At a time the debate for restructuring Nigeria has gained some currency on account of perceived marginalization of sections of the country, the question of how well or badly second and third tier leadership have fared in our states and local government areas must be interrogated again. As much as one would love to see more power devolve to these tiers of government, we must hold them accountable for the powers and responsibilities they wield today.
The Southeast geopolitical zone has been vocal in its demand for equity and justice in the administration of project Nigeria. Only recently, representatives of that zone in the House of Representatives lost a bid for a bill establishing South East Development Commission modelled after the North East Development Commission with a mandate to harness the commercial potential and upgrade infrastructure in the region. Although their senate counterparts succeeded in pushing the bill beyond second reading, it is doubtful that the Commission will be established in the immediate future. Even if it were established, it may not address the identified challenges unless people from that part of the country take holding their leaders to account more seriously.
It is easy to see why leadership accountability is not necessarily high priority. The fact that many individuals have taken over the functions of government by providing schools, health facilities, water electricity, etc. means that they scarcely look up to government for anything. However deeply entrenched the system of “self-help development assistance” has been in the region, it is about time that citizens began to take their leaders to task.
The recent visit by South African President, Jacob Zuma to Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State (one of the five states in the Southeast geopolitical zone) presents an important opportunity to demand accountability of our leaders. Notorious for loving the limelight, Okorocha had in July 2015, shortly after returning from a trip to the United States on President Muhammadu Buhari’s ticket, ostensibly transformed his photo opportunity with President Barack Obama into bill-boards placed in strategic locations in the state capital, Owerri. When that attracted serious bad press, he denied ownership but nonetheless enjoyed the publicity.
When Zuma came calling, Okorocha took his love of the limelight to new levels. He awarded the highest merit award in the state on his visitor. In addition, he named a popular street after him and erected a bronze live-sized statue of the man in the city centre. Zuma also received the traditional title of Ochiagha (loosely translated “the general of the people’s army” or “warrior”). Curiously, Governor Okorocha’s Chief Press Secretary, Sam Onwuemeodo explained that Zuma’s trip was “principally for the signing of MoU between Jacob Zuma Education Foundation and Rochas Foundation College of Africa,” thereby raising the question as to why the Governor had to deploy state apparatus and resources to host his friend on a private trip.
Beyond the question of trip status is the more fundamental issue of process. Zuma is not known to be invested in Imo – at least not yet. He may have similar passions as the governor but that is not enough to qualify him for the high honor bestowed by the governor. If anything, the fact that Zuma’s own judicial system – South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal – upheld a High Court ruling reinstating corruption charges against Zuma the week Okorocha honored him ought to have raised red flags on his candidature. Apparently, it didn’t. Not even the alleged killing of Imo indigene, Iheanacho Obinna by some officers of South Africa Police Service could restrain Okorocha. Perhaps nothing could.
Imo people ought to demand accountability for Okorocha’s action. A few individuals are leading the way on this but they cannot do it alone. For its part, the state House of Assembly needs to be more alive to its responsibility of holding the executive accountable to the people. The loud silence from that legislative assembly speaks volumes.
The past presents a powerful lesson in the consequences of not holding leaders to account. In August 2017, Governor Okorocha ordered the demolition of Ekeukwu Market in the capital city, Owerri in furtherance of his “urban renewal project.” Sadly, that exercise which was undertaken in violation of a judicial order led to the loss of properties, limbs and lives, including that of ten year old Somotochukwu Igboanusi. To prevent future impunity, Imo people might wish to ask their governor what happened and why.
We cannot claim to demand accountability, equity and justice of a union in which we feel marginalized without equally asking our leaders at the lowest levels to account for the resources and responsibilities we have assigned to them. Both ought to go together. Imo people have to ask Okorocha why he does what he does and what benefits his actions bring to the average citizen residing in or belonging to Imo State. That dialogue ought to start now.
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