By Amgbare Ekaunkumor, Yenagoa
Surrounded by a horde of supporters and people of the Southern Ijaw Local Government Council area of Bayelsa State, Governor Douye Diri exuded great confidence in the achievements of the Local Government Council Chairmen in the last two and half years in charge in the State.
For his supporters, and his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Governor Douye Diri style of strict adherence to the Local Government autonomy has created a needed difference in local government administration where State Government played only supervisory role and allowed Council Chairmen delivers the needed dividend to the grassroots.
It is only in Bayelsa State, out of the comity of States, that Local Council Chairmen, whose tenure elapses this August, openly announced projects initiated and completed with no salary arrears owed workers and millions of naira expected to be left in the coffers of the outgoing administration.
Above all, in the words of the Local Government Chairmen, led by the Chairman of the Southern Ijaw Local Government Councils, Hon. Kia Nigeria, the Governor Douye Diri administration has never tampered with the finances of the Local Government Councils in the State. Alas, the difference is clear!
Unlike in the past, where local government administration are caught in various level of controversies including alleged inefficiency, corruption, inability to pay Council workers’ salaries, non-performance by Local Government Chairmen across the country. The Bayelsa story has changed.
In Bayelsa at the moment, outgoing council Chairmen are proud to announce monies, in millions, left in the coffer of the council for incoming administration to inherit.
They are no longer indebted to banks as before.
A public commentator, Dr. David Amabo, attributed the new achievements in the Local Government administration to the harmonious relationship between the Gov. Diri led administrations with Local Government Council Chairman.
Amabo also observed that such robust relationship have also led to the emergence of two Council Chairmen as flag bearers of the PDP in Nembe and Ogbia Local Government areas of the State. The ill-advised defection of one council chairman in Brass to the SDP notwithstanding, the council administration has changed tremendously.”
However, the story of the Bayelsa Council Chairmen and a reformed Council administration was not that rosy in the last three years. There were skirmishes between Council Chairmen and their Councilors on one side and issues of over bloated wage bill on the other side. But the intervention of the State Executive through the State Deputy Governor, Senator Lawrence Erhujiakpor calmed frayed nerves.
Sometimes last year, the State Deputy Governor had to intervene in the skirmishes between the Chairmen and leaders of the legislative assemblies of the eight local government areas in the State. And also intervened and resolved the contentious issues among chairmen and principal officers of councils, labour union leaders and some top government officials over modalities to pay the new minimum wage and salary arrears owed workers.
At the moment, the Council Chairmen, Councillors and Council workers are working harmoniously everyone heaving a sigh of relief as the eight councils in the state on new modalities to pay the new minimum wage and salary arrears owed workers. The elated workers, including primary school teachers, non-academic staff and health personnel would also be paid their salary arrears from 2016 on monthly installments with effect from this month.
Also commenting on the development, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Political Matters, High Chief Collins Cocodia, described the efforts of Governor Diri at repositioning council administration as “monumental”, “All appointments done by the Local Government Chairmen are not interfered with by the State Executive. They also enjoyed autonomy because the governor does not tamper with their funds.”
In one case, many expected the Governor, Senator Douye Diri to descend on a Local Government Chairman that dumped the ruling PDP for the SDP recently, but silence was the reaction. Unlike other State Governors, Gov. Diri surprised many supporters by not initiating any impeachment move against the errant Local Council Chairmen to the chagrin of his support base. He is expected to go ahead and commission projects initiated and completed by the affected council Chairman.
According to High Chief Cocordia, “For the commissioning of projects, nothing can stop the governor from commissioning projects in brass if he has meaningful projects that are completed. To tell you the truth, Gov. Diri is a good man. If such defection had happened in other states, the Brass Chairman would have been impeached and arrested. But Gov. Diri is a more mature man and allow people do what they want as long as it’s within their constitutional rights. If he has good projects, the governor will visit there”.
However in his explanation on the noticeable achievements in the Local Government administration in the state, Governor Douye Diri said the projects executed by local government councils in the state were as a result of the financial autonomy they enjoy under his administration.
Speaking while inaugurating a one-story office complex at the Yenagoa local government secretariat, Gov. Diri said that the prudent management of funds under the strict supervision of his deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, made the execution of meaningful projects possible across the wards and communities in the eight councils.
