By ANIEBO NWAMU — In the early hours of last Tuesday, a fire outbreak reportedly consumed valuable items including sensitive documents in the accounts department of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly in Abakaliki. Stakeholders like me were still ruminating over the ugly incident and asking questions when the matter was taken to the floor of the House of Representatives in Abuja. Hon. Linus Okorie alluded to “heightened political differences” existing between the legislative and the executive arms of government in his home state, even as he praised the state lawmakers for continuing with plenary immediately after the fire was put out.
Apparently emboldened by Okorie, the House of Reps and the southeast PDP that directed IG of Police Suleiman Abba to investigate the fire disaster, the Ebonyi Assembly (or remnants of it), a few hours later, moved a motion for the impeachment of the state governor, Chief Martin Elechi, in Abakaliki.
These and other stories coming from Ebonyi in recent times have prompted many to question the state’s credential — “The Salt of the Nation” as printed on vehicles’ number plates. I can’t draw a parallel between what salt does for soup and what Ebonyi now does for the nation.
When I saw Governor Elechi in person for the first time – inside the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Maitama, FCT, when he was introduced, in December or so – I saw a humble-looking grandpa said to be the oldest governor in Nigeria. [He and Plateau State governor Jonah Jang compete for the prize, according to observers.] When did children learn to insult elders in Igbo-land?
Elechi’s second four-year term is ending in less than three months. Unlike most other governors, he has no ambition to enjoy his retirement in the Senate. I fail to understand what state legislators Odefa Odefa, Valentine Okike, Francis Nwifuru and their minions hope to achieve by their motions other than stupidity. Unless the state chief judge constitutes a kangaroo panel, the impeachment process cannot be completed before May 29. Though the governor has been in office since May 2007, the “honourable” lawmakers of Ebonyi could not detect allegations of “acts of misconduct”, “misappropriation of funds” and “undermining of the House of Assembly’s authority” until two months to the end of his tenure.
It’s nothing but political enmity at work. The tussle between Abuja politicians of Ebonyi extraction and home-based ones heightened during the PDP primaries a few months ago. With the national body of the PDP looking the other way, Abuja politicians ganged up to humiliate the governor: his candidates lost the primaries, a rare thing in Nigerian politics. Everyone watched in disbelief as the majority were “defeated” by the minority during the PDP primaries in the state. Even former health minister Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu couldn’t make it at the governorship primary. In droves, the party members in the state moved to the Labour Party (LP) and others.
It was perhaps during one of the governor’s visits to Abuja to complain that I saw him in the church. I gathered that he met President Jonathan who gave him firm assurances. Once his back was turned, however, all promises turned hot air. Only recently, for instance, it was reported that the president had rejected the request of the governor’s enemies to impeach Governor Elechi. Nobody seems to have listened to Jonathan’s reconciliation advice. A faction of the state legislature did declare the seats of four of its members vacant because they moved to the LP, against the assurance the governor had received from Abuja. The state assembly did not extend similar treatment to many other lawmakers that defected to other parties.
Following these defections, the Ebonyi lawmakers currently lack the minimum number prescribed by law to form a House of Assembly. Encouraged by their Abuja backers, however, the few lawmakers left have been sitting, in defiance of pending court cases. My source informed me that two PDP national officers, one from Rivers State and another from Anambra State, recently embarked on a recruitment drive to get more members of the House to endorse impeachment moves against the governor. The impunity of “impeaching” a governor by five or 12 members of a state assembly enacted under Obasanjo’s EFCC in Plateau, Ekiti and Bayelsa seems to have resurfaced in Ebonyi.
Conversations in Abakaliki these days have often centred on rumours that the governor’s traducers have convinced the presidency that they control the grass roots in Ebonyi. The unfortunate thing is that they have not waited until Election Day to test that claim. Like some other PDP governors at the moment, Governor Elechi should feel that his support for the president is being taken for granted.
It is known that every governor, not least in the southeast, wields great influence. Elechi is not an exception. The movement of his supporters to LP has been phenomenal, as rallies held in the state can testify. And therein lies the reason for the impeachment threat: his opponents fear they won’t win if the governor remains in power during the polls now slated for March 28 and April 11.
Perhaps, Ebonyi was once the “salt of the nation” but, today, it qualifies as the “sore of the nation”. If there were any salt coming from Ebonyi, it must be awful-tasting and not needed for making soup! Lawmakers have turned law-breakers. Political godsons have turned against their godfathers. While Abuja and Abakaliki are dancing on the precipice, agents of the law appear helpless in the face of impunity.
The opposition APC in Ebonyi State has accused leaders of the House of complicity in the fire incident. In a reaction, the House declared two more of its members’ seats vacant. The police have been indifferent; in fact, the opposition parties in the state believe that the police commissioner in the state was not transferred like his colleagues recently because he is on a mission.
I know that Ebonyi should be the last state in Nigeria to face turmoil now. It costs money to manage every crisis, but Ebonyi doesn’t have it. It receives one of the least allocations from the Federation Account and its internally generated revenue is poor.
The presidency should sincerely head off the current rift between Abuja politicians and the state governor. A similar hostility between 2001 and 2003 led to the loss of several lives in the state. In advance of the general elections, the nation has more than enough battlegrounds already.