboh-Mbaise that the local government is not functioning; they should ask why it is not functioning. Now, I am not aware that the local governments have employed anybody in the last six years and one of the major problems in the state is unemployment; I am not also aware that the civil service is employing. I am not aware that the government is creating jobs.
But most people would not agree with you that nothing has changed in Imo
If the governor has done so well as people say when ex-president Obasanjo and the Ghanaian president was here last December, he should have taken them round the state. It used to be the case in the past for governors, presidents or important personalities to be shown round the state to see what he has done. I am sure he cannot take them to Arondiuzogu and many parts of the state that are inaccessible because there are no roads. When Obasanjo came here, did he say Okorocha has done so well? Obasanjo came because he was invited by the state governor to witness how Christmas is celebrated in the state to light up the Christmas tree. You should find out if Obasanjo slept in Owerri that night.
Politically, what is 2017 going to be like?
Is going to be active politically I believe, and I am sure Imo people will finally wake up from their slumber to see the wholesale deceit going on in the state. People said that the state has been transformed but we know that as usual when the first rain comes, the whole cosmetic China patches called roads will give way and people will again go back to realities of their critical situation as the state will go back to where it has always been. The Christmas decorations will be taken off the streets by the end of January and our people will again face the issues of the day. I think Imo people have come to realize that the Okorocha-led APC government has failed them woefully.
How do you see the state of affairs in your party, the PDP?
The problem with our party is that we have interlopers and I have said it severally, the characters causing disaffection in the Imo PDP are people you know their antecedents. In fact, they were agents of destabilization in our party during the last election. They don’t believe in building and that is why they cannot move round to talk to the people because they have no message for them. Their only job is to thwart the efforts being made to reposition the party. So, they are cut out for deals, but the days of deals are coming to an end. In 2017, our party will find its levels where we will separate the wheat from the chaff both nationally and in the state.