By Rich Odu
The creation of autonomous communities in Imo State has continued to be a controversial exercise, regardless of which administration that is in power. This is because the seekers of such autonomies and the House of Assembly members who have appropriated the power to approve creation see it as a goldmine. In other words, at the centre of it, all is money. To these parties, it is a perfect conduit to make money that cannot be audited or even questioned by anybody.
From indications, many autonomous communities in the state have for ages been locked in a grim battle as to who controls what, especially who becomes the traditional ruler or eze. This scenario was aggravated when the present governor of the state, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, decided to choose them as the fulcrum of his rural development through the institution of the Community Development Council (CDC). The governor, on assumption of office, tried to make peace in all the beleaguered autonomous communities. He may have recorded some success in some communities. Certainly, though, all is not well in many others, including some which sprouted in the period of his administration.
For thinking in the direction of grassroots governance, the governor did well and should be seen as having satisfied the yearnings of the masses. It is an innovation unequaled in the annals of Nigeria, especially in the east. However, the governor appears to be unaware that the creation of the CDC had heightened the dreams of self-styled power brokers in some of these communities, both the existing and the proposed ones, and that these “power brokers” want to make cheap millionaires out of themselves.
Just recently, members of the Imo State House of Assembly fumed over the Secretary to the Imo State Government, Prof. Anthony Anwuka’s purported statement that he was not aware of the latest list of autonomous communities released through newspaper publications. It is, however, thrilling to observe the dexterity exhibited by the House in creating autonomous communities more than in anything else, especially when a great number of more pressing issues have remained unresolved by the House.
There is nothing wrong with the creation of new autonomous communities as long as the need arises and in situations where they meet established criteria. No one, either, can fault some of the criteria already established for creating these autonomous communities, such as the existence of a church, a market, a meeting square, perhaps a hospital as well as the homogeneity of such communities. What becomes questionable, however, is the demand that the name of an eze-elect be submitted before the approval of the autonomy.
This particular demand, whether genuine or crooked, has been responsible for the ezeship tussles in some of the communities that have been having problems. Some mischievous cliques in those communities where there are conflicts, cashed in on this requirement to smuggle in any name of their choice without holding plebiscites and later foisted such persons on the community with the connivance of some government officials and without consideration of the popularity of the persons. What looks more like a tidier situation is that the autonomous community would first be created and approved. Then, the members of the community would choose the eze in accordance with the constitution of the land and under the supervision of the ministry.
The last exercise where staff of office and letters of recognition were issued took place inside the Government House, instead of the earlier announced Heroes Square. The dramatic change in venue was, perhaps, informed by an avalanche of protests that inundated the governor’s office at the announcement of the names of the people to receive staff of office. To ward off planned protests, the event was shifted to a more fortified venue. That decision had the potential to lead people into thinking, right or wrong, that the government cares less about the feelings of the masses. This apparent government insensitivity to popular opinion in matters of who becomes eze stems from a desire of the executive to plant its own man in the communities and at other strategic positions of authority in order to secure its political interests, using the structure it can control. Knowing this, the self-styled power brokers choose their eze and run to the government house to profess their unalloyed loyalty to the government in power. In many cases, the government falls prey. And the tussle is created.
However, it is plausible to think that that administration which gives the people their hearts’ desire actually wins their admiration. It cannot be wished away that the resolution of differences in opinions lies in the application of democratic principles.
The fact is that there has been too much government in the affairs of Nigerians, leading to a less active private sector that is incapable of giving the somewhat avaricious people the big purse that is their desire. They, therefore, resort to struggling for government positions which would fetch them the money and power to wield against those they hate to see in the community, who may constitute a stumbling block to their warped ambition. They no longer see their bread elsewhere than in direct or indirect connection to the government house by any means whatsoever.
To aspire to such positions is not the problem, but the display of guile in the game is what brings about the squabbles. Half of the problem would be solved the moment people begin to see autonomous communities not as their limited liability companies but as avenues to bring genuine, altruistic and practical development to the rural communities.
Emerging from long years under the military government, our people have painfully come to accept impunity as customary in government, even in a democratic setting, such that people no longer see themselves as possessing the right of protest when government officials decide to foist an unpopular candidate or policy on a community.
Given that Owelle Rochas Okorocha is a peace-loving governor who would not be enjoying royal rumblings in a state under his control, it is hoped that the governor would take adequate time to resolve outstanding ezeship tussles in these communities, old and new ones inclusive. That way, his profile is better boosted than in the present situation.