Where Are They?

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Danbaba Suntai
Danbaba Suntai

Concerns are growing over the whereabouts of three state governors who have been out of their respective states for a long time without any information on their state of health

|  By Anayo Ezugwu  |  Jan. 28, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

THE prolonged absence of some state governors from their duty posts has continued to heat-up the polity in Nigeria. Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State, Liyel Imoke of Cross River State and Sullivan Chime of Enugu State, have been out of their respective states for several months. Their absence has, no doubt, created a power vacuum which has affected the pace of service delivery in their states. This has led some pro-democracy groups to call on the relevant authorities to take necessary actions in the three states.

Gov. Chime
Gov. Chime

Chime has been out of Enugu State for about four months to treat an undisclosed ailment. Chukwudi Achife, chief press secretary to the governor, has debunked all the media reports concerning the governor’s health issue. The expenditure approval limit given to Sunday Onyebuchi, the acting governor of the state, has affected his ability to carry out his constitutional duties as the acting governor.

Suntai, on his part, is receiving treatment for injuries he received in an helicopter crash in October last year. His deputy has also been acting for him, but some prominent politicians in the state are fighting him. They insist that the governor did not hand over to the deputy before he was flown to Germany for medical treatment. According to a source, the situation has virtually grounded government business in the state. The acting governor has been frustrated since he is not allowed to approve or release funds for any development without recourse to state Assembly leaders.

Imoke also left the country on December 6, last year. Initially, his aides could not confirm whether he was ill or not. They merely informed the anxious people of the Cross River State that he was on leave. But when the stakeholders started to insinuate that his condition was critical, Christian Ita, his media aide, opened up on his health condition. The special assistant on media said Imoke communicated his decision to Larry Odey, the speaker of the state House of Assembly, and that his deputy had taken over in acting capacity.

Save Nigeria Group is one of such groups that are demanding for the full implementation of the rule of law in the states. Tunde Bakare, a pastor of Latter Rain Assembly and the convener of the group, criticised President Goodluck Jonathan over his silence on the absentee governors and non-compliance to the rule of law in the three states where the governors have embarked on medical trips abroad.

“The silence of the state Houses of Assembly is quite worrisome in spite of the constitutional provisions that address issues like this. More worrisome is the silence of President Goodluck Jonathan, who is a direct beneficiary of Save Nigeria Group protest in 2010. It shows that there is no more authority in the land to enforce the rule of law,” Bakare said.

He claimed that the nation was witnessing the same culture of impunity which the group fought on the streets of Abuja and Lagos in January 2010, when some members of a cabal who claimed to be acting for ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, refused to allow the rule of law to prevail.

Liyel Imoke
Liyel Imoke

The Save Enugu Group, on its part, has given Sunday Onyebuchi, acting governor of the state, and the state House of Assembly, a two-week ultimatum to make a categorical statement on the whereabouts of Governor Chime. The group also claimed that Chime was in Wellington Humane Hospital, Swiss cottage, London, where he is receiving treatment.

Nigerians are divided on the provision of the 1999 Constitution concerning ailing state governors. Some said it was unconstitutional for the governors to stay outside their states beyond 65 days, while others believed that handing over to the deputy was enough for the governors to stay outside the states beyond 65 days.

But, Abdalazeez Ibrahim, a legal practitioner, argues that the governors can stay out either on leave or vacation on health grounds after they had duly translated a letter to the state Houses of Assembly and handed over power to their deputies. “Section 190, sub-section 2 of the 1999 constitution as amended, requires the governors to translate a letter to the state House of Assembly and duly handover to his deputy before travelling. And the House can only impeach him if he fails to translate the letter within 21 Days of his travel,” Ibrahim said. For how long these ailing chief executives will be away from their elective posts is now a matter of conjecture.

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