• Enugu gov recounts battle with deadly tumour
From CHIDI NNADI and PETRUS OBI, Enugu
Four days after he returned from his accumulated leave which he spent in London, Governor Sullivan Chime on Monday night told journalists in Enugu that he used the period of his vacation to treat himself of nose cancer.
Soon after Chime departed from Enugu on September 19 last year, speculations were rife that his health condition was worsening even to a point that he was feared dead.
But Chime known to have an elastic shock absorber for unfavourable attacks, said though the reports were embarrassing, he was, however, amused and entertained by them.
The governor, who spoke for over two hours in his office in the Government House accompanied by his Deputy, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi; the Chief of Staff, Mrs Ifeoma Nwobodo; some commissioners and other aides, took time to explain how he left the state, saying that he actually wrote to the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Eugene Odoh, as required of him constitutionally to say he was going on long vacation.
He also disclosed that upon his return, he had transmitted another letter to the speaker to say that he was back, though he said he was still recuperating, but fit enough to return to his desk.
The governor, who was relaxed throughout the time he narrated his story, decried his attacks in some segments of the media, saying that it was like making a mountain out of a molehill about his vacation, thus his resolve to clarify things for the interest of the people of the state. Excerpts:
The attacks on me while I was away
“This is an opportunity for me to make some clarifications because while I was away, in so many publications in the print media, most of them were completely false. It was so embarrassing, not to my person, but I decided to clear the air for the interest of our people because I noticed there were lots of interests. So many people became interested, most people who ordinarily did not know of my system and when I came back I got all sorts of texts from very strange people thanking God for my return.
Because of the interest it generated, I felt there was need for us to come together with the hope that after today, we will be able to put to rest everything that bothered on rumour or falsehood regarding my leave. I don’t know if I should just tell a smooth story of how I proceeded on leave before the barrage of publications started coming or if I should go ahead and attempt to address some of the issues that I felt should be addressed in the sense that some bothered on constitutionality, others bothered on, should I say morality, and other things. I think I will go for the story. Let me just tell a smooth story of what actually happened.
In August or thereabout, that is late August or early September, I am not sure again, I was privileged to be one of those nominated by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum to go to Germany to understudy their federal system. The governors were picked from each geo-political zone. I represented the South-East and, of course, we were led by our Chairman Rotimi Amechi. On our way to Germany, I decided to go a little bit earlier, passing through London to do my medicals because we don’t have time here so I decided to seize that opportunity. I got to London, did my medicals and was certified fit. I was given a clean bill of health.
But I had a little growth here (touching an area near the neck) that was not visible to anybody. I am a very observant person. I noticed it and showed it to my doctor, he touched it and said he didn’t feel it was a big problem, saying I should just try and investigate it.
I thought they would have seen if there was anything wrong when they were doing the scanning and screening, but nothing was found. So, I just singled it out and said please I will like you to check this.
I was referred to a general practitioner (GP), who after examining and asking me questions, of course, I told him no symptoms, no pain, no discomfort from anywhere. He said as far as he was concerned there was nothing wrong with it, but he would also, as a professional, advise me to investigate it further.
Because I was almost running short of time, I made an arrangement with them to help step up appointment for closer investigation of the problem and the next day I left for Germany to join my colleagues.
On that trip was Commissioner for Commerce and Industries, Dr. Jude Akubuilo and the special adviser on investment. They were already in Germany waiting for me. So, at the end of the day, I think after about a week, I left Germany and went back to London.
I was diagnosed of cancer of the nose
In the process of the medical investigations, it was found that the growth was cancerous. Further medical examinations showed that the main tumour was in my nose. It actually turned out to be what they called cancer of the nose. At that stage… when you hear the word cancer, you declare yourself dead before any further enquiry.
