DECONSTRUCTING ESSIEN NDUESO’S GAFFE ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT AUTONOMY

By Ofonime Honesty


At last, they mustered courage to say something. They couldn’t have done otherwise. The loud silence in the highly depleted camp of Governor Udom Emmanuel on the heels of Obong Nsima Ekere’s gubernatorial blueprint presentation was a misnomer. Apparently startled by the content of the policy document, they literally retreated into their shells.


Even as sound minds savoured the manifesto, Essien Ndueso, Governor Udom Emmanuel’s Special Assistant on Media, had other plans. Trust him! He tarried to cobble a skewed critique which has ironically ridiculed his paymaster. He invariably unsealed a can of worms.
Governorship flagbearer of the All Progressives Congress, Mr. Nsima Ekere, had penultimate week, in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, unveiled a five-point agenda which he said will trigger the collective prosperity of Akwa Ibom State.


Ekere highlighted economic prosperity, infrastructure and rural development; education, health and social protection; security, governance and institutional reforms as the cardinal objectives of his proposed administration.


On Chapter 5, Page 27 of the blueprint, Ekere mentioned “timely release of Local Government Allocation” as one of his proposed policies. He also promised that his administration will support the restoration of financial autonomy to local governments.


The plan has attracted rife applause but Essien Ndueso acted otherwise by scripting a piece captioned, ‘Nsima’s LG Autonomy: A synergy of ignorance and deceit.’


A typical Essien Ndueso piece dripping invectives and fallacy!
Excerpts: “Mr. Ekere whose desperation to be governor has seen him embark on campaign of calumny, wild accusations and outright resort to cheap blackmail, took his jaundiced worldview to shocking heights when he told a bewildered public that he’ll provide local government autonomy if elected governor.


“Does he not know that this issue is a constitutional matter and is not within the powers of a governor to determine? Why should the APC standard bearer stoop so low to utter such embarrassing and unpardonable statement?


“Nsima goofed big time when he said he’ll grant autonomy to local governments. How can a gubernatorial candidate not understand the workings of Nigerian constitution? Autonomy for LG is a constitutional issue and only amendment can effect that.


“One had thought that the tomfoolery of the APC and its candidate will have some level of restraint, but Nsima Ekere has given the clearest indication yet that he has neither vision nor mission for the state. And he can’t even pretend otherwise. Sad!”


He did not stop there, he rambled on, accusing Obong Nsima Ekere of plotting to grab power for the sake of plunging the state into insecurity -whatever that means.


Well, Essien Ndueso, yours truly have decoded that you were in great pains seeking for an aspect of the blueprint to fault. Your piece falls flat when subjected to intellectual scrutiny. Your argument was stranger than fiction. You penned it under severe pressure, I know. But you should have been a bit cautious.


First up, I must say that anyone who is yet to realize that governors are the only barrier to the granting of financial autonomy to local governments in Nigeria needs thorough enlightenment on the issue.
The twin chambers of the National Assembly have played their part in the process of amending some sections of the 1999 Constitution, including clauses that grant autonomy to local governments, by ratifying the proposals. But the approval of, at least, 24 Houses of Assembly is required before the proposals can become law. In Nigeria, the state parliaments are firmly under the jackboots of most state governors.


Governor Udom Emmanuel is one of the many governors who firmly oppose the autonomy. This was confirmed in December 2017 by the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State, Barr. Uwemedimo Nwoko, at a stakeholders meeting on the proposed alteration of some sections of the 1999 Constitution convened by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly.


“The Akwa Ibom State government is against it (financial autonomy for Local government). There is nothing wrong with the joint account. What we should look at is not to abrogate the joint account, but to fine-tune it. Any attempt to create financial autonomy for the local government will collapse”, a defiant Nwoko stated.


Nwoko maintained that seeking financial autonomy for the local government was “an attempt by certain persons who want to create a third tier of government”, adding that Section 2 Sub 2 of the constitution defines local government as a mere creation of the State. His position was however faulted by Barr. Offiong Offiong SAN, and other legal luminaries.


Interestingly, the 31 local government council chairmen apparently installed by the governor declined making presentation on whether they are desirous of financial autonomy or not.


National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), other unions and civil society organizations supported the agitation for the financial autonomy, but to the chagrin of well-meaning Akwa Ibom people, the Assembly under the speakership of Barr. Onofiok Luke infamously suspended voting on the issue. Though alleged protests by Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) and Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) were cited as reason for the Assembly’s action, it was generally deduced that Onofiok Luke and co. acted the script of the executive arm. The action underlined Luke’s earlier submission that the Assembly is an iron seal of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s executive arm.


To underline the slave-master relationship between the governor and local government chairmen, when the 31 Local Government Chairmen, in October 2018, took delivery of official cars (Prado jeeps) procured for them by the governor, Chairman, Association of Local Government of Nigeria, Akwa Ibom State Chapter, Mr. Frank Archibong, confessed that they (chairmen) are TIED TO THE UMBILICAL CORD OF THE GOVERNOR.


