We Celebrate Whenever We Receive Salary...The Sun Report On Abia LGA

The 1999 constitution recognises the local government as the third tier of government in Nigeria. Ac­cording to Section 7 (1) of the constitution, “the system of local gov­ernment by democratically elected local government councils is under this Consti­tution guaranteed.” It adds that the gov­ernment of every state shall ensure their existence.
But in Abia State, local governments presently exist only by name as the state government has annexed them. Investiga­tions revealed that the 17 councils in the state have been run by caretakers appointed by the governor since the inception of the present administration. In other words, the present government has not conducted any election at the local government level. And the councils are practically being choked to death or made impotent through starva­tion of funds. Consequently, there is total disconnect between the councils and the people because the reason for establishing the councils, which is the socio-economic development of the grassroots, is not being met in every material particular.
So, councils in Abia State could be de­scribed as dead woods because of their abys­mal performance in terms of development of the rural communities. They serve as ave­nues of settling political associates and sup­porters irrespective of their qualifications or lack of it. Sources maintained that the state and LGAs joint accounts supposedly set up to fund projects at the grassroots are being manipulated and/or misapplied.
State of affairs
Putting the matter into perspective, Bar­rister Prince Ukaegbu in an interview with the reporter in his office on September 22, averred that the local government system in Abia State is not functional. Hear him: “It is non-existent since 2006; which was the last time an election was held. What we have in Abia State is a system of cronyism where the present governor uses his houseboys and girls to administer the local government ar­eas, giving him unfettered access to the al­locations of the local governments. That is why when you come to the state, you don’t see any presence of local governments. At the end of every month, the governor calcu­lates the overheads or the salaries of work­ers, releases same and gives pittance in the form of security vote to the Transition Com­mittee (TC) chairmen. That is the system we have in Abia State. The governor and the 17 local government Transition Committees chairmen have successfully merged the ad­ministration of the state and the local gov­ernments.”
He went on: “About two years ago, I was reliably informed that each of the 17 local government areas in Abia State took a loan of N500 million, amounting to N8.5 billion. The loan was initially meant as fund for in­frastructural development. But, in reality, the state government counter-manded the loans and gave about N20 million to each of the local governments. It was in the era of the immediate past Transition Commit­tees chairmen before the present Transition Chairmen. We’ve kicked countless number of times against the continuous administra­tion of the local governments by a system unknown to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Abia State has been abandoned by the government.”
Ukaegbu, who is the state chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), further said: “I’m not the maker of the con­stitution but the constitution spelt out how the local governments should run. The local government ought to be run by elected of­ficers. It is a two-tier system of government where you have the executive and legislature in terms of the councillors but in Abia State those have been abridged. You don’t have executive at the local governments neither do you have the legislature. The governor runs the local governments from his office.”
He, however, refused to put a figure to the amount that would have accrued to the 17 LGAs in the state since 2006 when the last election was held. According to him, “I don’t want to do that because the last person who did that was greeted with insults and condemnation by the governor and his reti­nue of houseboys.
The state government is in receipt of over N200 billion of local governments’ funds which are unaccounted for and they have continued to have access to the coun­cils’ funds. The issue of local government administration goes beyond the governor having access to the funds of the local gov­ernments; he is also an impediment to our democratic experiment and development because what the governor has done is to arrest the development of democracy at the grassroots, which is represented by the local governments.
There has not been any election or activity pertaining to local governments since 2006. The last election that was held in the local governments was during the last administra­tion which was 2006 and it terminated two years after. Since then, there has never been local government election in the state. So, there has never been any democratic activity at that tier of government in the state. It is a serious matter; it is as serious as it can be.”
