Crisis Looms in Anambra Communities Over Town Union Leadership and in ASATU Over Tenure Elongation
Report by Ebuka Onyekwelu
Several communities in Anambra state are on the verge of crisis because of continued leadership of town union after expiration of the term of office of many Presidents’ General in Anambra State. In many of these communities, the caretaker system alien to the communities have been imposed as a way to maintain status quo in fragrant violation of the towns’ constitution and this we gathered is brewing bad blood that may degenerate any moment into crisis, in the affected communities. This development further extends to the Chief Alex Onukwue led Executive whose tenure as National President of Anambra State Association of Town Union – ASATU – which is the umbrella association of town unions in Anambra state, has since 27th May 2020 expired. “In ASATU, out of the twenty-eight Executive Members, not up to eight are active President General in their respective towns. Over 90% of ASATU executive members as of today, are not even PGs of their town union because their tenures have elapsed, but they are still in ASATU as leaders”, said a concerned PG who do not want to be mentioned. It is not clear if the governor is aware of these developments.
The genesis of this anomaly was blamed largely on the novel pandemic which resulted to postponement of scheduled ASATU election, including the women and youth wings and some town union elections, which then unavoidably resulted in the inevitable illegal overstay in office by many PGs and some now introducing caretaker which in most places have resulted to the town union not being able to function, much so that they are not able to hold meetings simply because the people are against the leadership. In the early days of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, we gathered that the leadership of ASATU wrote a letter to the government of Anambra state notifying it of its intention to suspend the election of the association that was build to hold around April 2020. This request was graciously granted by the government in the spirit of the time. However, with the ease of lockdowns and gradual opening up which has also seen activities gradually returning to normal, “ASATU wrote a letter to notify the government that it is now ready for the election but no response so far”, according to one of the leaders of ASATU who spoke to us on condition of anonymity. He continued thus, “Most PGs whose tenure have elapsed during this COVID-19 lockdown and some before, are still acting as PGs and in the absence of that, caretaker committees were put in place and I am certain that this is against the governor’s firm position that the best and most trusted person who has the support of his community should emerge as PG”, he said. In Anambra today, markets are fully open, Churches and other places of worship are also open. Across Nigeria, several activities are going on including bye elections in Nasarawa state, election campaigns in Edo state in which APC governorship campaign flag off was attended by over ten governors, ministers and thousands of people. There are also party congresses in Enugu state, Delta state, among other places. So it is surprising why ASATU election cannot go on, when more rigorous activities are going on in Anambra and nationwide.
We gathered that in Amanuke a community in Awka North local government area, Ideani, Nnobi, Alor all in Idemili are under the caretaker system. Oko, Amaokpala, Eziagu in old Aguata zone are also under caretaker leadership. In Ogbakuba, Umuomaka, Mkpunando among many other communities, the trend is the same. What these communities have now is caretaker committee which is established against the interest and knowledge of the community constitution and the communities are not taking it lightly anymore. A handful of these communities have written a petition against the situation but nothing has been done about it.
Anambra state Governor, Chief Willie Obiano integrated Town Union into mainstream governance as a way to ensure that the governor’s community based project tagged “choose your project” is decided and supervised by the Town Union and this has proven to be exceptionally successful in all the one hundred and eighty-one communities in Anambra state, with each having a project they considered top priority financed by the government. In all these communities, the governor Obiano led government has sponsored not less than two community based projects that are of common interest to the people of the community, worth at least tens of millions. What is going on now in which the leadership of town unions are having unpopular people imposed as caretakers under any guise, tends to negate the position of the government in its ongoing partnership with Town Unions to bring community development to Anambra Communities. Imposition of caretaker system is raising alarm and causing tension. “In Umueze-Anam, there is caretaker, why should Anambra government allow this caretaker system to continue to go on, it is not in the best interest of the government because it puts the government in bad light for imposing people to lead communities against the wishes of the people of those communities”, another respondent said.
Before Governor Obiano, the leadership of Anambra Town Unions are paid the sum of N20, 000 (twenty thousand Naira) as stipend, but we gathered that Governor Obiano upgraded this stipend to N80, 000 (eighty thousand Naira). According to our earlier respondent, “you know that some of our people are good at abusing privileges and good gestures. To some extent, the increase in PG stipend is one of the reasons some people who are no longer PG do not want to go, they want to remain and be collecting the N80, 000, many of them have no other business so they don’t care if their community goes up in flames and it is sad”. For the most part, this N80, 000 stipend is the major financial motivation behind the insistence of many PGs to perpetuate themselves and that is forestalling ASATU national election and in turn causing problem and creating disaffection against the government. However, the question is, why should people who are no longer PGs be collecting allowances from government, meant for PGs?
It is now worrisome how these PGs who are still illegally occupying their positions can deliver the COVID-19 palliatives which are still being shared among communities through their PGs, by Anambra State government and other bodies.
With the ease of lockdown, gradual return to normalcy and strict observance and compliance with COVID-19 protocols, it is important that the Chief Alex Onukwe led Executive of ASATU whose life span has since expired be dissolved and that elections be conducted to avert needless impasse and unnecessary indictment of the government that has paid the most attention to community development in Anambra state history. “ASATU leadership and other towns where the tenures of their Town Union leadership have expired should be allowed to carry on with their election in compliance with COVID-19 protocols to avert continued illegality that is breeding rancor and possible crisis in several communities”, said a concerned ASATU member. In Edo state, political parties conducted primary elections for the upcoming gubernatorial election held in the state and the general election is coming up in a few weeks from now. “Is it now Town Union election that cannot hold in Anambra state when Edo state with far more cases of COVID-19 held governorship primary elections with far more participants and are going on with their general election”, Mr. UJ a former PG, queried rhetorically. In Anambra state, there are at least three major places in Awka where the ASATU election can hold with strict social and physical distancing observed, compulsory use of facemasks and hand wash. These places are; Ekwueme Square, Prof. Dora Akunyili Women Development Centre and Emmaus House. Social distancing can be effectively observed in any of these places, as well as other COVID-19 protocols.
Amid the ongoing distribution of NEMA relief materials / COVID-19 palliative; we gathered reliably that many communities might be thrown into chaos as a result of the leadership impasse. And also because of the likelihood of the PGs whose tenure have expired and the caretakers who are acting illegally, collecting what belongs to the community but not getting collected relief materials to the community. Therefore timely government intervention in resolving these issues is urgently required.
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