Respite came the way of the Imo State government yesterday as aHigh Court sitting in Owerri struck out the suit brought before it by the embattled 27 locan government council bosses fighting to retain their offices.
But then, the political battle continues to rage as both sides have promised to fight until the law court finally rests the case.
The battle for survival and political relevance will continue in the Heartland State as the political impasse between Governor Rochas Okorocha and the 27 local council chairmen persists. Neither side has shown any sign or willingness to lower its guard in this battle of wits considering what is at stake.
However, Information Commissioner Mr Chinedu Offor said there is no crisis of any sort in the state. He told The Nation yesterday evening that if what transpired at the High Court was anything to go by, then the question of a political crisis should not arise.
“There is no crisis at all as the tenure of the council chairmen has expired. It actually expired on August 8, and as we speak, the High Court sitting in Owerri this morning struck out the suit brought by the chairmen for abuse of court processes and awarded a N40, 000 cost against them”, he explained.
Offor said the government had done a lot to reach out to those involved and that as a government for all people of Imo, the door is wide open for all who think they have anything positive to contribute to the development of thye state.
“If you recall, they were invited twice to a parley and at those meetings discussions were made on the way forward. So, it would not be right to say the government has not reached out to them. Let me state very categorically that this is not a government that is employing a divide and rule tactic. Elections are over and Governor Rochas Okorocha made it clear that this is the period for governance and so he welcomes anybody with positive ideas to move the state forward”, he said.
The anxiety, or, call it the ‘thinking’ of the governor is a common Nigerian phenomenon. It is usually assumed that for the sake of political expediency, the governor and the local council chairmen should belong to the same party. This, to some, is understandable but to others it smacks of political miscalculation, if not outright naivety. For Okorocha, the need to remove the chairmen from office was compelling given the fact that they are all from the opposition party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
To have a firm grip of the political structure in the state, the governor must ‘plant’ members of his party, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) in the council areas as chairmen.
Okorocha sent an early signal to the opposition that he was not in the mood to accommodate them when in a state wide broadcast after his inauguration, he announced the dissolution of the council executives. This was in spite of frantic moves by the chairmen to register their loyalty and earn his trust.
Immediately he was sworn-in, the chairmen who were about one year in office then literally saw what was coming and decided to switch boat but Okorocha, still basking in the euphoria of his electoral victory and his eagerness to impress it on his party members that he was out to avenge them of all the injustice they suffered during the PDP administration, refused to extend the olive branch to the fear stricken chairmen.
Immediately after the dissolution of their tenure, the embattled chairmen and the PDP went to court and after a prolonged legal battle, regained their mandate through an Appeal Court judgment, which ordered their immediate reinstatement.
But with the judgment, began a new offensive by the state government which had installed Transition Chairmen in the 27 council areas from the APGA fold. At first, the government refused to obey the ruling as it took the case to the Supreme Court. After weeks of apprehension and media battle, Okorocha was asked by the Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke to obey the judgment to forestall anarchy in the state.
When it dawned on the state government that the delay game was over, it quickly devised another means of keeping the Chairmen away from the council. After merely asking the chairmen to resume work in their respective council areas, the state’s Local Government Commission directed the senior staff of the councils to embark on a compulsory leave in a bid to frustrate the returnee chairmen, while the Transition Chairmen continue to run the affairs of the council behind the seen.
The reported unwillingness of Okorocha to obey the Appeal Court ruling has been exhibited in several ways, including the recent move to officially terminate the tenure of the chairmen, insisting that their two-year tenure should have expired by August 8, 2012.
According to a political analyst in the state, Chief Christian Onuegbu, the governor was ill advised by his party members and sycophants to reject the friendship of the opposition parties, force out the elected chairmen and reverse the policies of the previous administration.
Onuegbu stated that the current battle between Okorocha and the chairmen may harm his future political chances and throw up the PDP once more in the state.
“The governor would have decimated the PDP. If he had allowed the chairmen to continue with their tenure while he subtly made them defect to APGA”.
The analyst who blamed the governor’s plight on inexperience, lamented that Okorocha’s administration is fraught with controversial policies that were meant to demean whatever was achieved by his predecessor. “For instance, the fourth tier government known as the Community Government Council (CGC) was allegedly conceived to weaken the powers of the elected council chairmen by polarizing governance at the last tier of government”.
Recent developments in the state may have shocked the governor and his party members, who were not only surprised at the public sympathy the embattled chairmen were beginning to attract.
Already the gap between the governor and the chairmen is widening and they may remain strange bed fellows, and according to analysts, this portends serious danger to Okorocha’s re-election bid.
Already the people of the state are beginning to see the governor as a desperate politician who will do anything possible to stifle the opposition and continue the governance of the state without the input of the people.
To be sure, the battle for the control of the council areas is not the sole project of the embattled chairmen. PDP bigwigs in the state, after losing the governorship of the state, had hoped to hold on to the control of the third tier of government as a possible launch pad for future political campaign and relevance.
These group have apparently joined forces and their impact is beginning to tell on the fortunes of APGA in the state. Recently in a House of Assembly bye-election in Oguta Council Area, the Governor’s Constituency, the ruling party lost to the PDP.
Another issue that is depleting Okorocha’s goodwill among Imo people is his failure to consult the people before initiating and citing projects.
In Owerri, the state capital for instance, the indigenes have resisted the state government’s plan to use communal lands for projects like hotels and the much touted “akachi tower”.
Equally, the fact that Imo state boasts of front line politicians and eminent citizens like Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Senator Arthur Nzeribe and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Emeka Ihedioha and several others who coincidentally are from the PDP, demands that the state government should consult widely before embarking on projects that will affect the populace.
Another example was the controversial plan to relocate the Imo State University from its old site to the Governor’s hometown. This sparked off severe protest among the elite and after developing the proposed new site for the university to an advance level, the state government reversed itself and instead gave out the site to a private university, which has been alleged to belong to the governor.
As the chairmen, after rebuffing the governor’s peace parley, returned to Court to challenge the termination of their tenure by the state government, analysts are of the view that members of the state government’s think- tank should fashion out a way of managing the fallout of the political battle because win or lose, the effects will be far reaching and could define Okorocha’s political future in the state.
By Okodili Ndidi via The Nation