•Says it’s Nsukka’s turn to be gov in 2015
AS he strode to a more relaxing seat from the exalted one where he signs the executive decisions that run Enugu State, Governor Sullivan Iheanacho Chime set the mood for the interview at the Lion Building, Enugu, his official quarters.
He sat just a metre away. Our feet could have been touching if he did not cross his in a regal posture that he varied as the interview ran. His towering presence made one instantly think of a basketball professional in other climes. He was snug. He seemed to have put aside the trappings of office for the thrills of this encounter.
The handshake was firm, not beyond a clench that could have suggested bellicosity. He was in high spirits, discussing his health with unpractised frankness. “I was amused reading the reports about me, especially the several obituaries,” he said, as he went on talking about his recovery.
A long queue of guests was waiting for him. He was to conclude the day’s business by 4am and was back at work after a few hours’ sleep. It is a routine he maintains. Enugu, the challenges of re-inventing a 101-year-old city, and his joy at the opening of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport radiated as he accounted for his six years in office.
With two years to the end of his administration, Governor Chime talked as if he was writing his handing over notes. He bantered and countered as we talked Enugu politics, the opposition andhis position on 2015 and the race to succeed him.
“It may be interesting to know if those who opposed the building of the mall at Polo Park are not among the regular shoppers,” he joked about the fiery army of opposition, whose voices are drowning in the flood of plaudits over his performance.
A lawyer by training, but a practical politician dedicated to the people, he said the matter of Nsukka (Enugu North) producing the next governor was not a promise, but an agreement that equity and justice support. “It did not have to be written, such things are never written,” he said.
What follows is Governor Chime, mostly in his own words…
2015 For Nsukka
The issue of Nsukka producing the governor in 2015, it is actually Enugu North senatorial district – let me make the clarification before some think I mean Nsukka town – has evolved. Some are contesting it; some claim there is no agreement to that effect. I think it is more than an agreement. It is a promise that evolved from an understanding we have about peaceful transitions in the State.
A bit of the background could help in establishing that the matter has gone beyond promise, agreement to a case of equity and justice. In 1999, the contest for the governorship was open to all the zones. Governor Chimaroke Nnamani won and did a second term. In 2007, it was open again. Aspirants from all the zones participated, I won. By 2011, most candidates withdrew from the contest because of the enormous support that I had. The real players in Enugu North said it made sense for me to complete two terms.
The traditional rulers, in particular, told contestants from Enugu North that they would not get support; it was a sort of disclaimer. Nobody from the North contested in our party (PDP), but other parties fielded candidates. What I did at the town hall meeting was to re-echo what we all knew. Nobody writes such things as agreements. The most important aspect of it is the matter of equity and justice that is involved.
Governors from 1999 to date are from Enugu East and Enugu West senatorial districts. By the time I complete my second term, Enugu East and Enugu West would have occupied the position for 16 years. Is any argument required for anyone to know that equity and justice demand that the next governor should be from Enugu North? I went into these details to prove that we have an agreement, a gentleman’s agreement; it is an understanding, one that would work best for the interest of our State and its peoples.
The Next Two Years
We have spent these years laying the foundations for future governments. They have to take a cue from where we stop. There is a blue print for developing the State. It is not about individuals, it is not centred on me as the governor. It is about the people, it is about projects that would benefit the people. I am not naming anything after myself. We are doing all we can to complete all projects. We would not burden the incoming administration with uncompleted projects. The next two years would be used in completing projects that would firm up the foundations we laid.
We have done many road projects and we are continuing. We are opening up the State, making it easier for people to move around as they explore the investment opportunities we are creating. We have also constructed roads that have shortened distances between parts of the State. The one from Abakpa Nike to Nsukka is almost finished. Once completed, the journey from Enugu to Nsukka town would be under 30 minutes, making Nsukka closer to Enugu than some parts of Enugu. We have done more roads in Enugu North than in Enugu East.
When we were building the mall, people criticised it, the same way they criticised other projects.It may be interesting to know if those who opposed the building of the mall at Polo Park are not among the regular shoppers. An industrial park is being built, the state secretariat is under construction. We pulled down the buildings that had no character. Some of the ones left date back to 1928, but they were built with stone. We are leaving them for their historical importance, again they are strong. In those cases we are renovating them.
