opinionBy Olawale Olaleye
After about 140 days out of Enugu State health grounds, the Governor, Mr. Sullivan Chime, returned to the country last week. In an interview with select journalists on Monday night, he told his story. His narration notwithstanding, he missed a cogent point.
Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State, last week, returned home after about four months overseas where he had gone to take care of his health, although left ostensibly on vacation. He left the country on September 19, having duly transmitted a letter to the state House of Assembly. His duration of leave was later extended to what was later known as "consolidated leave".
But while he was away, his long absence without sufficient information from his handlers on what was actually amiss had stoked tension in the state and country in general. Expectedly, opposition had also exploited the situation and subsequently politicised his absence. Enugu, in a nutshell, became a hotbed of bitter political rivalry, both within and outside of the Chime camp.
Unfortunately, as the exchanges gathered momentum and the media were awash with speculations on what may have gone wrong, government's information managers still did not have an idea of how to go about the situation. Instead, they settled for propaganda, just to sustain their hold on the turf and pretended nothing serious was going on. That, of course, explained and justified the anxiety that later strewn the Governor's continued absence.
But Chime, in the interview granted select newspapers, told his cancer story. Here's a hint: "In August last year, I was privileged to be one of those nominated by the Nigeria Governors' Forum to go to Germany to study their federalism; I was to represent the South-east zone. I had to use the opportunity of the trip to pass through London to do my medicals since it was the only opportunity I had to do that. After my medicals, I was certified fit by the doctors, but I noticed that I had a little growth beneath my jaw. Ordinarily, nobody could see it but I felt it seriously and asked the doctors to carry out further investigation on it.
"I was later referred to a GP who after examining me said there was nothing wrong with me. I still asked for further investigation. I even made arrangement with them to help me set appointment for closer investigation. I left for Germany and had to still return to London to keep the appointment for proper screening of the growth. It was after the screening that it was discovered that the growth in question was cancerous. It was also discovered that the main tumour was behind my nose; it was simply called cancer of the nose."
Whilst Chime's narration confirmed a report by THISDAY on how the Governor discovered he had cancer; he went on to allude to the situation back home, the tension his absence had generated, the different reports saying different things on what may have happened to him. Chime proved to be monitoring events back home when he told of a particular report that claimed he had died at an Indian hospital.
Chime was no doubt bitter and this was palpable even in his hushed tone. But more surprising in his narration was that he did not see what was wrong in the way his case was managed. As a result, he not only boasted that he would repeat what happened if the opportunity availed itself again, he further lampooned those who supposedly went after him, cashing in on his ill-health.
His words: "If for any reason I have the opportunity to repeat what happened, I will do it over and over again. Nigerians should equally know that we the governors are not super human beings; we are like any other human...All the attacks on my staff about hoarding information were unfair. They didn't know the problem because I only told them I was going on vacation.
"It didn't concern anybody because I complied with the law by transmitting a letter to the speaker. I ensured that the ship of government remained on course; I didn't abandon anybody. All those attacks were mischievous and it equally exposed the ignorance of some of our people even those that were supposed to know the law," he said.
As Chime rightly noted, it might be true that his aides were not aware of the situation at inception, but the turn of events had later shown that they knew he was sick and were only acting on instruction to keep sealed lips. As governor and learned person, Chime should understand that he is no longer a private person for as long as he remains in that office and as such, accountable to the people for his day-to-day activities. It therefore, as observers have noted, smacked of sheer recklessness to take the people for granted, trusting in the fact that he could get away with it by virtue of official fiat.
Such deportment of a public office holder is what tends to awfully redefine the generality of the Nigerian people as what they are not. His attempt to differentiate between his case and that of late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua did not also suffice. The underlining fact in both cases is poor information management. That it was declared wrong in the time of Yar'Adua, given the attendant crisis even makes it more unpardonable in his case, his situation notwithstanding.
The case of Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez, comes handy in a matter like this. Like in the case of Chime, the President is also undergoing treatment in Cuba for cancer but his is a situation known, not just to the Venezuelan people but the world as a whole. And dramatically, because his action sculpted the figure of sincere leadership, Chavez had the full support of the parliament which unanimously agreed to postpone indefinitely, his inauguration for another six-year term in office.
Chavez, who had been in power since 1999, was to be sworn in on January 10 before the parliament. But the parliament accepted a request that the president, who is battling cancer in Cuba, be sworn in at a later date before the Supreme Court. And till date, the people of Venezuela are updated on the President's health.
Therefore, the discerning would naturally ask: what is special in the Nigerian case that public office holders are treated like demigods? Why the so much secrecy woven around their health status when indeed, everyone knows they are not preternatural beings and could fall sick like everyone else?
So, why would Chime come forward with such crass arrogance as if he had acted well as governor and starts to point fingers? Was it that his handlers had done the best thing ever because he as governor had done what was right in the face of the law by merely transmitting a letter through the state assembly and as such, acting responsibly by also keeping the information open to the people who elected him into office was unnecessary?
Many believed that Chime should have simply told his story without treading on that path. That he and his handlers erred in the management of information regarding his health is clearly indefensible; to further come forward with a volte face as if seeking apology from the people is just ungubernatorial and betrays the character expected of a public office holder answerable to the people.
The governor obviously missed the point and should have apologised on behalf of his handlers for failing in their responsibility rather than insult the sensibilities of the Nigerian people in an attempt to justify his long absence as if he was doing anyone good by being governor. After all, he went cap-in-hand canvassing for their votes and to treat them with such disdain and arrogance is nothing but negligent and laughable.