“He decided to join another political party; I didn’t have issues with him, he probably saw what I saw in 2015 way back and he left.”
Chidi Nnadi and Magnus Eze
Former governor of Enugu State Mr Sullivan Chime is not easily given to granting interviews to journalists because of certain reservations he held. The posture has led to many interpretations of his person in the media. But when Chime who was a two-term governor of Enugu State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) decides to talk, he talks straight and shoots from all cylinders.
READ ALSO: As Osinbajo presents book on Chime’s tenure
This was the situation early this week at his M9 Enugu residence when he fielded questions from a select group of journalists as a prelude to the presentation of his book, ‘Honour to Serve: Enugu State in Sullivan Years,’ holding today.
Chime, now a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), speaks on his eight years of his stewardship in Enugu, relationship with his predecessor and benefactor, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, as well as his successor, Chief Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.
What is this your book all about?
The book is all about my experiences in government from inception to handing over; when we came in, we made a promise which we articulated in the form of what we called a four-point agenda. We tried to deliver on those promises; so you’ll find in the book even the way it’s arranged – it starts with the promises; then sector by sector, those things were analysed; how much of those promises we were able to keep, the systems that we were able to evolve, the challenges that we had in government, the few things that we were able to achieve and how they impacted on the people. In our place, once you leave office and you don’t let people know all you’ve done; they will forget, tomorrow somebody will come and tell you, this wasn’t there; I was the one that did it. In the main, I think it’s a way of giving account to my employer; the people of Enugu State. On the 29th of May 2015 that I handed over, there was a detailed sort of compendium of the things we did, the challenges and where we found ourselves – a kind of handover note. We handed over department by department and, of course, to the governor himself. But those were not my employers; he took over from me, this is actually an opportunity to give account fully to my employers. It’s not possible to cover all we did in eight years in the book. It’s a kind of summary of all that we did.
You were a practicing lawyer; can we know your life before you joined politics?
It’s actually in the book. I was called to bar in July 1981; 37 years ago. I was into private legal practice until sometime in 1999 when my friend and schoolmate, Chimaroke Nnamani drafted me to join his government. That was how I left legal practice.
So, you’re a member of the Ebeano political family?
Why are you talking like that; don’t bring government down to that level. We were members of the PDP; so Ebeano was entirely a personal thing, you can call yourself anything. Today, I hear of Gburugburu Movement; anybody is entitled to call himself anything. When I was in government, we had PDP; we belonged to one party.
But it didn’t take long for you to fall out with the man who brought you into politics, Chimaroke Nnamani. Why?
I didn’t fall out with him. He decided to join another political party; I didn’t have issues with him, he probably saw what I saw in 2015 way back and he left. He went to the senate on the platform of the PDP, but by 2011 he felt that he had become powerful enough to float a party, maybe to replicate what Orji Uzor Kalu did when he took over Imo and Abia States with his People’s Progressive Alliance (PPA). Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for him. I don’t have any issue with him. As a matter of fact, you will be shocked that I dedicated this book to him. Forget about the stories you hear outside; you wanted us to be talking ‘Ebeano, Ebeano’. No. Let’s concentrate and talk about more serious things. He brought me into politics; I wouldn’t have had the opportunity I had if he didn’t bring me into politics.
What would you say was your greatest challenge in your eight years as governor?
Before we came in, security in Enugu was nothing to write home about; people left Enugu; they were so scared and Enugu being home to all as capital of old Anambra State; East Central State, Eastern Nigeria and even Southern Nigeria at a time; the home to all the Igbo became unsafe.
So, it was a major challenge that we had then. My experience as Attorney General helped me to at least know what the issues were. We were able to handle it very well; moving from that low and very disturbing situation, we became the best, not one of the best. We became the state with the least crime rate in the country.
When the issue of succession came; the current governor, Chief Ugwuanyi was not your preferred candidate, was he?
Who told you? I had no candidate; I allowed the people to make their choice and they came up with him. I made the people of Enugu North a promise that whoever they chose, I will support. Whatever exercise that they went through that threw him up was not the issue; we supported him.
But he is your godson because he said that you’re his leader in and out of office?
He was never my godson as you have alluded to here, but if he wants to be, it’s up to him. I can’t be anything to anybody. Anywhere he wants to see me, I am there. I don’t have issues with him. If he has issues and he comes to me, I will be readily available to give him that advice.
