Local government autonomy must come with checks, balances -Eche

Local government autonomy must come with checks, balances -Eche

 George Onyejiuwa, Owerri

George Ezenna Eche is a former Secretary to the Imo State Government (SSG). He was also governorship aspirant on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last election. He speaks on the 2019 elections, just as he was optimistic that President Muhammadu Buhari will deliver on his promise of taking Nigeria to the next level.

What do you think were the remote and immediate causes of the abysmal performance of your party; the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last elections in Imo State?

Imo APC is a study in self-destruction – a case of how not to lose an election. Let’s begin by highlighting that it was Imo PDP against one APC that divided itself into three political parties. With every respect to our political leaders and big men, the governorship candidate of APGA in Imo was pushed out of Imo APC. And as he left; he took with him a major plank of the party in terms of population and goodwill. The Action Alliance and its people were also core APC people who left when they couldn’t have things their way. Their departure also reduced the population and goodwill of Imo APC.

As for the reason for their departure, all of us know why and how they took another chunk of the APC with them. The remaining chunk of the party was like 35 percent of the original all conquering Imo APC, now having to fight a giant, monolithic, power hungry, resurging PDP. Failure was imminent and a natural follow up. Zonal sentiments played a cardinal role next to the greed and self-centeredness of the leadership. Let’s be clear on this, Imo State ranks very high in the comity of states when it comes to education. As Bob Marley reiterated in his popular ‘Get-up, stand up’ song; that ‘you can fool some people sometime, but you can’t fool all the people at all the time,’ so all the people of Imo therefore simply united to do the needful and the equitable in the fullness of time. Analysts are really going to deal with this matter in the nearest future; I can assure you volume of work will come out of it. People are really going to have to give a breakdown of this and then you’ll get volumes.

Considering the return to power by the PDP after eight years in opposition, do you think your party has any chance of survival in the years ahead?

After eight years in the political wilderness, Imo PDP stayed united and strong. So, Imo APC, now in the opposition, will still survive subject to pending actions by Abuja. For the eight years, Imo PDP was out of office in the state, they remained united and well-fed because the majority of them were empowered while they were in office. Through the same eight years in which APGA and later APC have held office, people were not empowered; party officials, political appointees, civil servants, public officers, pensioners, and even people in the markets were not empowered.

Coming back strong will also depend on how we are able to convince our people that the demons of the immediate past will not be empowered to harass our future. If those who wilfully destroyed it are put back in charge and in positions of authority, it will trigger a mass movement, and exodus out of the party. Don’t you know that one of the factions now recognised by the court is working for the Action Alliance? Imo APC leadership therefore succeeded in creating a curious cacophony of aspiring contradictions where people hold down the tickets of the party and openly canvass for the candidates of another in an impure and most dubious imperfect alliance.

Our ability to come back will also depend on perception, the actions, inactions and the unguarded utterances of our leaders in the state who made the APC totally unmarketable. This situation now spreads across to the political spectrum of the entire South East and yet our very selfish leaders go to Abuja to maliciously tell them that the South East does not like Buhari or the Hausa/Fulani nation. Far from it! The immediate past governor of Imo State simply has not represented the APC well – which is why no other state in the zone has joined the APC family. The Igbo have always aligned with the North all through time – check your political history – the NCNC\NPC, NPN\NPP etcetera. It’s therefore desperately wicked and deceptively self-serving and in utmost bad faith for any person to peddle the lie that Imo people call him names because he is the only one that loves Buhari or the North in the South East.

You were former AG and subsequently Secretary to Government of Imo State under Okorocha; at what point did you part ways with him and his political family?

It’s all politics and nothing personal. He wanted to be succeeded first by his wife and later by his son-in-law. I didn’t think it was right and I made it clear to him. I even offered to play the plan ‘B’ role, spare tyre role for him and his son-in-law, but that didn’t go done well with him. So, while he had the right to support whom he pleased, persuaded by whatever factors, I also exercised my right to contest. And yes, I was Accountant-General, and later, Secretary to the State Government. I am grateful to God and to Owelle for these but someone has to be appointed to do those jobs. The lot fell on me and I thank God I wasn’t found wanting despite a whole lot of denials and turbulence. I was like a man who gratefully received a computer set, but could not operate the system, because the giver of the system has carefully and consciously removed the operating software. I was like a man who received power without the authority to exercise the power. Simply put, Imo people and I am one of them, just couldn’t put up with the governorship nominee and indeed most other nominees that were democratically foisted on them for a whole lot of reasons. As it has happened recently, APC Imo State doesn’t have one single member in the House of Representatives, while the two senatorial candidates of the party are struggling for survival in the courts. It is pathetic, especially if you realise that APC held power in the immediate government.

