opinionBy Chidi Nkwopara, Owerri
When the military dictators created Ideato North Local Government Area of Imo State some years ago, they obviously had good intentions. They wanted development to get to the grassroots very fast. They equally wanted to create employment opportunities for the unemployed, among other benefits. People's joy and expectations rightly knew no bounds. Farmlands quickly gave way for the erection of council offices and other vital public structures and utilities.
It is also on record that a number of people from the area and their friends, made free will donations towards the eventual take-off of the council administration. It ranged from personal buildings, cash, office equipment, perishable items and a host of other items. Quite a number of people got employed and business concerns got a slight boost thereafter. Years after the creation of the local council area, people's dreams have remained largely unfulfilled.
Events have shown that some of the past administrators merely used their election or appointment to improve on their Curriculum Vitae. Others possibly used the opportunity to collude with faceless individuals and companies to swindle and milk the council dry. A number of indigenes, especially the patriots from the area, who spoke to this writer, advanced some reasons for the near-zero development of the entire local council area, over the years. This, according to them, "ranged from selfishness of some of the past administrators, unbridled greediness of some of the past and present councillors, lack of clear vision and senseless opposition by some key personnel of the local council to constituted authorities". This ugly history appears to have been sustained until 1999, when the current democratic engineering started.
As if determined to make a clear shift from the status quo, the people elected a woman, Mrs. Eudora Igwe, to run the affairs of the local council. Things continued to move smoothly until a few months ago when a serious crisis of confidence erupted between the elected councillors and the council Chairman. As at the last count, 14 out of the 19 councillors have allegedly fled their ancestral homes over what they called "serious threat" to their lives. Even the council Chairman has similarly alleged several assassination attempts on her life and that of members of her family by persons suspected to be sponsored by the "fleeing councillors".
Addressing journalists in different settings, the "combatants" accused one another of all manner of graft and scandal. Addressing journalists in Owerri, the Leader of Ideato North Legislative Council, Cyprain Emeka Obidegwu from Obodoukwu Ward and Chairman of the Information Committee, Chief Rollins Obieri from Akwu/Owerre Ward, listed no fewer than 40 alleged "sins" of Mrs Igwe. Apart from accusing the woman of graft, the fleeing councillors equally accused her of breaking into the legislative chambers and removed the mace, as well as employed several thugs that were allegedly charged with the responsibility of hounding, maiming, robbing and possibly killing them wherever and whenever they were seen.
The councillors similarly claimed that this crisis of confidence, which has been brewing between the Chairman and the councillors, has eventually culminated in the alleged suspension of the Ideato North local council boss. The Leader affirmed that the council's resolution has been despatched to Mrs. Igwe via a letter IDNLG/AD/859/11/78 of August 29, 2006, signed by the Clerk of Council, Mrs. Charity Achi and copied to the Governor, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Police Commissioner, the Director of State Security Service and six other establishments. The councillors, who claimed that they took the action during an alleged extra ordinary council meeting held August 29, 2006 at "the Council's temporary chamber", Urualla, also resolved that the Chairman "should proceed on compulsory leave with immediate effect in compliance with Section 26(4) of the Local Government Administration Law No. 15 of 2000".
Addressing the press in Owerri over this development, Mrs. Igwe traced the crisis to her "dogged insistence on not foolishly bowing to the whims and caprices" of the 14 councillors, stressing that the councillors have even sent several petitions to EFCC and wondered why they cannot wait for the outcome of the investigations by the dreaded anti-graft commission.
"I have been under serious pressure to, on a monthly basis, share whatever comes into the council as federal allocation, with the councillors. Because I bluntly refused to do just this, the councillors became antagonistic. If this is the price I have to pay for remaining firm, so be it," Mrs. Igwe said. Answering a question, the Ideato North local council boss explained that apart from this "unholy demand by the councillors", several reports had been sent to her office by some of their constituents about the alleged educational deficiencies of some of the councillors.
