Enugu State without a helmsman
By Ochereome Nnanna
I AM back after a hectic vacation. Officially, I am still on leave but the conversation on this forum must restart. So, welcome to 2013, the year that President Goodluck Jonathan promised us heaven on earth. May we live to see his promises come true.
Let us start the new year by examining an issue that is at the root of our democratic governance. It is a serial abuse of our constitutional order. It is spreading and being taken to ridiculous ends at the state level.
More and more state governors are falling sick and disappearing from public view for prolonged periods without the people being told their whereabouts and exactly what is happening to them. Today, three governors – Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State, Liyel Imoke of Cross River State and Sullivan Chime of Enugu State – are out of circulation due to health challenges.
The Chime case stands out. His frail health profile has been a matter of public concern since his earliest days in power. He has not been seen or heard from for four long, unbroken months. When he was leaving in September 2012 he told the House of Assembly that he was proceeding on “accumulated annual leave”. But when President Jonathan, as the leader of Chime’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) addressed the Board of Trustees (BOT) in November and summed the state of the nation, he had informed them that Chime was “very sick” and might not be back to office before February 2013. If Chime tarries till then, he would have left his state without effective governance for six long months! And that would be a great disservice to the people of Enugu State and a grave violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999. Now, what if by early February the governor is still not yet back? Let’s address that later.
The framers of the constitution made it clear in Section 189 that a governor or deputy who has suffered permanent physical or mental incapacitation is no longer eligible to hold onto the office. They intended that the health status of a governor and deputy governor be made transparently public. This is logical, since these executive officers are occupying their offices through the people’s mandate and hold their offices in trust for the people.
This principle informs the constant public dissemination of information concerning any ailing elected or ranking appointed public official in advanced democracies, such as we recently saw in the case of Mrs. Hillary Clinton, the American Secretary of State.
In fact, our constitution is so obvious
about public disclosure of the health issues of the aforementioned elected executive officers that in Section 189 the Executive Council appointed by a Governor has the power to determine, through two-thirds of the votes of all members, that the Governor or Deputy Governor “is incapable of discharging the functions of his office”.
Once they so determine, a medical panel appointed by the Speaker of the State House of Assembly will verify this claim. Once the panel is convinced that the Governor or Deputy “suffers from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the Speaker of the House of Assembly shall be published in the official Gazette of the Government of the State”.
Thereafter, “the Governor or Deputy shall cease to hold office from the date of publication of the medical report…”
Where these steps are not taken the constitution is violated. Unfortunately, that was what happened during the case of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua and now those of Chime, Suntai and Imoke.
In Enugu, the Governor and his kitchen cabinet have mounted a convoluted manipulation of the law and processes to shield the ailing governor’s real health situation from the public. The Governor appeared to obey the law by transmitting to the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon. Eugene Odoh, that he was going away on accumulated leave without telling the truth that he was going on medical vacation. He duly appointed his Deputy, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi, as Acting Governor but limited his approval of funds to N500,000. Commissioners and other officials brazenly ignore him. They opt, instead, to run to the beck and call of the real acting “governor”, Mrs. Ifeoma Nwobodo, Chime’s Chief of Staff.
The Enugu ‘cabal’
Mrs. Nwobodo and Speaker Odoh
are working hand-in-gloves to keep the roost exactly as Chime ordered it to be kept for him. Odoh, being from Nsukka Zone (where the governorship is headed come 2015) hopes to benefit from Chime’s generosity ahead of other contestants. He also knows that allowing Deputy Governor Onyebuchi assume full powers as Governor might knock him out of contention.
And so, for Chime and his “cabal”, the smooth running and continued good governance of the state must wait until (and if) he returns to office.
I wish Chime does recover quickly and return to his duty post because most people agree that he has upgraded the capital city to modern standards. But if he is no longer able to carry on, the constitution must be implemented to ensure smooth continuation of good governance.
My recommendations are as follows. Since most people now think Governor Chime has become incapacitated, he must present himself here in Nigeria for a medical panel examination to determine his physical and mental capacity to continue. If he fails to do so by early February, the House of Assembly must impeach him for gross misconduct. If the Speaker tries to block it, the Speaker must be removed.
The Deputy Governor, Sunday Onyebuchi, must be sworn-in to conclude the remaining term of the Chime/Onyebuchi tenure. Thereafter, he must step down and allow power to shift to Nsukka Zone, in line with the Enugu charter of equity. He must not contemplate running, since Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani has taken his zone’s turn. After Nsukka, the race should be free for all.
Enugu State is bigger than any individual.