interviewBy Tony Adibe
Enugu — Having spent about four months abroad to treat a cancerous growth, Enugu State Governor, Sullivan Chime returned last week and in this interaction with select reporters in Enugu on Monday night, narrated the genesis of his predicament and how it affected his government. Excerpts:
You spent quite some time abroad for medical treatment, what is the genesis of it all?
In August or thereabout last year , I was privileged to be one of those nominated by the Nigeria Governors Forum to go to Germany to understudy their federal system, a governor was picked from each of the six geo-political zones. I was nominated from the South East and we were led by our chairman, Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State. On our way to Germany, I decided to go a little bit earlier through London to do my medicals because of lack of time. I got to London, did my medicals and was certified fit, was given a clean bill of health. I had a little growth on my neck that was not visible to anybody, I am a very observant person, I noticed it, showed it to my doctor; he touched it and said he did not think it was anything serious, but I should investigate it.
I thought they would have seen anything when they were doing the general scanning and screening but nothing was found, so I just singled it out and asked them to investigate it. I was referred to a doctor who after investigating it and asking me questions [of course I told him, no pains, no symptoms, no disturbance from anywhere], said as far as he was concerned there was nothing wrong with it but he would also as a professional ask me to investigate it further, because I was almost running short of time, I made arrangements with them to help me set up appointment for closer examination of the growth.
So the following day, I left for Germany to join my colleagues. On that trip was my Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Dr Jude Akubuilo and my SSA Investment; they were already in Germany waiting for me, so I joined them.
After about a week, when they had set up the arrangement, I left Germany, went back to London and did the proper screening of that particular growth. They did biopsy and all that. So in the process, it was discovered that the growth was cancerous. On further examination it was discovered that the main tumour was behind my nose, it actually turned out to be what they called, nasopharyngeal cancer [cancer of the nose]. At that stage, you know when people hear the word cancer, the first thing is to declare yourself dead before any assistance could come. They subjected me to further scanning to know if it had spread, so luckily it hadn't spread, it was just in those two areas - my nose and neck, so they said the good news was that it was curable. That was when I became interested and they said as soon as I was ready, they would commence treatment.
Originally we had planned to go from Germany to Lebanon on our way back to Nigeria but I cancelled that trip, went back to Germany, informed my people I went with, came down to London with the commissioner. The SSA hadn't UK Visa then, so he traveled back to Nigeria from Germany.
In London we made arrangement and agreed on when to come. So we came back to Nigeria and within the two weeks, I was able to make arrangements for transition. I wrote a letter to the Speaker of the House of Assembly in accordance with the constitution, informing him of my decision to proceed on leave and of course sought his cooperation to work very well with the Deputy Governor, Sunday Onyebuchi who would work as governor in my absence. Within the two weeks, we held two EXCO meetings, the last was held on Tuesday, the week I left. After the EXCO meeting, I told my EXCO members that I was proceeding on long vacation which I wouldn't know how long it would last to treat myself.
That was the information they got and of course I told them to cooperate with the acting governor. The following day, I left for Abuja, which was a Wednesday and again attended the meeting of the governor's forum, that night.
Then Thursday morning, we had National Economic Council meeting and the Deputy Governor was there to represent me. I got to London and settled in and the following day Friday went to see the oncologist who had already made arrangements for treatments to begin and on Monday, I started treatment. I don't think any of you has had an experience.
Cancer is a deadly disease and the cure is also deadly, the cure for cancer is not Panadol, the cure for cancer is not these drugs you buy off the counter. By the time you go through Chemotherapy and radiotherapy, you will be a changed person.
So I started treatment, the treatment altogether lasted for 12 weeks, throughout the period of my treatment, I was an outpatient. I was never admitted in any hospital, all my treatments, I took as an outpatient. During the period of treatment, I personally had challenges with the treatment because like I said, except you see somebody that has taken that kind of treatment, it is not easy to imagine. So when I started reading in the papers, how I went to India, how I died at so, so place, to us it was a kind of entertainment. Anytime we felt like being entertained, we call up the Nigerian papers and we will be laughing. So it was a lot of entertainment to us but what became worrisome was the deliberate and sustained attempt to undermine the government of Enugu state.
The treatment officially ended on 10th of December and of course when treatment ends, that is when the real thing starts. When I had commenced treatment, what my doctors said is that I should stay off office for six months, that was their recommendation, but by first week of January when we went to review my state, they were shocked at the recovery rate, they were happy with the recovery, the scan they did showed that the tumour and nose fluid had disappeared completely, not even a scar was left behind and I won't like to use the expression that they have declared me cancer free, but that was exactly what happened.
Cancer is cancer and one will be required to go there from time to time for check up to make sure it does not raise its ugly head again. But as things are now, they have succeeded in curing that disease that was detected in September last year.
Coming to my staff, and all attacks on them that they were hoarding information and all that was an unfair attack on them. First and foremost, they didn't have all the information, all they knew was that I was going on vacation and I didn't know it was the business of people to know what my activities will be when I am going on vacation. So I decide to use the period of my vacation to take care of myself I don't see how it should concern anybody, I don't see why we should owe anybody any apologies. The important thing is complying with the law, making sure that as governor of the state, you ensured that the ship of governance remained on course and not abandoning your people
Why didn't you let the people around you know you were traveling considering that you are a public officer? Was it a similar situation when late president Musa Yar'Adua was here and later died when he was brought back?
