“We Need (More) Powers Only when we want to do something harmful;
otherwise Love is Enough to get Everything done”.
– Charlie Chaplin
Earlier this month, Abia State Governor Dr. Alex Otti announced with rhapsody that he had signed the GADA bill into law. The question on many lips was: GADA what? What has Abia got to do with GADA, and how could its legislative processes and journey be so shrouded from public consciousness that we only get to hear about it as a fait accompli?
The fact that the governor signed the bill into law the same day it was purportedly passed heightened curiosity and generated speculations about the content. Why would Governor Otti not subject a public bill to public scrutiny by creating awareness and calling for inputs from all the parties affected? What was Otti trying to hide?
Otti’s GADA Law
For brevity, the GADA bill is for “a law to establish the Greater Aba Development Authority (GADA). The territorial space covers all the land within Aba North, Aba South, Obingwa, Osisioma- Ngwa, and Ugwunagbo Local Govt Areas. These five Local government areas are to be governed under special laws by the special provisions of the GADA Bill. However, by the emphasis provided in section 4.1 of the bill, and by the powers and functions of the GADA Authority as outlined in Section II (1) of the bill, it is obvious that the focal point of the GADA bill is the three (3) local government areas surrounding Aba North and South.
Salient features of the GADA Law:
1. The GADA Law provides that “the GADA Authority shall have powers to acquire, hold or dispose of any property, movable or immovable within its territory for the purposes of performing its functions”,… (Section 3.3)
2. It shall be the duty of the GADA Authority to create industrial Estates, business zones, clusters, etc in accordance with the master plan.
3. The Authority shall in conjunction with relevant Federal Agencies designate specific areas as Free Trade Zones, Special Economic Zones, etc, aimed at attracting targeted industries.
4. The GADA Authority shall have a Governing Board whose Chairman and eleven members shall be appointed by the Governor.
5. The GADA Authority shall have a Director-General and Executive Directors, appointed by the Governor, who shall see to the day-to-day running of the Administration of the GADA City.
6. The GADA Authority shall in the performance of its functions be subject to the direction and control of the Governor (Section 11.2).
7. The Governor may give directives of a general or specific nature with regards to the duties of the Authority, and it shall be the Duty of the Authority to comply with the directives of the governor (section 35).
8. The Governor may terminate the appointment of any member of the GADA Board if the governor is of the opinion that such a member is no longer capable of carrying out its functions; or that it is in the public interest to remove such a member (sect. 10.2).
Observations from the GADA Laws
It is obvious from the highlighted provisions that the GADA law is nothing but the creation of one man searching for powers to execute his pre-conceived ideas. The arbitrary and wishful provisions of the law clearly reveals the machinations of the heart of Governor Otti and his unbridled appetite for powers that are just not there.
1. My first observation after going through the bill was the careful exclusion of the word: indigenous. And this goes to explain the intentional lack of sensitivity on the part of the governor and those backing him on this ill-fated journey.
In the eyes of Dr. Alex Otti, the areas covered by Ugwunagbo, Obingwa, and Osisioma-Ngwa LGAs were probably uninhabited (no man’s Land). There were no indigenous population, nor traditional rights which deserved attention and consideration. The GADA Authority should simply “acquire, hold and dispose” at will. Little wonder the Bill was secretly processed and hurriedly assented to.
There was no public hearing necessary to win the buy-in of the affected communities, the investing public and the contributions of experts in the field.
2. Written all over the Bill is the undisguised monopolistic and authoritarian nature of our governor. Going through the 21 page document, you will be left with no doubt that the governor has no heart for democracy, no trust, and no tolerance for debate or contrary opinions. Every authority without restraint flows from the office of the governor, —from appointments, to discipline, down to the termination of the appointments. And the powers of the governor are often re-emphasized in the bill.
3. The GADA Bill did not make any provision for indigenous representation in its Board of Directors, (no local content), lending credence to Dr. Otti’s position that the Ngwas have no traditional right over their indigenous territories. The governor had earlier asserted that: “we are all indigenes”. And there was a rider to those who would want to disagree with the governor’s position.
4. By the special provisions of section 11 (1), the GADA laws are superior to any other laws of the state, and therefore renders the functions of local governments ineffectual.
In fact, the so called GADA law contravenes several sections of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; as well as the subsisting Abia State Urban and Regional Planning Laws which have not been repealed. For example, section 3(3) is an affront on the express provisions of section 43 of the constitution of the Federal Republic, and a deliberately contrived potential crisis situation.
5. GADA laws as enunciated by Dr. Otti permits him to establish a state within a state. He may choose to govern Abia State according to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which imposes certain restraints on him. But he has another territory carved out by himself to govern according to his self-made whims and caprices, called the GADA Laws.
The GADA law is simply a power keg, perhaps deliberately contrived to instigate crisis. Any effort to enforce the law will trigger conflict. Unless Governor Otti wants to continue to thrive in his divisive and destabilizing antics of playing a section of the people against another, it will be most advisable and most appropriate to suspend the law, and call for inputs through wider consultations of all the parties concerned. This will enable the governor to get a feel of the people’s impulse, as well as the wider implications of the proposed new law. Lawyers’ inputs are necessary to avoid making a mockery of such an important and a sensitive legislation. Anything done in a hurry and shrouded in secrecy is never done well, and definitely not in the public interest.
It has been established that power corrupts, and that absolute power would corrupt absolutely.
To the Ngwa Nation,
My message is simple:
Otti is upon you. You may now begin to understand why the political and moral demagogues in our state and beyond are quiet or tolerant of Otti’s shocking excesses. They know what you probably do not know. Make no mistake about it, Otti is coming to map out your land territories into layouts with large chunks parceled out to his cronies and backers. The lands will be designated with development labels as a guise to justify the swindle.
The GADA law is the first bold and practical demonstration of Otti’s disdain and policy towards the Ngwa Nation: We are all indigenes. This thinking is not new, but has been elevated with the imprimatur of official approval and enforcement by a sitting governor, with powers and immunity. His emergency as a candidate from Abia Central (Ngwa) set the ball rolling and prepared the ground for more daring forays.
Earlier, Otti had sacked all Permanent Secretaries in the state civil service without recourse to the rules of discipline and disengagement. His motive became clearer when he was appointing new ones.
The conventional practice in keeping with the Federal Character Principle had always been to appoint at least a Permanent Secretary per local government. But Governor Otti allotted 19 slots to Old Bende, (eight LGAs) and 4 slots to Old Aba (9 LGAs), with many local government areas in Ukwa and Ngwa not getting even a slot. Yet most of the advocates of inclusivity and good governance in Abia are playing the ostrich… “because of who is involved”.
No Ngwaman or woman will be appointed into the Board of GADA city as of right. No Ngwa man should hope or dream of being appointed either as the Board Chairman or Director –General of GADA City Authority. But as expected, Ngwa sons and daughters will be found amongst the most vocal defenders and votaries of GADA in spite of the shortcomings in firming up the legal document and the obnoxious content of the bill.
However, let it be clear to everybody that we are facing an existential threat now more than ever before. This awareness should spur us to take necessary steps to curtail the Otti menace, and restore the sense of balance which was a critical consideration in the creation of Abia state. A word is enough…
” *For men, freedom in their own land is
the pinnacle of hope from which nothing
should turn them asunder”
– *Nelson Mandela*
Moses Ayodele Orji is a Member, Ngwa Collective