Since the inception of the current democratic dispension in Imo State in 1999, the State has held three council elections. And they were all under the regimes of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP.
The first Governor to conduct Local Government election in Imo was Governor Achike Udenwa. For the eight years of two terms he spent in office from 1999-2007, he conducted two elections. And those elections could be described as the catalyst to the grooming of politicians in Imo State into greater heights, as the then budding Leaders used the platforms as Local Government chairmen, Vice Chairmen, Supervisory councilors, councilors to elevate themselves to the orbit of Nigerian politics.
As Nigerian Democracy Progressed, many of those who passed through the Udenwa Local Government election process have today morphed into big time politicians. The current Deputy Governor of Imo State, Hon Gerald Irona, Senator Sam Daddy Anyanwu, Hon Emma Nwogu, Hon Jeff Ojinika, Hon Mayor Eze, Hon Engr Ben Ekwueme, Barr Obed Anyidike, Hon Uche Diogu, Hon Victor Muruako etc are all products of the Udenwa Local Government election process, as they were one time Local Government chairmen. Today these men have grown in political influence as they are scattered in the various sectors of Nigerian as Heads or opinion moulders.
Udenwa conducted two LGA elections until he left office in 2007. His successor, Gov Ikedi Ohakim, even though he spent only one term of four years conducted a Local Government election, which also gave birth to a new set of Imo Leaders, who today also occupy high positions in Imo State and elsewhere in Nigeria.
The truth remains that Local Governments are the tap roots of Nigeria, because every “Big man” has a village first before being a Nigerian.
Therefore, the issue of Local Government election is very important and reason some States like Lagos and Kano have not failed to conduct periodic elections, which churns out fresh Leaders with new ideas.
Imo State was on the part of such glory of fishing out new Leaders through periodic Local Government elections until 2011 when the regime of Owelle Rochas Okorocha appeared on the scene. So, for a long eight years, Imo State could not conduct council elections, and therefore for those eight years, the State encountered stunted human development, because men and women who ought to have been discovered at the LGA levels through the council polls had their dreams shattered, and Imo lost those chances.
It therefore remains on record that except for Udenwa and Ohakim who were of PDP, no other political party in power in Imo State had deemed it fit to conduct council election. Okorocha was of APGA and APC respectively.
It is very selfish for any Governor to have the erroneous belief that conducting elections at the grass roots would reduce his power to call the shots in the State. It is only a draconian Governor like Okorocha who would think that. If Imo State sits down today to count the number of future Leaders and personnel the State lost in Eight years, for not conducting council elections, Okorocha would be banned from setting foot on Imo soil.
Leadership is not a causal business, as it requires absolute functioning sense of faculty, because it entails a lot, both for and against. Therefore, any Leader that puts the people first will succeed, as wealth lasts for a time, but good name lasts forever. Today, nobody talks about the number of Buildings Late Governor Sam Mbakwe has, but he has lived to the next generation of Imo State, who shout his name without even meeting him alive.
Therefore, for eight years, Imo Local Government Areas were abandoned. All the funds meant for them were cornered by one man leaving the Council Areas to decay.
Luckily, the current Governor Emeka Ihedioha, has breathed life back into the abandoned Local Government system with activities and high points of numerous construction works going on in the grass roots.
While Okorocha refused to release funds to the Local Government Areas, Ihedioha decided to handover all that accrues to the LGAs every month from Abuja. This has not happened before. The LGAs in Imo State can now decide what to do with their funds.
Therefore, it is now left for the people to check the Interim Management Council Chairmen and members of their various LGAs, because the fund being released to them by Ihedioha is that of the masses.
However, no matter how benevolent the Governor maybe, or how strict his Special Adviser SA on Local Government Affairs, Hon Eze Mayor may be, there will always be that lacuna with the present managers of Imo LGA funds, because they did not pass through the electorate.
Deep inside the chairmen, they have that phobia of not being elected Council chairmen by the masses, and even the populace mouth that fear too. Therefore, that inhibition would be erased through due process which is a free and fair council election across the State. The incumbent Governor of Imo State has repeatedly said it that he will conduct Local Government election. And from indications on ground, the Governor will not go back on his word.
However, elections are no tea parties.
To conduct an election in a State like Imo that has twenty seven Local Government Areas with over 305 electoral Wards will gulp tones of Naira. It needs money and men. It will take a lot of ground work and field activities. It requires management of men and Labour.
Therefore, how ready is the Imo State Independent Electoral Commission headed by Barr Julius Onyemauchenya for this onerous task?
Local Government election is a litmus test that must pass through the eye of the niddle. Like every other sector in Imo State under Okorocha, was the ISIEC better than other places, like the Government House Owerri, where window blinds were removed, including foot marches? Certainly, a State that has not conducted LGA election in the last Eight years needs enough time to prepare its self for this all-important task. But conduct LGA election, Emeka Ihedioha must! Because he would redeem his word. But not in a situation where the ISIEC is not prepared to do a nice job.
However, Local Government election in Imo will once more kick off the euphoria that campaigns and elections bring to the grassroots. It will enable the political parties to put their houses in order, especially the ruling party who will do everything to prove its strength to the opposition parties. In this case, the PDP which has not been in power for eight years will not like to be humiliated during the council election which measures its base in Imo politics.
But will other political parties participate in the Imo LGA elections whenever the whistle is blown?
There has always been this fear that it would serve no purpose for opposition parties to engage the ruling party in council elections, as the results are usually premeditated.
When Udenwa conducted LGA elections for the first time during his regime, opposition parties won many Local Government seats and councillorship positions. The same thing happened during the second council polls, as other political parties participated.
During the Ohakim council elections, other parties also participated, but with some expression of bias. But luckily APGA has indicated interest to participate in the present LGA election whenever the exercise is declared open.
That conducted by Okorocha was not defined and lacked necessary guidelines as it was shrouded in secrecy which left other parties no option than to stay away because they were not wanted. So, the entire exercise ended a sham, with obnoxious rules and conditions. Therefore, the coming council election must have every element of a well-conducted poll that meets all the demands and practices.
The opposition political parties must participate and should not transfer their inaptitude on the electoral umpire or the ruling party.
The political parties should begin now to put their houses in order and therefore not blame anybody if internal squabbles deny them the opportunity to try their strength in a transparent Local Government Election. The council polls will afford opportunities to all political parties, no matter how small they may be. A councilor can win an election in his locality without being a member of APC, APGA or PDP.
Those who are nursing sceptism towards the Imo Council election must banish such thought as the Governor from his conduct in office has exhibited liberal attitude with his major concern being how Imo State will move forward.
Therefore whenever the council election is conducted, it is expected to be a model that will help in producing fresh men with good ideas that will take over the Leadership of Imo State in the future from the aging generation.
As earlier said, what Udenwa did in council polls has turned out to be for the benefit of Imo State today. Therefore, the Imo council polls under Emeka Ihedioha will serve as a platform to fish out more men and women of tomorrow, who will handle the affairs of the State.
It is must be the duty of ISIEC to scrutinize all those that would contest for the various positions, because you don’t give what you don’t have.
If Ihedioha’s era gives Imo State another set of qualified Leaders through the LGA elections, history will continue to remember him, even years after leaving office.