Why the local government system collapsed, by Okoronkwo

Chief Chita Okoronkwo is a former local government treasurer and civil war veteran. In this interview with UCHENNA INYA, he talks about local government administration in Nigeria and the unrest in the South East, among other issues

What is your assessment of the current local government system in Nigeria?

I can say that there is still no such thing as local government. If you go to a local government headquarters, you won’t see anyone working. Every time I see a local government staff member, what the person says to me is “you left local government and you left with everything”. They will tell you that things are not working. So local governments are no longer the local government we know; they are now dead.

How was local government in your time?

Today, we do the job the way it should. We worked very well as it should and everyone was always on duty. You have to make everyone work in their seat during our days and there was no such thing as eye service. But today, the local government system has completely collapsed. In my own local government, Onicha, if you go there, you won’t see anyone. Even political office holders do not show up.

What can you say is the cause of the situation in the system today?

The cause is this electronic payment they make; pay salaries to bank accounts instead of table payment system. So you can even find someone in Lagos who is on staff here. All he does is go to his bank and get his money. No one is watching anyone to make sure the workers are at their workstations and that is the only cause of this terrible situation in the local governments.

Are you therefore advocating a return to the table of the payment system?

Yes, only the pay-per-table system will bring the local government system back to normal. The government should reinstate the pay-per-table system. If the government goes back to the payment system you will see people going to work because if you don’t come to work they won’t pay you your wages they will just write “don’t pay” and you won’t get paid and if you don’t are not paid, you will be very serious with your work so that on the next payment, you will be paid. If the government goes back to the payment system, you will see the work moving forward, but now nobody is checking anybody.

You are retired, do you receive your pensions gradually?

Yes, the state governor is doing his best; he owes no retirees. We receive our allowances even before teachers and other local government staff. They pay us before paying other staff. So we have nothing to complain about except some who died, which was due before he became governor. But since his arrival, he has done his best. He even promised to pay people, who are due since 2015 to date but no compensation, it’s gratuity.

What about gratuity, is it also paid as you go?

It’s not. When you give a pensioner a bonus, they can start planning their life with it. Allowance won’t help you plan your life because it’s a monthly thing and it’s not loose money, but gratuity is loose money. When I retired 22 years ago I was paid around 1 million naira and that helped me a lot as the value of naira at that time was good.

As someone who fought in the Civil War, what do you think of the unrest by pro-Biafra groups and the Monday sit-at-home directive seen in the South East?

The way they are making this fuss today is not good. When they started their sit-at-home, six people were killed in my area; Anike/Uburu area. This is not the right way to do it. I don’t like this method although they didn’t even agree that they did it. So the question is: who else did it?

The way people are harassed is not right and it’s not the right way and I don’t support it. They can form a political party, use it and get support like it happened in South Africa and not keep us at home. Every Monday, people will not go out, especially in the villages. Some of you living in towns do not suffer from what we suffer in the villages; we don’t go out. The other time, they have a lawyer very close to my house.

If the opportunity presents itself again and grows old on your side, will you still participate in the Biafran struggle?

I fought in the Biafra war. I was working at Afikpo as treasurer when the war broke out. At some point, Afikpo fell to Nigerian troops. I walked from Afikpo to Onicha, my hometown, and decided to join the war. I joined Navy Marine and we were based at a high school in Oguta. We were trained in a camp in Mbano.

After the training, we were taken from the camp to the war front. Before the civil war at least Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu was in the army and there were so many other Igbos in the army and they helped. But this time no Igbo men command even a battalion.

So what are we going to use to fight? So we should find a better way than the way our young people are going about it this time because if one person makes the mistake of declaring themselves president, the feds will come out and start fighting. They will say that the person is working against peace and they will accuse him of treason.


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