26th July, 2011
I reckon that one of the most controversial statements coming from the stable of Owelle Rochas Okorocha so far is his pledge to strengthen the traditional rulers and make them the cornerstone of his highly commended promise to introduce the fourth tier of governance in Imo State.
The Imo governor not only promised to make them the chief security officers of their communities but also to increase their salaries. Not a few people strained themselves to reconcile this promise with the high expectations the pledge to introduce the fourth tier or community government has provoked from Imo people, almost getting restless with their desire for result-oriented government of the Mbakwe hue. Rochas was reported to have made that promise to the council of traditional rulers and must have meant that as a soothing balm to the deflated image the traditional institution cut for itself as it immersed itself in the politics of the state.
Several opinions have been raised against the proposal, among which that of Prof. Obi Nwakamma ranks foremost. In the various list serves, the idea drew several scathing condemnations and several people have even made personal enquiries seeking clarifications on the issue. On a visit home recently, some Imolites sought my opinion on the issue but I told them that the idea still needs further elucidation. For me, there is some mix-up somewhere and the earlier this is sorted out, the better for the government of Owelle Okorocha. The mix-up is locatable within the conceptual red herring inherent in the novel idea of fourth tier of government and what it actually means to the people, as well as how to drive it to strike maximum impact among the people. I had written on this very much earlier and will certainly extract it and re-publish so as to help give some clarity to the concept but I still believe that Owelle has a lot to learn from the Peter Obi government in Anambra on this concept.
For us to progress, I believe Rochas is old enough to know the age old noxious perception Igbo, as a people, have for the traditional institution. He knows very well that Ndigbo are fiercely republican and efforts to force down a regimented traditional institution on them have often rebounded with so much forceful gusto. Going further, he knows that even in its very watered down concept, the institution has suffered so much disrepute in recent times as a result of the compromised characters that have secured for themselves fiefdoms they preside over in form of autonomous communities. In short, the traditional institution in Imo State is a microcosm of the ills that have ravaged the state in recent times as about 85 per cent of traditional rulers are con artists, kidnappers, armed robbers and other forms of social malcontents-there is no hyperbole here. Again, when it fully allowed itself to be dragged by its imposed leadership, into the murky waters of partisan politics, the Imo traditional institution sank to an all time nadir it can hardly recover from. Rochas is a direct victim of this misapplication of wisdom and that he triumphed at the recent governorship polls was as a result of the Imo peopleâ€™s refusal to toe the lines dictated by their so-called traditional rulers who declared a fatwa on any Imo citizen that will dare vote for any other person than the erstwhile incumbent. So, the question on the lips of many Imolites is, why strengthen, through government fiat, such an institution that has fallen into irredeemable disrepute at a time people are yearning for direct feel of governance?
Perhaps, Rochas needs to know the difference between the traditional institution and the town union or community development organizations that should drive his beautiful concept of fourth tier of government. While the traditional ruler is the custodian of culture and tradition in a given autonomous community, the town union or the community development association is the duly elected executive government of the people at the community level. The town union controls the finances and executes projects within a given community while the traditional ruler adjudicates in minor disputes as may be brought before him by his people. Saddling the traditional rulers with executive powers is a direct way of forcing a monarchy on a free thinking people and trust the resilient spirit of the Igbo man, he will fight back by withdrawing his support and deeper rancour may ensue.
It is obvious that Rochas misconstrued autonomous communities with administrative communities hence the present misconconception. If he must know, autonomous communities, as we have them presently is quite different from administrative communities for while autonomous communities were whimsically carved out for the convenience of friends of those in government, administrative communities are natural creations that have traditional boundaries and binding factors. If he wants to deal with the so-called autonomous communities and their traditional rulers, he will sink into a very unwieldy quagmire because there is no clear cut delineation of autonomous communities and no natural boundaries define them. In some communities there are as much as six or seven autonomous communities and I bet Rochas will have his hand full satisfying the individual needs of these small chips that were whimsically carved out to satisfy base considerations.
I believe that Rochas will be doing the debased traditional institution a world of good if he should audit them and the factors that led to their creation and see ways of collapsing some with others. He would do the institution a world of good if he leaves the sustenance of traditional rulers to their respective communities so that those traditional rulers that have no home base would be forced to seek peace with their people or get booted out to allow the free choices of the people to preside over their traditional institutions. I bet the traditional institution got irredeemably bad the moment the government decided to pay them salaries and allowances. That was the period traditional rulers ceased from being the natural choices of their people to being appointees of government and they were put into the inordinate use of the government that sustained them. In over 75 per cent of the autonomous communities, the traditional rulers are neither the choices of their people nor are they at peace with their people and only flaunt the fact that they are receiving salaries from government as the source of their legitimacy. It was this historical faux pas that made the quest for autonomous communities so dominant that inordinately ambitious individuals mobilized funds and put up applications to be made traditional rulers, even for a cluster of three or four families and these were granted so long as they have enough cash to bribe the approving authorities or if they are close to those in power.
I want Rochas to streamline the town unions in Imo State, ensure their leaderships flow from the direct endorsement of the people and deal with them. It is not out of place for his government to carry out a comprehensive review of the town unions and properly delineate them on population considerations to ensure they conform to democratic principles and where this important principle is lacking, supervise a credible leadership selection process to ensure the leadership carries the people along and that done, he can now make the town unions the cornerstone of his fourth tier concept. It is apt to state that for him to strike maximum result with his fourth tier concept, he should be dealing with not more than 270 town unions, which translates to ten town unions per local government, as against the thousands of autonomous communities that litter the state presently.
Again, he should have the boldness to streamline the town unions and the autonomous communities. That means he will necessarily collapse some of the so-called autonomous communities in the state. It is the duties of the town unions and the people to now work out the best modal of sustaining their traditional rulers and not for the government to pay salaries to traditional rulers. If this is done, the town unions and the traditional rulers will work in cahoots with each other and derive their legitimacy directly from the people. That way, Rochas will not only carry the people along with him but also save the traditional institution from the crisis it is facing presently. â€˜Making them powerful and giving them more moneyâ€™ will rather exacerbate the crisis and worsen the friction engendered in several communities presently as a result of needless contestations for traditional rulership as well as supremacy battle with the town unions and I hope Rochas draws sufficient conceptual clarity from this short intervention about the fourth tier of government and the traditional institution before he makes a mistake that will plunge the state into intractable crisis.
â€¢Peter Claver Oparah writes in from Lagos. E-mail: [email protected]