"I transferred these petitions to the State Police Command and they quickly came into the matter. As I speak to you, two of them, Martin Obi from Arondizuogu Ward 1 and Anthony Igwe from Arondizuogu Ward 2, are facing charges of certificate forgery in the Magistrate Court", the Chairman recounted. According to her, only six out of the 19 councillors presented their educational certificates for verification, stressing that her administration is "very determined to investigate the certificate fraud among the councillors, despite their present stance".
On the allegation that she sent thugs and hired assassins against the councillors, Mrs. Igwe said there was no iota of truth in the story being bandied by the councillors. Her words: "I can rightly say that I am the one being hunted by these councillors. My child was kidnapped and we spent a lot of money to save her life. A jeep and its innocent occupants, which was mistaken for that of my husband, was attacked and the orderly died in the unfortunate incident. A civil defence personnel attached to the council was similarly killed on the same day. What else would anybody call serious threat to life" ? She further disclosed that the State Police Command "is currently investigating the allegations made by the councillors against me simultaneously with the one I levelled against them". The ideal thing, according to her, is that nobody should jump the gun, pleading that the Police should be allowed to do a thorough job on the alleged crimes.
While saying that no thug was operating within the council headquarters, she also said she does not operate with such social misfits and had never prevented the councillors from entering their offices or chambers, adding that she has equally not contravened any section of the Imo State Local Government Administration Law Number 15 of 2000, on account of her stewardship to the people. "I run an open door policy. The council is a free place for all. I am bent on continuing the public empowerment programmes of my administration. The people must be told the truth. These councillors want to appropriate all the money coming into the local government. They want to do all the minor works. Their demands are endless and I cannot bow to such unholy demands because such a thing crippled past administrators and impoverished the people", Igwe said. On the alleged breaking into the Legislative Chamber and removing the mace, Mrs. Igwe said she is not a legislator and had nothing to do in the legislative chamber of the council or the mace.
"I am not a member of the legislature. I do not know anything about their mace. I did not remove their mace. I did not ask anybody to remove it and I do not have any need for it and have no cause to remove it. If they say they have a spare mace, that is entirely their own business", the woman said. It appears very strange to this writer that the 14 councillors, who claimed that they "have deserted their ancestral homes for fear of being killed" by the alleged hired assassins could not fully explain why their kith and kin cannot protect them in the confines of their ancestral homes, especially in the alleged threat to their lives.
Other investigations have since revealed that we have two principal actors at play in this area and every other person appears to be working for either of the two wealthy indigenous principals.
Apart from this, the pertinent question to ask is whether the council Chairman has been doing anything at all, to improve the lives of the citizenry.
The council Chairman, Mrs. Eudora Igwe, at an impressive ceremony held at Saint Peter's Anglican Church playground, Akokwa, distributed no fewer than 150 motorcycles, 108 barbing equipment, 108 electric generating sets and 35 sewing machines. Speaking before she distributed the poverty alleviation items, Mrs. Igwe said that the event was one of the council's giant strides in tackling destitution in the local governmental area, adding that it was not meant to exhibit wealth.
During this year's Women's August Meeting, Mrs. Igwe gave out cash and other wealth-creation materials to women, the first of its kind since the council was carved out. Her words: "We are very determined to address the problems, especially hunger and want that are facing our people. Many people are hungry and in dire need of economically emancipating themselves. We are also aware that hunger, disease and want can push our famished people into varying criminal acts". The council boss reassured the people that she would continue to resist all moves by some indigenes to unduly tamper with council funds, stressing that although the heat was on, she would eventually overcome. "It is not possible for me to give the council's monthly financial allocations to those who have been disturbing me to do so. I prefer to uplift the welfare of the entire citizenry rather than assuage the whims of a few people", the Ideato North council boss said.
She appealed to those present to talk to their kith and kin, "especially those who have been trying to destabilise the council administration", pointing out that it would amount to a colossal disaster if they were allowed to succeed. All the beneficiaries who spoke to newsmen at the scene were full of praises for the Chairman, adding that "no past administration ever did a thing to alleviate the excruciating poverty facing the people".
Apart from this, the Governor's wife, Mrs. Theresa Udenwa, who visited the area several times, has among other things, commissioned the Computer Centre, the tie and die unit of the Skills Acquisition Centre put together by the council Chairman at Urualla.