The APC governorship candidate now; Senator Ayogu Eze was in the race for the PDP ticket in 2015 and you didn’t support him then. Will you support him this time around?
I told you that my personal view did not matter in the whole thing. Enugu North people took their decision, in keeping with my promise; we supported their choice.
It had nothing to do with my relationship with Ayogu Eze; he’s my very good friend; nothing to do with whether he was competent or not. As my party’s candidate today; I must say that he is a very credible one for that matter. I don’t have anything against him.
But do you think he can win the election next year?
Why are we in the whole thing; it’s their business to convince the people to vote for them. It’s their business to tell the people why they prefer Ayogu Eze to the person that is there. If the people are happy with what they are witnessing now; they will return the man that’s there. Like in 2011; all manners of people; people who were not even in our party campaigned and prayed for us; people who had nothing to do with partisan politics, they campaigned for us. They did all these without expecting us to give them money at all. If you listened to the radio programme; some people called in lamenting that there was no constitutional provision for me to do third term. When we were campaigning in 2015, people were saying they wished there was provision for me to do a third term. So, it’s not a question of whether you like him or not; if he’s done well, people will vote for him for second tenure and nobody can stop him.
When President Buhari ran in 2015, you were one of the people that conspired and allotted some miserable five per cent figures to him. What would happen this time around?
I take exception to your choice of words. God saw us through and we returned President Goodluck Jonathan in our state, but nationally, he lost. These things happening; I don’t think they mean anything. In 2011, my predecessor campaigned against me. He had a governorship candidate; Dan Shere was his candidate, but he actually withdrew from the race on the eve of the election. We spoke; he came to me and said he wasn’t running.
If you’ve done well; what you’ve done will speak for you; they will campaign for you; you don’t spend money on people. People will happily be campaigning for you; you don’t need to give them money, wherever you go, you will find them coming to show you support. They will come on their own, singing your praises; praying for you. On the day of election in 2011, people who were not in the PDP fought on my behalf. Human beings are very easy to satisfy. If you do well, they will appreciate you; they will show appreciation.
Can we know the magic that will work for Buhari in the 2019 election, particularly in the South East?
There is no magic; it is a question of convincing our people; letting our people know the difference between the people lying to them and the people telling them the truth. I was reading the other day in the paper where Governor Dave Umahi said that the South East felt much better under Buhari than the PDP. Is he not PDP? You must tell yourself the truth. You’re from Imo; what did the PDP do for you? Let us forget this talk, talk, what did PDP do for Imo people? We’re not talking about APC and Okorocha’s government because APC just came into existence in 2014. We are talking about the Federal Government here not state government. Can you drive from here to your place in an hour plus? That used to be the case; as a practicing lawyer going to Owerri, I will leave here in the morning and be in Owerri before 9:00am to do my case. Maximum; an hour 10 minutes, Enugu to Owerri; can you do it now? After 16 years and we are here lying to ourselves? I hear you cannot drive straight on this Enugu-Port Harcourt express road to Port Harcourt now; you must go through some villages. The road is now impassable and we are talking about PDP. Look at Enugu-Onitsha express road.
But we are now under APC?
No. You see, APC inherited a lot of nonsense and you don’t expect them to clear it in one day. Look at Enugu-Onitsha road; can you drive from here to even the 9th Mile? Why lying to ourselves. Going
to Onitsha used to be less than one hour.
I can tell you as a practicing lawyer, I was crisscrossing the entire Igbo land going for cases; you can’t try it now. No lawyer can leave his home except you leave at 3:00am or 4:00am; you can’t leave your house now or your chambers in the morning and be able to make it; maybe in Umuahia.
If you had not defected to the APC, would you have held the same view you are holding now?
Yes. We complained. There was nothing we didn’t do; almost all our meetings with the PDP Federal Government were about all these basic roads. Yar’Adua, when he was President, promised to dualise the 9th Mile to Makurdi, he made that promise. May God bless that man, if he had survived; he would have done that road because the man was a man of his words, unfortunately what happened, happened and all the promises disappeared. The International Airport built here was approved by him, but for him there wouldn’t be any international airport here. We had to use the word ‘Biafran president’ here for five years; what happened? We are here clamouring for Igbo president, we should be interested in what we get. You should be interested about what you get as a people not about appointments. We had all the appointments under PDP; I mean all the appointments so, what happened at the end? It is not about holding any office; it is not about holding any appointment; it is about the benefits from the government. Let our places be developed. Jonathan was approving that some of the rail lines be adjusted to what they call standard gauge and all that; did he talk about Enugu-Port Harcourt; that old line. He left it that way; a person from this region; a person from the Eastern Region. So, we don’t like ourselves. Tell me one major road that he did under PDP after five years in office, he wasn’t able to do anything? Let us be more serious.
