Human rights groups across the country have called on the federal government as well as the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to call Governor Rochas Okorocha to order over some of its actions described as arbitrary.
In a communiqué signed by Ndidi Anike, Femi Amele, Barbara Maigari and Okechukwu Nwanguma for representatives of the about 100 human rights group which met on Saturday in Imo State, the coalition declared that the government of Imo State had been arbitrary in the execution of its urban renewal agenda among other things.
This, according to the group, had been through the indiscriminate demolition and forced evictions in the state.
The group said the government had also been contributing to impoverishing pensioners and expropriating their accrued rights.
Also pointed out was the disrespect of court order by the government.
Present at the meeting where the ills were discussed were representatives of organised community and advocacy groups, including representatives of Keke NAPEP Riders, organised labour, pensioners, retired Permanent-Secretaries, the Owerri Community, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Amnesty International and pressure groups such as ‘ OurMumuDonDo ’ movement and the media.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) as well as the Imo State Ministry of Information were both in attendance as observers.
In its complaints, the group said the government of Okorocha had demolished many structures and forced eviction of families and thousands of people in its “urban renewal” programme.
“These include houses and historical sites such as the Mbari cultural centre, Shell Camp residence of retired and serving Alvan Ikoku College of Education (AICE) lecturers, and the Imo State library which the governor demolished and on which he chose to build a Chapel.
“Most of the demolitions have been carried out despite pending court proceedings and, in many cases, in disregard of existing court orders. The Ekeukwu Owerri demolition took place despite a restraining judicial order against the government,” the group said.
In the area of impoverishing pensioners, the group said Okorocha’s government had defaulted in its obligations towards pensioners in the state.
“First, pensioners in the state were required to undergo verification. The problem was that Imo State last published or issued a master-list of its public service establishment in 1985.
“Without a master-list, the verification exercise lacked credibility. The process became the subject of serious allegation of corrupt practice. Allegations that the state government and its cronies smuggled ghost pensioners onto the list were never credibly refuted.
“The process of verification took place under inhumane conditions, requiring old and infirm pensioners to queue for long periods without attention. Some pensioners lost their lives while undergoing verification.
“Second, the Rochas Okorocha administration required pensioners to surrender in writing significant proportions of their entitlements – in some cases as high as 60% – in order to receive any payments. Some of the pensioners with no other means of livelihood complied under duress but received nothing even after signing away most of their entitlements.
“With the assistance of the NBA, the pensioners challenged this measure in the High Court of Imo State, which adjudged it unlawful and restrained the State Government from continuing with policies that impoverish pensioners in the state.”
Citing cases of alleged refusal of the government to obey court orders, the human rights coalition said the state might be plunged into lawlessness, which might have implications well beyond the borders of Imo State.
The group said the alleged arbitrary rule in the state should be of concern to all Nigerians, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), on whose platform the governor was elected, and to the Federal Government.
On the security situation in the state, it was agreed that while the objective of securing safety and security was widely shared, it was felt that most of the objectives fell within the ambit of the primary responsibility of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) and not introduction of soldiers as it was done in the Operation Python Dance.
“Participants also recommended that, to assure effective guarantees for respect of human life and dignity during the operations, the Nigerian Army should issue and immediately publish for wide dissemination, the operational rules of engagement (RoE) for Exercise Python Dance II. As an act of good faith, the Human Rights Community offered to establish mechanisms of liaison with the Nigerian Army for the purpose of joint monitoring of the operations and also in order to assure amicable community relations,” the group said.