By Godwin Egba
Suffice it to say that the month of April 2019 that ushered in Easter celebration was certainly unpalatable to 12 out of the 23 Local Government Chairmen of Rivers State. This is because while 11 of the chairmen and other members of the public were making to their homes in their bouquet of happiness, the other twelve were in shattered spirit inflicted on them by Gov Nyesom Wike.
The 12 chairmen were summarily suspended from their council offices prior to the Easter break by the governor through an “express” approval by the Rivers State House of Assembly on the ground of the security breach or failure on the side of the Chairmen to attend one of the governor’s state functions.
The suspension was hyped up in the media which drew out avalanche of criticisms from the general public-legal, political, traditional cycles as well as kinsmen of the ill-fated chairmen. While some applauded the governor for his action that depicts his accountability governance, others condemned him for acting unconstitutionally against democratic norms.
A cross section of analysts and critics from different segments of the society averred that the governor as the number one chief security officer of the state has a limited constitutional right to raise his wipe on any local government chairman who has beyond reasonable doubt breached security in his or her domain.
They also opined that the governor, through the over site function(s) of the state House of Assembly has the right to demand accountability of the state council chairmen with regard to their infrastructural development and socio-economic development of their people through application of monthly Federal revenue allocations to them.
However, they felt infuriated that the governor’s suspension order or sledge hammers on the 12 chairmen was done through order without constitutional due process. Their argument is that, how many petitions has the state House of Assembly received from the various council legislators, community chiefs or leaders against their non-performing elected chairmen, and how many of the chairmen has the House of Assembly invited for questioning over security breach or insubordination to the state Executive Council before their suspension sledge hammer.
The President-General of O-ELA OBOR Eleme, apex socio-cultural organization of Eleme people worldwide, Israel Abbey, in his reaction while speaking with our correspondent said, “The action of the governor lacks basis from what I heard concerning the reason for the suspension of the twelve council chairmen”.
He said, “I heard that the governor suspended the chairmen for failing to attend or be part of his (Governor) state function and that surprised or shocked me beyond imaginations”.
Abbey described Governor Wike’s action as ultra-vices or unconstitutional on the ground that the chairmen were constitutionally and democratically elected by their people and not appointed like commissioners by the governor, therefore, a reasonable process of disciplinary action on any one if found wanting should commence from the local government legislative council.
He, however, admitted that his Eleme Local Government chairman, Barrister Philip Okparaji, one of the suspended chairmen, had not performed creditably well in the areas of infrastructural development and security challenges bestriding the Eleme geographical space, noting that before and his current tenure as an elected chairman in office for the past seven months before his suspension, cult killing, kidnapping and other criminality held sway helplessly including environmental problems.
Eleme clan chief and another respected senior civil servant who pleaded to remain anonymous applauded Governor Wike’s action squarely hinged on insecurity problems and infrastructural development noticed in some local government areas of the state especially his Eleme area.
The chief who was specific about the suspension of the Eleme Council Chairman said, “The Governor’s suspension order is super justified. The action was over delayed because we know that every chairman is or was expected to embark and show at least a project within the first 100 days in office, but our Eleme chairman has nothing to show and people began to ask questions on what he is spending the state allocations coming to the council apart from paying workers’ salaries”, he noted.
According to the chief, Barrister Okparaji allegedly said at one time that he would not carry out any project until Governor Wike won his election in the state as if he was the one sponsoring him (Wike) with the council funds, stressing that, “till date, there is nothing to show as people’s oriented development across the 10 clans in Eleme to earn the chairman commendations”, he voiced out.
“What is also baffling me is that the political appointments he gave out to some deserving Eleme people are not matched with payment not to talk of his own Aleto community where he comes from but facing internal link road failure e.g. GVC linking the express road”.
The chief also decried thus; “Insecurity in Eleme is higher than any Local Government Area in the state because there has been security crises and killings in Agbonchia, Alode, Ogale, Aleto and Ebubu communities with killings of over 60 persons right from when Okparaji was appointed as Care-Taker-Chairman before he metamorphosed to his present position as an elected chairman”.
The chief advised that whoever is now the sitting Acting Chairman should apply God’s wisdom in governance by being sensitive to the lives and property of people in Eleme; pointing out that self-interest in governance, insecurity and insensitivity to socio-economic and infrastructural development run counter to democratic dream and aspiration of a people or community.