Why couldn’t you go to the senate when you attempted doing so?
I didn’t attempt going to the senate, there was no such aspiration. In 2013, when we were holding a town hall meeting in Nike Lake Hotel, one journalist asked that since I was leaving office, which zone will succeed me as governor. When Chimaroke Nnamani became governor, it wasn’t zoned to Nkanu, he won against somebody from the West, even in his re-election bid. When I contested, it was free for everybody, people from the North, from the East, from the West, the same thing during my re-election. Then I said fate had made it that the East had done their two terms, myself in second term at the time, I said it will only be fair that we take it to the North to reduce tensions and I promised to work towards it. That was how it happened. We zoned it to the North, not that there was any agreement; it was common sense to reduce problems. I was the leader and I took that decision.
So the people of Enugu never sat down at any time to agree on zoning of positions?
Which people? I was the leader and I took a decision, which was very easy to sell. Everybody that heard it supported that decision. Incidentally, I didn’t know my senator was actually warming up to be governor and when he heard that pronouncement, everywhere; every paper was full of attacks from him, attacking me, saying when did they reach such decision? Of course, I ignored him. In 2015, he wanted to go back to the senate and wanted a situation where I will be asked to either allow him to be governor or choose the governor and allow him to go back to the senate. I called his bluff. I had a good understanding with the president, with the then National Chairman of the party, Adamu Mu’azu, so he hadn’t access to those people and he became frustrated and he ganged up with members of the National Assembly to cause trouble in Enugu State. They had few friends with members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party. That was when PDP was really having problem. You take decision in the state and one clown at the NWC will change it; cause confusion. It wasn’t easy for him. So, that was when that idea came up that I was going to the senate, but I didn’t buy any form; I didn’t do any of that. They floated that just to bring him back
to his senses. So, he came to me and he pleaded and I gave it up, I told him it was not a do-or-die affair, but for him to go to the senate he must abandon his colleagues and immediately he did it, all the people he had planned with to cause trouble, that was how he was able to go back, so I never aspired to go to the senate. What am I doing with it?
Was it true that Ekweremadu made you leave PDP because you were afraid of his towering image in the party?
Next year we will know how towering his image is. What towering image? I am not aware of any towering image, he has always been a senator, comparing himself with the governor was ridiculous, he is a senator.
Are you saying you would have stopped Ekweremadu if you wanted to?
Precisely! If he hadn’t come to beg, that would have been the end of his (whatever ambition) completely. He can say anything now, but if he succeeds next year, then we look forward to 2023.
What is your reaction to the Igbo leaders’ recent endorsement of the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar?
You heard what Chekwas Okorie said, that his party has already adopted Buhari? It’s a bit irresponsible for anybody to say that Ndigbo have adopted any candidate. That is people fooling themselves. The only way you can know who was adopted is in 2019. Let them campaign and not adopting, endorsing. We are not used to such expression. Let them tell us what they didn’t do and why they didn’t do it; why we have to believe they will do it this time around. That is what you should be asking any PDP person. For 16 years, you had opportunity to implement all these promises; for 16 years we supported you, what happened? Why didn’t you do all these things, why should we now believe you? Buhari, APC, they’ve never enjoyed your support, now they are seeking for your support; they have done quite a lot, I’m not their spokesperson, but I know they’ve done quite a lot, people tell me about improvement on electricity, I see some of those roads we talked about being developed now. So, we have seen hope, light at the end of the tunnel. So, he is now coming to give you commitment that he will actualise all those projects and we are going to support him. It is not about any Igbo man holding any office oh. We’ve held president; it didn’t work, will Vice President give you anything? All the states in East had opportunity of being Senate President. So, we are just interested in positions, it won’t continue that way, we should be interested in what we get as a people not positions. We should not be deceived.
What is your opinion on Igbo presidency?
If you want to be President of Nigeria as an Igbo man, Nigerians will make you president not Ndigbo. So, work hard.