By Dan Onwukwe
Few things are generating as much discussions and anxiety among the citizens of Cross River and Enugu states, as the continued absence of their Executive Governors, Liyel Imoke and Sullivan Chime, respectively. You may as well add, Gov Danbaba Suntai of Taraba state. But, his is understandable and clearly different.
His involvement in a plane crash on October 25, and his subsequent hospitalization in a German hospital has been dutifully reported. However, in the case of governors Imoke and Chime, every passing day has brought fresh worries that seem to exacerbate the rising apprehension among the residents of their states. Their absence from the country and the consequent stories so far generated, read like tragedy and thriller in equal measures.They are utterly absorbing, intriguing and, indeed, very dark and riveting.
But as Jean Racine,in Britannicus(1669) said, “there are no secrets that time does not reveal”. And, so, what is keeping Imoke and Chime out and away and unable to perform their constitutional duties for months? Is it ill-health or the pressures and strain of the office they have been occupying for over five years now? Why are they keeping their citizens in the dark? All of these are the stuffs that fuel the rumour mills and give vent to unimaginable conspiracy theories, none of which helps to advance the cause of government and governance. If the case of Imoke seems straight-forward, that of the taciturn Chime does not come simple. It is complicated. But both personalities have, by their absence suffered death rumours.
Let’s begin with Imoke: When it all began, his aides said he had taken a “two-month accumulated Leave”. He did inform the state legislature through a letter to the Speaker, Larry Odey. This is in consonance with the requirement of section 190 (1) and (2) of the 1999 constitution, as amended in 2011. Section 190(1) says: “Whenever the governor is proceeding on vacation or is unable to discharge the functions of his office, he shall transmit a written declaration to the Speaker of the House of Assembly to that effect…”
In that respect, the Deputy Governor of Cross River, Efiok Cobham, has since taken over the reins of government in acting capacity. But section 190 subsection(2) adds: “In the event that the governor is unable or fails to transmit the written declaration mentioned in subsection(1) within 21 days, the House of Assembly shall, by a resolution made by a simple majority of the vote of the House, mandate the Deputy Governor to perform the functions of the office of the Governor as acting governor”, pending when the governor transmits a letter to the Speaker that “he is now available to resume his functions as governor”.
The case of Governor Chime, Civil Society groups say, did not quite follow the stipulated procedures, even though the state government insists that Chime did. As a lawyer and former Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice, the governor ought to know better. Or, perhaps, he did not anticipate the unexpected, thereby fueling speculations recently that he is down with a serious but undisclosed ailment and receiving treatment abroad. Where exactly, the citizens of Enugu State are not sure. As often associated with such uncertainty, only last week, the rumour mills were abuzz that the two absentee governors had died. Their aides quickly denied such speculations. Gov Chime has been away since Sept 19, 2012.
His last public function was on Sept.18 where he presided over the state Executve Council (Exco) meeting and told members of his cabinent that he would be on vacation. He handed over to his deputy, Sunday Onyebuchi. Over three months have gone since he departed Enugu State and only few people can claim to know his whereabouts and exactly what has kept him away. This has led to unverifiable guess work.
A new dimension to Chime’s travails came last week when a civil society group emerged in Enugu, claiming that it had the mandate to “locate the whereabouts of Governor Chime”. One of the conveners of the iniative, Mr. Jude Agu, a lawyer, said: “We will carry the search to every part of the country and we are sure we will have something to tell the Enugu people, concerning him (Chime) very soon”. Mr Agu alleged that the citizens of the state had been “deceived”.
He added that while it was natural for the governor to fall ill, he stressed that the refusal of the state government to communicate to the people on the development of the governor’s whereabouts rankles the most. But amid the apparent confusion, regarding Chime and Imoke, a constitutional lawyer and visiting member of The Sun editoril Board, Chris Akiri, says there is no provision in the constitution, stipulating the length of time a governor should be absent nor any mandate that a governor should tell anybody where he has gone to.
What is necessary, Akiri says, is whether the governor transmitted a letter of his absence to the Speaker of the State legislature. “If he acted in pursuance of that provision, nobody should panic about his absence and no one should gloat over the matter of a possible ill-health of a governor”,Akiri said. Nonetheless, the problem, according to reports, is that governance has reportedly suffered as result of their absence. For instance, no budget proposal in the two states for 2013 yet with few days to the end of 2012. And now, the vultures are gathering, seeking their impeachment.