By TONY EDIKE & HENRY UMORU
ENUGU—AFTER spending 140 days abroad, Enugu State Governor, Mr. Sullivan Chime, quietly returned to Nigeria in the early hours of yesterday.
Although no official statement was issued by the state government on the return of the governor, Vanguard learnt that he arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja from United Kingdom at about 5.30am via British Airways and was driven toTranscorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja at 6.45am.
To avoid political associates, aides, friends and relations, who besieged the Asokoro Enugu Governor’s Lodge, it was gathered that the governor elected to lodge in one of the Presidential suites in Hilton.
A source told Vanguard that the governor will leave the hotel for Enugu today to join the people of the state. Earlier in the day, there were speculations that Chime would brief journalists at the Asokoro lodge only for journalists to rush there and discovered that there was nobody to address them.
Officials of the government, including media aides to the governor, kept sealed lips on Chime’s unceremonious return.
“Oga returned from United Kingdom at 5.30 am this morning and was driven into Abuja where he is convalescing. He will likely come into Enugu today (Friday) or Saturday,” one of his personal aides who pleaded anonymity, told Vanguard.
Enugu Local Council chairmen, who planned to hold a resounding reception for the governor at Akanu Ibiam Airport, Enugu yesterday when they heard that he would make a triumphant entry into the Coal City after a long absence from the state, had to call off the event.
Welcome relief in Enugu
Enugu residents received the news of Chime’s return to the country with a welcome relief and thanksgiving to God for sparing the governor’s life.
Many residents were seen discussing the development yesterday, though some doubted the news describing it as a rumour.
“We have heard enough of this news about Chime returning to Nigeria. If he has actually returned as claimed, let him come let us sight him and join him to thank God for His mercies upon his life. Let him return to Enugu so that the masses will have rest of mind and let peace reign in the state,” said Mr. Gabriel Arum, a civil servant.
Chime did not deserve being hustled out of ‘gainful stay’ abroad —SEG
In its official reaction to the development, the Save Enugu Group, SEG, which had mounted pressures on the state government to make full disclosure on the governor’s health status, said it received with joy the “informal news of the return of Governor Sullivan Chime into Nigeria, in the wee hours of this morning.
“We are reliably informed that Governor Chime arrived at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, on a British Airways flight from London Heathrow and moved to the Enugu Lodge in Abuja. We note that this event is taking place exactly one month after we first sounded the alarm of prolonged and unexplained absence. We acclaim this as falling within desired responsive action of leaders in a democracy.
If further information on the frail condition of the Governor is reliable, we wish to state that Governor Chime did not deserve being hustled out of ‘gainful stay’ in good health institutions if the right things were done first and before questions arose. In that respect, we, as other good people of Enugu State, stand to hold those responsible for primitive lies and needless cover ups responsible,” the SEG stated.
The statement signed by Messrs Maxi Okwu (Convener), Chief Willy Ezeugwu and Ozo Igbonekwu Ogazimora, however, wished Governor Chime well and full recovery.
On its part, Enugu State Chapter of Conference of Nigeria Political Parties, CNPP, yesterday, expressed delight and solidarity with the people of Enugu State over the safe return of Governor Chime to Nigeria.
Rising from its monthly general meeting, the group in a statement by its Chairman, Mr. Afam Nnaji and Secretary Pastor FrankGold Ekwueme, also commended the Acting Governor, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi, the Executive Council, the Legislature and Local Government Chairmen, for their support and contributions in keeping Enugu working while the governor was away.
How Chime left Nigeria on ‘vacation’
Chime left the country on September 19 last year on what his aides described as accumulated leave but the vacation later became a subject of controversy when his traducers began to allege that the government was lying about his true mission overseas. He had traveled out of the country after attending a function in Abuja without any formal announcement from the government.
The nature of his trip gave rise to speculations that all might not be well with the governor. The government swiftly issued a statement saying that the governor had embarked on an accumulated leave but did not specify when he would return to the office.
The SEG, which emerged three months after the governor’s absence, claimed that it had evidence that Chime was incapacitated by ill-health accusing the government of being economical with the truth. It therefore put the government to task to disclose the actual health status of the governor just as it challenged the State House of Assembly to make public the letter purportedly written by the governor notifying it of his intention to embark on vacation with a view to determining whether he had overstayed or not.
The speaker of the Assembly, Eugene Odoh, who was in possession of the letter, remained adamant as he refused to release the letter but when tension heightened following the prolonged absence of the governor, he explained that the governor was enjoying his vacation. According to him, the governor had the right to stay outside his office for as long as he wished because he was duly protected by the constitution.
The SEG not satisfied by the speaker’s position, demanded that a delegation of eminent personalities in the state be constituted to visit the governor wherever he was overseas to ascertain his state of health and determine why he could not resume duty after his vacation.
The demand was strongly condemned by officials of the state government, who accused the group of trying to play politics with the ailment of the governor even though his media aides continued to maintain that Chime “was hale and hearty.”
Later, the Deputy Governor, Sunday Onyebuchi, who has been acting said Chime duly handed over to him before jetting out of the country and dismissed as false comments that he was not in-charge and could not sign any cheque worth more than N500,000.
However, the controversies continued with all segments of Enugu polity attacking and counter-attacking one another until Vanguard interviewed Chime on January 21 where the governor said he was hale and hearty and would soon return to the country, which he did in style yesterday.