After spending about five months outside the country, Enugu State Governor, Mr. Sullivan Chime returned to Nigeria in the early hours of Thursday.
Although no official statement was issued by the state government on the return of the governor, Saturday Vanguard learnt that he arrived the Nnamdi Azikiwe International airport, Abuja from United Kingdom at about 5.30am.
Officials of the government including the media aides to the governor declined to comment confirming earlier speculations that the ailing governor would sneak into the country without any ceremony.
"Oga returned from United Kingdom at 5.30 am this morning and was driven into Abuja where he is convalescing. He will likely come into Enugu today (Friday) or Saturday," one of his personal aides who pleaded not to be named told Vanguard yesterday.
The local government chairmen in the state had planned to hold a resounding reception for the governor at the Akanu Ibiam airport, Enugu yesterday when they heard that he would make a triumphant entry into the Coal City after a long absence from the state, but the reception was called off.
The news of Chime's return to the country was, however, received by Enugu residents as a welcome relief and with thanksgiving to God for sparing his life. Many residents were seen discussing the development yesterday even though some doubted the news describing it as one of the past speculations and rumours regarding the governor's prolonged absence.
In its official reaction to the development, the Save Enugu Group, which had mounted pressures on the state government to make full disclosure of the governor's health status, said it received with joy the "informal news of the return of Governor Sullivan Chime into Nigeria, in the wee hours of this morning."
"We are reliably informed that Governor Chime arrived Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, on a British Airways flight from London Heathrow and moved to the Enugu Lodge in Abuja.
"We note that this event is taking place exactly one month after we first sounded the alarm of prolonged and unexplained absence. We acclaim this as falling within desired responsive action of leaders in a democracy. If the further information on the frail condition of the Governor is reliable, we wish to state that H.E. Governor Chime did not deserve being hustled out of 'gainful stay' in good health institutions if the right things were done first and before questions arose. In that respect, we, as other good people of Enugu State stand to hold those responsible for primitive lies and needless cover ups responsible," the SEG stated.
The statement signed by Messrs Maxi Okwu (Convener), Chief Willy Ezeugwu and Ozo Igbonekwu Ogazimora, however, wished Governor Chime well and full recovery.
On its part, the En ugu State Chapter of Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), Thursday expressed delight and solidarity with the people of Enugu State over the safe return of Governor, Sullivan Iheanacho Chime to Nigeria.
Rising from her monthly general meeting, the group in a statement signed by its Chairman, Hon Afam Nnaji and Secretary Pastor FrankGold Ekwueme, also expressed gratitude to the Acting Governor, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi and the Executive Council as well as the Legislature and Local Government Chairmen, for their support and contributions in keeping Enugu working while the Governor was away.
How Chime left Nigeria on 'vacation'
Chime left the country on September 19 last year on what his aides described as accumulated leave but the vacation later became a subject of controversy when his traducers began to allege that the government was lying about his true mission overseas. He had travelled out of the country after attending a function in Abuja without any formal announcement from the government. The nature of his trip gave rise to speculations that all might not be well with the governor. The government swiftly issued a statement saying that the governor had embarked on an accumulated leave but did not specify when he would return to the office.
The Save Enugu Group, which emerged three months after the governor's absence, claimed that it had evidence that Chime was incapacitated by ill-health accusing the government of being economical with the truth. It therefore put the government to task to disclose the actual health status of the governor just as it challenged the State House of Assembly to make public the letter purportedly written by the governor notifying it of his intention to embark on vacation with a view to determining whether he had overstayed or not.
The speaker of the Assembly, Eugene Odoh, who was in possession of the letter, remained adamant as he refused to release the letter but when tension heightened following the prolonged absence of the governor, he later explained that the governor was enjoying his vacation. According to him, the governor had the right to stay outside his office for as long as he wished because he was duly protected by the constitution.
