Wither Interim Common Services Agency and ESIALA? (1)

These days, ESIALA and the Interim Common Services Agency mean nothing to many people. Yet, years ago, these two agencies dominated the headlines in this country.

In a televised address to the nation on July 30, 1975, the then Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed,  said that “a panel will be set up to advise on the future of the Interim Common Services Agency and the Eastern States Interim Assets and Liabilities Agency”.

ESIALA was set up to take over the assets and liabilities of the old Eastern Region. The states created out of the region now comprise nine states namely, Abia, Ebonyi, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Imo, Anambra and Enugu. At that time, Eastern Region was very rich in terms of mineral resources and industries. They included the Nkalagu Cement Factory, the African Continental Bank, the Eastern Marketing Board, the Eastern Marketing Development Corporation, West African Institute for Oil Palm Research, Nigerian Breweries Stout Factory at Aba, Tobacco and Glass Making Plant at Port Harcourt, farm settlements at Ohaji, Igbariam, Boki, Ulonna, Erei, Uzo-Uwani and Gbema, Nigerian Coal Corporation in Enugu, rice farms at Abakaliki and Ogoja and many other projects. Under Decree 39 promulgated by General Yakubu Gowon on June 24, 1970, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, established by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe but opened on October 7, 1960, was listed as part of the assets of the Eastern Interim Assets and Liability Agency.

At the time Gowon split Eastern Region, he also promulgated Decree 8 transferring the services of civil servants of the old Eastern Region into the Federal Public service. The decree empowered the Public Service Commission of the Federation to transfer, subject to certain terms and conditions, any officer from the public service of a former region to the public service of the Federation. By virtue of the decree, any officer assigned to the Interim Common Services Agency shall be deemed to have transferred to the public service of the Federation, and on the expiration of the life of the Interim Common Services Agency, or the Eastern States Assets and Liabilities Agency, that commission may terminate the appointment of an officer of such agency or, where appropriate, retire him from the public service of the Federation. The Decree also provides that where the holder of a pensionable office in the public service of a former region had been assigned to perform the duties of any office, other than public service or service with the agencies aforesaid, the commission may transfer the officer to that office, and thereupon the officer shall be deemed to have transferred to an “approved service”, within the meaning of the Pensions Act. The Decree also provides that pension payable by the government of a former region for any period of service commencing on or after October 1, 1954 and ending immediately before the appointed date shall now become the liability of the Federal Government.

Gowon created three states out of the whole Eastern Region, namely, South Eastern State, East Central State and Rivers State. For the East Central State, he named Dr. Anthony Ukpabi Asika as the administrator; Brigadier Udoakaha Jacob Esuene as the governor of South Eastern State and Lieutenant Commander Alfred Papapreye Diete-Spiff as the governor of Rivers State.  Diete-Spiff is an Ijaw from current Bayelsa State and the Amayanabo (King) of Twon-Brass, Bayelsa State.

In 2004, my assistant, Mr Seyi Olowookere, who recently retired as a director in the civil service and I accompanied my late boss, Chief Ufot Ekaettte, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, for the burial of Dr. Ukpabi Asika in Onitsha.

On May 27, 1967, Gowon also promulgated Decree No 7 which states, among others, that “all rights, interests, obligations and liabilities of any former regional government in any of the premises specified in the Schedule to this Decree shall be deemed, with effect from 27th May 1967, to have vested in and devolved upon the Federal Military Government. (2) The Higher Commissioner for Nigeria in London is hereby authorised as agent and representative of the Federal Military Government to take such action (whether by way of executing deeds or other documents or otherwise) as may in his opinion be necessary or expedient for the proper management or disposal of any of the said premises. In this Decree, “former Regional Government” means the Government of a former Region of Nigeria and includes, in relation to any such Region, the Governor, Military Governor, Agent-General or any other officer or person holding property in trust for or otherwise on behalf of the Region or its Government. 3—(1) This Decree may be cited as the Former Regional Governments (Disposal of Certain Properties) Decree 1971 and shall apply throughout the Federation and elsewhere  to the extent necessary to give it proper effect. 2. This Decree shall be deemed to have come into force on 27th May, 1967.

Gowon took over the properties of the Eastern Region on behalf of the central government.

The properties of the region taken over in London were No 113, Hendon Way, N.W.2; No 142, Cheviot Gardens, London,N.W.2; No 176, The Vale, London, N.W. 11; No. 104, Cotswold Gardens, London,N.W.2; No 105, Cotswold, Garden, London, N.W.2; No 15a, Kessington Gardens, London,W.8; No 17, Chester Street, London, S.W.1; No. 35, Phillimore Gardens, London,W.8; Nos. 178/202, Great Portland Street, London,W.1; No.23 Phillimore Gardens, LondonW.8; Nos 257, The Vale, London,N.W.11; No.2, Tanfield Avenue, London, N.W. 2; No 35, Woodstock Road, London,N.W.11; No 93, Chatsworth Road, London,N.W. 2; Nos 69/69a, St. Paul’s Avenue, London, N.W.2 and No. 73, Priory Park Road, London N.W. 6.

I do not know when last the governors of Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Imo, Ebonyi, Enugu, Abia, Cross River and Anambra states met to discuss on ESIALA. I do not know what happened to those properties and assets seized by Gowon in 1967 on behalf of the Federal Government.

The governors should meet to discuss this issue for they are part of the legacy of the old Eastern Region. Some of these properties are still standing in London till today. The Premiers of the Old Eastern Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Dr. Michael Okpara and their political party, NCNC, laboured so hard to establish the properties and institutions listed above. Something needs to be done on ESIALA today. Apart from political party affiliation, the PDP, I do not think there is a platform that unites the old Eastern Nigeria together again. That should not be so. The spirit of the old Eastern Region should not be allowed to die. The old Eastern Region was the envy of the rest of the country years ago.

The Interim Common Services Agency was established when the six new states in the old Northern Region, were created by Decree No 9 of May 27, 1967 by Gowon. It was through that decree that he created 12 states in the country out of the four regions in Nigeria. Specifically, he created six states out of Northern Region namely North Western State made up of Niger and Sokoto; North Eastern State made up of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno and Sardauna; North Central State made up of current Katsina, Zaria and Kaduna. Kwara State made up of Ilorin and Kabba, Kano State made up of Kano Emirates; Benue/Plateau State made up of Benue and Plateau areas.

In setting up the agency, Gowon appointed General Hassan Usman Katsina as the Chairman. Katsina was the son of the Emir of Katsina, Alhaji Usman Nagogo. He had earlier served as the Military Governor of the Northern Region. Gowon then appointed the following as Military Governors. Kwara State-Colonel Femi David Lasisi Bamigboye, Kano State-Police Commissioner Audu Bako; North Eastern State, Brigadier Musa Usman; North Central State- Brigadier Abba Kyari; Benue-Plateau State, Police Commissioner Joseph Dechi Gomwalk  and North Western, Assistant Police Commissioner Usman Farouk. Gowon ruled that “this decree may be cited as the Interim Common Services Agency Decree 1968 and shall continue in force for a period of two years and unless sooner extended by the Head of the Federal Military Government (by order) if he thinks fit for a period not exceeding at any one time, one year, it shall then expire”.