Enugu without Chime: Intrigues without end
The accumulated leave taken by the Governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime, for about five months now ought to raise a crucial constitutional issue of how long public officers could be away from their duty post, but the motives and antecedents of the members of the Save Enugu Group (SEG) who are calling for Chime’s impeachment raise serious doubts about their credibility and the genuineness of their motives, Olukayode Thomas, who was in Enugu, reports
JOY and misery abound in equal measure on the 15th of December 2012 when news filtered in first from the social media and later other sources that the Governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime, has gone to the realm where all roads ultimately lead in far away India.
For a majority of Enugu indigenes who believed that the state did not start reaping the dividends of democracy until Mr. Chime became governor in 2007, it was day that their hopes of a better tomorrow turned into despair.
While the period between 1999 and 2007 was regarded by many of the state indigenes as years of the locust, in Chime’s five years, they have seen some development, especially in the provision of infrastructure and security.
But for his opponents, who felt betrayed that Chime refused to follow the script laid down by their godfather, who chose Chime above other ‘more qualified candidates’ to become the state chief executive officer, the news of Chime’s death was a vindication of their earlier statement that the governor had long died and that a cabal that is ruling since he left the state since September 19, 2012, had been deceiving the public.
But within hours, the two sides soon traded places, as the news of Chime’s death filtered out as it filtered in, it was just a rumour. The State Commissioner for Information, Chucks Ugwuoke, then described the rumour as coming from the pit of hell.
But while a majority of Enugu indigenes, including Chime’s political opponents, believe he may be alive, they doubt claims that he is healthy, and that he is just enjoying his accumulated leave.
Majority of Enugu residents interviewed last week by The Nation are not only wishing Chime speedy recovery, they are also praying that he returns to Enugu immediately and continue his ‘good deeds.’
For members of the opposition or other Enugu indigenes, especially members of the Save Enugu Group (SEG), Governor Chime is seriously sick, incapable of ruling again, therefore the Deputy Governor, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi, should be sworn in immediately as the new state governor.
Even when photos of a fit-looking Governor Chime with Governors Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Gabriel Suswam (Benue) and Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers) in London, was released last week, SEG, the main protagonists in the ‘’Chime must surface or be impeached’’ campaign declared the photos to be fake. SEG Convener, Maxi Okwu (Ikenecheoha II), President Citizen Popular Party (CPP) and National Chairman Conference of Nigeria Political Party (CNPP) said: “The Enugu State Government (ENSG) came up with that photo trick to meet our deadline.”
BETWEEN SEG AND THE SPEAKER
Apart from Chief Okwu, other prominent members of the SEG include Igbonekwu Ogazimora, a former Commissioner of Information in the last dispensation , Chief Willy Ezugwu, National Secretary of CNPP, Mr. Ibuchukwu Ezike, a prominent indigene of the state, Mr. Victor Eneh, another prominent indigene and Mr. Ray Nnaji, a Commissioner under Nnamani and Chime. They had demanded that Acting Governor Onyebuchi must constitute a delegation of prominent leaders of Enugu to visit Chime. They suggested Bishop Callistus Onaga, Catholic Bishop of Enugu, Revd Hyde Onuaguluchi, Prof Bath Nnaji, Igwe Paul Egbogu, Chief Mrs Grace Obayi, Chief Nduka Eya, Secretary General Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo and Dr Louis Anya Chukwuma.
But the Speaker, State House of Assembly, Eugene Odo, dismissed the demand of the SEG. Odo posited that the House of Assembly could not invoke the Doctrine of Necessity because the governor followed due process before embarking on his accumulated leave.
Odo believed that SEG members may not really know what the Doctrine of Necessity is all about. He insisted that the circumstance of Chime’s absence is completely different from that of late President Umoru Yar’Adua’s circumstances.
He stated: “And under the 1999 Constitution, section 190, whenever a governor is travelling and he intends to stay for more than 21 days, he should transmit a letter to the House of Assembly, in which case the deputy governor becomes the acting governor, which Chime had done.”