“We are tied to the umbilical cord of His Excellency and we must redouble our efforts in ensuring he emerges victorious come 2019 because he has done enough to merit a second term,” Archibong, the Eket Council Chairman, confessed.


He did not mince words. Hon. Archibong told us what we already knew and what we should know. He confirmed that the 31 local government chairmen are just pawns in the hands of Udom Emmanuel.


The governor had dispatched his Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr. Udo Ekpenyong, to perform the presentation. The governor simply placed an order for cars for his servants and directed one of his commissioners to deliver keys to them amidst heavy media coverage. Sadly, this is what local government administration has metamorphosed into in my state. Council chairman starved of funds by the governor suddenly received a multi-million naira car procured with a fraction of their statutory allocation.


Governor Udom Emmanuel abused our collective psyshe by inordinately appointing his cronies to run local government caretaker committees in defiance to constitutional and judicial pronouncements.


He further abused our psyche by masterminding a flawed Local Government elections on December 2, 2017. His wife’s biological brother, Mr. Ubong Idiong, holds sway as the council boss in Oruk Anam. In Etinan LGA, Mr. Cletus Ekpo, who is the biological brother to Mr. Paul Ekpo, PDP State Chairman, is the council chairman. Similar impunity-laden scenarios are replicated in the remaining 29 Local Government Areas of the state. The governor either handpicks a chairman or allows his lieutenants like the Works Commissioner, Mr. Ephraim Inyang, and Mr. Paul Ekpo, to do so.


Where the Essien Nduesos of this world in Jupiter when Udom Emmanuel fought hard to avoid okaying the conduct of local government elections? An Akwa Ibom State High Court sitting in Abak, in August 2017, sacked the transition/caretaker committee members appointed by Governor Udom Emmanuel, saying it was illegal and unconstitutional for the administration of local government councils in the state by the caretaker committee members. The suit was filed by Barr. Nsikak Akai, against the state government. The state government frowned at the judgement and appealed it. When he finally budged and decided to bankroll the elections, we all saw the aberration that panned out.


The reason for this brazen desperation is not farfetched. Governors like Udom Emmanuel prefer no financial autonomy for local government because of their addiction of sending paltry cash to the councils, contrary to the actual amount allocated to them by the federal government.


Presently, many local government councils are grounded in Akwa Ibom State. Council secretariats have become abandoned monuments. The few operational councils grapple with challenges including an acute shortage of staff and dilapidated infrastructures. Weeks ago, pictures of the dilapidated legislative chamber of Udung Uko Local Government Council flooded the social media. Hired plastic chairs serve as seats for the councillors and table for mace. Tell me how sensible legislative business is done in such an enclave? The Udung Uko situation is even better compared to other LGAs.


Where do the Essien Nduesos of this world situate Udom Emmanuel’s decision to convert Akwa Ibom to a laboratory for dangerous political experiments?


Exhibiting flagrant abuse of executive power, Udom Emmanuel invaded the House of Assembly with trigger happy policemen and thugs. 
He went in solidarity with Rt. Hon. Onofiok Luke, who despite pendency of cases in court, declared vacant, seats of five lawmakers who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).


The governor which Nsima Ekere intends to be highly differ from that of Udom Emmanuel.


Ekere plans not to pocket the local government and House of Assembly. He will not be a governor that seize or slash funds allocated for local government and House of Assembly. He will allow the respective arms and tiers of government to operate without interference as obtained in sane climes. He will ensure that the lost glory of the local government as the third tier of government is restored.


The negative era of ‘familitocracy’ will elapse under Nsima Ekere as governor; there will be a level playing field for persons interested in running for political offices.


Ekere will not invade the House of Assembly with thugs. Ekere will harness our natural and human resources for the betterment of all. He will make justify Akwa Ibom’s status as the richest state in the country as per monthly allocation. Ekere will run an economically viable state.


As voiced by the man himself: “After three and half years of failed promises, stunted growth and stranded development, Akwa Ibom is about to restart its long walk to greatness. The ambitious development roadmap of our state, designed by the architect of modern day Akwa Ibom, His Excellency, Arc. (Obong) Victor Attah, and built upon by his successor H.E. Senator Godswill Akpabio, has been derailed. It is time to get our state back on track.”


As earlier pointed out, Essien Ndueso’s piece is far from being an intellectual treatise needed to deepen the discourse on how best to govern Akwa Ibom State. That poorly cobbled piece can’t drown the standing ovation generated by Mr. Nsima Ekere’s blueprint. Methinks the media unit of a governor who is seeking second should do better than this!


Conversely, is there no one to tell Essien Ndueso that he is invariably marketing someone else’s product? Common sense ain’t common, I now believe.Only God can make this happen!


Post-2019, Obong Nsima Ekere’s administration will work towards the restoration of financial autonomy for local government, and Essien Ndueso will applaud it. I know him as a staunch supporter of any government in power.


(Ofonime Honesty writes from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. honestyofonime@yahoo.com)


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