Because I asked them what should be done, they told me straight away that…no they subjected me to further scanning to know if the cancer had spread. So, luckily it hadn’t spread, it was just in the two places, my nose and my neck. So, they said the good news was that it was curable, not manageable, that was when I became impressed. I asked them how we would go about it, they said well, as early as I could arrange for things to be done.
Originally, we had planned to go from Germany to Lebanon, on my way back to Nigeria, I cancelled that trip, went back to Germany, informed my people who I travelled with that is the commissioner and special adviser. I came down to London with the commissioner, the other person hadn’t the UK visa then.
Leaving Enugu for the treatment
In London we now made arrangements on when to come and all that. We agreed on two weeks and I returned to Nigeria. Within the two weeks I was able to quickly make arrangements in line with the constitution. I wrote a letter to the speaker in accordance with the constitution, informing him of my decision to proceed on leave and, of course, sought his co-operation to work very well with the deputy governor who will act as governor in my absence.
“Within the two weeks we held two executive council meetings. The last one was held on Tuesday before I left and I told my executive members that I was proceeding on a long vacation. At the time I didn’t even know how long it would take to treat and recover. I just told them I was going on a long vacation and urged them to co-operate with the acting governor. So, the following day, which was a Wednesday, I left for Abuja and again attended meeting of the Governors’ Forum.
On Thursday morning we had the national executive council meeting and the deputy governor was there to represent me, that was the day I left for London. I got to London and settled in. The following day which was Friday, I went to see the doctor, the Oncologist who had already made arrangements for treatment to begin. On Monday we started treatment.
Cancer a deadly disease
I don’t think any of you have had such an experience. Cancer is a deadly disease and the cure is also deadly. The cure for cancer is not Panadol; cure for cancer is not this drugs you buy off the counter. By the time you go through the chemotherapy, radiotherapy, you will be a changed person. So, I started treatment. Throughout the period of treatment I was an outpatient. All the publications about the governor being in one hospital or the other were all false.
I was never admitted in any hospital; all my treatment I took as an outpatient. Of course, I had challenges with the treatment, but as I said, unless you have seen somebody go through the treatment, it’s not easy to imagine. So, when I started reading in the papers how I died in India, to us, it was a source of entertainment. Anytime we felt like being entertained, we open the website and we will be reading and laughing.
I became worried on attempts to undermine the state
But what became worrisome was the deliberate and sustained attempt to undermine the government of Enugu State. Over the years, if you people have been observant and following events, especially when we address our people…we have invested a lot of money on infrastructure and other spheres of governance, but I have always said one thing we would like to leave behind when we are leaving is a workable system; that has always been topmost in our agenda. Because when we came in, yes, I was part of the past administration; unfortunately, when we came in there was no system in place not even a bad one, there was no system whatsoever.
“So, we felt there was need to have a system in place, that is the only way you can encourage continuity. If there was a system in place when a governor comes he just builds upon what is already there. This was an opportunity for us to test the system we have put in place. And…most of you are based in Enugu, I am sure you must have noticed that at least we have something, if you don’t call it a system, at least, closely resembling a system in Enugu State.
That was the only way one could explain the way the government kept on functioning. Everything kept on happening as if the governor was not on leave. Nobody talked about strike, nobody talked about non-payment of salaries, no contractor agitated or complained that he wasn’t paid his fees, everything and life continued to be normal.
In fact, if anything, like I have been told it was like activities increased in my absence. So, I will say that I can beat my chest and, of course, this is an opportunity to thank His Excellency, the deputy governor who led the team and who ensured that the system worked in my absence, it’s an opportunity to thank the entire state for ensuring that the system continued to work effectively.
I am happy that we have almost seen that height. When we will be leaving office in two years’ time, I am sure we would have perfected it. It gladdened my heart when I came back, even when I was away because I kept a close contact and it was good to know we didn’t have problems in spite of all attempts made by our brothers and maybe sisters in the ‘Diaspora’. These people who stay in Abuja, Lagos, who don’t even know what is happening here…the day I came back one was saying that we don’t have a head of service, the person was saying all sorts of nonsense and people who live outside Enugu will hear these things and believe them.
