From Judex Okoro, Calabar
In the beginning It all started as a rumour that Governor Liyel Imoke had left the State unofficially for a medical treatment abroad without key functionaries of government knowing his whereabouts.
Throughout November last year, tongues wagged that Imoke was seriously ill and, therefore, had allegedly absconded from his duty post without handing over the reins of office to his next in command. The Opposition kicked; even political associates quaked, as the rumour of Imoke’s ill health gathered momentum.
And without much dilly-dallying, the Hope Democratic Party (HDP) in Cross River State demanded to know his whereabouts. In a statement signed by the party’s publicity secretary in the state, Mr. Joseph Ekwere, and made available to newsmen, the party accused the governor of going on incessant foreign trips that are of no economic benefits to the state.
The party said: “We the people of CRS demand to know where the governor is and we must submit that he was elected to serve the people and he presented self to offer service and improve the lives of the people on his volition.”
Noting that Governor Imoke had gone Away Without Official Leave (AWOL) without reason and no information on his current whereabouts, HDP alleged that since May 29, 2007, the governor had made several foreign trips, which had not added any value to the development of CRS.
Besides, political watchers of events also wondered why the governor could stay away for quite some time, especially as the 2012 Yuletide festivities were around the corner. Chief Emmanuel Abang Njar, a political stalwart in one of the opposition parties, said the state needed their leader at that auspicious time and would be glad if information about his health and whereabouts were made known to citizens.
Njar said: “This is absolutely undemocratic for a Governor to be away for over seven days without notifying the citizenry; it is even out of tune to try to hide whatever is the problem with our dear governor and pretend as if all is well.”
He contended that it was the right of tax payers to demand for an explanation on the goings-on with the leaders and governance of the state, saying we are aware that the governor has visited the UK for medical review and re-assessment. Imoke finally proceeds on leave Perhaps, sensitive to these scathing criticisms, Governor Imoke, on December 5, 2012, proceeded on a two-month accumulated leave.
In a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary and Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Christian Ita, the government said Imoke had communicated his decision to the State House of Assembly through a letter to the Speaker, Rt Hon. Larry Odey. According to the statement, Imoke’s deputy, Mr. Efiok Cobham, would act in his place for the duration of the leave in line with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The statement reads in part: “Some three weeks ago, His Excellency took a short break after a long hectic and eventful year, all preparatory to the start of the busy Calabar festival season. He used the opportunity to undergo medicals and in the course of so doing, was advised by his doctors to undergo further evaluation.”
“Accordingly, His Excellency will be proceeding on a two-month accumulated leave with effect from today. In line with the provisions of the constitution His Excellency, Efiok Cobham the deputy governor will act in his place during the period of his leave.” Imoke is due to return in February 2013 at the expiration of his leave.
The bubble bursts as he proceeds on 2-month leave Barely had Imoke proceeded on vacation that the town went agog that he was not only bedridden but that there were indications that he might not return to Government House.
In what appears as a confirmation of the rumour, the Internet was awash with rumours of Imoke’s death as a result of alleged kidney failure. While the social media wrote that Governor Imoke was dead and about to be buried, the online newspapers published that Governor Imoke was suffering from serious ailment that might keep him out of office for quite a while.
A leading online paper even went ahead to state emphatically that the governor had undergone a major kidney operation and fears if he will survive it. Thus, it insinuated that the case might be likened to that of the late President Yar ’Adua’s illness, which was terminal. Besides, there were series of unanimous text messages, alleging that the governor was dead and that the family was hiding it from the public.
Across the state, speculations were rife that the governor might have given up the ghost. Sources close to the Governor’s Office confided in Daily Sun that among the State Executive Council members, there were divided opinions as to the state of his health. Within the party hierarchy, there was confusion as to whether the governor was alive or dead, and, if alive, the possibility of his returning to Government House after the vacation.
Across the streets, concerned citizens spoke in muffled voices, alleging that the governor could be dead as being speculated. However, Barr. Eyo Nsa Ekpo, Secretary of the Elders Forum of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Cross River State, said the governor did well by transmitting a letter to the House of Assembly, thereby handing over power to his deputy.
Ekpo contended that “transmitting a letter is not enough because constitutionally, if he stays longer than necessary, the State Executive Council can, with majority, transmit a letter to the state House of Assembly to remove him once he is found unfit to lead the state.”