The SEG not satisfied by the speaker's position, demanded that a delegation of eminent personalities in the state be constituted to visit the governor wherever he was overseas to ascertain his state of health and determine why he could not resume duty after his vacation. The demand was strongly condemned by officials of the state government, who accused the group of trying to play politics with the ailment of the governor even though his media aides continued to maintain that Chime "was hale and hearty."
Chime found at Wellington Humane Hospital Swiss Cottage, London - SEG claimed
After spending four months absence of the governor and his whereabouts was shrouded in secrecy, the SEG said it traced him (Chime) to a London hospital.
The group which had taken up the challenge of fishing out the governor with a view to ascertaining whether he was still capable of continuing with his constitutional duties, said the independent investigators it commissioned to locate his whereabouts had turned in the report of their finding.
The group said following the failure of the state government and its officials to disclose the whereabouts of the governor, it commissioned its own investigators who tracked the governor down to the London Hospital where he is being treated for an undisclosed ailment contrary to the government's claim that Chime was on vacation, hale and hearty.
The SEG disclosed this in the second letter forwarded to the State Acting Governor, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi last week in which it reiterated its earlier demands that some eminent persons in the state should be constituted into a delegation to seek Governor Chime out and report back to the good people of the state.
Neither the Acting Governor nor the Governor's information managers reacted to the group's demand as they did when their first letter was dispatched to the Government House. The government had merely dismissed the group as "attention seekers" and those wishing the governor dead.
Onyebuchi had maintained a sealed lip over the controversy trailing the governor's absence since he began to act mid-September last year and had resisted the pressures being mounted in all quarters to effect some changes that would enable him take full control of the duties of the absentee governor.
His reason, according to dependable sources, was that the constitutional provision on how long the governor could stay outside his office before the seat could be declared vacant was not clearly defined and could therefore be cumbersome to grab the seat more so when the cabal that had effectively taken control of the governor's office in his absence, has not given him (Onyebuchi) any breathing space.
Another reason, as was disclosed by his close associates was that the acting governor was not sure of the true state of the governor's health haven been in the dark for a long time and was not allowed to pay a visit to the governor overseas since he left the country. He was said to have expressed his desire to visit the governor in December but it was turned down by members of the cabal because they feared that allowing him to have full knowledge of the governor's incapacity, could embolden him to take full charge of the office.
In the midst of the confusion, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mr. Eugene Odo, had consistently announced that the lawmakers had no plan of impeaching the governor or transferring full constitutional powers to the acting governor to function as the State Executive Governor.
Some had argued that the Speaker, who is from Enugu North (Nsukka) senatorial zone was not ready to support Onyebuchi's empowerment as he and his Nsukka brothers were determined to ensure that power did not return to Nkanu land (Enugu East) from where Onyebuchi hails after former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani's eight-year tenure.
It was further feared that that if Onyebuchi was empowered to take over as governor to serve out the remaining part of Chime's tenure, he might decide to contest the 2015 election using incumbent factor, which would deny Enugu North the opportunity to produce the next governor, hence the stiff opposition to Onyebuchi's possible succession of Chime.
On his part, Chime had given a strong assurance that he would work for the emergence of his successor from Nsukka area and this might be scuttled if he was not available to direct affairs till 2015.
Enugu Anglican, Catholic Bishops disagree over Chime
As tension continued to heighten in the state over the endless wait for Governor Chime's return, elders of the state and some religious leaders, who had adopted a siddon-look posture over the governor's absence, decided to speak out on the disturbing scenario that was playing out in the state then. The Bishop of the Enugu Anglican Communion and Chairman of Enugu State Christian Pilgrim Board, Rt. Rev. Emmanuel Chukwuma, who voiced out his anger over what he described then as the "deceptions going on in Enugu since the last four months", said he was not happy with the way the family of the governor handled issues relating to the state of the governor's health. He said that the governor's immediate family should be blamed for the present call for the application of the Doctrine of Necessity in the state.