Like the mall in Polo Park, those who screamed when we were pulling down the old structures at the secretariat, are among those amazed at the new structures replacing them. We are building a new government house. All these would be completed before we leave. Others areas that have engaged our attention are agriculture, education, industrialisation, job creation and empowerment of our people.
One of the earliest projects that this administration started was a diagnostic centre. It would have been commissioned before the completion of my first term. Things went wrong with the construction. We had to pull down the building and start again. We are aware that no modern city can operate without sound medical facilities. I know that some would think that we are constructing the centre because of my illness, it was conceived and was being built before I fell ill last year.
New Enugu, Centenary City
The Centenary City to mark 100 years of Nigeria is under construction. We have a Workers’ Village too in addition to some housing estates that investors are building. These are expanding the city. We are changing the look of the city. The changes are more profound than people think.The projects we have executed have changed Enugu from a civil service city to investors’ hub.
Government is supporting investors with the provision of infrastructure. The road networks that we have established have made access to the new parts of the city easier. We have revoked lands allocated to some who have become speculators. There are allocations that some people got 20 to 30 years ago and failed to develop them. We have revoked and re-allocated them. The move has resulted in people utilising their allocations.
Resources to execute our projects have been a major challenge. We refrain from borrowing as much as possible. What we have been doing is prudent management of the resources we get from the federation account. We operate within our resources. We have also improved our internally generated revenue.
How Airport Would Help Enugu
The impact of the airport would not be limited to Enugu State. It would impact on businesses in the South East and beyond. Travellers and business people that find the airport in Enugu nearer to them would use it. So we are in a situation where people in Delta, other South South States and the North Central would use the airport.
We are confident that the impact would be great. The airport would facilitate businesses and we expect that as it grows and schedules include other parts of the world, Enugu would be the major hub in this part of the country with a spread of services that would benefit other areas. The impact of an airport therefore cannot be limited, the uses that result from its presence would show and soon the impact would be obvious with the attendant multiplier effects of having such an important facility here.
Enugu is rated the safest State in Nigeria. The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar said so. We are still improving our security. People arriving Enugu for business or pleasure should harbour no fears. We are assisting the police in the construction of facilities for their air wing at the airport. It was one of the issues we settled with the Inspector General of Police during a visit to Enugu. The facility would be in use before the end of the year. It would be used for air surveillance of the South East zone.
We call this city an investors’ hub and the facilities are rising to meet the challenges. The international airport (that was formally opened yesterday) is part of the main infrastructure that would facilitate the realisation of this ambition. We are also looking forward to the rails being resuscitated.
Our administration would help with the provision of land. The issues of tax holidays are determined in Abuja but we would offer any assistance that we can. We have secured a licence for our own cement company. We are working with Lafarge on the project. The State has proven reserves of limestone for the cement factory.
Challenges From Electricity, Water
We still have challenges with water. We are tackling them. Electricity is another area of interest for us. We have several offers that are tied to the natural resources we have. The abundant reserves of gas in Ugwuoba and coal in Amansi-Odo would serve the electricity projects well.
I am fine. I am not sick. I attend public functions. Some people insist on drawing their own conclusions. What I went through was millions of miles away from what people thought. A routine medical check revealed cancer cells, but they were benign. Since they were discovered early, they were nipped. They had not spread. It was nothing serious and the technology for the treatment was available.
The treatment (chemotherapy) was harsh. It is not something that I can describe, but I am grateful to God that I went through it successfully. I am recovering from the treatment. Itaffected my normal cells; they are re-growing. Doctors predicted that recovery would take up to a year that is time for the effects of the treatment to wear off.
I was reading all the stories about me. I was amused reading the reports about me, especially the several obituaries. I still required regular check-ups for evaluation of the progress of the cell, the re-growth. The regular checks were in March, May and June. I needed evaluation every six weeks. The most recent evaluation showed no signs of affected cells. I would be there again on August 30. I believe that I would not require frequent checks after that.
Next Governor’s Agenda
I cannot impose any agenda on the next administration, but I do not think the administration would have much choice than following the blue print. We have taken the State to the pointwhere it makes sense for future governments to continue in similar directions.
The next governor would have his priorities. His greatest challenge would be when he deviates from programmes that would benefit the people. He would have the people to contend with not me, that is why I say that the choices available to future governments are limited to providing services to the people. All we have done are for the people, who have learnt that government is meant to serve them. Anyone who acts to the contrary would answer to the people, not me.