Odo revealed further that Section 189 of the constitution clearly states that if the governor is sick, only the State Executive Council is empowered to generate a resolution to the House of Assembly, the Speaker can then nominate five medical practitioners, including the governor’s personal doctor, who will examine and report on his condition. According to Odo, none of the people nominated by the SEG is qualified according to the constitution.
Investigation revealed that insinuations that the acting governor’s approval is only N500, 000, may not be true, ditto for allegations that workers are being owed salaries since Chime travelled and that all ongoing projects have been abandoned. The truth is, Enugu workers are paid as at when due. Salaries alone gulp about N800 million monthly, so if the deputy governor’s approval limit is only half a million naira, salaries would definitely not be paid.
Also, multi- million naira worth of projects are going on in various sites across the state. The state budget for 2013 was presented to the State House of Assembly last month. So all these give the impression that all is well.
IS CHIME A VICTIM OF EBEANO POLITICS?
If Chime followed due process before embarking on his accumulated leave, if he has not breached the constitution and the acting governor is in charge of the state, why has the state been in the news for the wrong reasons since Chime travelled in September?
Political observers in Enugu who spoke on the condition of anonymity claimed that most members of the SEG either have personal problems with Chime because of the volatile nature of Enugu politics or they are members of the Chimaroke Nnamani Ebeano group who felt it is now time to get back at Chime, the ‘traitor’.
Investigation in Enugu revealed that Chime and Okwu were once best of friends and their fathers were both ministers in the First Republic.
The duo fell apart when Chime reneged on an earlier promise to host the chairmen of all political parties in Enugu. Okwu, the chairmen of CNPP had made elaborate preparation and invited all the chairmen to Enugu, only for Chime to renege on his promise at the last minute. Since then, things have fallen apart between the two friends.
Ogazimora and Nnaji, both prominent members of SEG, were Chime’s colleagues as commissioners under Chimaroke Nnamani, Nnaji was also at a time commissioner under Chime.
Just like Nnamani and Chief Jim Nwobodo, Chime and Nnamani fell apart barely a month after the later installed him as governor when he declared that Enugu state was not really working, a sharp contrast to the “EBEANO” slogan that Enugu was working.
Since then all hands had been on the deck to ensure that the ‘traitor’ is dealt with. In the run up to the 2011 election, the Ebeano Group dumped PDP for PDC in their bid to unseat Chime. Ogazimorah said then , “the Ebeano, which is the real PDP in Enugu State, had been floating as we were rejected by both government and leadership of the PDP. That is why we have entered this party called PDC to find a way of restoring our voice. The PDC is a small party, we don’t pose a threat to anybody, we are dealing with a very powerful incumbent government that claimed to have performed well, we are the underdog, but we just want to participate politically, and whether we win the election or not is not a priority, but to ensure that we participate in the polls.”
All efforts to speak with Ogazimorah the voice of SEG, to ask him if the present campaign against Chime were a continuation of the struggle for power between Ebeano and Chime, proved abortive. On three occasions, appointments were fixed but Ogazimorah’s busy schedules did not permit him to keep appointments.
But a source, who is on first name basis with major political actors in Enugu politics, doubts if Nnamani is behind SEG,
‘‘ Nnamani is not civil, his style is an Agbero style, and Ebeano means ‘Crush Them’. If the former governor was behind all these, he would mobilise people to occupy the Government House. Give it to Chime, he is a fine gentleman. Under Nnamani, our state was not like this. All opponents of the governor were chased out of the state, but most of the actors are people that are close to him.”
FOR HOW LONG CAN PUBLIC OFFICERS BE AWAY
But for doubts over the intentions of members of SEG, the prolonged absence of Chime and other public officers raises a serious question about how long a public officer should be away, and this calls for genuine discussion by the National and State Assemblies to help resolve an issue that the constitution is silent on. As at today, apart from Chime, the governors of Cross Rivers and Taraba State are outside the country for health reasons.