The truth was that those people, who should know, actually knew. I don't think there is any public officer who goes on leave abroad to take care of health challenges. It is not Nigerian, you are trying to compare it with Yar'Adua situation, is unfortunate and wrong. Yar'Adua traveled sick, I didn't travel sick. Cancer is something that you may have, and you look normal and act normal. I wasn't grounded because of the sickness. I was the person that decided on when to attack it. I actually choose the period because I looked at the time table between now and end of my tenure and I said that was the only window I had because at the end of this year, we will be talking about local government local election.
I decided on when to attack it. It was not easy for me spending Christmas in London. I was telling somebody the other day that since I was born excerpt during the Nigerian war when everybody was forced out that was the first time that I was spending four months outside Enugu since I was born. It never happened, even when I was in school, even when I did my service. So it wasn't an easy thing to be away for four and half months, but it was in the interest of the people of Enugu state and also myself as well as the system we are trying to put in place to seek treatment at a time that will not adversely affect that system.
It would have been more challenging to the system if I had been away at the time of the local government elections, you can imagine what it could have looked like. That was actually what informed my decision to seek medical attention immediately. It was not an emergency at all. I decided to do it and thank God it is now past.
The attacks against me started two weeks after I left, some people had started writing nonsense, they were not interested in the truth and going on vacation had nothing to do with my going to India and dying there. Why tell the nation that I was hurried into the plane, which it was an emergency that I collapsed. I went to London as somebody fit and proper and unfortunately, they decided to handle it the way they chose.
Why didn't you speak on the day you came back, was it deliberate or what?
If you were at the airport you would not have asked the question. When the aircraft stopped, looking out through the window, I saw the acting governor with his wife, I saw our own local service chiefs, the commander Garrison, the police commissioner and all that. Everything looked orderly, immediately I alighted from the plane, those people disappeared. I had to stop that I won't move an inch here until I see the acting governor and they made way for him, everywhere was chaos. That was how I saw him. So you expected me in that madness to start addressing press? Of course I entered my car and we came here and relaxed. There is no urgency. I am just doing this in the interest of people who have been misled. There was no opportunity to address the press.
Now that you are back, have you written to the House of Assembly to tell them your back and when are you resuming duties?
The problem we have is that it is like you prying into the affairs of your neighbour's family. That was exactly what happened. It was a case of people trying to come into Enugu to find out how we run our domestic affairs. We were watching NTA from Uk, there was one person who felt agitated and doubted if the letter was written. He said if the letter was written, there will be record of it in the record of proceedings of the House of Assembly and how the approval was given and I laughed. Read your constitution, I don't need the approval of the House of Assembly to go on leave. You are not required to write to the House of Assembly, you are required to write to the Speaker for his information, that you are proceeding on leave and once you are on leave, the Deputy automatically starts acting so that when he approaches the House of Assembly for the budget presentation, they don't turn him back to say we don't know you. That is the essence of the letter and I am expected that once I come back, I will write to him [speaker] for his information. The constitution is so clear. I am not seeking his approval to resume duties, the constitution is clear. And that is to say, I am back, in case anybody comes to you to ask of the governor. The simple answer to your question is yes, I have transmitted a letter to the House of Assembly that I am back so that you won't have a situation where you will say we have two captains in one ship. So like you just come here now, you will notice that I did not address the deputy governor as acting governor. So we don't have two captains in one ship so that my orderly will know whom to take instructions from. It is one ticket and once one person is away, the other person takes over.
When the deputy governor is away, I take over his duties, if he comes back, he resumes. To again answer part of your question, it is not true that governors don't stay away for two weeks. The governor of Abia State stays at least one month every year outside. In fact, under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, there was one governor who was ruling from abroad. Some even ascribed the period to say I have stayed over 140 days and where this is from, I do not know. Some even said I have overstayed a time limit, it was not so in my letter. There was no question of time frame. I am back and I am back. But I will tell you frankly, may be not for any ailment or cancer but if I have the opportunity of doing this again, I will like to repeat it. I have no regret whatsoever, I believe I did the right thing and the comments you people dished out were based on either ignorance or people being just mischievous. I have no business telling you my story; it is not your business.
The first colleague of ours that we lost in our first term, the governor of Yobe State, he died in the USA. Who knew about his problem until he died? You don't make it so unattractive, the office of the governor. They are human beings who are entitled to some level of privacy. When I traveled to London in September, I did not travel with anybody, I went alone at least to tell you how stable and fit I was. I didn't go even with my three year old son. My SSA on Investment joined me one week later. I didn't travel with any human being; I was able to take care of myself. I don't need security abroad. What you people did, I am sure will scare a lot of people who would want to be governor in the future. What ailment was not ascribed to me? There was a time they left ailment and said my son was arrested for money laundry and that I went to bail him, I was arrested in place of my son..., so it is really sad but thank God all that is over.