THE embattled 27 council chairmen under the aegis of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), Imo State branch, all elected under the auspices of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday took over major streets in Owerri, the state capital, protesting what they called a violation of the Constitution of Nigeria by the state governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, who they accused of withholding councils’ allocations.
But in a swift reaction the state’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Chief Soronnadi Njoku, dismissed the protesters’ argument, saying that the state government was ruling in accordance with the constitution.
Okorocha, had a few days on assumption of office in 2011, dissolved the council chiefs, a decision that was challenged by the council chairmen. They approached the Court of Appeal where they won, having been dissatisfied with the ruling of the lower court.
The Attorney General argued that the protest was uncalled for because the council chiefs’ tenure had expired after two years.
According to him: “ What they are doing is childish and emotive. They should give instances and specifics. We are still in compliance to what the court ruled that no tenure elongation for them. They had statutory period of two years. How can you reconcile that? Their tenure expired April last year. After two years, what are they doing there?”
The protesters, carrying placards, with the inscription, “Okorocha has no respect for the constitution”, “Okorocha should be cautioned. Enough of meddling in the affairs of the councils in the state,” among others marched through Okigwe, Wetherdal and Government point /Okigwe Roundabout, obstructing vehicular and human traffic as they pressed home their point.
The chairmen who were reinstated by the Court of Appeal sitting in Owerri last year have Mrs. Rubby Emele and Enyinnaya Onumegbu as chairman and Secretary respectively.
Okorocha, elected under the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) was said to be away, attending the traditional wedding of his daughter, Uloma, in his Ogboko country home, when the protest was going on. Security operatives however prevented the aggrieved protesters from entering the Government House.
Okorocha had on the New Year ’s Day, warned the council chiefs to stop parading themselves as council chairmen since their tenure of two years had expired, adding that any one who does that would be treated as an impersonator. The state government through the Imo State Independent Electoral Commission (ISIEC) fixed the council polls for later this year.
Not comfortable with the pronouncement, Onuegbu appeared on a radio programme cataloguing what he alleged were the interferences of the governor in their affairs, despite the fact that the matter of tenure of their office was still in the court.
The ALGON secretary alleged that Okorocha was diverting allocations meant for the council to the state purse, thereby stifling development in the rural areas in the state. He regretted that all the reinstated council chiefs were running the councils with their personal money, adding that all efforts made to make the governor to re-trace his decision had met with stonewall. He said the position of the state’s ALGON was that the Federal Government should stop routing councils’ allocation through the state government.
In his reaction, the state’s PDP chairman, Chief Eze Duruiheoma (SAN), said the protest was purely of ALGON affair, adding that the party had no hand
......CHARLES OGUGBUAJA, OWERRI/GUARDIAN