BY ANAYO OKOLI
FOR over two years running, Local Council administration in Abia State has been managed by appointed caretaker committee members. They usually have a three-month tenure which is renewable if the Governor is satisfied with their performance.
The last elected local government administration in the state was in 2008. The election was conducted by the Governor Theodore Orji Administration. When the term expired in 2010, the government appointed a caretaker committee and has since been using the system to run the councils.
Why Orji appointed caretaker cttees
However, before adopting the caretaker system, Governor Orji said that the past elected chairmen incurred a huge debt of N29 billion, mainly in unpaid salaries of council workers, some of whom were owed over 10 months arrears by the chairmen. He therefore said he would use caretaker committees to clear the debt.
Governor Orji promised then that he would drop the caretaker system and conduct council elections after liquidating the debt. He said the action was a rescue one aimed at saving the system which was messed up by the last elected council leaders who owed huge workers salaries.
No polls after paying debt
Having offset the debt, Abians expected the government to conduct council election and they, especially the opposition, flayed the continued use of caretakers to run the system and called for council election.
The state Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Prince Nnanna Ukaegbu, described the caretaker committee administration as “illegal and an aberration.” According to him, APGA is vehemently opposed to the caretaker committee system as “it is undemocratic.”
However, in response to calls and in obedience to the Constitution, Governor Orji about three months ago, announced that the state would conduct council election in January, and urged opposition parties to be ready and get prepared, promising that a level-playing ground would be provided for all the parties.
Surprisingly, shortly after the governor’s pronouncement, the State House of Assembly overruled him, saying that the state electoral commission, ABSIEC, was not prepared for the election. According to the House, the commission did not even have any budget for the election, let alone other preparations. The House did not however, give any new date for the election but only promised that it would ensure that a credible election was conducted.
So with this action by Abia House, the state still remains among the league of states in the country operating without elected local government administration. This has not gone down well with some stakeholders, especially the opposition parties who view the action of the House as a set back for democracy.
According to Ukaegbu, APGA chairman in the state, “the party is putting heads together to go court to challenge the continued administration of the local government councils with caretaker. This is illegal and an aberration. The caretaker system is mainly responsible for the rot in the council areas because they do nothing there”.
For the Progressive People Alliance [PPA] in Abia State, the use of caretaker committee to run the councils is totally against the Constitution and should not be allowed. The party regretted that the non-democratic system of administration has greatly affected rural development in the councils.
According to the Publicity Secretary of the party in the state, Chief Oliver Eze-Obiezu, caretaker committee “is unconstitutional and negates the principle of our fledgling democracy. It is wrong for state governors to continue to continuously appoint caretaker committees to run local government areas”.
Eze-Obiezu submitted that the caretaker system has also brought hardship to the rural dwellers as funds no longer circulate to the reach of the rural masses, who usually interact with their elected councilors.
“The sleaze and corruption inherent in the concoction is bad as community participation in rural development is denied the people. The governors who treat the local government areas as appendages to their states deny them statutory and even counterpart funds”, the PPA spokesman added.
Fairplay in council elections
Both APGA and PPA do not believe that the opposition parties receive fair play in council elections conducted by state appointed electoral commission, as they claim that they are usually manipulated by the ruling party.
They have therefore called for the abrogation of caretaker committee administration in the country, saying that it retards the growth and development of the rural areas which council administration was designed to enhance.
Eze-obiezu said that PPA feels that for adequate functioning of the local government system, there should be among other things, a central/national electoral body to conduct elections in all the local councils.
The party, he said, also subscribes to a uniform tenure for all elected local government administrators, just as they call for financial autonomy for the local government system.
So in Abia now, the bulk to conduct the council elections rests with the House of Assembly which overruled the governor. The people are eagerly waiting to get a go-ahead from the House and a directive to ABSIEC to conduct council polls.
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