I decided to call this meeting for us to have the opportunity to clarify a few issues. While I was away, I read so many embarrassing publications from the print media, most of them conflicting, almost all of them false. And it was so embarrassing, not for my person because for some of those who know me very well, I am not interested
in some of the things some people write. They can write anything provided it does not border on defamation.
I decided to call this meeting to clear the air for the interest of our people. I noticed that my absence generated a lot of interest; so many people became interested and even people who did not know about my existence asked questions. When I came back, I got all sorts of text messages from strange people, thanking God for my return. So, because of the interest, I felt there is need for us to come together in the hope that after today, we will put to rest everything that bothered on rumours regarding my leave.
In August or thereabout, I was privileged to be one of those nominated by the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) to go to Germany to understudy their federal system. A governor was picked from each of the six geo-political zones. I was nominated from the South East and our chairman, who is also the Governor of Rivers State Rotimi Amaechi led us. On our way to Germany, I decided to travel a little bit earlier through London to do my medicals because of what I will call lack of time. We don’t have time here.
I got to London, did my medicals and was certified fit. I was given a clean bill of health. I am a very observant person and I noticed that I had a little growth on my neck that was not visible to anybody. I pointed it out to my doctor; he touched it and said he did not think it was anything serious, but I should investigate it. I thought they would have seen anything when they were doing the general scanning and screening but nothing was found, so I just singled it out and asked them to investigate it. I was referred to a doctor, who after investigating it and asking questions (of course there were no pains, no symptoms, no disturbance from anywhere), said as far as he was concerned there was nothing wrong with it but he would also ask me to investigate it further. Because I was almost running short of time, I made arrangements with them to help me set up an appointment for closer examination of the growth. So the next day, I left for Germany to join my colleagues. On the trip was my Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Dr. Jude Akubuilo and my Senior Special Assistant (SSA) Investment; they were already in Germany waiting for me, so I joined them.
After about a week, when they had set up the arrangement, I left Germany, went to London and did the proper screening. They did the biopsy and all that. In the process, it was discovered that the growth was cancerous. During further examination it was discovered that the main tumour was behind my nose, it actually turned out to be what they called nasopharyngeal cancer (cancer of the nose). At that stage, we all know that when people hear the word cancer, the first thing is to declare the person dead. They subjected me to further scanning to know if it had spread, so luckily it had not spread, it was just in those two areas – my nose and neck. They said the good news was that it was curable. That was when I became interested and they said as soon as I was ready, they would commence treatment.
Originally, we had planned to go from Germany to Lebanon on our way back to Nigeria, but I cancelled that trip. I went back to Germany, informed the people that I traveled with and came down to London with the Commissioner. The SSA did not have a UK Visa then, so he traveled back to Nigeria from Germany. In London, we made arrangements and agreed on when to come. So we came back to Nigeria and within the two weeks, I was able to make arrangements for transition. I wrote a letter to the Speaker of the House of Assembly in accordance with the constitution, informing him of my decision to proceed on leave and of course sought his cooperation to work very well with the Deputy Governor, who would work as governor in my absence. Within the two weeks, we held two executive meetings; the last was held on Tuesday of the week I left. After the executive meeting, I told my executive members that I was proceeding on a long vacation, which I wouldn’t know how long it would last to take care of my health. That was the information they got and of course I told them to cooperate with the acting governor. The next day, I left for Abuja, which was a Wednesday and again attended the meeting of the Governor’s Forum, that night. On Thursday morning, we had the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting and the Deputy Governor was there to represent me. I got to London and settled in and the next day Friday I went to see the Oncologist who had already made arrangements for treatments to begin. And on Monday, I started treatment. I don’t think any of you has had such an experience.
Cancer is a deadly disease and the cure is also deadly, the cure for cancer is not like taking Panadol. The cure for cancer is not these drugs we buy off the counter. By the time you go through chemotherapy and radiotherapy, you will be a changed person. So I started treatment. The treatment altogether lasted for 12 weeks. Throughout the period of my treatment, I was an out-patient. I was never admitted in any hospital. During the period of treatment, I personally had challenges with the treatment because as I said, except you see somebody that has taken that kind of treatment, it is not easy to imagine. When I started reading in the papers that I went to India and how I died at so and so place, it was a kind of entertainment to me. Anytime we felt like being entertained, we call up the Nigerian papers and we will laugh.
