Governor Sullivan Chime
Anxiety and tension have gripped Enugu State since Governor Sullivan Chime went abroad on a widely suspected medical trip more than 100 days ago, but among residents, things appear to be nearing a point when coping is increasingly difficult, writes Christopher Isiguzo
These are not the best of times for Enugu State, as the people now live under the reign of the rumour mills. Each day that breaks in the Coal City state brings different versions of the story of Governor Sullivan Chime’s about 114-day absence. He had left the country last September, in what was initially said to be his accumulated leave but now widely suspected to be a medical trip.
When Chime held his last meeting with members of his state executive council, made up of the deputy governor, commissioners, special advisers, Secretary to the State Government, Chief of Staff, and Head of Service, among others, he was said to have informed them that he would be away for six weeks. He equally informed them that his deputy, Sunday Onyebuchi, would act in his absence. But what he failed to tell them was what was taking him out for six weeks and where he was going to spend the time.
Anxiety enveloped the state when after six weeks the governor did not come back, as he promised. This then activated the rumour mills. While some had it that he was simply enjoying his accumulated leave which, of course, has remained the state government’s official explanation for the governor’s absence, other versions from unofficial quarters claimed that the governor was at a London hospital battling with a heart condition.
Yet another version of the rumour said the governor had passed on, further fuelling anxiety among residents. Everything has remained in the realm of rumour, with no one knowing the actual position.
In the face of the endless rumour, different dates have been presented by different people as the possible time when the governor would return. But, unfortunately, all the dates have passed without any sign of the Enugu State chief executive’s return.
Most remarkable in the entire situation, perhaps, is Acting Governor Sunday Onyebuchi’s silence in the face of all the rumour about his boss. The acting governor has also seemed to recoil to his shell and allow obvious cases of “hijack” of what is supposed to be his official duties by some powerful forces within the government.
Recent reports say a few persons within government circles have taken charge of the activities of government in disregard of the acting governor. Some of the forces behind the seeming power hijack are said to have maintained sealed lips over Chime’s whereabouts, apparently, for fear of losing the positions which they presently hold in the event that the governor is confirmed incapacitated.
It is alleged that among the persons who have taken charge in the governor’s absence are the Chief of Staff, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo; the Accountant General, Mrs Eunice Ugwu; Special Adviser, Investment, Victor Atuonwu; Chime brother, Jide, and his sister, May Oji.
Apart from the five, virtually other members of the state executive council are said to be wallowing in ignorance and relying on information that trickles out from the “G-5”, as they are currently called in some quarters.
Apart from Atuonwu, who is also away like his boss, the rest of the kitchen cabinet, sources say, now decide who to be told the real situation of the governor and who not to tell.
THISDAY checks further reveal that that since the governor’s absence, some of his files and mails are being handled by his Chief of Staff, who also ensures that activities of government continued in full steam, as if nothing untoward is happening.
Nwobodo has, however, continued to laugh off as “unfounded imagination” the insinuations that she is the “defacto governor” of the state. But sources close to the Chief of Staff say the woman has always restricted herself to assignments detailed to her office by the acting governor, denying any knowledge of the existence of a cabal, as has been reported in the media.
A staff of the Chief of Staff’s office, who preferred not to be named, said, “There is nothing like cabal in Enugu. The Chief of Staff is only but an appointee and is not charged with the responsibility of either approving or releasing allowances of the acting governor, as some people have continued to claim. Onyebuchi, as acting governor, has been awarding contracts, carrying out government activities and all that. There is nothing that goes on within government circles that the acting governor does not know. People are just being mischievous and it’s unfortunate, such people always find a safe haven in the media.”
Only two weeks ago, some members of the state House of Assembly expressed worry over the situation of things in the state, just as some members of the state executive council vowed to unravel the mystery surrounding the governor’s absence.
A member of the Assembly, who spoke on grounds of anonymity, told THISDAY that the state legislature had decided to break its silence on the issue of the governor’s absence and make its position known soon. He noted that the legislature had decided to feign ignorance of the whole episode in order not to create unnecessary tension in the state, revealing that a move to reach out to officials of the government to find a temporary solution to the position was rebuffed but an unnamed top government functionary.
