*Explains why political fathers abandoned Enugu
*Says weâ€™ve re-invented the state
Sullivan Chimeâ€™s photograph does not do much justice to his youthful looks. He was made to understand this in a chat some weeks ago. Gangling, and dressed in a navy blue suit, Governor Chime had just answered natureâ€™s call in his office.Â Wiping his hands with a piece of handkerchief, Chime shot at Sunday Vanguard, â€˜you want to interview me?â€™Â This was going to be his first major interview since assuming office. Chime spoke.
His most shocking encounter turned out to be the most shocking aspect of this interview. Asked why the relationship between him and former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani went sour, Chime readjusted himself on his seat, thought deeply for about 25 seconds and said:Â â€œI have never said this before. And I didnâ€™t want to say it.Â But the way things have gone on I will just say it now.
On a particular occasion, he invited me to his suite at Protea Hotel, Asokoro, in Abuja.Â Â When I got there, I met him and we exchanged pleasantries.Â Â He was sitting with some other people. Before I could sit down, he got up, picked his phones and said he didnâ€™t want to see me; that when he was ready to see me he would send for me again.â€ And since that incident, Chime disclosed, â€œI am still waiting for him to say â€˜yes I want to see youâ€™.â€ Chime also spoke about the new Enugu State, the financial position of the state and how he has been able to bring back political fathers of the state who took off in the heady days of the last administration.
By Jide Ajani
WHEN you became governor of this state, what did you meet on ground?
The State was terrible when we came in. It was like a state of nature. Nothing was achieved before we came. In fact, it was a mess. The roads were totally bad. Nothing was working. The only means of movement was Okada.
Can you imagine that, Okada; in a state where you had people who were lettered, enlightened and sophisticated, Okada? People who have good cars were no longer interested in coming into town with their cars. I will say that most of the roads had collapsed when we came in. Other infrastructures were not spared as well.
The way youâ€™re sounding, anybody who is not familiar with the Governor Chimaroke Nnamani administration would have thought you dropped from the moon, or that you were never a part of the administration which created the so called mess youâ€™re referring to?Â You were also a part of that administration so the guilt should be collective?
Donâ€™t get me wrong.In all I said I did not say I dropped from the moon as you implied (laughs) neither did I say that I was not in that government. Well, I managed to be very upright. I was the attorney general and commissioner for justice. The little advice I was able to give in my own area of core-competence worked well. You have to understand that when you are the chief executive of a state you entertain different ideas when it comes to governance. People come up with articulated ideas and other things. But the buck stops on the desk of the head (Governor). If he does not share your idea, then you are wasting your time.
But all the same you were part of it.Â So, why did you hang in there? You could have as well taken a walk?
I didnâ€™t lose hope. I will say that I was able to manage the legal area that I handled, very well. That area was a success in that administration. In fairness to the past administration, I believe we did well in that area. The then governor invited me and pleaded that I should join his administration. I heeded the call because I wanted to contribute in building the state.
As a principled person, I stood by the former governor. At some point when the executive council was dissolved, I was the only commissioner for about a month. No other commissioner was appointed until later. I worked quite closely with him. But unfortunately when it comes to some ideas, I may not always have my way.Â If the head doesnâ€™t share your view, what do you do? But as I said, my own area, we tried our best.
WhatÂ type ofÂ oath did you take for the purpose of loyalty since these appear to be oath-taking times?
(Laughs) No, I was not aware of that. It is not easy for someone to pass through an election and come out to ask for advice. That shows the level of respect the person has for you. It is not easy when there were so many people killing themselves over appointments. For the man to have invited me, showed the trust and respect he has for me. I couldnâ€™t just turn my back on him.
Have you ever met with your predecessor since you assumed office and how was the meeting like?
I have never said this before. And I didnâ€™t want to say it.Â But the way things have gone on I will just say it now. You know he was not around to hand over to me.
Why was that?Â At least we knew how he got you to be the candidate of the party for this office?
Yes, we went through the process but he traveled. On a particular occasion, he invited me to his suite at Protea Hotel, Asokoro, in Abuja. When I got there, I met him and we exchanged pleasantries. He was sitting with some other people. Before I could sit down, he got up, picked his phones and said he didnâ€™t want to see me.Â Â That when he was ready to see me he would send for me again.
He invited you?
And when you got there he changed his mind?
What was the reason he gave?
Youâ€™re asking me?Â That was what happened-o, my brother. I thought it was a joke. But he went inside his room. We were there still wondering what was happening, when he came out from the room he repeated it and said he was not prepared to see me.
Sorry please.Â How exactly did he say it?
He said, â€œSullivan I am not ready to see you, when I am prepared I will let you knowâ€. And he walked out on me, went downstairs and entered his car.
He said he would tell me when I would come to see him when he was ready.Â So, the other three gentlemen followed me downstairs and we even attempted to see if we could catch up with him but by the time we got downstairs, he had driven off. I also entered my car and drove off.Â And that was how I left. That was my first meeting with my predecessor. So, I am still waiting for him to say â€˜yes I want to see youâ€™.
When, specifically, was this?