Although it gave us a lot of entertainment but still to us what became worrisome was the deliberate and sustained attempt to undermine the Government of Enugu. Over the years, we have invested a lot of money in infrastructure and in other spheres of life. But I have always said that one thing we would like to leave behind is a workable system. That had always been topmost on our agenda because when we came in there was no system in place, not even a bad one. Yes, unfortunately I was part of the last administration. So when we came in we felt there was this need to have a system in place because that is the only way you can encourage continuity. In this place, when a governor comes he will want to chart his own course but if you have a system in place, when a new governor comes in, he will build on what exists.
My absence therefore was an opportunity to put to test the system we have put in. Everything was happening as if the governor was not on leave, nobody talked about strike, no one talked about non-payment of salaries, no contractor agitated over payment of fees, and life continued normally. It was as if we had increased activities in my absence and I can beat my chest to thank the Deputy Governor who led the team and who ensured that the system worked in my absence.
I am happy that we have almost attained that height and when we will be leaving in a few years time, we will be glad that we have built a system. It is a good thing to notice that we did not have problems in spite of all the attempts made by our brothers and sisters to undermine us. The government of Enugu has come to stay, the system put by us has come to stay.
The medical treatment officially ended on December 10 and of course when treatment ends, that is when the real thing starts. What the doctors said when I had commenced treatment was that I should stay off work for six months. That was their recommendation, but by the first week of January when my case went up for review, they were shocked at the recovery rate. The scan showed that the tumour and nose fluid had disappeared completely, not even a scar was left behind and although I wont like to use the expression that they have declared me cancer free, but that was exactly what happened.
Cancer is cancer and one will be required to go there from time to time for check up to make sure it does not raise its ugly head again. But as things are now, they have succeeded in curing that disease that was detected in September 2012.
All the attacks on my staff by people accusing them of hoarding information were unfair. First, they did not have all the information. What they knew was that I was going on vacation and I didn’t know that it was the business of people to know what my activities will be when I go on vacation. I decided to use the period of my vacation to take care of myself and I do not see how it should concern anybody. I do not see why we should owe anybody any apologies. The important thing is complying with the law and making sure that as governor, you ensured that the ship of governance remained on course and not that you did not abandon your people. I found all those attacks a little bit mischievous and actually exposed the ignorance of some of our people. I was officially discharged (not on admission) and I am still in the process of recovering. No one should expect to see me tomorrow running but I am fitter now to resume my official duties; I am fit enough to ensure that government is on course with the assistance of my co-pilots.
The truth is that those people, who should know, actually knew. I don’t think there is any public officer who goes on leave abroad to take care of health challenges. It is not Nigerian for anyone to try to compare my situation with that of the late Yar’Adua; it is unfortunate and wrong. Yar’Adua traveled sick; I didn’t travel sick. Cancer is something that you may have, and you still look normal and act normal. I was not grounded because of the sickness. I was the person that decided on when to attack it. I actually chose the period because I looked at the timetable between now and end of my tenure and I said that was the only window I had because at the end of this year, we will be talking about council election. I decided on when to attack it.
It was not easy for me to spend Christmas in London. I was telling somebody the other day that since I was born except during the Civil War when everybody was forced out, staying in London was the first time that I was spending four months outside Enugu since I was born. It never happened even when I was in school or when I did my service. So it was not an easy thing to be away for four and half months, but it was in the interest of the people of Enugu and myself to test run the system that we are trying to put in place, to seek treatment at a time that will not adversely affect that system. It would have been more challenges to the system if I had been away at the time of the council elections, we can imagine what it could have looked like. This was actually what informed my decision to seek medical attention immediately. It was not an emergency at all. I decided to do it and I thank God it is all in the past now.
The attacks against me started two weeks after I left, some people had started writing all sort of things, and they were not interested in the truth. Going on vacation had nothing to do with my going to India and dying there. Why tell the nation that I was rushed into the plane, which was an emergency and that I collapsed. I went to London as somebody fit and proper and unfortunately, they decided to handle the way they chose.
This government is not about my person but what will be right and what will benefit Enugu people. From the fist day when we came in, we set out to build an ultra modern diagnostic centre. I think it is in our four point agenda. Unfortunately, almost three years to the contract period, our contractor disappointed us. I don’t like remembering that but happily we have been able to engage new contractors who are working day and night to ensure that we have such a diagnostic centre that will make provision for all the scanning machines. If we had it in place by the time I traveled, probably, I would have discovered the cancer in Enugu and not in London.
