17 June 2005

Nigeria: Political Violence Spreads to Ebonyi State...


Lagos — The political violence that recently erupted in Ebonyi State has fuelled fears of another wave of crisis that may engulf the young state, as the state chapter of the ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) prepares for a convention. Chinedu Eze reports.

A glimpse of what will happen in 2007 in Ebonyi State played itself out last week when crises erupted in three local government areas of the state. The crises were political as councilors of the local government areas unsheathed their daggers to war with their chairmen whom they accused of not carrying them along the running of the local government councils.

The councilors recruited supporters who carried out demonstrations with placards that projected acerbic attacks on their chairmen. As the demonstration gathered frenzy, it became violent when the fiery blood in the youths erupted to volatile heights. At the end of the demonstration, property worth millions of Naira were destroyed; many people including the old and the lame were injured. Many of the demonstrators sustained bullet wounds. And what was most remarkable was that it was not only placards that were raised; guns and daggers were drawn and wielded in the air in an expert, executioners' manner.

These local government areas are Afikpo North, Afikpo South and Ikwo South, located in the southern and central districts of the state. In the early hours of Friday, June 3, 2005 before dews that gathered the previous night were sucked by the sunrise, there were surreptitious gathering of youths at previously agreed rendezvous. By 8.30 am that Friday morning, hundreds of youths have started marching from Eke Market Road to Amasiri Road, where the local government headquarters is located. Almost all of them carried placards with many inscriptions and forcing motorists to put green leaves on their vehicles as a symbol of solidarity.

A closer look showed shapes of gun popping out in the pockets of a few demonstrators who wore fiery countenance and stared menacingly at the motorists, thus reflecting the augury of what is to come, as 2007 draws near.

As they arrived in front of the Secretariat they lit bonfires and started destroying structures along the road. They stopped vehicle movement and began to harass motorists and passengers, which forced many with vehicles to divert the area through Government College Roundabout to Macgregor Road. Two hours later there were cacophony of gunshots as the demonstration turned into warfare, as another group of youths confronted the demonstrators. By 2:00 p.m. the whole area looked deserted but not without the tell tale of the crisis that had just taken place.

Although a similar crisis took place at Afikpo South and Ikwo South local government areas but what was significant with that of Afikpo North is that since the present democratic government the local government has acquired a notoriety of being the hot bed of political violence. The genesis of political disagreement between the former Senate President, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim and that of Governor Sam Egwu could be traced to a similar crisis in 2001. It was this imbroglio that later snowballed to the quarrel between Anyim and President Olusegun Obasanjo when the later was said to have given support to Egwu in that will documented political dispute.

The grouse of Afikpo North LGA councilors include their allegation that they were prevented from sitting for months. In fact, they claimed that their mace was seized by the Chairman of the Council, Barrister Idu Igariwey whom they accused of not involving them in the running of the Council.

The spokesman of the five councilors who revolted against the chairman, Hon. Christian Otu-Chukwuma, accused Igariwey of not only neglecting them in the scheme of things at the council, but has denied them their welfare package as councilors.

But the chairman denied all the allegations leveled against him. He explained that he had met with the councilors, listened to their grievances and provided them whatever they asked for that was in tandem with the law with amicable resolution that they would continue to work together.

Igariwey said that he was surprised that after this peaceful agreement the five councilors (there were eight councilors in all at the council) invited youths, whom he described as cultists, to carry out demonstration against him. The Afikpo North local government chairman said that a Senator, who is representing Ebonyi south senatorial district and who hails from Igariwey's community, sponsored the councilors.

The chairman told journalists that the Senator who is nursing gubernatorial ambition wanted to hijack his political structure in the zone and to do this he had to incite the councilors to fight him and destabilize the council.

"The demonstration was organized by our Senator who is interested in the state gubernatorial race. Three days ago I got the hint that he wanted to incite the councilors against me, but the local youths he wanted to use refused to go along with him and he went and recruited cultists from all over the place. Those are probably the people you saw demonstrating in front of the secretariat." Igariwey told Journalists.

Igariwey who was the protagonist of the 2001 crises that pitted the then deputy governor of Ebonyi State, Engr. Emmanuel Oko Isu, who also hails from Afikpo North and later Senator Anyim Pius Anyim against Governor Egwu also fingered the immediate past Special Adviser to Ebonyi State Governor on Petroleum and Solid Mineral, Barrister Mudi Erhenede who is an in-law to the Senator, as the one that organized the demonstration for the Senator.

But Erhenede who used to be a very close friend of Igariwey denied the allegation and disclosed that before the councilors' demonstration he had made efforts to reconcile the Chairman and his councilors.

"I played no role on that Friday (the day of the demonstration). However, before Friday the role I played was to bring Iduma (Igariwey) and his councilors together and mediate. My role was the role of a peacemaker - a mediator. The records are there; ask the councilors."

Reacting to the political crises in different parts of the state, the House of Assembly immediately set up a committee to investigate the root cause of the crises. Speaking to support his motion for the committee to be set up, Hon. Onwe Solomon Onwe, representing Ohaukwu constituency in the House, said that the increasing crisis in Afikpo North deserves immediate attention to avoid further loss of lives in the area, explaining that the alleged seizure of the mace used by the councilors thereby preventing them from sitting led to the clash between the councilors and their chairman.

