Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State returned to the state on Friday, February 8, after spending almost five months in London on account of a medical challenge. His long absence and the controversies it generated appears to have made the famously taciturn governor less-inhibited, writes Christopher Isiguzo
The tension, suspense and controversy created by the long absence of the governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime began to wane last Friday as the governor returned to Enugu to an enthusiastic welcome.
The governor had left the state on September 19, 2012 to enjoy his “accumulated leave” abroad. But when the people of the state started feeling his absence, a lot of speculations commenced. While some said the governor was away to attend to his failing health, others were emphatic in declaring the Enugu State governor dead.
His absence would later spawn several advocacy groups, with most of them urging the deputy governor of the state, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi, to make public the whereabouts of the governor insisting that as a public officer, he was duty bound not to keep the people of the state in the dark concerning his whereabouts.
Apart from the Save Enugu Group (SEG) led by some respected indigenes of the state including the National Chairman of the Citizens Popular Party (CPP), Maxi Okwu, two former commissioners under the former governor Chimaroke Nnamani, Igbonekwu Ogazimora and Barrister Ray Nnaji, and National Secretary of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), Chief Willy Ezeugwu, among others gave ultimatum asking the government to provide the “missing governor” or risk having a state-wide protest within two weeks. The CNPP equally asked the leadership of the state House of Assembly to commence a move to possibly unravel the governor’s whereabouts or alternatively confirm the then acting governor as a substantive governor.
There were equally allegations that though the governor may have handed over to his deputy who was to function as acting governor, some powerful forces within the government circles were undermining the acting governor by not allowing him to function effectively. Apart from alleging that the acting governor was given an approval limit of N500, 000, it was said there was a power tussle at the Government House.
The absence of the governor attracted more public attention as it came at a time when several other governors were equally having one form of problem or the other. For instance, while the governor of Taraba State, Dambaba Suntai, had a plane crash and was flown abroad, the governor of Kogi State, Idris Wada, had a road accident that nearly claimed his life, while the Cross River State governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, is still away in Maryland United States where he is receiving treatment. The situation made residents of Enugu State to practically accept every statement from government suggesting that their governor would soon come back with a pinch of salt, more so when such had come before without any sight of Chime.
It was therefore a mixture of shock, disbelief and relief when the governor was said to have returned to the country on Thursday, February 7, almost hale and hearty. The governor was to have returned to Abuja at about 5:40am aboard a British Airways flight. Though, he stayed back in Abuja the same day, he eventually returned to his state the next day amidst state-wide celebrations.
The chartered aircraft that conveyed the governor to Enugu State touched down at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport Enugu around 3.00pm that Friday amidst cheers from the crowd of enthusiastic supporters and government officials who had thronged the airport since morning to welcome him.
Chime on arrival at the airport acknowledged cheers from the crowd and shortly boarded a long convoy that took him to the state government lodge where another crowd waited to see him. On arrival at the government house, he was ushered into the lodge where only VIPs went in to see him.
Outside the lodge were large number of supporters who danced to the beats of some local musicians. They waited patiently for him to address them to no avail. The crowd gradually dispersed after it became clear the governor would make no such address. Others however remained as musicians played till late evening.
The Governor was welcomed on arrival by the Acting Governor, Mr Sunday Onyebuchi accompanied by his wife, Nneka, National and State Assembly members and other top government officials.
Though, the news of his celebrated return spread in Enugu like wide fire with many expressing happiness that he was back at last, most people still expressed worry that the governor may not have fully recovered since he could not address the mammoth crowd that came to receive him at the airport.
All worries were further laid to rest last Monday when the governor eventually addressed the media, giving a detailed account of why he kept away from the state for almost five months. He disclosed that he had to take the opportunity of his “accumulated leave” to undergo treatment for an ailment later discovered to be cancer of the nose.
The governor who was flanked by his deputy, Onyebuchi, his Chief of Staff, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo, commissioners and other close aides during the media briefing at the Governor’s Lodge, Enugu, Monday night, dismissed insinuations that he was yet to fully recover from his ill-health, noting that he had to keep mum during his return last week, because “of the chaotic situation at the Akanu Ibiam International airport”.
The governor disclosed that his treatment for cancer which lasted for 12 weeks ended on December 14, adding that his return was delayed based on the advice of the doctors attending to him.
