LG workers storm Enugu, Ebonyi to seek autonomy
From Obinna Odogwu (Abakaliki), Daniel Edem, Rosemary Asogwa and Jane Nwaoriaku (Enugu)
Workers at the third tier – the local government – last week and the penultimate one took to the streets of the South-East states to demand for council autonomy.
It was a period the workers, like the biblical Israelites led by Moses, went to Pharaoh to ask him to allow them leave Egypt for the Promised Land.
In Enugu and Ebonyi states, the workers had stormed the House of Assemblies to register their grievances and demand for independence.
In Enugu State, the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) staged a solidarity rally to demand for autonomy of councils in the state.
Thousands of workers marched from the New Berries area along Abakaliki road to the Enugu State House of Assembly to protest what they called injustice and political interference in the activities of the local governments by the other levels of government, which the union members said were hindering the progress and participation by the people at the grassroots.
The council workers were joined by members of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in the protest and carried placards with various inscriptions.
Addressing the union members at the Enugu State House of Assembly, the Speaker, Edward Ubosi, said the agitations of NULGE have been registered just as he promised to do his best to ensure that the demands were met.
He also called on the NULGE members and stakeholders to continue their campaign at the various local government headquarters in the state for more support and votes since the process would still end in voting by the Assembly in consultation with the union.
In Ebonyi State, over 2,000 members of NULGE, stormed the Abakaliki Government House and state House of Assembly complex to also demand for autonomy.
Human and vehicular movement along the ever-busy Ogoja Expressway Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, was grounded.The dual carriage Abakaliki/Enugu Expressway was not spared of the gridlock caused by the protesters who also besieged Nkaliki community which hosts the state’s House of Assembly.
The long procession to the legislative house by the aggrieved demonstrators brought untold hardship to commuters for the several hours it lasted.
The protesters carried placards with various inscriptions such as: ‘Legislators free LG from strangulation’, ‘Bring back our autonomy and ‘Bring back third tier govt’, ‘NUT and NULGE speak with one voice’, ‘Liberate the grassroots government to provide genuine governance to the rural dwellers,’ among others.
From their secretariat located around the popular Vanco Junction in Abakaliki, the protesting NULGE members defied the scorching sun, singing and dancing along the roads.
At strategic junctions, they made brief stops to display their placards to the people to inform them of what the long procession was all about.
Interestingly, onlookers, especially hawkers and children, who ordinarily have no business with the protest, joined the NULGE’s train because of the rhythm of the songs that blared from the loudspeakers mounted on the train of the protesters.
Presenting their grievances to the officials of the state government led by the Head of Service, Dr. Chamberlain Nwele, in front of the state’s Government House, the state Chairman of NULGE, Mr. Leo Nkah, lamented that the third tier of government had been severely exploited by the political class.
“The local government has been lost over time due to the misrule of plunderers who hijacked the reins of power and caused alterations in the process of governance to be able to personalise the treasury and use its contents without recourse to accountability.
“The neglect of due process and the legalisation of corrupt practices by those leaders fuelled by selfish tendencies brought the local government administration to its knees and crippled the activities therein.
“This has led to the impact of the local government not being felt in the grassroots and the people have borne the brunt of it. The death, rot and decay of the arm of government that should have given the grassroots people a sense of belonging has really gone from bad to worse.
“The governor should help us influence the state House of Assembly to give the local government autonomy. Last time, our legislators voted against it. It is very unfortunate because their own autonomy; financial autonomy for Houses of Assembly is even included. But they said that they didn’t want it.
“But today, Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria, that is, the workers in the House of Assembly who also know of the need for financial autonomy for the Houses of Assembly. They’re led by Comrade Kanayo.
“So, let the governor help us to influence our state House of Assembly to vote in favour of financial autonomy for the local government areas since many other states have said yes to it,” he said.
Also speaking, the National Trustee of NULGE, Abimbola Babalola, said local government autonomy would stop deductions of local government allocation by governors.
He noted that the autonomy would bring sanity to the system and strengthen the local government administration in the country.
“If we have our own resources, we will manage it well. We want direct allocations to local governments so that it will stop the deductions being made by our governors.
“When we have them in our purse, we know how to utilize them better for the people. We want democracy to get to the root, let democracy thrive at the grassroots; let it be to the standard everybody wants.
“In the past, leadership was grown from the local government system but this day, everything has just been in shambles, including the election that is being handled by the state electoral commissions. We want LG election to be handled by INEC, let’s have democracy at the grassroots. We are the people that are voting,” he said.
Addressing the workers, the state Head of Service, Dr Chamberlin Nwele, told the freedom seekers that it was not the duty of the state governor to grant autonomy to the local government.
He also told them to apply caution while seeking for autonomy, reminding them that in Ebonyi State, “over 50 per cent of the local governments cannot pay salaries of their workers.
“About seven out of the 13 local government areas in Ebonyi State cannot pay salaries of workers in the system. Should we have local government autonomy? Today, salaries are paid on or before 15th of every month in the state at both the state and local government employees because of the governor’s ingenuity in managing the lean resources of the state,” he said.
Nevertheless, Dr Nwele passed to them a message of gratitude from Governor David Umahi.
Accoding to him: “He told me to tell you that he appreciates the support you have accorded his administration since 2015 when he came on board. This support has given him room for the massive infrastructural development of Ebonyi State as you can see.
“The governor equally told me to tell you that inasmuch as the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is very clear on freedom of association and expression is very clear, that in dealing with any matter, you should look closely.
“Today, what is trending in Nigeria is true federalism. It means that every federating unit is at liberty to work out things the way it best suits it. Realize that in Ebonyi State, over 50 per cent of the local governments cannot pay salaries. However, it is not the duty of the governor to grant local government autonomy.”