By Pini Jason
LAST week, Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State was smoked out of his foxhole in London by the determination of a pressure group, Save Enugu Group, to invoke the “doctrine of necessity” against him! Governor Chime has been missing in action for over four months, ostensibly on accumulated annual leave.
And the people who elected him did not know his whereabouts. Some said he was dead, others said he was bedridden in an undisclosed hospital abroad.
To squelch the speculation and save his job, three of his colleagues, Governors Godswill Akpabio (AkwaIbom), Gabriel Suswam (Benue) and the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers State) travelled to London at public expense to bring us visual proof that Chime was still alive, and his kingdom should remain intact!
Someone asked why Chime chose to make his post resurrection appearance to the three Governors and not to Enugu stakeholders to whom he was accountable. Chime, like many Governors, is accountable to the Governors’ Forum and to himself, not to Enugu people!
The mentality behind the saga of “missing” Governors is linked to the primitive attitude of our politicians to public office. They hardly know the difference between their private estates and the states they govern. In Nigeria, public officers regard the public office they occupy as their wives’ kitchen.
With that primitive attitude, on sick bed, dead or alive, their shadows must continue to cast a long pall over the state. The state must wait for their resurrection from yonder. And those who defend this irresponsible behaviour also believe that power is a Governor’s personal lollipop which must be jealously protected, lest it be snatched away from him.
Once we elect people into office, they take it that we have ceded the state to them. They own us till death do them part from power.
I am least interested in a public officer’s health challenges. It is no use to bother. Nigerian leaders are never ill. They only die! But this arrogance that turns state power to a private affair is insulting; as insulting as the Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, declaring Imo citizens living outside the state persona non grata in the state.
Why? Because Imo State is now no different from Rochas Foundation, a private franchise, and nobody has a right to question what he does with it, no matter how bizarre his conduct. Yet, he had a free run criticising his predecessor in office and even continues to blame him today for every of his misadventure.
Nigerians in the dark
President Jonathan was visibly frustrated when he and the nation were kept in the dark about late President Yar’Adua’s health challenges. When his wife, Mrs Patience Jonathan, was indisposed and was ferried to Germany at public expense, he had a golden opportunity to treat Nigerians differently.
But what did he do? He kept Nigerians in the dark. Trust Nigerians to quickly copy bad manners. The Yar’Adua uncertainty has become the standard for Governors abroad for treatment at public expense, while the invocation of “doctrine of necessity” has become fashionable.
Those who follow the Yar’Adua example simply short-change themselves. They rob themselves of the sympathy and prayers of Nigerians for as long as we debate the impropriety of their being AWOLists.
Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, love him or hate him, set a fine example of how a public officer should treat the people who employ and pay him when he had his own health challenge in 1986.
He told Nigerians that he was going to France to treat radiculopathy; and this, at a time military regimes looked over their shoulders because of incessant coups. We knew that he was going to the American Hospital in Paris.
We at Thisweek magazine at that time brought to Nigerians photograph of the hospital he was being treated. We even, call it irreverently, had the telephone number to his suite! Nigerians were given a number in our Embassy in Paris for those who wanted to send messages of sympathy to him. We all forgot at that time that he was an unelected President. Nigerians are usually wonderful in such situations!
Experiences to learn from
A man of style, Babangida introduced radiculopathy into Nigeria’s political lexicon. Many people sought opinions of medical experts to know what radiculopathy was and its risk factors. I bet many who had similar manifestations took hints and sought medical help.
That is what the people benefit from experiences of leaders. Americans were told when President Ford’s wife, Betty Ford had breast cancer and her experience brought more awareness and funding to breast cancer research. Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s disease was not concealed from Americans.
His case brought awareness to the disease and more funding for research. Hilary Clinton recently had concussion and Americans were told. What can we really say is the benefit we derive from the lives of our leaders?
It is self-indicting when our leaders who preside over budgets to provide excellent medical care dash abroad where their counterparts have provided facilities they have failed to provide here.
I found this narration by Dr Okechukwu Ikejiani in his autobiography, Okechukwu Ikejiani: The Unrepentant Nationalist—my Journey Through Life, very revealing: “In September 1965, I was summoned to the State House to see the President, Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was ill. After taking his history and examining him, I tentatively diagnosed malaria infection.
Nonetheless, in order to have a full medical examination, I arranged a complete check up at the Railway Medical Centre”. Yes, the same Railway Medical Centre, Ebute Metta, later to be named after the maximum ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha by men of straw. Today, the decay is so bad that when our “leaders” go to a Nigerian hospital we clap for them.
Hear Dr. Ikejiani: “I believed that we should have one Railway Medical Service divided into two parallel divisions. A Medical Centre at Ebute Metta with a first class modern hospital run like the modern hospitals in America or England, (emphasis mine) and directed by a qualified administrator”. That was when leaders were patriotic and passionate about the welfare of the people of this country.
Today, such visionary and selfless leaders are in decline. My fear for the future of this country is not about the eventual exhaustion of our oil reserve. My fear for the future has to do with the generation in whose hands Nigerian will completely fall into in twenty years time.