The visibly angry Bishop Chukwuma declared:
"The whole scenario is very unfortunate. There is quite a lot of deceit right in the entire issue. I must say that I, Bishop Chukwuma, am one of those behind the installation of Sullivan Chime as the Governor of Enugu State. I gave him support and I was the only bishop, who blessed him. No other bishop blessed him when he was coming into government. Even his Catholic bishops rejected him because of how he was brought in by the former Governor, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani. I was the only bishop and I'm still praying for him.
"But the family of the governor has to be blamed for all that is happening now because they are not sincere and open on the matter. When the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was sick, his family was open to let us know he was sick. And I personally visited Ojukwu at the hospital in London. One of my visits was at the London Clinic while the other was at the Wellington Hospital. And I was able to see him and pray for him. But up till now, nobody has told me where my governor (Chime) is, which hospital he is in; they are hiding it. But we are praying. All I know is that he is not dead. I even received Christmas greeting card and gifts from the Government House sent by him. Okay! But what is the state of his health, nobody is telling us.
"I'm quite sure that he probably has some health challenges, which are normal to every human being. But there is no reason people should hide it. Rather, we should be told the details of the whole thing so that we can intensify our prayers for him."
Bishop Chukwuma was of the view that the constitution should be applied where necessary and that the state assembly should make necessary effort to find out the governor's health status to enable the law to take its course. "It is time that the Speaker and his House of Assembly members should begin to really find out, just like the Senate did during the time of (the late president) Yar'Adua. They have to urgently find out the true situation of things and allow the law to take its course where necessary," he said.
Enugu Catholic Bishop replied Chukwuma
However, in what looked like an official response on behalf of the government and the governor's family, a press release came from the Government House Press Unit quoting the Enugu Catholic Bishop, Rt. Rev. Callistus Onaga as faulting those making uncomplimentary remarks over the absence of the governor.
In the press release captioned "Chime: Bishop Onaga blasts critics", the Catholic Bishop said it was morally and totally wrong for some people to wish another human being dead. While appealing for patience from the people, Onaga also congratulated the Acting Governor, Sunday Onyebuchi and his team for having effectively and efficiently piloted the affairs of the state in the absence of the governor, who is a Catholic.
Onaga, like the governor's media managers, was, however, silent on whether the governor is sick or not as he maintained that Chime was entitled his holidays during which he can do other things which he wishes to.
Enugu PDP also joined the fray
The State Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Engr. Vita Abba, had in the midst of the crisis, called for patience and understanding of the people over Chime's absence saying the governor, who had been away for months would soon return to his duty post, but the Save Enugu Group immediately dismissed his statement as part of the government's efforts to mislead the people.
"We reliably gathered that there are people within the government who have initiated a disinformation campaign to twist the demands of SEG out of contest and give it a colouration that is at variance with what it is asking for. Our demands are straightforward, we want a categorical statement from the state government on the whereabouts of Governor Chime and we want a select group of eminent citizens of Enugu state to pay him a visit there. We expect the state assembly to play its role on this matter in accordance with the Constitution. We also expect royal fathers in the state to prevail on the affected people to provide details about the whereabouts of our governor." SEG reacted in one of its statements.
The group, however, reassured the people of the state that all legal and constitutional means would be explored "to ensure that the state does not continue to be adrift with unexplained absence of the governor."
Acting Governor broke silence on Chime
In his first official comment on the controversial absence of Chime, Acting Governor Sunday Onyebuchi, dismissed as untrue claims by some groups in the state that the governor gave him an approval limit of N500,000 before embarking on vacation as well as the rumour that he was unable to handle the office left for him.
Onyebuchi, who has successfully piloted the affairs of the state since the absence of his principal in September last year, insisted that Chime duly transferred power to him before he travelled via a letter he transmitted to the House of Assembly.
The Acting Governor made the clarification during an interactive session at the end of a tour of projects in the state by the national good governance team. He denied reports that his expenditure limit had been fixed at N500.000 in the absence of Governor Chime, explaining that he would not have been able to pay the salaries of workers and contractors if it were true that his spending limited was pegged at half a million by the governor.