On Afikpo South local government area, Hon. Onwe said that the council Chairman, Chief Humphrey Amah, allegedly obtained N10 million loan from a bank without the endorsement of his councilors, an act he said contravenes the state local government Law of 1999.

The former Deputy Speaker of Ebonyi House in the first tenure of the Fourth Republic also said that at Ikwo South local government area the councilors and their chairman were at each other's neck, a situation that instigated some youths to seize the riffle of one of the policemen posted to the area to quell the crisis.

Political pundits believe that these crises are a rehearsal of what will happen in other local government areas in the state before the convention, which comes up in August this year. Many also believe that the disagreement between the chairmen and their councilors were a mere smoke screen and prologue to the struggle to dismantle political structures already built by other politicians and those who lack good followership and grassroots support at home but are in political high positions might use the opportunity to build their own structures.

For example, Barrister Idu Igariwey, the chairman of Afikpo North local government area attributed the demonstration against him by the councilors as part of the plot hatched by Senator Omezue Azu Agboti to dismantle his political structure, which he had built with Governor Sam Egwu, way back in 1999 and which was the platform on which Egwu garnered victorious votes both in 1999 and 2003 elections in the southern zone of the state.

Igariwey said that Agboti's intention to become the next governor of the state in 2007 was responsible for the myriad of crises in his domain. But Barrister Mudi Erhenede debunked that in an exclusive interview with THISDAY, saying that Igariwey should not point accusing fingers beyond his councilors who felt that they could no more stomach his excesses as the chairman of the local government.

Erhenede also said that if Agboti was interested in the governorship of the state he had not made it open, but that it was no more a secret that Igariwey was obsessively interested in that important political position.

"Agboti may have an ambition, which he has not made public; I don't want to rule that one out because I am not in his mind. But the chairman of Afikpo local government, Barrister Idume Igariwey is clearly interested in that same position. You can see the structures they are taking up here and there. They are the ones who are moving from one local government area to another. They are the ones who have appointed campaign managers," Erhendede stated.

The crises have also brought the activities of local government chairmen to the fore for scrutiny in the state. Many people are dissatisfied with the performance of the present crop of council chairmen who are said to be doing nothing, except sharing allocation. Many Ebonyi citizens are peeved that in many local government areas nothing significant has happened in terms of development and a dependable source disclosed to THISDAY that what many chairmen give to their subjects as excuse why they are not doing much was because state government deducts money from their allocations.

But the chairman of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) in the state, and the Abakaliki local government council boss, Chief Emmanuel Uguru, told journalists that the state government does not deduct even one Kobo from local government allocation. Idu Igariwey also spoke in the same vein. He told THISDAY that the state government has never interfered with local government allocation.

Miffed by the low performance of many local government chairmen, a prominent politician and the chairman of Ebonyi State Secondary Education Board (SEB), Chief Sonni Ogbuoji said, "The essence of government is for effective administration of resources. If the resources are not effectively managed in the overall interest of the people, it means that government has failed."

Ogbuoji urged the citizenry to support anybody or group of people who demand that the right thing should be done, stressing that the councilors should be supported.

Chief Ogbuoji gave support to the suggestion of Chief Irem Ibom, a member of the House of Representatives, representing Afikpo North/South Federal constituency, who said that the chairmen involved in the political imbroglio should be punished to serve as a deterrent to others, warning that if nothing was done in terms of punitive measures other local government chairmen would begin to take laws into their hands after a massive misrule.

According to Chief Ibom, the demand of the councilors at Afikpo South local government area was reasonable because they demanded the payment of their entitlements. He noted that any elected political leader who does not show good governance should be done away with.

Barrister Mudi Erhenede warned that the only thing that can put an end to the endless crisis in Afikpo North was for the state government to intervene and punish those who instigate such crisis. He observed that such incident has been occurring in the local government because the state government has not taken action to put a permanent end to it.

"The solution is for our leaders to look at those issues and anybody found wanting should be made to pay the price. Until these things are done, there will be no peace in that place (Afikpo North)," Erhenede said.

But the Ebonyi State Chairman of ALGON, Chief Emmanuel Ugwu advised concerned authorities to properly investigate the root cause of the disagreement between them and their chairmen before apportioning blames. He said that the law defines the relationship between chairmen and their councilors, and unless the chairman contravenes this law can he be held responsible of breaking the rules. Uguru who is also the chairman of Abakaliki local government area said that salaries and other welfare packages meant for the councilors are determined by the law.

Chief Uguru admitted that the crisis was unhealthy, an "ill wind that won't blow anybody any good." He criticized those who have inordinate political ambition, who want to become governors even when the incumbent still have two more years to end his tenure, advising that "people's ambition should not be inordinate. 2007 is too longâ-oe who doesn't want to become governor, but did God say it will be you?" he asked.

There are indications that after investigations if the chairmen are found to be guilty as alleged they will be suspended. The House has already set up a committee to investigate the crises and the state branch of PDP has also set up a committee.

But almost all the prominent politicians who spoke to THISDAY express the hope that the state governor, Dr. Sam Egwu, will put an end to all the squabbles in "his usual mature way of doing things".

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