Imo State’s Path To Progress: Governor Uzodimma’s Grassroots Development Plan.BY OCHIAGHA NNANNA OKERE

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Nigeria has 774 local government areas, each administered by a Local Government Council consisting of a chairman, who serves as the Chief Executive of the LGA, and other elected members known as Councillors. These local authorities are multi-purpose bodies responsible for a wide range of services, including roads, traffic, planning, housing, economic and community development, environment, recreation, fire services, and maintaining the markets among others.

Despite being the closest tier of government to the people, local governments in Nigeria have often failed to deliver essential services, leading to a loss of faith and trust among citizens.

The ineffectiveness of local governments in service delivery is often attributed to their lack of autonomy. The issue of local government autonomy in Nigeria has been a recurring theme in national discourse. The 1976 local government reform by the then military Head of State General Olusegun Obasanjo aimed to democratize the grassroots and ensure meaningful democracy. However, successive administrations have not allowed local governments to operate independently, as enshrined in the constitution.

The 1976 reforms stated that local governments should enjoy the discretion to undertake those duties that will benefit and impart the local populace considering the local needs and desires. Autonomy becomes the life wire of any local government. It is autonomy that gives meaning to local government as the seedbed of any democratic government. For any government to claim to be democratic, its democratic foundation must be at the local government otherwise such democracy is not on solid foundation.

In fairness to Senator Hope Uzodinma as a democrat, he had wanted to conduct outrightly council poll without opting for Interim Management Committee few months he came into office but due to advice from the Imo State House of Assembly and the outbreak of Coronavirus in the world the governor had to appoint Interim Management Committee at the local government level to help in the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic issues.

Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State has demonstrated a commitment to addressing these challenges and re-engineering grassroots development. Despite initial setback, such as the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uzodimma has shown determination to conduct local government elections. This determination reflects his understanding that local governments are critical for delivering his administration’s agenda of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, and Recovery, encapsulated in his 3R mantra.

One significant move by Governor Uzodimma to enhance grassroots development was the creation of Development Centres in Imo State. These centres bring government more closer to the people and include the President Generals of various autonomous communities and traditional rulers acting in advisory role, promoting good governance at the grassroots level. This initiative has been well-received by the people of Imo State, who are optimistic that Uzodimma will ensure free and fair local government elections and full autonomy for local governments.

One of the reasons for the delay in conducting local government elections under Governor Uzodimma was due to the legal challenge posed by former council chairmen who took the state government to the Supreme Court over their tenure that was allegedly cut short. The Supreme Court ultimately dismissed the appeal filed by the former chairmen of the 27 local government areas. A five-member panel of Justices at the apex court unanimously ruled that the appeal lacked merit.
In response to the Supreme Court ruling, the Imo State Government, represented by the State’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Hon. Barr. C. O. C. Akaolisa (SAN), stated that they had been awaiting for the court’s decision to proceed with conducting local government elections. “The state government decided to await the Supreme Court’s decision in this case before conducting Local Government elections. “We didn’t want to be seen to be disrespecting the court. It was out of respect to the court that we decided to wait”

The previous Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, had announced in his inaugural address in June 2011 the dismissal of the elected Local Government Chairmen, who were elected during the tenure of his predecessor, Dr. Ikedi Ohakim of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the time. Senator Okorocha replaced these elected officials with his appointed Transitional Committee Chairmen for the 27 Local Governments in the state. This action led to legal challenges, causing delays in conducting new elections.

With the legal challenge out of the way Governor Uzodimma moved to conduct the long awaited local government elections and directed the Imo State Independent Electoral Commission (ISIEC) to kick start the process and began to create awareness to the public.
It was in furtherance to that announcement by the Chairman of ISIEC, Chief Charles Ejiogu that local government polls will be held on September 21, 2024, has brought excitement and commendations for Governor Uzodimma. The Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Hon Mrs. Ruby Emele, highlighted the widespread approval of this decision, emphasizing that Uzodimma’s administration is about to achieve what past governors could not. The two times Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Hon. Mrs. Ruby Emele, aptly noted that “people from all walks of life have shown their support for Uzodimma since the election date was announced for September 21st. This positive reaction is a testament to the Shared Prosperity administration’s commitment to achieving what past governors could not.”
Gauging the mood of the people, the Director General of the Imo State Orientation Agency (ISOA), Chief Dr. Ethelbert Okere, has urged all Imolites to support the Imo State Independent Electoral Commission (ISIEC) in delivering credible local government elections. This support is crucial for ensuring that the grassroots feel the impact of Uzodimma’s administration. Okere’s assurance of ISOA’s commitment to voter education, sensitization, and mobilization underscores the importance of a well-informed electorate in achieving credible elections.

Governor Uzodimma’s commitment to conducting local government elections despite challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, politically motivated insecurity, and legal battles demonstrates his dedication to grassroots development. His administration has faced numerous obstacles, including an appeal by former local government chairmen and the need to respect court decisions. Despite these challenges, Uzodimma’s focus on creating an enabling environment for local governments to thrive is commendable.

Governor Uzodimma’s efforts to re-engineer grassroots development in Imo State are a step in the right direction. By ensuring free and fair local government elections and promoting local government autonomy, his administration can lay the foundation for sustainable development at the grassroots level. With continued support from the people of Imo State and a commitment to transparent and accountable governance, Uzodimma can achieve his vision of a prosperous and well-governed state.

Ochiagha Nnanna Okere hails from Umuowa, Ngor Okpala and is the Convener and Coordinator Imo Diaspora Support For Senator Hope Uzodimma

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