The continuing absence from the country of Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu State, and Liyel Imoke of Cross River, without adequate explanations on their whereabouts, is generating grave concern in the polity. Chime had his last public outing in Enugu on September 18 when he told his cabinet after a state executive council meeting that he would be proceeding on vacation.
He thereafter reportedly transmitted to the State House of Assembly a letter stating that his Deputy, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi, would function as acting governor in his absence; attended a meeting of the Nigeria Governors Forum on September 19, and flew out of the country on September 20. Chime has been out of the country for more than three months now, and is believed to be receiving treatment for an undisclosed ailment in a foreign hospital. He has been incommunicado since he travelled, even though the official communication in the state is that the governor is “okay”.
Enugu State citizens have no idea of what is wrong with their governor, where he is, and when he will be back to his job. The situation is virtually the same in Cross River where the state authorities claim that Imoke, on December 7, transmitted to the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Larry Odey, a letter stating that he was proceeding on “two-month accumulated leave”. This, as in the case of Chime, is in consonance with section 190(1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which says that a governor who is going on leave or is unable to discharge the functions of his office shall transmit a written declaration of that fact to the Speaker of the House.
However, in both Enugu and Cross River, there is controversy whether the two governors actually complied with these directives. Their absences have also continued to generate controversy with demands for explanations by the people, civil society groups and the opposition. Already, lawmakers in Enugu have been reported to be considering a move against Chime over his prolonged absence if he is not back to work by the end of January 2013.
The absence of the governors is stalling some affairs of the states. It affected the timely presentation of the states’ 2013 Budgets to their Houses of Assembly. We find the unexplained absence of these governors unbecoming of their office. As chief executive officers of their states, the two are public officials and the citizens of their states who elected them into office have a right to information on their whereabouts. Public officers need to be reminded that they are no longer private citizens. When they assume public office, information on their actions needs to be in the public domain.
When they are ill, the people ought to know what is wrong with them and where they are being treated, more so, when their treatment is at public expense. They can no longer talk so freely about their right to privacy. Although state governors, like all Nigerians, have a right to their privacy, this is only in so far as it does not affect governance.
A governor who leaves his duty post for three months and remains abroad at public expense cannot describe any illness that keeps him from his job as a private affair. Already, the unexplained absence of the governors has, several times, fueled rumours that they are dead. The entire sordid situation is beginning to look like the controversy and secrecy that surrounded the illness of the late former president, Umaru Yar’Adua, before his eventual death.
Nigerian politicians ought to have learnt a lesson from the Yar’Adua incident and not allow a situation which suggests that some people are trying to rule their states by proxy on account of a governor’s illness. The provisions of the Constitution appear inadequate on the matter of absence of state chief executives. The document does not state for how long a governor could leave the state before he can be deemed no longer able to fulfill the functions of his office.
It does not state what the House of Assembly should do in the event that a governor is not unable to perform the functions of his office for months on end. It simply states that he should transmit a letter stating his incapacitation, and nominate an acting governor. Although Deputy Governors are said to be acting as governors in the two states, the constitution should have made provisions to determine for how long they can continue to act for absentee governors, before the governors can be declared permanently incapable of doing their work.
The present situation, especially in Enugu where the governor has been away for over three months, is unacceptable. Nigerians ought to take more interest in this issue. We call for transparency and openness in matters like this. Chime and Imoke are no longer private citizens. The authorities in these two states should speak up on the actual situation of the governors. The business of governing a state is too serious to be left in a flux. Let there be an end to the hide and seek game in these two states.