Governor Sullivan Chime began his consolidated leave on September 19, leaving the activities of government in the hands of his deputy, Sunday Onyebuchi, who is functioning in an acting capacity, reports Christopher Isiguzo
Despite the long absence of Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State from his duty post, activities of government have been moving on full steam. Though, a handful of residents of the state have continued to express fears as to the real whereabouts of their governor, culminating in questions from some quarters, government sources have not rested on their oars as in attempts to allay the fears.
Chime had on September 19 proceeded on his annual leave, which was subsequently extended as he was said not to have taken his annual leave since taking over the reins of governance from his predecessor, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani, on May 29, 2007.
Though, the rumour mill expectedly have continued to brandish several speculations as to the real state of the governor of the Coal City State, as Enugu is fondly called, such speculations have not in any way whittled down the powers of the deputy governor, Sunday Onyebuchi, as Acting Governor. He has not only maintained a harmonious working relationship with officials of the government but has ensured that activities of government continued unhindered.
As if knowing that he was going to be away for a long time, the governor had transmitted a letter to the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Eugene Odoh, informing the legislators that he was embarking on his annual vacation and accordingly handed over to his deputy who from the day of his absence began to function as acting governor.
Initially, there were fears that all may not be well with the governor, especially when viewed from the fact that he had hardly travelled outside the country and stayed this long in the past. But officials of government do not seem perturbed as they have continued to go about their lawful duties.
As if to further prove that nothing untoward was in the offing, the government under the watchful eyes of the acting governor last week dissolved the board of the Enugu State Universal Basic Education (ENSUBEB) and also early in the week, reportedly, removed the Head of Service in the state, Mr. Dennis Eze.
Also, most of the road projects scattered across the state have continued in full swing, while civil servants have not been owed in the last two months the governor has been away. Indeed, to the working class in the state, the absence of Chime has not in any way impacted adversely on governance.
In spite of the seeming smooth operation of governance, some residents are still entertaining worries. While some claim the governor had gone for treatment of a yet-to-be identified ailment abroad, others have made some other unprintable allegations.
Some residents have also questioned the propriety of the governor’s absence from the state for more than 21 days.
But an Enugu based lawyer, Professor Race Achara, has berated those calling for the declaration of Chime as incapacitated as a result of his long absence from duty, saying that the governor has not breached the constitution.
Achara said that those likening the absence of the Enugu State governor to that of late President Umaru Yar’Adua and incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan lacked knowledge of the stipulations of the constitution, adding that the situations are not similar.
He stated that section 190 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which was ratified in January last year, allowed any governor who would be absent in his state for more than 21 days to transmit a letter to his state House of Assembly conferring powers in acting capacity to the deputy while he is away.
“I believe that is exactly what the Enugu governor did when he conferred powers to his deputy in acting capacity and transmitted the development in a letter to the State House of Assembly.
“The House can only make resolutions conferring executive powers to the Deputy Governor to act when a governor is away if he [governor] fails to do so and has stayed away for 21 days. The fact that there is an acting governor suggests that the right things were done. So there is no real issue to talk about. People are making comments without consulting relevant sections of the constitution.
“I also want to believe that activities of government are going on in full gear. It will have been a different thing if governance has collapsed in the state. So I don’t find any reason why people should be asking the House to declare him incapacitated,” Achara said.
He explained that there was no comparison between the situation that made the National Assembly confer powers of acting president to Jonathan when Yar’Adua took ill, stressing that the lawmakers acted because “necessary constitutional procedures were not followed to back up his absence.”
‘No Governance Vacuum’
On his part, the Commissioner for Information, Chuks Ugwoke, has repeatedly said that there is no governance vacuum, as the deputy governor is adequately acting in place of the governor.
In a statement, Ugwoke said, “Chime had presided over the State Executive Council meeting on September 18, 2012 where he announced to all the members that he was proceeding on his annual leave and constitutionally handed over the reins of power to his deputy, Sunday Onyebuchi, who is today the Acting Governor of the state.”
The commissioner insisted that the governor took his accumulated vacation, as he had not taken his annual leave since he became governor in 2007.
“Activities have been on. There is no activity of government that slowed down because you realise that there is an acting governor who is fully in-charge. Work is in progress at the new secretariat and on some ongoing road projects. So also with rural development, where some communities are being connected to the national grid,” he said.
Achara said the governor would return as soon as his vacation was over, pointing out that he had not exceeded the duration of his vacation.
Chairman of the governor’s party, Peoples Democratic Party, in the state, Chief Vita Abba, said there was nothing unusual about Chime’s absence.
“There is nothing unusual regarding the governor’s absence. He is a governor who has been on seat for the past six years and taking a consolidated leave.
“He did not abscond, he properly and formerly handed over to an acting governor who has been playing the role very well. So there is no vacuum created,” Abba said.
The Chairman of Nigerian Labour Congress in the state, Mr Chukwumaife Nze, also spoke in the same vein, describing the governor’s absence as the “beauty of democracy.”
Nze said, “I believe that it is democracy in action in the sense that there is a provision in the constitution for acting governor, depending on the circumstance. The only thing we are saying is, let the governor come back safely at the appropriate time. The absence of the governor is not affecting the productivity of workers in the state.”
Some other civil servants who spoke on conditions of anonymity dispelled insinuations that all was not well in the state in view of the go governor’s long absence, maintaining that what ought to be paramount in the minds of the people of the state is the smooth operation of government activities.
One civil servant told THISDAY, “Why are people talking about things that are not necessary? We should be more concerned with what is happening in government. If you move round the state, you would discover that activities are in full swing. Commissioners are functioning very well; road projects are going on everywhere; rural electrification projects are going on; water is running in virtually all parts of the capital city, civil servants are receiving their salaries. So what else are we asking for? We should be more concerned with these and pray that our governor, who is presently enjoying his leave, comes back home safely whenever he’s done with it.”
Though, there may be some fears regarding the absence of Chime from his state, the body language of government officials seems to suggest that there is no cause for alarm. But the issues will become clearer as events unfold in the months ahead.