Well, our own local newsmen here either they do nothing or at times they even join in spreading this falsehood. But I think in a nutshell, the government of Enugu State has come to stay, the system established by us, has come to stay.
When my treatment ended
I have gone through the treatment…in fact, the treatment officially ended on December 14. When I commenced treatment what my doctors advised was that I stay off completely for six months; that was their recommendation, but by third week of January when I went to review my system they were shocked at the recovery rate.
They were happy with the recovering rate. The MRI scan they did show that the tumor had disappeared completely, not even a scar was left. I don’t want to use the expression that they declared me cancer-free because that will be the headlines tomorrow; I won’t want to use that expression, but that was exactly what happened. After being treated of cancer you will be required to be going for check-ups from time to time to make sure it doesn’t rear its ugly head again.
Attacks on my staff
Coming to my staff, all attacks on them that they were hoarding information that they were doing this, they were doing that was an unfair attack on them. First and foremost, they didn’t have all the information; all they knew and what I told them, which was actually the truth was that I was going on vacation. I didn’t know it would be the business of people to know what my activities would be during my vacation.
A lot of you here, I am sure, you all go on vacation, you don’t tell us what you do. So, if I decide to utilize the period of my vacation to take care of myself, I don’t see why it should concern anybody. I don’t see why we should owe anybody any apology. The important thing was complying with the law by making sure that as governor of the state you ensure that the ship of government remained on course, not abandoning your people. That was exactly what we did. With that, we felt that we had done what was expected of us, I had done what was expected of me, so, all those unfair attacks I found a little bit mischievous.
But as I said earlier, it was also a little entertaining, it actually exposed the ignorance of some of our people even those who you thought were…those who were meant to, or supposed to know certain things you see them blabbing, talking nonsense…I don’t know who they were trying to impress. So, that was exactly what happened and I was officially discharged, not from admission, but I was officially discharged and that explains my return back home.
My state of health now
I am still in the process of recovering. You won’t expect to see me tomorrow running or expect to see me tomorrow doing certain things, but I am back and strong enough to resume duty and to do my best to ensure that government is on course with the assistance of my co-pilot, the deputy governor, the commissioners and other aides. I thank those of you, who were patient enough to wait for the truth and those of you who were thorough enough, I thank all of you. I also thank the entertainers for whatever it’s worth; they sold their papers at our expense, but it doesn’t matter.
We just urge you to ensure that our gathering here is not a fruitless exercise because I was with the speaker when he came to see me in Abuja and he narrated how a journalist cornered him and he granted him interview for about one hour, the interview never saw the light of the day. So, if you go to our people and ask questions and they tell you the truth and it doesn’t correspond with the ones you already have you still go ahead and publish. You don’t just publish one side.
My state of health before I left for London
When I was leaving for London I left a healthy man. I wasn’t put in a stretcher, I voluntarily submitted myself to have that tumor removed. I had the option of delaying it, it wasn’t disturbing me in any way, it didn’t weigh me down but for ‘the accidental discovery’ I would have had it for God knows how long. I thank God. Rather than people saying sorry, I think they should be saying thank God for what happened. Because you hear cancer has killed this man, it has killed that man. Most times cancer kills because of late discovery. Cancer is curable so long as you discover it early. If you allow it to disturb you that’s where the problem comes. If you are lucky, I am not saying any of you should have cancer, but if whoever should have cancer is lucky and it’s discovered early and you have the resources, please go for the treatment, forget the Nigeria press, when you recover you can answer them.
Governor Chime took time to field questions from the journalists after the story, here are the excerpts:
Don’t you think your excellency that all the speculations wouldn’t have arisen if you had told your people that you were going on vacation, but you would also attend to something that was developing; because this case reminds us of the Yar’Adua saga…?