The official statement from the Enugu State Government is that the governor is enjoying his accumulated leave. Since he joined the state service about 14 years ago (eight years under Nnamani ‘s administration, six years as governor) Chime has never gone on leave. So, if Chime is entitled to a month of holiday yearly and he has not gone on leave since 1999, that means he is entitled to a 14 month holiday.
An Enugu based lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said all the hue and cry by SEG and others asking about Chime’s whereabouts may amount to nothing.” The governor followed due process. Even if they decide to go to court, they will lose because the constitution says if a governor will be away for more than 21 days, he should transfer power to his deputy, which he did. The law does not say he must return in six weeks or six months. On that, the constitution is silent.”
Going forward, the lawyer wants the National and State Assemblies to amend the constitution and stipulate the number of weeks or months a public officer could stay away from his/her duty.
IFEOMA NWOBODO AND ENUGU CABAL
Apart from Chime and his absence from the state, one person that is much discussed among the elites, politicians and civil servants in Enugu State is the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Mrs Ifeoma Nwobodo. Politicians loath her, civil servants wish she lost her job penultimate week when the acting governor almost fired her, while those who hang around the corridors of power and contractors always pray that their files do not go through her desk.
An accountant, married to a High Court Judge in the State Judiciary, Mrs. Nwobodo was recruited by Chime from Nike-Lake Hotel where she worked as Director of Finance when he was elected Governor. Investigation in Enugu revealed that no contract file passes through her table with the contract amount not being reviewed downward. This no doubt creates more enemies than friends for her.
Secondly, with a private sector background, she is said not to have patience for politicians and civil servants. She has also been severally accused of being rude and brash.
One of the many ‘sins’ Mrs Nwobodo was accused of include sacking of the Head of Service, Mr. Dennis Eze. She was also accused of sacking the Head of Enugu SUBEB because of power tussle between them over who awards contract for rehabilitation of dilapidated primary schools in the state. Another alleged prominent victim of Nwobodo is the former head of Enugu Waste Management Board, Mrs. Thelma Ogakwu.
Efforts to get Mrs. Nwobodo to talk were abortive. Aides said she would not grant a telephone interview, while appointment for a formal interview has to be prearranged.
But a prominent indigene of the state, who spoke on the condition anonymity, revealed that Mrs Nwobodo is well loved by the masses and honest people in Enugu State, adding that it is only the elites and those that hang around government, looking for inflated contracts and politicians that hate her.
He revealed that Nwobodo’s problem stems from her profession, accounting. He said ‘’Being an accountant, she is over prudent and our people don’t like people like that’’. He also said that unlike under Nnamani where there were lots of patronage, it is not so under Chime and Nwobodo is seen as one of the people that is behind this.
On the people allegedly sacked by Nwobodo. He asked: “Where does she derive the power from? Sack the Head of Service? Stop the Acting Governor’s allowances? These are pure lie. Infact, she almost lost her job last week.”
Giving an insight into why the government sacked the head of Enugu State Waste Management (ESWAMA) , Mrs . Chinyere Ogakwu, the source revealed that waste management had always been a problem in Enugu and that before she was sacked four other heads of ESWAMA had been relieved of their appointments.
He revealed that it was the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Amechi Okolo, acting on the instruction of the Acting Governor that announced the sack and named Dominic Okonkwo to oversee the affairs of the agency until further notice .Ogakwu’s problem with the state government, he said, began when it became obvious that she could not successfully keep the state clean before Christmas and New Year. The Government had wanted visitors coming home to see a clean state .
By December, the state was so dirty that government had to hire trailers to move waste. In the face of the glaring failure by the agency, the head had to assume responsibility, that was why she was sacked by the state government. ‘’ Let me also tell you that Mrs. Ogakwu is not just a relation of Governor Chime, they are from the same place Udi, so there is no way anybody would have sacked her unless she actually failed in the performance of her duties’’.