Onyebuchi affirmed that Governor Chime duly transferred power to him before he travelled via a letter to that effect he transmitted to the House of Assembly, adding that he had since been running the state without hitches and with the full cooperation of government officials and ministries. He did not speak further on the issue.
SEG gives Speaker
7-day ultimatum, threatens court action
The Save Enugu Group, SEG, in a reminder letter sent to the Speaker, threatened to drag him to court for his refusal to tell the people of the state the whereabouts of Governor Chime. In the letter signed by its leader, Barrister Maxi Okwu, the SEG threatened to drag the Speaker to court if he failed to make public, a Certified True Copy (C-T-C) of the purported letter written by Governor Chime concerning his purported annual leave, which the Speaker claimed was discussed by the State House of Assembly before they transmuted power to Deputy Governor, Sunday Onyebuchi.
"We are therefore constrained to write to you again, and make a much more formal demand. We hereby formally demand that you make available to us a Certified True Copy (CTC) of the said letter which you claim was addressed to you by H.E. Governor Chime before he proceeded on leave/vacation.
ACN seeks full disclosure, slams Governors' Forum
The Action Congress of Nigeria had in its submission on the absentee governors joined in condemning what it described as the poor handling of the reported illness of Gov. Chime, saying it fits into the growing pattern of shrouding the health problems of elected officials in secrecy, and again calls attention to the need to do things properly to advance the nation's democracy rather than personal interests.
In a statement issued in Lagos by its National Publicity Secretary, Ahaji Lai Mohammed, the party also criticized the choreographed visit to Gov. Chime in London by a delegation of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), which was apparently designed to reinforce the lies being peddled by Gov. Chime's supporters rather than keep the people of the state better informed of the true situation of things.
It said there is no doubt that the reason behind all the shenanigans is the desperation by public office holders to hold on to power at all costs, even when it is clear that their health has failed to such a level that they are better off stepping down so they can attend to their health problems. "We do not have details of what is wrong with Gov. Chime and honestly that is not the reason behind our intervention.
"Our concern is that the conspiracy of silence being perpetrated by the state governors who are reported to have taken ill and abandoned their duty posts, as well as their supporters especially the NGF, does not serve the interest of our democracy. "In the case of Gov. Chime, how can a man who is purportedly on vacation disappear for over 135 days and the people who voted him into office are not expected to ask questions?
"Does the constitution provide for such a long 'vacation' without consequences? Is Gov. Chime's deputy, whom he reportedly handed over to, given enough latitude to adequately preside over the affairs of the state. If not, how has this affected governance in the state? And to what extent have the people of the state been denied the dividends of democracy by this unnecessary controversy?"
Chime away on health ground - PDP
Apparently responding to the ACN's statement, the national leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party in a statement signed by the National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, disclosed that the governor travelled abroad on medical ground. The party disclosed that the much sought-after Chime travelled on medical ground, just like his counterpart, Governor Dambaba Suntai of Taraba State, promising that soon, they would be back to their seats. This, however, contradicted the position of Enugu State government that holidaying Chime was hale and hearty.
PDP commended the leadership of the party in Enugu and Taraba states including the Acting Governors, party chairmen, Speakers of the Houses of Assembly, state caucus members, members of the National Assembly from the states as well as government appointees in the states for holding forth and ensuring smooth running of government affairs in the absence of their governors.
Metuh in the statement, said the fact that government activities have been going on smoothly in these states showed that that "PDP governments have direction and focus in line with the manifesto of the party to ensure the welfare of the people at all times.
Expressing the party's sadness that the governors have been away on health reasons, Metuh equally thanked the people of the two states for their steadfastness in praying for them, adding that "with prayers, they will soon return to work." "It is sad for somebody to be ill, but we are all human. So the party commends the people of Enugu and Taraba states for their understanding and steadfastness in praying for their governors.
The return of Chime will no doubt douse the tension that has gripped the entire Enugu State since the past five months and those who had been nursing the ambition of setting a new political agenda in the state on account of the governor's travail may have to re-strategize and those clamouring for a change in the administration of the state could best be described as a day-dreamers.