It was in June 2007. That was when he came back. Then, I was still fresh as a governor. That was the treatment I got from him the first time I met him. Can you imagine the treatment, as a governor?
Have you thought over what happened then and what conclusions have you been able to draw in terms of what might have led to that?
What is my business with inkling or what may have happened?Â That was someone I spoke with on phone earlier that day. We spoke on phone some hours before I went to meet him. I didnâ€™t just go there; he invited me over. We agreed that I was coming. And when I got there we exchanged pleasantries. For me to now sit down, he got up. So, do you want me to force myself on him?
He is someone who had been there as a state governor and knows what being a governor means. You invited me as your governor and I came. And the next thing you do is to walk out on me. How do we describe such a behaviour?Â It is on record that I went to meet with him.
Let me tell you this, when I assumed office, I made arrangements to receive him and the deputy Senate president. In deference to him, we postponed it because we were waiting for him to come back. Rather than being part of it, he persuaded other members of the National Assembly whom we wanted to honour not to participate. Of course, they called his bluff.
Was your cabinet in place by the time Â the Abuja incident happened?
By the time he walked out on me, I had not appointed my executive council members then. In fact one of the people I met in his house is a commissioner in my administration today. So, it happened before I appointed my cabinet. But you know what, he didnâ€™t stop at not just attending, he came down and made announcement on our local radio station. He was telling people not to attend the event.
On that day, and this turned out to be very, very funny, the former Senate president, Ken Nnamani, stood up and told the crowd that he came to the event because of the announcement he heard on the radio that people should not attend the event. He wondered why someone who was said to have been invited for something and refused to come would announce that others should not come. It was a rally and people were jam-packed. From that moment, he stopped minding his business. He started attacking everybody and seeing everybody as an enemy. In fact, I am surprised at his attitude.
Removal from office
I am still trying to find out the reason why he behaved like that. We all know that there is nothing one can become without the assistance of someone else. If one is not destined to be governor, he canâ€™t be governor. Some of my colleagues, who were sworn in with us on the same day, are no longer governors. So, that shows that everything works the way it is destined to work, the way God Almighty has programmed it to work.
Some of these governors left office for so many reasons. Some left, either because they were not supposed to have participated in the elections, while some left for other reasons. Even some were removed from office for reasons of election rigging or because they lost and someone else erroneously proclaimed them governor. But that didnâ€™t happen in Enugu. The former governor came out openly and boasted that I would be removed from office.
Now that you say youâ€™re still awaiting his invitation, if he does invite you, will you honour it?
That will depend on the nature of the invitation. I am even happy that I was not in his hotel suite alone. That invitation would have to be with certain conditions before I choose to honour it.
If there is a meeting and other people are there, of course I will attend. But, there is no way I can or will attend any meeting with him alone.Â You may not fully understand because that first meeting and the way the thing turned out got me thinking.Â But as I said, I was not alone when it happened because I am yet to know why he acted the way he did.
So, since that episode, youâ€™ve not seen him?
Not minding what he did, I had cause to visit him when he was in EFCC custody.
Did you visit alone?
No.Â That was when he was in the hospital. I went there with the Deputy Senate President and some other people.Â We went there to see him briefly.
Was there any drama at the hospital?
(Laughs) Which drama? He was not in a position to put up any drama again.(laughs). He was in custody. And he was lying on his hospital bed, so, there was no way for him to walk out this time.
Those who left your party appear to be coming back to the fold? What is happening?
These were people who ordinarily would want to play politics. And suddenly they were driven away. They were told they didnâ€™t have any business with politics. It was either because of the style of politics then.Â Â But I can tell you that things are different now. This time, it goes beyond the mere definition of democracy. We cross party lines by being bipartisan. People must be involved in governance. And it should not be just our party members. It must accommodate every body.
For instance, the leaders of one of our communities paid me a visit. Their leader was Maxi Okwu, who was a presidential candidate of an opposition party. So, things have changed. Even though he is not a PDP member, he can contribute his views. If we donâ€™t agree with them, we will tell him the reasons. We donâ€™t drive anybody away for contributing to what we are doing. We have opened more doors in Enugu for everybody to contribute to nation building. Recently, we nominated three of our past governors to be conferred with national honours. We now relate with them through the Council of Elders that we formed.
The council has former governors as members. And it does not matter whether the person was a military governor or not. We also have former Justices of the Supreme Court. We have also co-opted former ministers. All the people we can call real elders, are members of this council. And we meet once in every quarter. The result is helping the state because it makes governance a lot easier. Hearing about whether what you are doing is right, is helpful.
They make you to realise where you are going wrong. Jim Nwobodo was governor for four years and he attends. Okwesilieze Nwodo, who spent two years is a member. Of course you know we just lost C.C Onoh, who was a member. Creating that forum, tells much that we mean well. We visited all the autonomous communities in this state last January.
It was done to make sure that people were directly involved in governance. That was achieved through the committee we set-up. Through that, we met the people directly and found out their needs. We are collating our findings now, before we will implement them through the local governments.
Some people believe that infrastructural development in this state is restricted to Enugu metropolis and that it is just a show?
