Some say democracy in Nigeria is fledgling. It is still learning to fly. Others say our democracy is wobbling. It is still learning to walk. Yet, some others insist that the country’s democratic path is troubled. Many thorns and spines are on its way. Everyone seems to agree that the democratic aspirations of the country are yet unfulfilled. To be sure, the local government system is one mechanism put in place to expand the democratic space and spread its values in Nigeria. The stifling of this system in most states of the country, among which Imo is one, therefore, is one of the ways that democracy has remained an aching mirage in the country.
A big democratic tragedy in Imo state, something almost as big as having an unelected person hold the reins of power in the state, is that the local government system has been emasculated. In practice, the system no longer exists. Chief Hope Uzodinma has commissioned and supervised the decapitation of that very essential tier of government. Imo is a state that has over seventy percent of her entire population resident in the rural areas, yet the only channel through which state power penetrates and delivers common good to the people has been completely ripped apart. The result is simple and glaring. Imo is now divided between a narrow island of affluence occupied by Uzodinma and his band of political waylayers, and a vast sea of affliction where all Imo people occupy. Imo state is now an ungoverned space.
For the last eighteen months that Uzodinma has run, or has pretended to run, the affairs of Imo state, records from the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) show that the local governments in the state ought to have all received their full allocations seventeen times. For clarity, the monthly allocations that accrue to Imo state from FAAC, which include her share of the VAT and 13% Derivation, are totally different from what the local governments in the state also receive. For instance, while Imo state got a total sum of N4.2 billion from FAAC in February 2020, the 27 LGAs in the state supposedly received another N3.89 billion. By September 2020, the figure for the LGAs had risen to N4.08 billion, and by the last allocation, which was in May 2021, the LGAs in Imo were supposed to have received a total of slightly below N68 billion under the watch of Uzodinma. This figure excludes 10% of the state’s IGR which in line with the provision of the law should also be disbursed to the LGAs through the Joint Accounts Allocation Committee (JAAC).
The big questions are: where have these humongous sums gone to? What projects can be found in the local governments to justify these huge allocations? Does a governor have the right to tamper with local government funds? When last did a JAAC meeting hold in Imo state? When you go to Obowo, for instance, which should receive an average of N130 million monthly, what can you find there to justify that over N2.2 billion has come to that locality in the last seventeen months? What can Isiala Mbano show for the N146 million monthly allocations which it should receive? What has been done differently in Mbaitoli to prove that every month N178 million goes there and that in the last seventeen months over N3 billion has been utilized in making life better in that area? These are questions that Uzodinma should urgently answer.
It is instructive to note in the recent past when Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha was in office, all the local governments in Imo state had unfettered financial autonomy. To ensure that project funding guidelines were strictly adhered to, there was an LGA Project Monitoring Bureau. It was for that reason that the local governments under Gov Ihedioha within six months built twenty-seven ultramodern secretariats and provided the fulcrum for the incubation and development of sports through the construction of twenty-seven recreation centers across the state. The implication was that local talents in sports would be harnessed, and the energies of the young people channeled away from crime, since the opportunities in sports had been opened up to them. This was an effective soft security initiative. We also saw the local governments purchase earthmoving and construction equipments. Governance was returned to the people.
The reality in Imo now is that even the local government workers are not paid their salaries. A recent memo by the Accountant General of Imo state to the Chairmen of the Interim Management Committees of the LGAs was requesting them to come forward with the lists of unpaid local government workers in the past one year. This is an aberration. Workers owed for a year? State Accountant General requesting to pay workers in another tier of government? This simply implies that allocations to the LGAs, which they can use to meet their first-line obligation of payment of salaries, never actually get to them.
Imo people must rise up and begin to ask this regime of Uzodinma some relevant questions about the whereabouts of the local government funds. Life in Imo has become a misery, and most rural areas have been totally cut off from their neighbours because of lack of access roads. The restiveness being witnessed today is in part the fallout of a system recently created in Imo which has shut the youths completely out of democratic dividends and has made despondency, even despair, to reign supreme. The N2.7 billion which Ideato North alone is supposed to have received under Uzodinma is enough to rev up infrastructure in that area, restore electricity and revive the many moribund industries dotting their landscape. But what you now find in Ideato North is a situation where Akokwa people have taken it upon themselves to levy themselves to raise about N44 million in order to restore electricity to their area. This is pathetic and painful, and it makes it more urgent for Uzodinma to tell Imo people where the allocations meant for the LGAs are kept!
Imo shall rise again!
By Collins Opuruzor, Guest Writer