Enugu State governor Sullivan Chime yesterday arrived in the country after spending more than four months outside the country ostensibly for treatment.
His return has not ended the controversy generated by his long absence, as the circumstances of his return were still shrouded in palpable secrecy.
Enugu State commissioner for information Mr Chuks Ugwoke confirmed the governor's return in a telephone chat with a television station. He said Chime was expected in Enugu later today and that arrangements were in top gear in the state to receive him. But Ugwoke insisted that the governor was just on vacation against the popular belief that he was being treated for cancer.
The commissioner also defended the governor's disappearance from the country, saying the 1999 Constitution does not indicate the number of days a governor could spend on vacation.
But the governor was reported to have spent most of the months in an undisclosed German hospital.
The controversy surrounding his health condition prompted some of his colleagues at the Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF), who were desirous to clear the air, to visit him at the hospital.
The governors - Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Gabriel Suswam (Benue), and Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom) - on their return to the country announced that the governor was in good condition and would soon be back. They assured Nigerians and Enugu state indigenes that there was no cause for alarm, stressing that the governor would come to continue from where he stopped before his long absence.
LEADERSHIP learnt that Chime arrived in Abuja yesterday aboard a British Airways aircraft. The governor, who was said to have arrived about 6am, was driven straight to a highbrow hotel in Maitama. It was also learnt that Chime is billed to fly into Enugu State to the wide embrace of his supporters and political associates.
When LEADERSHIP visited the Enugu Governor's lodge in Asokoro, about 4pm, following information that the governor would brief the press there, it was learnt that the governor had not come to the lodge and might not get there before moving to Enugu.
An official of the lodge told LEADERSHIP that the governor was expected at the lodge that morning. According to the official, the governor's aides and entourage left the lodge as early as 3am for the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport to welcome the governor back to the country.
The official expressed concern that as at the time he was speaking with our reporter (4pm) they had not come back from the airport. "They did not even eat anything before leaving; they thought they would come back immediately," he added.
Enugu jubilates, awaits governor's return
Meanwhile, there was jubilation galore in Enugu yesterday when the news filtered into the city that Chime had landed in Abuja.
One of our correspondents, who went round the city, sighted some residents of the city while they were brandishing their beers from drinking joints.
It was gathered that the celebration was more pronounced at Udi, hometown of the governor.
Although the governor was yet to arrive in Enugu, his supporters had concluded plans to give him a heroic welcome.
The chief press secretary to Chime, Chukwudi Achife, stated that the return of Chime was a justification of their earlier buttressed fact that the governor's long vacation satisfied all the constitutional requirements, adding that he transmitted a letter to the speaker of the state House of Assembly, Hon Eugene Odoh, before he left the country.
Achife thanked the almighty God that government business moved on as usual during the four-month vacation of Governor Chime.
Also reacting, the chairman of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties, CNPP, Enugu State chapter, Hon. Afam Ani, stated that all the other political parties in the state outside PDP were very happy that Governor Chime was finally back into the country and, sooner or later, would return to Enugu to continue with his good works.
Also, the Save Enugu Group, an association that has consistently been kicking against the absence of the governor, said yesterday that it received with joy the informal news of the return of Chime to Nigeria in the "wee hours of this morning".
Meanwhile, the PDP has stated that it is overjoyed with the return of Chime to Nigeria after receiving medical treatment abroad.
The national publicity secretary of the PDP, Chief Olisah Metuh, stated this yesterday. He said: "We welcome the governor back and we thank God almighty for restoring the governor to good health in order to continue with the excellent work he is doing in Enugu State.
"We sincerely thank all the functionaries of the Enugu State government and the state PDP officers for their loyalty and commitment to the ideals of the party and the PDP Chime-led administration.