BY FRANCIS IGATA
Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, in constituting 17 Caretaker Committee Chairmen for the council areas, retained three outgoing Chairmen to deepen continuity at the third tier of government. In this interview with the Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on Media,Louis Amoke,he sheds light on the rationale behind the retention of the trio.
Enugu State did not conduct local government elections. Can you tell us what prompted that decision?
It is a public knowledge that Enugu State did not conduct the Local Government elections due to some issues that were imminent at the point of expiration of the tenure of Local Government council Chairmen. I am sure you are aware that the governor had a meeting with the stakeholders of Enugu State where he tabled these issues and gave some reasons why the Local Government elections were unable to hold in the State. One of the reasons was that the budgetary provision for the exercise was not adequate and he told them he needed to make arrangement to include them in the 2016 budget which he did.
He was able to let them know that the situation in the country in terms of the economic challenges was also a big factor at this point in time. And as you may have it, the stakeholders approved it and the three senatorial districts of the state gave consent to the endorsement for him to go and constitute caretaker committees that will run the affairs of the Local Government councils in the state pending when the elections will be conducted, and that prompted the decision to set up the caretaker committees.
As you may know, in that meeting which was endorsed by the three senatorial districts, Senator Ike Ekweremadu spoke on behalf of the people of Enugu West Senatorial district, gave the endorsement and asked the governor to go ahead with the plan. In Enugu East Senatorial district, Prof. Barth Nnaji gave the endorsement on their behalf and in Enugu North Senatorial district where the governor comes from, that is Nsukka, Chief Nnia Nwodo did so. It was a collective agreement for him to do that and we appreciated the governor for doing that and for his approach to governance where he consults the people before taking decision.
We understand that the committee was actually constituted. But looking at the selection or the choices of those appointed into the Caretaker Committees, public opinion appears not to be in favour of those past Chairmen that were appointed as members of the committees. How did it happen?
The committees have been constituted and we know the people that were appointed, that is, the chairmen of the committees in the 17 Local Government Areas. When the governor was elected the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he stated it clearly that he is going to run a programme of seamless continuity and consolidation, that he believes in the laudable programmes of the past administration, that he is going to key in into the programmes and that is his stance till today.
The principle of his administration remains seamless continuity and consolidation. That is the basic fact why all these things are playing out, because in that committee he retained three past Local Government chairmen. Two were State Executives of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) as Chairman and the Secretary. That is, talking about Prince Cornelius Nnaji and Hon. Cornell Onwubuya respectively. The third person, Hon. Afam Okereke is from Nkanu West Local Government Area. It is in line with that spirit that he decided to accommodate those in the system so that they can be there to continue to promote and advance the policies and programmes of the government. It is on that principle that he took that decision.
We know that some people are kicking against it but it was done in the overall interest of the people of the state because in a situation whereby the governor has been running the affairs of the state in line with his policies, people should encourage him. For instance, when he constituted his EXCO, he accommodated four former EXCO members, two commissioners and two special advisers. Engr. Mike Eneh Commissioner for Agriculture was retained, then, Hon. Rita Mbah, Commissioner of Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs was also retained.
In the Special Advisers, Engr. Abel Nwobodo was retained and Anayo Agu was also retained. So this is just basically in line with that principles and is a continuation of what he has been doing. Bringing the three former chairmen in, was to enable him stabilize the Local Government Administration in the state, and you know that there is a committee that was constituted to look into the Local Government Affairs in terms of ghost workers and other issues. The chairman of ALGON is a member of that committee, wishing him away at this point in time will do more harm to the state than good. It is in the interest of the state that the governor took that decision and people should understand it that way.
As a governor he has the prerogative right to select those members, is not about election, where you say that this person is our choice, even at that he still called meeting of stakeholders in all the Local Government Areas and the Stakeholders gave him the endorsement. So we appeal to the public most especially those who are kicking against that decision to see it in that spirit because he is a man of peace, he is a man who believes in participatory democracy.
Is there anything that the governor wants to avoid by not conducting local government elections?