After the inauguration of Governor Emeka Ihedioha of the PDP, many of our party members have begun to move over.  As you know, our politics is not yet rooted in principles and ideology – it’s a bread and butter thing – a food-on-the-table thing-a stomach infrastructure kind of thing; our level of development permits that. The situation of our members and the eight lean years of non-empowerment encouraged it. Therefore, only the Federal Government by its actions can stem the tide.

Now, what do you think should be the major priority of the president in his second and final term in office?

Priorities you mean? A cursory look at the recent speeches and campaign promises of Mr. President indicates very clearly the areas of priority. Some of them don’t even need emphasis, given our level of development. For instance, insecurity is a cardinal issue, insurgency in the North, militancy in the South, kidnapping and violence everywhere. These have already made themselves priorities. Others like food security, eradication of corruption, development of infrastructure, provision of roads, education, and primary health care et al, can only take place in an atmosphere devoid of insecurity.

As a financial expert and management consultant, how do you rate the economic performance of the nation under President Buhari’s watch?

If you permit me, I’ll give a little background information before answering your question. This president came in when the entire world economy was in deep recession and with Nigeria being a mono-economy, our case was embarrassingly different. Add monumental corruption, insecurity and decaying infrastructure to that and you would place Nigeria far below average by 2015. As you know, corruption and insecurity are being addressed headlong. Decaying infrastructure is on the front burner – talking about the roads, the railway lines, the Second Niger Bridge, the power and water projects that are now dotting our national landscape etcetera. Despite that the world economic outlook suggests another recession looming large in the near future; our country’s economy is slowly but steadily walking and walking out of the recession. In recognition of the maxim that economies ‘spend their ways out of recession,’ the Federal Government, using the Central Bank, embarked on such projects as TraderMoni, Anchor Borrowers’ schemes, and other micro, small and medium enterprises adventures.

The Micro Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund (MSMEDF) which is a fund established to assist in this direction speaks eloquent volumes to emphasise government intention as it provides funds for such borrowers as artisans, traders, general merchants, manufacturers and those in cottage industries without neglecting those dealing in renewable energy, agriculture and its value chain activities and so on and so on.

The N8.91 trillion 2019 budget passed into law recently incubates a deficit of about N900 Billion. The deficit is another well-intended plan to expand the economy despite that the budget itself carries a drop from last year’s budget. So, all told, the economic activities of the Federal Government in the recent past are designed to place the economy on sound footing in a sustainable way focusing on development, security and eradication of corruption.

Recently the Federal Government through its agent, NFIU issued new directives on the management and control of local government funds across the country. What is your take on this?

First, you must commend the willpower of Mr. President recalling that even past military governments only paid lip-service to this issue. So, one can only wonder why it took so long coming, I mean, it should have come yester years. Do you know that every square inch of land in this country belongs to one or the other of our 774 LGAs? These are the most basic centres of development. So, if you get it right in the 774 of them, or at least majority of them, you will have achieved exponential development.

However, it is important that the quality of leadership in the LGAs is improved upon for them to perform well and utilise their revenues maximally – whether internal or from JAAC. They should not continue to act as revenue cows and political stooges of the governors. They must not also be let out of the overall control of the state as the Federal Government cannot control all 774 of them directly. Joint projects must continue to be done jointly for uniformity and quality control. Local government autonomy must come with necessary controls, checks and balances so that it doesn’t become a drain on the economy. State governments will naturally complain for loss of control, knowing that he who ‘pays the piper dictates the tunes.’ What is in issue here is the overall development of the nation and the economy – not who has control over the resources of the local government areas. If they do their oversight and control functions well, they will be partakers in the explosion of joy and development that will soon come in.

Source: The Sun Nigeria

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