By EMMANUEL AZIKEN, CLIFFORD NDUJIHE & TONY EDIKE
LAGOS — FOR the first time since he left the country 135 days ago, Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State, yesterday, opened up on his condition, saying he is in good health and will soon return to the country.
The governor spoke exclusively to Vanguard while receiving three governors, who visited him in London, United Kingdom where he is recovering after an illness.
Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State; Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State and Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State who constituted the delegation, separately attested to Chime’s state of well being in telephone interviews with Vanguard. They said Chime was, yesterday, moving about, eating and in good health.
The visit of the governors followed unprecedented speculations on the state of Chime’s health.
I’m very great— Chime
Governor Chime’s declaration came as the Speaker of the Enugu State House of Assembly, Eugene Odo, rejected a call by prominent citizens of the state under the aegis of Save Enugu Group (SEG) for the House to invoke the Doctrine of Necessity to enthrone the deputy governor of the state, Sunday Onyebuchi as acting governor.
Speaking to Vanguard, yesterday, Chime said: ”I am alive and well, I will be back very, very soon.”
Asked how he felt, the governor in a very strong, cheerful voice said: “I am great, very, very great. Tell Nigerians to discountenance all the rumours about my health.”
Chime is in good shape – Amaechi
Speaking on Chime’s health, Amaechi 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.”
He has recovered fully – Suswam
Also speaking, Suswam said: “Chime has been discharged from the hospital. He has recovered fully and is physically okay. I was impressed with what I saw. We walked around together, ate together and he is going about on his own.”
We must desist from wishing our leaders evil – Akpabio
Also speaking on their encounter with Chime, Akpabio said: “He has recovered tremendously, I am very happy and I give glory to God. This our visit to him and the fact that he was able to speak with Vanguard has put paid to all the rumours. Nigerians should learn how to pray for their leaders instead of ganging up through NGOs and groups and wishing them evil. We are all human beings. As humans, we can break down anytime which means we should be sympathetic with our leaders when they face challenges whether health wise or security wise. We should pray for them instead of wishing them bad.”
Speaker berates Chime’s critics
Speaker of Enugu State House of Assembly, Mr. Eugene Odo, yesterday, faulted the position of the Save Enugu Group (SEG) on Governor Sullivan Chime’s prolonged absence from the state, saying the lawmakers did not in any way violate the Nigerian constitution in their handling of the issue.
Odo, who spoke on the floor of the House at the resumption of debates on the state’s 2013 budget proposal, said by not invoking the Doctrine of Necessity to dislodge Chime on account of his leave, the House had not done anything wrong to warrant any attack as witnessed in the recent past.
The Chief Maxi Okwu-led SEG had in a letter to the Speaker on Monday asked the lawmakers to use the Doctrine of Necessity to empower the acting governor of Enugu state, Sunday Onyebuchi, citing the case of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Gov’s absence is in order – Odo
Countering, Odo said: “We believe that those demanding that do not actually know what the Doctrine of Necessity is all about. Perhaps, people equate Doctrine of Necessity with a mere jamboree phenomenon.”
Insisting that Governor Chime’s absence was in order and should not be compared with that of late President Yar’Adua, the Speaker restated that the governor transmitted a letter to the House before travelling, and “in the letter he empowered his deputy as the acting governor.
“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 now becomes the acting governor, which Sullivan Chime had done.
“It beats my imagination when some people started to say that the House of Assembly should empower the deputy governor to act. Under our constitution, the power to act has been vested on the deputy governor and the constitution does not provide for double acting capacity as some people are clamouring for.”
Odo explained that the Doctrine of Necessity was applied by the National Assembly in the case of late President Yar’Adua when the president traveled without handing over to the vice president.
He also dismissed the request that certain individuals be empowered to to go and see how the governor was faring overseas.
“That is a mere moral issue. The constitution of Nigeria in Section 189 made it specifically clear that even when the governor is not feeling fine, the only statutory body that can generate a resolution to the House of Assembly is the State Executive Council and even in the House of Assembly, the Speaker has a duty to nominate five medical practitioners including the governor’s doctor for that purpose. In other words, those listed by the group did not meet the constitutional requirements; none of them is a medical practitioner,” he argued.
The SEG had in its letter to the speaker dated January 21, 2013, demanded an explanation regarding the letter purportedly sent to the lawmakers notifying them of his intention to embark on leave in September last year, stressing that the said letter, if any, ought to have been made public since it was not meant for the speaker’s private perusal.
“We demand to know from you if the said letter was tabled and read at an open session of the House? If so, may we be obliged with or referred to a copy of the Hansard where this is reflected. We are also interested to know the ground on which the Governor was departing. Was it for a ‘vacation’ or the second arm which is ‘for inability to discharge the functions of his office’? It cannot be for both we humbly submit, as we believe that the ‘or’ makes the clause disjunctive and with different consequences.
“We would wish to inquire from you, if you did write formally to the Deputy Governor intimating him of the said letter and attaching a copy of the letter to enable him immediately begin to function as Acting Governor? This would be the prescribed procedure since we have been advised by constitutional lawyers that a swearing in is not mandatory in this particular circumstance.
“Mr. Speaker Sir, our worry here is that there is more to it than meets the eye in the ‘acting governorship’ of Mr. Onyebuchi. We believe that without a formal communication from your office to him, no one in his shoes can take over a state administration on mere hearsay,” the SEG stated in the letter to the speaker signed by its Convener, Okwu.
How the controversies started
On September 19, 2012, exactly 135 days ago, Governor Chime travelled out of the country after transmitting a letter to the House of Assembly that he was proceeding on leave and handing over the reins of authority to his deputy, Onyebuchi.
The governor’s failure to return to office after six weeks sparked controversy, leading to speculations of ill-health and varied allegations of incapacity. Enugu Commissioner for Information Mr. Chuks Ugwoke, however, repeatedly asserted that due process was followed by the governor in proceeding on what he described as “accumulated vacation.”