By Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu
The Enugu State House of Assembly is warming up to deal with the simmering crisis in the state following the prolonged absence of the Governor, Mr. Sullivan Chime.
Chime has been away from the state since September 19 after transmitting a letter to the Assembly informing the lawmakers that he was going on his annual leave and notifying them that his deputy, Mr. Sunday Onyebuchi, would function as acting governor in his absence.
However, since his departure, only a few people know of his whereabouts, fuelling speculations that the governor is suffering from an undisclosed ailment.
His prolonged absence also triggered rumours about his death penultimate weekend, but this was immediately dispelled by the state government.
However, THISDAY learnt at the weekend that many of the lawmakers are no longer comfortable with the governorâ€™s long absence and its effect on governance and have vowed that if Chime remained incommunicado until the end of January, the state assembly may be forced to take some drastic actions against him.
Opposition parties in the state have also criticised the governorâ€™s absence and have launched a campaign to rally public support for the assembly to impeach him.
Some of the lawmakers, who spoke with THISDAY but declined to be named, however, refused to give specifics on how the state assembly would handle the matter.
The 1999 Constitution is silent on how long a governor can be away from work as long as he transmits a letter before his departure informing the legislature that he would be away from his duty post.
Section 190 of the constitution states: â€œWhenever the governor transmits to the Speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to the Speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration to the contrary, such functions shall be discharged by the deputy governor as acting governor.â€
But THISDAY learnt that following growing concerns over his prolonged absence, the governor claimed that he was taking his accumulated leave and therefore allegedly refused to disclose either his whereabouts or when he would be back in the state.
It was as a result of this that one of the lawmakers said the legislature had decided to break its silence on the matter and would soon make its position known to the public.
He explained that the state assembly had deliberately feigned ignorance over the governorâ€™s long absence in order not to create unnecessary tension in the state, adding, however, that its efforts to reach out to officials of the government to douse the tension were rebuffed.
â€œI can assure you that we are no longer comfortable with the situation in our state and at the assembly level. Weâ€™ve taken a decision on what to do if the governor remains outside till January ending.
â€œWeâ€™ll soon communicate our position to the executive council. Thereâ€™s no way our governor will be away for over three months and members of the House of Assembly cannot even have access to him. It is unthinkable.
â€œThis is the time for us to act and if they are not careful, they may be taken unawares,â€ the lawmaker said.
However, other sources disclosed that the governor is currently receiving treatment in an undisclosed hospital in the United Kingdom for an undisclosed ailment.
â€œYes, from all indications, the governor is seriously down and he may not be returning to the state any time soon,â€ the source stated, disclosing that all efforts made last week to â€œpossiblyâ€ bring the governor back to the state to present the 2013 budget to the assembly failed as doctors and consultants working on him refused to give the â€œgreen light.â€
He said two top officials of the state left for London last Monday where they reportedly met with the governor to secure approval for some of the funds to be spent during the Yuletide season.
He said the purpose of their trip was not disclosed to the acting governor.
Meanwhile, the Secretary General of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), Willy Ezeugwu, has urged the lawmakers to declare Chime â€œincapacitatedâ€ and invoke the relevant sections of the constitution to confer on Onyebuchi full executive powers.
Ezeugwu told reporters in Enugu that the absence of the governor from office in the last three months was indicative that all might not be well with him, stressing that the continued silence of the lawmakers on the issue was not the best for the state.
The CNPP chieftain said that it was unfortunate that the governorâ€™s whereabouts was being kept away from the people and urged the government to speak out on the matter.
â€œAnybody can fall sick and therefore there is nothing to hide, and the moment any leader is not disposed health wise, the people you are governing must know about it.
â€œIt is only in this country where such a thing can happen and the people will not be made to know. The particular section of the constitution must be invoked and the deputy governor must take position immediately,â€ he added.