It was gathered that the state government is taking advantage of the joint account of the local government with the state to short-change the latter. In fact, the councils have become mere appendages to Government House, Umuahia.
It was gathered that after the monthly overheads, the TC chairmen get about N4 million as security votes as well as to take care of political patronage in their domain. Out of the sum, the TC chairmen are alleg­edly coerced to make a monthly return of N2 million to the rampaging son of a top govern­ment official in the state.
Investigations further revealed that there is mass discontent among the workers in the local governments in the state because sala­ries are not paid as and when due. A staff of Aba South Local Government Area, who craved anonymity for fear of persecution in the office, said: “The last salary we received was for June. In fact, we celebrate whenev­er we receive our salary. Nobody is sure of when the next salary will come.”
As much as salary arrears remain a major concern to the workers, many of their col­leagues were among those unceremoniously relieved of their jobs in September 2013 for the simple reason that they are non-indigenes of the state, not minding how long they had been in service. Ironically, the sacked work­ers hail from sister Igbo states namely, Eb­onyi, Imo, Anambra and Enugu. And fol­lowing stringent public criticisms that trailed the action, the state government had hastily announced their recall.
But some of the disengaged workers, dressed in black attires as a reflection of their sore mood, recently held a peaceful protest in Aba, the commercial nerve centre of the state, to debunk the government’s claim. Ac­cording to them, the purported recall was a sham.
The leader of the group, Mr Ugochukwu Unogu, said: “The so-called recall is a cha­rade. It is not true. Only very few were rein­stated. An insignificant number has been re­called but over 3,500 non-indigene workers have not been recalled. Our demand is that we should be recalled totally and not given selective recall and three years arrears owed us should be paid.
“We have functions to perform in our families. We have wives, children and aged parents who are dependent on us. For three years now, they have been suffering and we have been suffering too.”
Another sacked worker, Mrs Ijeoma Iheakirika, disclosed that only two per cent of them were actually recalled in an attempt to disorganise the group. She argued that if they had actually been reinstated, they won’t be protesting.
“We want Abia State government to look into our case, reinstate and pay us our ar­rears. We have not done anything wrong,” she pleaded.
It was learnt that many of the children of the sacked workers have dropped out of school as a result, even as many families are starving. Some of the sacked workers have been knocked down by sickness while some have died. Yet, the matter is being politicised.
Dilapidated structures
It is very easy to notice that local govern­ments in Abia State are in terribly bad shape. The reporter toured some of the council headquarters between September 22 and 23, this year and saw structures in dire need of attention. Inside the premises of the head­quarters, you see heaps of garbage and over­grown weeds or wild plants.
The canteen of Aba North LGA, in par­ticular, is indescribable. Even pigs may not be comfortable dining there. Another notori­ous example is the Asa – Umunka Road lead­ing to Ugwunagbo LGA headquarters, which looks like a pathway to hell.
It is impossible for a car to go to most of the council headquarters in the state and re­main the same. It is, indeed, total mess eve­rywhere. From Abia south to the north and central zones, it is the same story of dilapida­tion and dirt.
“How do you expect the headquarters and environs to be in ship-shape when we are cash strapped? You should talk to our oga at the top to help us,” a council official told the reporter.
He continued: “If the councils do not have enough resources to take care of their imme­diate environment, how do you expect them to do anything for the people?
It is doubtful if any TC chairman can as much as grade a road, not to talk of tarring it. The thing happening in Abia is indescrib­able. The situation of the local governments is pitiable. That’s all I can say.”


Chris Kehinde Nwandu is the Editor In Chief of CKNNEWS || He is a Law graduate and an Alumnus of Lagos State University, Lead City University Ibadan and Nigerian Institute Of Journalism || With over 2 decades practice in Journalism, PR and Advertising, he is a member of several Professional bodies within and outside Nigeria || Member: Institute Of Chartered Arbitrators ( UK ) || Member : Institute of Chartered Mediators And Conciliation || Member : Nigerian Institute Of Public Relations || Member : Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria || Fellow : Institute of Personality Development And Customer Relationship Management || Member and Chairman Board Of Trustees: Guild Of Professional Bloggers of Nigeria

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