He equally revealed that the Head of Service Mr. Denis Eze was relieved of his appointment by the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Amechi Okolo who also asked him to hand over to the acting Head of Service, Mr. Chidi Ezema within 24 hours.
ENUGU IS WORKING –CNPP
For the Chairman of Enugu State chapter of CNPP, Mr. Afam Ani, the absence of Chime has not stopped Enugu from working. Ani said he saw the letter the governor wrote to the Speaker of the State House of Assembly transferring power to the Deputy Governor ‘’he is away legally, and his absence is not causing any problem. There has been no problem with payment of salaries, projects are going on and the budget has been presented.
‘‘But we are watching the government and the moment we smell anything bad we will raise the alarm. People are worried about the condition of the governor because he is a good man,” he said.
On the insinuation that a cabal led by Mrs. Nwobodo has sidelined the Acting Governor, Ani said , ‘‘It is cheap propaganda by SEG, there is nothing like that. Mrs. Nwobodo is a very strong woman, a rare bred who is a blessing to Enugu state. When you are talking of people in charge of government it is the Acting Governor and the Secretary to the State Government. I don’t know why they are shouting about Nwobodo, even when Chime was here they said all manner of things about her. if there is a cabal, the local CNPP will be the first to raise an alarm. She has no power to sack anybody, it is the secretary to the government empowered by the Acting Governor that has such power,” he said.
CHIME’S ADDMISSION OF ILL HEALTH AND VISIT TO UDI
While controversy about his whereabout rages in Enugu, Chime has surfaced in London with three other Governors and has tactically admitted he has been sick. “I am alive and well, I will be back very, very soon. I am great, very, very great. Tell Nigerians to discountenance all the rumours about my health.” Rotimi Amaechi, the Governor of Rivers State, speaking on Chime’s health, reportedly said, “We saw him in an atmosphere of recovery. We were able to go out with him, he is in good shape and is getting ready to come back home very soon. We thank God for what He has done, how He has helped him to recover.”
Gabriel Suswam of Benue State said: “Chime has been discharged from the hospital.” While Godswill Akpabio said: “He has recovered tremendously, I am very happy and I give glory to God. We should pray for our leaders instead of wishing them bad.”
Back home, Enugu residents are worried. A visit to Chime’s home town in Udi revealed a people who are worried and are desperate to see their son again. The palace of Igwe Chris Ogakwu, the Okwuluoha 111 of Udi, was locked when The Nation visited last week, but an elder lady said, ‘’ the king is probably in Enugu, but I cannot give you his number, but you are a journalist, you should be able to give us information about our son, we are worried, we are praying for him every day, we are sure God will bring him home soon’’.
At Chime’s expansive house in the village, two security men wearing Vote for Chime T-Shirts told this reporter that the house has been locked for a while and no member of the family who could grant an interview was around. But from white to blue workers in Udi, the only news they want to hear now is that Chime is back in town.
But some like the Chairman of Enugu State Christian Pilgrim Board and Bishop of the Enugu Anglican Communion, Emmanuel Chukwuma, is not happy being in the dark about Chime’s whereabout
‘‘ 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 Wallington Hospital. And I was able to see him and pray for him. But up till now, nobody has told me where my governor is, which hospital he is; 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.’’
But another clergy, the Catholic Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Bishop Callistus Onaga warned against wishing Chime death and called for prayers for his recovery.
Bishop Onaga said “We miss Chime now that he is not around. But there are many reasons why a chief executive of a state can travel outside. The important thing is that he complied with the laws of the land. He’s entitled to his holidays during which he can do other things which he wishes to.”The present situation is that things are not retarding because he’s not there. So, we’re praying that his being outside would augur well for him and eventually favour the whole state. We’re asking our people to be patient and try to understand that with time, we shall all smile. 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. Many of us have set up prayer warriors for him because he has been a very hardworking governor. He has made the Coal City to become one of the best states with good road networks in the entire country. And we want him to come back and complete the work.’’