“I can assure you that we are no longer comfortable with the situation in our state and at the Assembly level, we have taken a decision on what to do if the governor remains outside till January ending. We will soon communicate our position to the executive council. There is no way our governor will be out for over three months and members of the House of Assembly cannot even have access to him. It is unthinkable. This is the time for us to act and if they are not careful, they may be taken unawares,” the lawmaker noted.
Also, a member of the executive council expressed worry over their fate if anything untoward happened to Chime in the coming weeks. The worry, he said, stemmed from the fact that about 90 per cent of them were equally kept in the dark as to the real situation of the governor.
The source, who is a serving commissioner, said, “The executive council is no longer finding the whole drama funny. How can we be completely kept in the dark? Residents of the state are worried and the worst part of it is that they are relying on us to give them the true story but, unfortunately, we don’t have any information.”
He could not confirm if there were plans to declare the governor incapacitated.
“But after six weeks, which was actually contained in the letter that was sent to the House of Assembly, we became worried and we have tried to ask questions from some quarters close to him and what we keep getting everyday is that he will soon be back, yet the media have been writing a whole lot concerning him.
“I can tell you unofficially that there is fire on the mountain, but what I can’t tell you is the colour of this fire,” the source said.
It was equally gathered that some relatives of the governor had been frequenting London in the past three weeks in a bid to strategise on the next line of action, reportedly, following complications from an alleged major surgery carried out on the governor.
Save Enugu Group
Disturbed by the situation, on Wednesday, some eminent indigenes of the state, under the umbrella of Save Enugu Group (SEG), sent a strongly-worded letter to the acting governor to express dissatisfaction with happenings in the state. They told him to constitute within two weeks a high-powered delegation to search for the whereabouts of the governor. Failure to do this, the group drawn from the three senatorial zones of the state insisted, would spell unpleasant consequences for both the government and “those who have been covering up for the governor in his absence.”
The letter, dated January 7 and titled “Prolonged and unexplained absence of His Excellency, Sullivan Chime, Governor of Enugu State,” was written to the acting governor through the Secretary to the State Government and copied to Assembly Speaker, Eugene Odo. Those who signed it include Chief Maxi Okwu and Ozo Igbonekwu Ogazimorah from Chime’s Enugu West senatorial zone, Mr. Ray Nnaji and Comrade Eneh Victor for Enugu East, and Chief Willy Ezeugwu and Comrade Ibuchukwu Ezike for Enugu North.
SEG listed those that must be in the delegation to include the Catholic Bishop of Enugu, His Grace, Callistus Onaga; Senator Hyde Onuaguluchi; His Highness, Paul Egbogu; Professor Barth Nnaji; Mrs Grace Obayi; Chief Nduka Eya; and Dr. Louis Anya Chukwuma.
The letter stated, “Today makes it 110 days since our great governor was last seen in public. It is in the public domain that our governor, His Excellency Sullivan Chime was last cited in public on 19th September 2012. Since then sightings and near sightings of him have been reported,, which all turned out to be a hoax.
“This unsavoury state of affairs has created a thriving mill of idle gossipers who speculate on his whereabouts and state of health. These rumours ranged from the insensitive to the ludicrous. Matters got to a head on the 15th day of December 2012, the day of the fatal air disaster in Bayelsa State that claimed the lives of Governor Yakowa of Kaduna State and General Azazi, when the national media was rent with the news also of the death of our governor.
“On at least two occasions, the Commissioner of Information, Enugu State in the person of Mr Chucks Ugwuoke has come out with an official statement on the status of the governor. Essentially it was stated that His Excellency was quietly enjoying his holiday and accumulated leave, or that he would be in office shortly.
“These conflicting accounts merely served to exacerbate rather than ameliorate the situation.”
SEG demanded to know the duration of the governor’s leave.
Though, they acknowledged Chime’s relative good performance, but said, “The fact of unreasonable absence from office is suggestive of permanent inability to discharge the functions of his office. In the alternative, we would argue that his disappearance for this extended period amounts to grave misconduct.”
Enugu State is in the grip of fear and a macabre joke that no one seems to know how to pierce together. What is not in doubt, it appears, is that something may give soon.