“In August last year, I was privileged to be one of those nominated by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum to go to Germany to study their federalism, I was to represent the south east zone; I had to use the opportunity of the trip to pass through London to do my medicals since it was the only opportunity I had to do that. After my medicals, I was certified feat by the doctors, but I noticed that I had a little growth beneath my jaw. Ordinarily, nobody could see it but I felt it seriously and asked the doctors to further investigation on it.
“I was later referred to a consultant who after examining me said there was nothing wrong with me. I still asked for further investigation. I even made arrangement with them to help me set appointment for closer investigation. I left for Germany and had to still return to London to keep the appointment for proper screening of the growth. It was after the screening that it was discovered that the growth in question was cancerous. It was also discovered that the main tumour was behind my nose; it was simply called cancer of the nose.
“Cancer is such thing that when you hear it, the person involved will even declare himself dead instantly. I was subjected to further scanning at the nose and neck and was told that it was curable, not manageable. When I asked how to go about it, I was told it has to be as early as possible before it spreads to other areas. Accordingly I arranged for it to be done. I had to cancel further trips and agreed to be back to London in two weeks. Within the period, I came back to Nigeria and made arrangement for transmission. I wrote a letter to the speaker, informing him of my decision to proceed on leave and sought his cooperation to work with my deputy who will act as governor. We even held two executive council meetings within the period where I informed members of my exco that I was proceeding on a long vacation.
“I left for Abuja the next day and attended the Governors’ Forum meeting and the next day I left for London , settled in and saw the oncologist the next day. By Monday, I commenced treatment. Cancer is a deadly disease and the cure is also deadly. It’s not like panadol, not drugs we buy off the counter. You go through different stages. The treatment altogether lasted for 12 weeks and throughout the treatment, I was an out-patient. I was never admitted in any hospital in London . During the period of the treatment, I had challenges and these are challenges I will not even wish my enemy to go through; it’s not easy to imagine.
“When I read in the papers that I had died in India, it was a source of entertainment. Each time we wanted to laugh, we looked for Nigerian papers online but what became worrisome, was the deliberate and sustained attempt to undermine the government of Enugu state. If you’ve been following events, over the years, we’ve invested a lot on infrastructure but I’ve always said that one thing I would like to leave behind is a workable system. When we came in, there was no system in place and I felt there was need to build one in order to encourage continuity. This was therefore an opportunity to test the system we had put in place. You must have observed that we have something resembling a system in place now. While I was away, the government kept on functioning, everything kept on moving as if I was around. Nobody talked about strike over non-payment of salaries, no contractor complained that he was not paid. We even had increased activities in my absence.
“I can beat my chest that the Deputy Governor who led the team indeed ensured that the system worked in my absence. I’m happy we’ve almost reached that height, it gladdened my heart. Of course, we were in close contact and we didn’t have problems inspite of attempts by some of our brothers and sisters who live in the Diaspora to undermine the system and were publishing all sorts of nonsense. Our local media even joined in spreading the falsehood but in a nutshell, the Enugu State government under my administration has come to stay. The treatment ended on December 14 and the period of recovery commenced.
“I was asked to stay away from office for six months but by late January when we went to review my state, they were shocked with my recovery rate which showed that the tumour had gone. I was almost declared cancer free. I will be required to be going there from time to time, but I can assure you that they succeeded in curing the disease.
“All the attacks on my staff about hoarding information were unfair. They didn’t know the problem because I only told them I was going on vacation. It didn’t concern anybody because I complied with the law by transmitting a letter to the speaker. I ensured that the ship of government remained on course; I didn’t abandon anybody. All those attacks were mischievous and it equally exposed the ignorance of some of our people even those that were supposed to know the law. I can tell you that I was officially discharged that’s why I had to return. I’m still in the process of recovery and as such you don’t expect me to be running tomorrow. I’m free to resume duties to ensure that activities are running on full speed,” he stated.
“Let me also make it clear that when I was leaving for London, I left a healthy man. I voluntarily submitted myself to have the tumour removed. To further buttress this point, I left the shores of this country without a single aide. Most times, cancer kills because of late discovery; it’s curable. Anybody that discovers that he has cancer should go and treat it and not allow the opinions of people to dissuade him or her,” he explained.
He also urged Nigerians to be patient with public officers who he said are not “super humans”, stating that inasmuch as they hold exalted positions, they should still be allowed some privacy. They sure do; but the frenzy and controversy may just have been avoided at the outset if the governor and his aides had acted like they truly believe the electorate deserve to know what had become of the man they elected.