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The trial of Sullivan Chime

By Ezugwu Okike


IN the court of public opinion, Barr. Sullivan Chime, the former governor of Enugu State, is standing trial. He is—one is compelled to admit, loved by many. Sullivan is increasingly being regarded, and rightly so, as the father of “New Enugu.” His days in office is recalled with overpowering fondness for glaring reasons. There is a story I told a friend – how we felt like bush men in 2014, when we came out from the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, to attend a law dinner at De Dome Event Centre. We were campus-restricted young students. It was night and Enugu looked so sparklingly lighted and breathtakingly beautiful that we exchanged shy glances, like hunter-gatherers suddenly thrust into the wonders of civilization. Mark you, I had moved from Anambra state, Onitsha to be exact. That was Sullivan’s Enugu state, a city on a hill; perhaps evidence that good governance is possible.

Sullivan was—I need hardly say —a heavy sigh of relief. His predecessor had left chaos and death-inflicting, fourth-world infrastructure. He came at a time when as a result of the pauperization of pensioners and civil servants and the general population, compounded by the brazen plundering of the common wealth, the confidence of the people in government was at a generational low. You did not say Jack Robinson before he attacked inherited ills. Before the end of six months, Enugu was evidently reborn and, on the march, again. To further win the love of the people, Sullivan remained taciturn and indifferent to obsequious, beggarly flattery. His projects and intelligent policies were not vaunted in the media. Those in Opi Nsukka, for example, did not know that the Opi-Ugwuogo Nike Road was being constructed until it burst at Opi junction. Sullivan was that unseen hand miraculously lifting the state from the crying ruins of a lamentable era. And it was wonderful in our eyes.

One has no choice, therefore, but to admit that Sullivan was a great governor. Enugu was tidy and graceful. The roads were smooth and free from gridlock. Pensions and salaries, an unhealthy accumulation from a corruption-ridden and iron-clad regime, was noiselessly paid. Against what they would have you believe today, there was water in abundance. Everything was considerably fine. By every assessment, Sullivan has been the best governor in our comparatively short history.

That is to give Sullivan Chime his due. And it is without more. Sullivan is now like a man who built a thriving company and paid zero heed to succession. When I was little a boy, I had a fancy for swotting on books of African proverbs. It is marvelous how I loved African proverbs then and how insufferably silly they now sound to me. One has stuck to my mental sky from that time: “your success is not complete until you have a successor.” It was similarly threadbare until I thought of writing on Sullivan. If this is anything to go by, is Sullivan blamable for the current tears-stimulating state of Enugu state? We shall see.

The common story is that Sullivan did not know much about Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, his current successor and Enugu’s nightmare. Un-enamored of local politics, Ugwuanyi did not, for Sullivan, figure above another bench-warming and lackluster lawmaker from Enugu North. As a House of Reps member, Ugwuanyi perhaps holds a world record. He did not sponsor a bill throughout his twelve years in the House of Representatives. As if that was not scandalous enough, there is no evidence of him anywhere seconding or opposing a motion in the House. Even if you are like me who have argued that Nigeria has enough laws already, then pause over the latter point for a second. In the history of legislative politics in Nigeria, Ugwuanyi’s bench warming is unparalleled. You can counter this point by simply posting a clip of him even exchanging pleasantries with his colleagues in the House. His record with constituency projects is as mind-blowingly abysmal. Another writer had done justice to that. Chika Omeje, popularly known with the alias of Mbe Nwaniga had said this about Ugwuanyi in an interview with an online newspaper; “This man did not bring in one federal project throughout his stay in the House of Reps. Not one. He did not start anything. The only thing to his name was a signpost somewhere in Obollo.” All his constituents are united in this opinion.

Then, the pressing, important questions: Shouldn’t Sullivan have smelt a rat? Does it mean that the red flags were not glaringly obvious? Should Sullivan escape every responsibility and unperturbedly continue to enjoy his newfound fame on social media? I make bold to say that Sullivan saw and knew the red flags. For the sake of decency, I don’t want to detail what transpired the day Sullivan took Ugwuanyi to China to meet investors. Suffice it, however, to say that the handwriting was unmistakable. To Sullivan, Enugu was not a pet project deserving his protection. That is a straightforward way of putting it. In a meeting held by party stakeholders before the primary election that gave Enugu its present pestilence, one Chidi Obeta tried to nip this disaster in the bud. He asked how a man that failed woefully as a House of Reps member was suddenly the most felicitous for the office of governor. Sullivan shouted him down. He only asked a question. If that question was answered disinterestedly, perhaps Enugu would not be a heap of stinking rubble, as it is today.

“Unknown” women are held accountable. It was undue influence. Again, assuming Enugu was an industry built by a man from the dint of hard work, there could have been separation of business from pleasure. The roads are in bad repair, ill-maintained. Absurd attempts at maintenance are handled by inconceivably incompetent Artisans with crude tools. They destroy the existing roads in paradoxical maintenance. And for the past seven years, not a single road has been added to the main metropolis. The streets have gone gloomy and dark and became crime-infested. The street lights which made my friends and I feel shy in 2014 are no more. They are totally broken down and abandoned. Worse still, Pickpockets and Cut-throats swarm the whole place like bees.

Water scarcity is so acute that even the Lion Building, the Government House, patronize tanker drivers. Workers and pensioners are not paid but that is not the real evil. The ultimate evil is that they are censored from speaking to the media. This censorship is so perfectly Orwellian that even when the lawyers who work in the state ministry of justice had their salary slashed by over 75 percent, they kept mute. Lawyers! The city is so monstrously dirty, smelling to the high heavens. And the sight of the trucks now used for waste disposal can make a woman miscarry. These are notorious facts hardly worth repeating. In the past seven years, we have chiefly had a government that has been actively and industriously looting and destroying the state.

What is Sullivan’s place in this and in the history of the state when it shall be written? The red flags were there but he was indifferent and failed to act in the interest of the state. He did not allow a fair contest either. The man was foisted on the Enugu people. Barr. Sullivan Chime is on trial. I am not the judge. Enugu people are. As a member of this public, I have a right to state my opinion: Sullivan should have known better. He has a hand in this messy pie. You don’t build a city and knowingly hire people to destroy it.

© Okike Ezugwu is a lawyer, lecturer and writer. You can reach him at ezugwuokike@gmail.com

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