I was going to ask you, those people who should know because the people who should know actually knew. I don’t think there is any governor who goes on leave or rather it could be rare, not just governors public officers, when they go on leave abroad most times they go to take care of health challenges. It is not usual, it’s not Nigerian. Your analogy, you are trying to compare it with the Yar’Adua’s situation, I think it’s unfortunate and wrong. Yar’Adua was taken abroad sick. Cancer is something you may have and you look normal, if it’s for the tumor you may say yes I was sick, but I wasn’t grounded because of the sickness, I was the person that decided on when to attack it, to nip it in the bud.
If I had decided to leave it to this year…I actually chose the period because I looked at the timetable between now and the end of my tenure, that was the only window I had. Later this year we will be talking about local government election where I will be expected to be actively involved.
Next year we will be talking of general election, primary and all that; there is no window, that was the only window I had and I had to take that opportunity the window provided. It wasn’t easy for me spending Christmas in London, I didn’t train in London, so it’s something I am not used to.
Like I was telling somebody yesterday, this was the first time since I was born, apart from the period of the civil war when everybody was forced out, this was the first time I was spending four months together outside Enugu. It never happened, even when I was in school and when I did my youth service, it never happened.
So, it wasn’t an easy thing to be away for four and a half months, but to assure that it was in the best interest of the people of Enugu State and myself and also the system we are trying to put in place, we decided to seek treatment at a time that will not seriously and adversely affect the system.
Because it would have been more challenging to the system if I had been away during primary elections or local government elections, imagine what it would be like. It wasn’t an emergency; never an emergency. So, you don’t even liken it to Yar’Adua sotuation. I decided to do it, thank God it’s now past tense.
The whole thing started few weeks after I left; About two weeks after l travelled they started writing nonsense, they were not interested in the truth, they just saw an opening, an opportunity to write and started.
Going on vacation, what has it got with going to India and dying there? Why tell such lies that I was carried on a stretcher into the plane, that it was an emergency, that I collapsed and all that. I went to London as somebody fit and proper, but unfortunately the press decided to handle it the way they chose.
What’s your message to the people of Enugu State?
Well, I want to thank the people of Enugu State for their prayers, for their belief in the system, for being able to rebuff all entreaties from the enemies who live outside the state to come here and cause trouble. I thank the people of Enugu State for their patience, for being there for us, as a government, we promise to continue to deliver as much goodies as we will continue to use our resources the best way we can, make sure that our people, no matter where you are in the state you feel the impact of governance.
We won’t want to leave the state and hear that community A or community B had never seen government before. By the time we leave government we will like to be having testimonies from even the remotest village in the state that it was this government that gave us land, it was this government that built our roads, gave us water, there must be something to remember us. This is our aim and that’s why we are here.
We are here to serve our people, we have two years to round off and the two years we will use fully. We will work until May 29, 2015. And, of course, we expect that whoever will be coming in will be part of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) family.
Your excellency people expected you to say a word or two when you came back last Friday; why did you keep mum?
Was I expected to speak in Abuja or in Enugu?
If you were at the airport, you won’t ask that question. When the aircraft stopped, looking out through the window, I saw the acting governor with his wife, I saw our own local service chiefs, the Air Force commander, the commander garrison, the police commissioner and all that. Everything looked orderly, but immediately I alighted from the plane those people disappeared. No, but it is true… I had to stop, that I won’t move an inch here until I see the acting governor.
They made way for him, then it was chaotic, that was how I saw him. So, you expected me in that madness to start addressing the press. I think you are not being realistic. Of course, I entered my car and we came here and relaxed. Or did you expect me to excuse the people who had come to rejoice with me and start to speak with the press.
There is no urgency, I am just doing this just in the interest of so many people who have been misled. At least, for them to know the truth. In fact, there was one lady who has one website, somehow she got in touch with me and was asking me questions, and after answering her she gave me her site and the following day she published an apology because she had published a lot of nonsense.
