Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Imo have given Gov. Hope Uzodimma three months ultimatum within which to conduct the Local Government (LG) elections.

The CSOs also urged the House of Assembly to pass a resolution compelling the Imo State Independent Electoral Commission to commence the process of conducting the election before May.

The groups, which included Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Christian Aid and the Tax Justice and Governance Platform, made the call at a joint news briefing on Sunday in Owerri.

In a statement, entitled “Imo State Economic Challenges and Debt Management amid Economic Uncertainties in Nigeria,” the state Coordinator of Tax Justice and Governance Platform, Mr Chibundu Uchegbu, said the need for the LG election was long due.

Uchegbu said: “The people of the state are no longer progressing as they should due to the absence of leadership at the LG level.

“The last time Imo held LG election was in August 2018 with the set of elected LGA officials disbanded in less than one year in office – specifically in May 2019 – by a successive government.

“Since that time to date, the affairs of LG system in the state are being run by unelected officials, therefore, denying the people their democratic rights, aspirations and privileges.

“This is a clear violation of Section 7 (1) of 1999 Constitution as amended, which says “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the government of every state shall subject to Section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law, which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance functions of such councils.”

He said that in spite of the huge sums of money injected into their treasury from the Federation Account Allocation Committee on monthly basis, LGs are not living up to their responsibilities to the people in grassroots.

“This is because the State Government prefers to use appointees to run the affairs of the LGAs,” he said.

They urged the State Government not to interfere in the activities of the LG Chairmen when they were elected to enable them to function optimally.

The CSOs further decried the “escalating debt burden in the state”.

They argued that the data from the National Bureau of Statistics as at June 30, 2023 indicate that the domestic debt profile of the state stood at over N220.8 billion.

According to Uchegbu, the foreign debt profile at the same time stands at a disturbing $77.8 million US Dollars, coupled with the unemployment rate that levels at 56.6 per cent as at that time.

He said that the escalating debt burden was in one way or the other affecting the wellbeing of over 6.7 million Imo population.

He called on the state lawmakers to “enact legislation making it compulsory that every loan collected by the government – both domestic and foreign – should be tied to identifiable capital expenditure, development programmes and projects”.

The group called for the enactment of Fiscal Responsibility Law in the state, emphasising debt management, transparency and accountability in all fiscal related-matters.

It said the law should define the purpose of incurring debts in clear terms of debts being for projects that would promote value chain development, improve the macro-economic framework, develop infrastructure and build strategic human capital.

It also demanded that the law should “stop borrowing for recurrent expenditure (personnel and overheads) and dilatory capital expenditure that adds no value to economic growth, wealth creation and development, among others”.

The CSOs further urged the governor to prioritise agricultural value chain, saying that with it, Imo economy would take a huge leap towards recovery.

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