The party’s candidate for Odukpani/Calabar Federal Constituency in the 20111 general election, maintained that it was high time African leaders told their citizens the truth about their health condition so the people would know from the beginning the problem, rather than hiding it as was the case with the late president Yar’ Adua.
PDP in his defence Reacting to the rumour of Imoke’s death, the State Publicity Secretary of PDP, Hon. Joe Obi Bisong, disabused the minds of the citizenry and said the Chief Executive had gone for medical treatment abroad and would come back once he is okay. He challenged the Hope Democratic Party, HDP, to produce facts to support their claim that the governor has made several foreign trips.
He said there is nothing wrong in the governor going overseas for treatment, adding “there is no country in the world that has attained medical independence. “Even in the United States, people are still being taken outside the country for medical treatment.
Besides, it is the right of anyone who has the means to decide to take treatment in any part of the world that he or she desires.” In another spirited attempt to clear the air over rumours of Governor Imoke’s ill health, Senate Leader Chief Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN, stated unequivocally that Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State is hale and hearty, and not bedridden in USA as being speculated in the social media.
Dispelling the rumour during an interaction with the State Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, executives at the party secretariat along Murtala Mohammed Highway, Calabar, Ndoma-Egba said it is quite unfortunate that a man is alive and kicking, yet the rumour mill has it that he is dead. He said, “I am privy to all the rumour making rounds about our dear Governor. I was with him in his house in Ellicott City, Maryland, United States of America, USA last week; so the rumour of his death is untrue and it is unfortunate that we can peddle such piece of information against a man that is still hale and hearty.
“I was with him in his house and not in the hospital or relatives’ house as being reported by the social media. “In fact, when we went there, we saw him with some visitors, spent about one hour there and as we were there, the wife walked in after ten minutes with the kids, she even prepared Nigerian food for us,” he narrated.
Continuing, the Senate Leader said, “After eating, the Governor saw us off to the car and I asked him when he is coming back and he said well I came to rest and for some medical check-up.
So he said I should send greetings to all and sundry.” The Senate Leader, who said that the governor had taken his leave after working for several years without rest, averred “This is not hearsay; a wicked rumour; I have seen Senator Imoke with my eyes in his house in America recently.
When I arrived he asked me, have you come to confirm whether I am truly dead and I said yes. “He is thoroughly amused because of the rumours that he is dead,” Ndoma-Egba, who represents the Central Senatorial District of the state, said. Senator Ben Ayade, representing Northern Senatorial District, was also said to have visited him his in USA home. Sources close to the Ayade’s family hinted that the Senator representing Northern Senatorial District met “the governor in a cheerful mood, sitting and shaking hands on a brown three-seater cushion chair by a window side.”
The sources further said, “The governor and the senator spent almost the whole day watching American footballers on television and chatted about the Calabar carnival,” adding “the governor expressed satisfaction with the preparations and the outcome of the Calabar festival and was impressed with the organisers.
“From what we saw, Imoke is a very healthy man. He has no issue of kidney failure. He only had issues of physical pressure and he needed to take some rest. It has not gotten to kidney problem not to talk of transplant. “The governor was even joking that even if you show picture, people will tell you the picture was an old one that was manufactured, because the rumours are so many,” the source insisted.
Effects of his vacation Since his absence, observers say the running of the state affairs has not been the same particularly during the Christmas season. Sources close to government house told Daily Sun that things have never been the same since the number one citizen proceeded on leave, as activities have slowed down because The Acting Governor has a limit to what he can do, or even approve.
The source hinted that the Deputy, now Acting, is threading softly so as not to step on landmines laid around government circle by Imoke’ s die hard loyalists and political jobbers. These loyalists, it was learnt, are said to be monitoring closely all movements and meetings of the Acting Chief Security officer of the state, and reporting same to the “Big Boss” as well as analysing the implications to the polity at this critical stage. Besides, the state is in dire financial strait that the office of the State Accountant General is equally extra careful in making payments for approvals from the governor’s office.
For instance, it was gathered that the state could not meet up with most of the financial commitments to contractors and other sundry payments. The AG was said to have confided in some top government functionaries that there is no cash to back up some of the approvals especially during the Christmas period.