Many people were misled. People just felt free to write nonsense. So, she published an apology. I read it, I wasn’t told. The simple answer to your question was that there was no opportunity to talk to the press.
When you were leaving sir, you wrote to the speaker, now that you are back we want to know if you have written to inform the speaker of your return?
What happened was a case of people coming into Enugu to find out how we run our domestic affairs. We were watching NTA from UK, there was one person who felt agitated. He doubted if the letter was written and said if the letter was written that there should be record of it being deliberated in the House and how approval was given.
It blew my head off. People should read their constitution, you don’t need the approval of the Assembly to go on leave, you are only required to write to the speaker for his information not the House of Assembly.
And while you are on leave, the deputy automatically starts acting as governor. So that when he approaches the Assembly to present the budget they don’t turn him back and say we don’t know you. That’s the essence of the letter just for their information that the governor is away. And it’s expected that once I come back, I write to him for his information that I am back. I am not seeking his approval that I am back and want to resume.
Just informing him that I am back ‘o’, in case anybody comes to you tell him I am back. So, the simple answer to your question is yes, I have transmitted a letter to the speaker that I am back. We won’t have a situation where you say we have two captains in one ship. Like he came here now you will notice I didn’t address him as the acting governor. It’s automatic, it’s one ticket. Once one person is away the other starts acting on his behalf.
Some said I have stayed 140 days, I don’t know where they got that from, others said I gave a time limit, nobody talked about time and I was not required to do so.
But the press as I said, you people had a field day, some would say according to the constitution after 140 days if you are not there so, so, so and so will happen. You go to the constitution you won’t find anything. So, they manufactured all sorts of nonsense, what they wished to happen because the governor of Enugu State was away. It didn’t happen okay. I am back and I am back. But I will tell you frankly, maybe not cancer, maybe not even ailment, if for any reason I have the opportunity of doing this again I will do it again. I have no regrets whatsoever, no regrets whatsoever, so long as I did the right thing.
Most of the things you people dished out were based on ignorance or some people are just trying to be mischievous. I don’t have any business telling you my story, how I went to so, so place, how I was diagnosed, what’s your business. People have even worse problems, the first colleague of ours that we lost in the first term, the governor of Yobe State, he died in the US, who knew his problems until he died? How will you be discussing everything. Do I know the number of times you have gone on vacation or how many times you’ve had cause to face any of these challenges? You don’t make the office of the governor so unattractive.
These are human beings, I am not talking about myself, these are human beings who are entitled to some privacy, who are entitled to some level of …I don’t know, you should have a life to live. When I travelled to London for treatment in September, I didn’t travel with anybody, I went alone to tell you how stable and how fit I was. I didn’t go with even my three-year-old son. My senior special adviser on investments joined me a week later.
I didn’t go with any human being, I was able to take care of myself. So, when people talk about this, talk about that, it’s not true.
And this thing you people did, I am sure, will scare a lot of people who will be aspiring to be governors in future. You will be so x-rayed, anything you do, what ailment was not ascribed to me? I died of AIDS, I died of this. There was even a time they left ailment, they said my son was arrested for money laundering and I went there to get him released, when I got there they arrested me and left him. We read all sorts of nonsense.
All the stories were false. In fact, the only time we started seeing something that resembled the truth was after my colleagues visited. When they had cause to talk to the press but the press will always add their own. After talking to the governor of Akwa Ibom, the press wrote that they came to the hospital to see me, which hospital?
They came to my apartment, we had good time together, we ate and drank and took pictures outside. How could one have reported that they visited me in the hospital? And, of course, by then I had completed my treatment, so which hospital?
But the press had to fill in that gap. At times you are not even safe talking to the press. Any lacuna they will feel it in for you. But as I said it’s been an experience and our people say that you don’t point at a person and say this man will die and he dies. So writing about death, somebody reading about his own death and all that…well it didn’t mean much.