So the important thing is to have this thing in place to know what your problem is. If you are properly diagnosed, you start looking for how to cure yourself. It is not just something Enugu can do alone, but we want to provide the basic things. The entire infrastructure we are building is to attract investors and once they see a fertile ground they will go there. We are praying that we will see an investor who can come here and establish a mega hospital. We will encourage such a venture. Enugu as a government will not be able to provide all that. For now, we are providing medicare, something that can sustain our people and we pray that someday we will get there.
I thank the people of Enugu for their patience, their prayers and belief in the system and for being able to rebuff all attempts by enemies to drag the state down and cause trouble. I have to thank the people for being there for us. We will try to provide as much goodies as we can afford, we will continue to serve our people to the best of our ability, we will continue to use our resources the best way we can to serve our people so that no matter where you are, you will feel the impact of governance. We will not like to leave this place and hear that one community or the other did not benefit. By the time we leave government we will like to hear testimonies from even the remotest village in the state that it was this government that gave us light, road or water. There must be something you must be thankful to government for. That is our aim. So we are here to serve our people. We have two years to the end of our tenure and we will use the two years fully. We will work until May 29, 2015 and we expect that whoever is coming in will be part of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) family.
The stories or rumours like you call them actually left many people confused. Because of the anxiety, people expected me to speak as soon as you came back or on the day I came back, others wondered whether I were just tired. But anyone at the airport would not have asked that question. When the aircraft came to a stop I looked out through the window. I saw the acting governor with his wife. I saw our own local service chiefs, the Garrison Commander, the police commissioner and others. Everything looked orderly. Immediately I alighted, those people disappeared. I had to stop and I said that I wouldn’t move an inch until I see the acting governor. It was chaotic but he space was made for him. That was how I saw him. Would anyone have expected me in that madness to start addressing the media? Of course I entered the car, got home here and rested. There was no urgency. I am just doing this in the interest of people who have been misled. There was no opportunity to address the press.
The problem is that people like prying into the affairs of their neighbours. That was exactly what happened. It was a case of people trying to come into Enugu to find out how we run our domestic affairs. We were watching the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) from UK and there was one person who felt agitated and doubted if the letter was written. He said if the letter were written, there would be record of it in the record of proceedings of the House of Assembly and how the approval was given. I laughed my head off.
People should read the constitution. I don’t need the approval of the House of Assembly to go on leave. I am not required to write to the House of Assembly, I am required to write to the Speaker for his information that I am going on leave. And when I am on leave, the Deputy Governor automatically starts acting so that when he approaches the House of Assembly for the budget presentation, they don’t turn him back to say we don’t know you. That is the essence of the letter and I am expected to write. And on my return, I am to write to the Speaker for his information. The constitution is so clear. I am not seeking his approval to resume duties, the constitution is clear. And that is to say, I am back, incase anybody comes to you to ask of the governor.
I have transmitted a letter to the House of Assembly informing them that I am back so that people wont have a situation where they will say that we have two captains in one ship. People will notice that I did not address the deputy governor as acting governor so my orderly will know whom to take instructions from. It is one ticket and when one person is away, the other person takes over. When the Deputy governor is away, I take over his duties, when he returns, he resumes his duties.
Again let me clear something. It is not true that governors don’t stay away for two weeks. The governor of Abia State stays at least one month every year outside. In fact under the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, there was one governor who was governing from abroad. Some even ascribed the period to say I have stayed over 140 days and where this is from I do not know. Some even said I have over stayed the time limit, it was not so in my letter. There was no question of time frame. I am back and I am back. But I will say that but for any ailment or cancer, if I have the opportunity of doing this again, I will like to repeat it. I have no regrets whatsoever. I believe I did the right thing and the comments people dished out were based on either ignorance or plain mischief. I have no business telling you my story; it is not your business.
The first colleague of ours that we lost in our first term, the governor of Yobe State, died in the USA. Who knew about his problem until he died? People don’t have to make the office of the governor so unattractive. The governors are human beings who are entitled to some level of privacy. When I traveled to London in September, I did not travel with anybody, I went alone at least to tell you how stable and fit I was. I did not go even with my three-year-old son. My SSA on Investment joined me a week later. I didn’t travel with any person; I was able to take care of myself. I don’t need security abroad. What has happened to me I am sure will scare a lot of people who would want to be governor. All sorts of ailment were ascribed to me. There was a time they now said that my son was arrested for money laundry and that when I went to bail him. They said that I was arrested in place of my son. So, it is really sad but I thank God that it is all over.
Sullivan Chime is the governor of Enugu State. He returned last week and spoke with some reporters in Enugu on Monday night.