This was said to have slowed down the business of running the government, and taking care of most competing demands. It was learnt that the just-concluded 32-day Christmas festivities recorded poor turnout by members of Cross River State Executive Council. Most of them were said to be lukewarm about it since “number one” was not around. They rather used the opportunity to politik and gallivant around their constituencies ostensibly to oil their political machinery, as well as align structures in preparation for 2015.
Dependable source hinted that the immediate past Governor Donald Duke was said to have been piqued by the members of EXCO poor attendance during the daily Christmas festival activities. Duke, who initiated the annual Calabar festival in 2004, it was gathered, summoned the organisers of the Xmas show led by a Special Adviser to the Governor, Mr. Nzan Ogbe, to know why there was low turn-out of exco members at the night affairs of the carnival activities especially when several star artistes and comedians performed.
Daily Sun also gathered that most of the political big wigs that normally hang around the Governor during the festivity did not show up at the shows at night creating the impression that all was not well within the PDP family.
Even when the acting governor was always at events, some of the appointees could not show total loyalty by registering their presence. But in what appears derwistify Imoke’s larger than life image his loyalists and some political heavy weights were said to have gathered at Itigidi, Abi local government area, his home town, to celebrate the annual New Year there. For over a decade, it has become an annual pilgrimage of sort for Senator Imoke to move down to his village and usher in the New Year with Church services, visitations and wine and dine with his age-mates as well as community elders.
There, politicians take advantage to pay homage to the man they described as ‘the Leader” Last year was said to be low keyed as a few followers from across the senatorial zones went there and celebrated the beginning of the year. Those said to have showed their presence include Hon. Bassey Eko Ewa, representing ABI/Yakurr federal Constituency, Chief of Staff, Chief Alex Egbuna, Hon. Frank Ada, representing Obudu/Obanliku Federal Constituency, members of the House of Assembly and some appointees.
According to one of them who spoke to Daily Sun on condition of anonymity, “My brother, I went there, ate and drank like every other person; the Elders of Abi and Yakurr Federal Constituency family decided to go there and hold brief for our brother.” But investigations by Daily Sun revealed that some of Imoke followers are not happy with the development saying that if such things were to be done it would have been done properly and well coordinated rather than a few people pretending to love the Governor more than others.
Some Imoke aides expressed reservation and wondered why some of them should be excluded from the arrangements just to give them a bad name. One of them, who does not want his name in print said, “If it is true that some people went to Itigidi on behalf of their constituents to celebrate the New Year at least to honour our Leader, it is quite good, “But if it’s on behalf of PDP family I totally kick against it because it’s bad politics and an attempt to curry favour in order to feather their political nest,” he fumed. Opposition’s wish in the mix However, extending hands of fellowship, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, Cross River State Chapter, has wished Governor Imoke a happy New Year, praying to God Almighty to bring him back quickly to continue his good works. In a statement issued by Hon. Cletus Obun, the State Chairman, he said: “though some people want the Governor dead; we wish the governor quick recovery, and hope to see him soon. “We do pray that the healer will bring him back to continue from where he has stopped in the New Year; it is not our wish to join our master killer in wishing even our enemies dead. “It is evident that there appears to be jubilation over the Governor’s sickness in a camp in PDP that the governor is sick otherwise at a time like this, absolute peace should be the watchword,” Obun said Condemning the rumour, the state chairman of Conference of Nigeria Political Parties, CNPP, Mr. Cletus Obun who was at the event accused some top members of the ruling PDP in the state of being behind the death rumour. The embattled Cross River State Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN Chairman, also accused a highly placed member of the state executive of being behind the rumour and cautioned that those who want to take over from Imoke should drop their desperation and wait till 2015. Conclusion Of course, it should be noted that this is the first time in the history of the state that a Governor is officially going on an accumulated vacation for 2 months Since the introduction of Christmas festival in 2004 leading to 32 days of action packed events, this is the first time also that the Governor would be conspicuously absent and the Deputy standing in for him. Analysts argue that considering the critical season as Christmas and considering the magnitude of the visitors that throng the state, it looks like a fairy tale that the number one citizen would go on vacation when he should be the chief host. To them, this is not the best time for vacation. But if then he must go, they contended, it is an indication that “Oga” is down health wise.