Comrade Uwakwe Ezeja is the Caretaker Committee Chairman of Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area, Enugu State. A former chairman of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Enugu State chapter, and pioneer public relations officer of Igbo-Eze North, Ezeja, who has a masters degree in Public Administration, was appointed Caretaker Committee Chairman by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi in January 2016.
In this interview with reporters in his office at Ogrute, Enugu-Ezike, the headquarters of the local government area, Ezeja speaks on the achievements of his administration, the ‘giant’ development strides of the Ugwuanyi administration in Enugu State, among other issues.
How would you describe your experience in office since your appointment early last year as chairman of the one of the largest local government areas in Enugu State?
I would say it has been quite challenging. But, we can also look back and feel satisfied, even fulfilled, that we have done a few things well to uplift Igbo-Eze North, thanks mostly to the fatherly support of the governor, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Gburugburu) and, of course, by the special grace of God.
What challenges did you face at the inception of your administration and what did you do to surmount them?
The Ugwuanyi administration in Enugu came in at the very beginning of our economic recession, which, till today, is still biting the country very hard. So, it was at the height of the recession that we were appointed and sworn in in January last year. It was a period of sometimes zero allocation from the federation account. Part of the reasons was that the internal revenue generation mechanism in the local government had collapsed and, as you may know, IGR is one of the factors taken into consideration by the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) in making allocations to local councils. When we came in, we set up an Economic and Revenue Mobilisation and Generation Committee, which developed a transparent process for IGR collection. Consequently, from the very first month of the operation of that committee, we raised our IGR from an embarrassing N3,600 (no thanks to leakages in the system) to a record N1.5 million monthly. This helped to re-establish confidence in the system and, over time, coupled with the fact that we have a grassroots-supporting governor who does not pinch a penny of the local councils’ money, who gives to each of the councils as he receives from Abuja, things began to look up. As of today, we have cleared all arrears of salaries owed workers, in line with the governor’s philosophy that the economy of the state is served better when workers are paid their salaries, which they can then spend on foodstuff, school books and uniforms, vehicle maintenance et al, thereby putting money in the hands of businessmen and traders.
What are the other achievements of your administration?
What I consider one of the most outstanding achievements of our council administration is the enthronement of a local security system that has ensured the safety of life and property in Igbo-Eze North. Before we came in, all manner of untoward things were happening here. Indeed, this place had the infamy of being a very unsafe place. Armed robberies, car/motorcycle jacking, ritual killings, kidnapping and a whole lot of other bad things were rife. The situation, needless to say, adversely affected the local economy as people either relocated to safer places, while most of our young, nouveau riche refused to come home for fear of being kidnapped.
But I can assure you that Igbo-Eze North is a very safe place now. Drawing strength and support from the Ugwuanyi administration’s Neighbourhood Watch Security programme and working in mutually beneficial relationship with our divisional police, we have been able to equip and motivate our local vigilante to take on our security challenges and they have done a swell job of it. Those who were familiar with the security situation in Igbo-Eze North prior to the coming of the Ugwuanyi administration in Enugu State are wont to admit that there is a world of difference between then and now.
Apart from security, we have also done well in the area of market development. So, we are building markets to provide decent business environment for our people. We are expanding existing markets. With approval from the state government, we have also set up the Igbo-Eze North ESWAMA (Enugu State Waste Management Authority) Volunteer Marshals, created by Governor Ugwuanyi, to help clean our environment and make it safe for human habitation. Periodically, these marshals mobilise the community to clean our environment and open up blocked drainages to prevent flooding caused by indiscriminate dumping of refuse in waste water ways.
As the state prepares for its first local government elections under Ugwuanyi, what are your expectations?
One is that the Peoples Democratic Party will win a landslide. And it has nothing to do with the party being the ruling party in the state. We we will win because the party has done very well in Enugu State. The second expectation, which flows from the first one, is that there will be a peaceful election. We do not expect any acrimony at all, for PDP in Enugu State is one big family under one big umbrella, firmly held by our servant leader, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the worthy son of David.
There are insinuations that the local government’s Charter of Equity whereby elective positions rotate between two groups, Ozzi and Umunano (so divided for administrative convenience) is under threat? What is your take on it?
No, the rotation of elective positions between Ozzi and Umunano is not under threat at all. The truth is that it has served us well; it has served the cause of equity, justice and fair play in the council, to the satisfaction of our people and must be maintained.
Many years ago, leaders of Igbo-Eze North, which is largely a one-town local government populated by people of the same progenitor (Ezikeoba) and, therefore, same linguistic group and culture within the wider Igbo culture, decided that elective positions in the area must rotate between two main groupings, Ozzi community comprising 22 villages, and Umunano comprising 11 villages. However, in order that none of the two groups feels any sense of political alienation at any one point in time in a political dispensation, the elders, in their wisdom, decided that at no time must the two elective positions from which we benefit as a political entity in Enugu State (LG chairman and Member House of Reps under the Udenu/Igbo-Eze North Federal Constituency) be held by people from the same side.