He stressed that his administration does not tamper with allocations accruing to the councils but has rather been assisting them with N100 million on a monthly basis for payment of salaries,“ We are in full support of autonomy for the local government system. When we came in, we discovered that the local government system had a lot of challenges. Across the country, you are all aware that most state governments had been accused of dabbling into local governments’ funds”.
“But in our state, I like to put on record that this administration led by me has never requested for one naira from the local government system. The chairmen can attest to that. Rather the state government assists local governments when they have challenges. Local governments in Bayelsa State have been truly autonomous and have been doing their own thing. That is why we have gathered for a ceremony like this.”
According to the governor, the same council chairmen that said they were unable to pay salaries now have savings “I can tell you that the Yenagoa Local Council chairman is going to hand over more than N100 million to the incoming chairman.”
While commending the council chairmen for keying into his vision and the successful completion of legacy projects, Diri however cautioned them against engaging in last minute employment of workers as their tenure expires next month. He assured them that their severance allowances would be made available to them and also hinted that plans were ongoing to set aside funds from the council’s savings for the payment of gratuity of local government retirees.
“Our chairmen are about to exit. We have the issue of backlog of severance allowances. This group that is exiting, there is already money made available for severance payment. We plan to commence the compulsory payment of what is due to the local government councils. To that effect, on monthly basis, N5million has been approved for that payment to local government councils.”
Diri also inaugurated projects in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area (KOLGA), which included a model motor park at Kaiama equipped with market stalls, offices and borehole.
Also inaugurated were a divisional police headquarters in Kaiama and a concrete road linking the council’s secretariat.
The governor also paid an unscheduled visit to the permanent orientation site of the National Youth Service Corps at Kaiama. While inspecting the KOLGA Skills Acquisition Centre, Diri directed all council chairmen to set up skills acquisition centers as well as directing the construction of walkways, two additional hostels and renovation of the NYSC Camp Clinic.
Earlier, the Yenagoa council chairman, Nimizuo Oroupaye, said he embarked on the office complex project to mitigate the plight of workers, who lacked office space. Oroupaye listed some of the projects completed to include construction of concrete walkway at Biseni and Agudama/Ekpetiama, renovation of Igbogene market, rehabilitation of solar water project, Bomoundi, renovation of the Okolobiri and Gbarain markets.
Also in his address, the Kolokuma/Opokuma Council boss, Dengiye Ubarugu, appreciated the governor for his role in making the local government system functional. Ubarugu attested that the state government had not meddled in the finances of his council, which he noted was largely responsible for the successes achieved.
Some of the projects completed include mini neighborhood water projects at Ekpuwari, Ofonibiri, Boro Town road, Oloibiri, Kaiama, Abuwari, Ayibabiri and Kalama communities. Also a concrete road at Igbedi, construction of Odi market, construction of foodstuff market at Sampou, renovation of Proctor Memorial Primary School, Kaiama and printing of exercise books for primary schools in the council.
In his summary, a senior official of Bayelsa Government simpley put the fresh air [assing through Local Government administration in the state, as “The Prosperity administration has ensured that Local Government funds remained the exclusive for running of the respective Local Government councils including regular payment of salaries and carry out some projects”.
“It is only in Bayelsa where Local Government council chairmen practice true autonomy and recorded projects and huge savings in millions of naira for coming administrations to inherit. In a deliberate move to restore financial order, streamline the recurrent funds and get the Councils to initiate developmental projects, Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State with the thorough supervision of the Deputy Governor, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, took a drastic step to change the narrative”.
“Before the staff verification at the Local Government level, the State Government had to set aside certain funds monthly to support salary of workers in some of the council areas. But today, the story is different for the eight local government areas, hence, the completion of many projects across the Local Government by the Chairmen.”
From Yenagoa to Brass, Ekeremor, Ogbia, Nembe, Kolokuma/Opokuma, Sagbama and Southern Ijaw Local Government Areas, it has been a harvest full of projects with the ongoing commissioning across the LGAs by Governor Diri.
“Indeed, in Bayelsa today under the Prosperity Government, it is a new season, a new development in the management of the Local Government system. Truly, it is no longer business as usual”.
Osaro Okhomina is a Media practitioner based in Yenagoa,Bayelsa State.