The last time the people of Enugu State can claim to have seen the face of their governor was sometime in September. Since then, Governor Sullivan Chime’s famously stern face and toothbrush moustache have disappeared from view. To where? Nobody, at least among the general populace, knows.
The result has been a harvest of rumours, counter-rumours and conjectures similar to what was the staple during the drama of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s last days.
As with the Yar’Adua saga, official information on the governor’s whereabouts has elicited little, if any, belief. Except among little children, the dominant topic of discussion across the state is the 53-year old governor.
Since the public discovered that long absences from public view by politicians are masks for failing health, the suspicion in Enugu State is that Chime is ill. Many are convinced, even without hard evidence, that Chime is ill.
Jude Uzodimma, who repairs computers along Edozie Street, off Zik Avenue, is convinced the governor is seriously ill. “We believe he has travelled out of the country to seek medical attention. Whatever is wrong with him, the government should tell us, because he is our governor,” Uzodimma said.
Three weeks ago, members of the Catholic Church in Enugu Diocese gathered at the Holy Ghost Cathedral, Enugu to hold a special prayer session for the governor’s quick recovery.
The official spiel, however, is that the governor is on vacation. Sources at the Enugu State Government House told this magazine that Governor Chime was last seen in the state on 19 September when he presided over the State Executive Council meeting, during which he handed over power to his deputy, Chief Sunday Onyebuchi. The next day, he was said to have attended a meeting of the Governor’s Forum at Abuja, from where he departed Nigeria.
This magazine can authoritatively reveal that since the Executive Council meeting of 19 September, none has been held, a development some citizens find disturbing.
An aide claimed that the governor sent a letter to the House of Assembly to the effect that he was travelling out, but declined to metion the purpose for which he has travelled. Even then, existence of the letter is not considered a fact. “No one has been able to produce a copy of the letter purportedly written to the legislators. As we speak, nobody knows the exact whereabouts of the governor. It was said he was in the United States of America in October, but we later heard he has been transferred to India. To worsen the matter, no official statement has been issued by the state government to clarify matters,” a government source said.
According to the source, it was when the government could no longer cope with the strident rumour that the governor was seriously ill that the Commissioner for Information, Chuks Ugwuoke, issued a press statement claiming that Chime was hale and hearty and has only embarked on his annual vacation for the first time in five years. The statement did not state in clear terms where the governor has gone for the purported vacation and for how long he will be away.
“For the governor to have left the state for the past seven weeks is not too good for us. He is our governor and so he is our collective property and responsibility. No matter what is happening to him, let them tell us. He is like any other human being who can succumb to sickness. We don’t want what happened to Nigeria and Nigerians during the last days of Yar’Adua to repeat itself in Enugu. They should come out and tell us where they have taken our governor to and what is happening to him,” a worried government official said.
Chime’s absence is believed to have hobbled governance in the state. Onyebuchi, to whom he handed over, is viewed as not being in charge of the affairs of the state. Observers cited, as example, his passive participation at the recent visit of the 1988 class of the Nigerian Law School to Enugu State. The visit was hosted by Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, Secretary to the Federation. Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State spoke for both Anambra and Enugu states, despite Onyebuchi’s presence at the event which held in Enugu.
Also, during the 80th birthday celebration of former Vice President Alex Ekwueme, which was took place in Enugu, it was Governor Obi who spoke for the two states, though Onyebuchi was in attendance. This magazine gathered that while other deputy governors present at the ceremony spoke on behalf of the governors they represented, Onyebuchi said nothing. A source present at the venue of the celebrations claimed that Governor Obi gave a hint of Chime’s state of health, saying: “My brother, Governor Chime is indisposed in health.”
Information Commissioner, Chuks Ugwuoke continues to insist that there is nothing strange in governor’s absence. He argued that Chime has been working for the past five years without break, after which he deserves to rest. “This is a man who has been working for the past five years without going on vacation for one day. He should be allowed to enjoy his vacation. It is on record that he, on 18 September, did what the constitution demands of him when he handed over to the Deputy Governor who is now acting as governor,” he told this magazine.
Ugwuoke dismissed suggestions that Onyebuchi is not in control. “The government is functioning well. All ongoing projects are on course and other ones have even been awarded by the acting governor,” Ugwuoke said. He pointed to the new Secretariat Complex, the ongoing construction of Zik’s Avenue and other road projects spread around the state as evidence that Chime’s absence has not in affected the running of the government
Afam Ani, Chairman of the state chapter of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, said opposition parties in the state have their fingers crossed. “They told us that he has gone on his annual leave. So we want to believe that he has gone on his annual leave. I wouldn’t say he is sick or not because I am not his doctor,” Ani told this magazine.
Chairman of the Enugu State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Abba Ani, declined to comment on the matter. When TheNEWS contacted him on his mobile phone, saying he was attending a meeting at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja.
But Comrade Osmond Ogu, Enugu State Chairman of the Civil Liberties Organisation and Chairman, Enugu State Workers’ Forum, is of the view that Chime’s absence should be treated as an emergency. He also insisted that the acting governor is inhibited by the looming shadow of the Chime. “In a normal circumstance, the absence of the governor should not in any way affect the process of governance. But this is one state where the governor is an absolute leader and the acting governor is not bold enough to take decisive decisions. The government is currently paralysed. We need to declare a state of emergency in Enugu State because the apparatus of governance is paralysed, because the acting governor cannot approve any contract, as he might not know his fate when the governor eventually returns,” said Ogu.
Just when he is due to return is known only to members of his inner circle.