The Town union in Igbo land is a legacy of our historical evolution and the dynamic leadership of our people who put community development above personal interests. It arose from the relative isolation of the rural communities from the socio economic grid of regional government of Eastern Nigeria and the apparent neglect of the grass roots by successive administrations which concentrated on the development of the regional capital and sub regional provinces to the detriment of the rural communities. The Igbo in their various migrations contributed to the development of their towns through the development of self help infrastructures competitively.
The Igbo saw this apparent neglect of the rural areas as a challenge and showed marked interests in the development of their communities through the establishments of the town unions as the umbrella organizations to channel developmental strategies in their communities. These led to the development of schools, construction of community centres, electricity projects, churches, markets, health centers, roads amongst others in rural communities. The funds for these projects came from levies, donations, taxes and fund raising by communities which created the necessary environment for developmental initiatives. Under this form of administration, the Eze had no control over the funds and the implementation strategies. This gave the Town union an edge of acceptability over the traditional rulers as the government of the people.
Since the creation of states and local governments by many administrations, in Nigeria the town union council has remained very relevant in the development of the rural Igbo communities. This phenomenon was noted by Chinua Achebe in his book ‘There was a Country’ as a major phenomenon that accelerated the development of Igbo land. These town unions in many cases existed independently of the infrastructures of traditional rulers which found ways somewhat to cooperate for the interest and development of the town, although conflicts continued to exist. One of the reasons for conflicts is that the power of the Eze to rule was curtailed by the town union executives who controlled the funds and revenue of the community. Only wealthy Ezes’ survives its scorn from its Olympian heights. They had the immense ability of generating crisis in any community against the Eze. Each member of the union had one vote and one voice but combined, it was awesome and formidable. What created the greatest constraints against the traditional ruler was the Igbo concept of communalism, democracy and libertarianism which exorcised itself from the demons of feudalism and classicism.
Thus the problem was exacerbated by the fact that the average Igbo was a free spirit who was libertarian and frowned seriously against feudalism and all forms of tyranny and oppression. The Town union remains therefore the cornerstone of Igbo libertarianism, communalism and rugged individualism.
The Ibo were essentially very industrious and clever people who brought development to their communities rather than wait on the government in the backdrop of the complete neglect of the rural areas by successive administrations which left to the various town unions the tasks to develop the rural communities without any proper funding. It is only the present administration that has provided a role for the rural governments with a formal administrative civil service, a budget and a structure guided by law by creating the community governing councils for each autonomous community in the state in which the Eze has become its chairman. The community governing councils took over the administration of rural communities in a seemly, reversal of fortunes and indeed all autonomous communities from the town union and modified the unguided system as a component unit of the CGC.
These changes brought about by the reversal of fortunes have not gone down well with many persons in the Town union and the traditional rulers are anxious to consolidate on their gains which is what is generating the various tensions in the communities.
The leadership of the community governing councils was drawn from a broad spectrum of the community, including the women groups, the youth, the traditional rulers, and the larger community. The provision of a government liaison officer ensured the presence of a voice of the state in the government of the community unlike in the time past.
Indeed section 5 of law no 1 of 2012 as amended by law No 1 of 2013 provided as follows:
5.Every Autonomous Community Council shall consist of-
(a) the chairman (Eze of the Autonomous Community):
(b) the Secretary (Head of Town Union):
(b) the Woman Leader
(d) the youth Leader; and
(e) the Community Liaison Officer (CLO)
The description of the secretary as the head of the town union affirms that the town union remains in existence and has not been abrogated by law. Thus the statement making its rounds in the state that the town union has been abolished by the governor is unfounded in law and requires clarifications as many town unions have been wound up by their CGC. If that were so, from where would the upcoming CGC secretaries emerge if the town union does not exist under the present dispensation? Besides the law describes the; ‘the Secretary as the ‘(Head of Town Union):’
Fortunately, there are two laws that regulate the administration of the autonomous communities. Indeed the conditions and requirements for the creation of autonomous communities can be found in law No 6 of 2006 as amended which specified the requirements for the creation of all autonomous communities in the state and the conditions and requirements for the election, installation, recognition of all traditional rulers in the state.
Every traditional ruler is elected, selected installed and recognized based on the constitution of the town union. Thus if the town union has ceased to exist, why should their constitution continue to be valid and confer legitimacy on the traditional rulers? How will new Eze’s be selected or old ones replaced and with what guiding rules other than the constitution of the town unions?