It is not true. Enugu used to be a very beautiful city in Nigeria. But I can tell you now that people are excited with the new Enugu we are creating. It extends to all communities in the state. We have done the major roads in Nsukka. It is not just an Enugu thing; it goes to the hinterland.
How would you describe your federal allocation vis-Ã -vis the work being done and whatâ€™s to be done?
We are hoping that things will change. I will say plus or minus two billion.
What about Internally GeneratedÂ Revenue, IGR?
(Laughs) IGR was nothing when we came in. In fact, the issue of IGR was sub-contracted.Â The arrangement we inherited on it was a problem. And that was why we cancelled it. We have improved on our own without hiring any consultant the way the past administration did. We just entered into an arrangement with a bank to handle the issue of IGR. So, we hope that our IGR will improve tremendously within a short time.
But everything seems to be just about roads â€“ at least that is what some people are complaining about?
When we came in, I believed that we needed to fix our roads and other basic infrastructures. If we have that in place, prosperity will be attracted to the state. And other things can start coming in. Without good roads, we canâ€™t be talking about attracting investors.
But with what we have in place, investors are comfortable with how beautiful the state is. These were things we were not hearing before. From day one, we knew that we must fix the state for the better.
What are the challenges?Â Because I must confess, they say you have borrowed so much and that most of what people see you doing are based on loans from banks and that the state is so indebted now?
I will tell you that our challenges remain scarcity of funds. We donâ€™t have sufficient funding to execute some of our projects. That is why we are working hard to increase our revenue base. If we get sufficient funding, our achievements will be greater.
I am not campaigning but that is the fact. Yes, we have taken short term loans. We manage our funds well. We are not planning to bequeath any debt on any incoming administration. We do everything we are doing, judiciously. We are not biting more that we can chew. We pay back the loan within a short period of time so that we can continue efficiently. Despite this, people still cook up stories about the administration. My colleague in Anambra is facing his own problem. And it is because he is due for election next year. I am sure our own will start by next year when elections are around the corner.
That is when people who have been sleeping will wake up and come up with allegations you have never heard before. They do all these things to overheat the polity. So, some of these things are part of what we experience as politicians. Recently, when Nsukka town was burning, there was a rally. And as a governor you will not expect me to come to a rally when I have serious security issues to attend to. In fact that rally cost us something.
We made arrangement for someone to represent me. You wonâ€™t believe it, the next thing we heard was that I was supposed to have attended the rally and they said they were not going to be attended to by a representative except me. But I donâ€™t bother myself with cheap blackmail.
Sorry, what actually happened in Nsukka?
It was a bloody gang of armed robbers. A lot of weapons were recovered from them. It is even the kind of ammunition we cannot afford. They were overpowered eventually and two persons or more died while one is in custody. We are trying our best to make sure that Enugu is safe. They were not even from Enugu. They came from Anambra. They had gone to operate somewhere else and it was on their way back that they came into Enugu.
What we did in containing them was even the result of a collaborative effort between the Enugu State Command and Anambra State Command of the Police force that helped the situation. It would have been a different thing. Anambra had to communicate Enugu by feeding them the details of the fleeing robbers. And that was how they were caught. No matter what you do in the state, you have incidence of crazy people moving in and causing havoc. I must commend the security agents for doing their best.
Some people look at you and say youâ€™re queer, some say you are shy, others insist you are pleasant.Â Which one applies to you and what is your background like?
I may say that I was born into a politically active family. My father served under the regional government of Dr. Okpara.
In what capacity did he serve?
He held different positions. Basically he was a member of the House of Assembly. When the then government insisted that every community must have a traditional ruler, he became one. Of course, I am a lawyer. I was called to the bar in 1981. And did my youth service in Oshogbo. Enugu has always been a great town. But it is unfortunate that it degenerated over time. Now that I have the opportunity, I donâ€™t need anybody to tell me to return it to its glorious past.
This issue of Enugu degenerating, there was a time a former President of this country praised some governors that they were doing wonderfully well. And Enugu was among the states believed to be working â€“ at a point the President said other state governors should emulate your predecessor. So, what happened?
(Laughs) In those days it was just like the more you looked the less you saw. That was why I changed the style of governance when I came in. Even some of us in that administration who believed that things were actually working to some extent (prolonged laughter), once we had access to files and other things began to wonder what actually went wrong.
I donâ€™t understand what you mean by the more you looked the less you saw?
(Another prolonged laughter) I didnâ€™t know the level of the mess the state was until I assumed office.
But donâ€™t you think people will also laugh at you because they will say you were part of that government?
I wouldnâ€™t like to go into that.Â My brother, let us leave that asideâ€¦. Butâ€¦. Hmm!
But youâ€™re still laughing?
(Continues laughing cynically) Like I told you, I am not in governance to satisfy a few people. I am elected to serve. And I am obliged to do that along the vision of the party and the people I serve. We are here to move the state forward. So, we donâ€™t have issues with anybody. And we would not want to join issues either.Â I am happy laughing as I am laughing.
In any case, what is your problem with my laughter?