There are two basic reasons why the governor did not okay the conduct of the elections. I did not state the second reason earlier. The second reason was the local government staff audit committee. They have gone a long way to sanitize the local government administration and that was one of the basic reasons why that election couldn’t hold. Even the Enugu State Independent Electoral Commission (ENSIEC) had a challenge. Even the political parties had the same challenge. The State Chapter of the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC), the umbrella organization of all the political parties in Nigeria had a press conference saying that the election should be put on hold, let’s conclude this audit process in the local government administration, a lot of things have gone wrong. The foundation is not there. If you build a house on a wrong foundation it will fall. They were saying let’s have a clean slate of local government administration in Enugu State. Let’s wait for the conclusion of that committee headed by the Speaker of Enugu State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Edward Ubosi and that was the popular opinion. Even in that stakeholders’ meeting it was agreed that it is important that we wait till they conclude their assignment. Again, when it comes to elections, finance is very important. If you don’t have the finance to conduct the election so many things will be involved. There will be compromise. The people in ENSIEC, if you don’t equip them effectively to discharge their work, if anybody says take this money and do my biding, you will see that the bias nature of it will play out. That is why it is good to have everything in place so that the elections will be conducted free and fair and in a very transparent manner. So, the monitory aspect of the election is very important. We all know that and we can’t wish it away in all its ramifications. So we saw the governor taking that decision in line with the people’s wish, because he didn’t do it alone. In a situation whereby he called everybody in Enugu State to come and sit down and dialogue. He consulted them on this matter and they said go ahead, you had a point, the fact that this audit committee are still working and has not concluded its assignment, going into an election will jeopardize the exercise.
We understand how most caretaker committees have worked in the past in some states and considering the fact the governor has constituted this committee and there is no going back, what measures has he put in place to ensure that those that have been appointed will actually do the work they were appointed to do?
You know one good thing about this committee is that it is not elected, it is an appointment and anybody appointed is at the mercy of the governor. If you don’t perform you know the consequences. They are not elected where non-performance will warrant waiting till the expiration of their tenure. The day the governor inaugurated them, he told them to raise their performance bar and ensure that they deliver in line with his programmes and policies. He even told them that the era of living in Enugu to run the affairs of the local government is over and he meant business when he said that. It is not about going against his wish, if you do that you know the consequences. So I expect these new council chairmen to do the right thing, to perform because the governor is doing all his possible best to ensure that the people of Enugu State smile, and that he gives them the best quality leadership. This is evident in all he has been doing in the last seven months he took over the mantle of leadership in the state. He is committed and the people is first in terms of all he is doing. Apart from God, the next factor he considers in anything he is doing is the people and anything that will be contrary to that he will not be part of it, so I believe the local government chairmen ought to toe that line.
In most media houses, agitation has been there with regards to what the government should have done in terms of those it has selected, now, if you are to talk to these people, if you are to calm them down, what will you say to them?
Well, it is an appeal, it is a passionate appeal for them to exercise patience with the governor and see the wisdom in what he did regarding the appointment. He didn’t do it to harm anybody. You know in any political decision, everybody will not be satisfied with it. But to a reasonable extent, what he has done was to protect the system and continue with his policies and principles which are anchored on seamless continuity and consolidation. He has done it before when he constituted his cabinet. It creates room for easy progress in the state. We had a transition from one government to another government revolving round one political party. If another political party had won the election in the state, they would have changed everything as it is happening now at the national level. But, we won, it is the same family, the PDP family is one in Enugu State and the governor said it earlier before now that he will continue with the laudable programmes of the past administration because we are one party and we have manifesto, so the public should please reason with the governor and exercise patience with him. He is doing all these things in the interest of the state so that grassroots administration will be improved on, because allowing the entire system to come in with fresh people you know the implication. They will start learning and there is no time, considering the situation of the country. Everybody is looking at how to invest and look towards other directions. So there are so many things bordering the administration, on how to put food on the table of the people and give them the best of quality leadership. It is important that people air their view on this matter, but the governor has a vision and we need public cooperation.