Flashback: How Sullivan Chime battled opposition

Amah Baldwin
From My Reporter’s Diary                             

   Sullivan swung into action, not minding barrage of petitions lodged at the tribunal against his emergence as the new governor of Enugu state. Most of the contenders to the same office had wanted to contest under the PDP, but decamped when it was obvious that a brick wall stood between them and the party’s endorsement.

“No Vacancy” was the then PDP slogan.

Sullivan Chime was declared winner, amidst protests from his opponents. His opponents resorted to the Election Tribunal. “I won the ballot,” each claimed. “You did not win,” countered Sullivan. 

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      Sullivan Chime

Amazingly, the protracted legal battle failed to slow him down. Even when the first Tribunal delivered judgment that suggested Chime did not win the ballot, the works on the streets of Enugu progressed as if nothing happened.

The tribunal verdict rekindled the hope of his main political opponents at the poll, notably Dubem Onyia of the Action Congress, AC; Okey Ezea of the Labour Party, LP and Oscar Egwuonwu of the Democratic Peoples Party, PDP. They saw the verdict of re- run poll as opportunity of a life chance to make it to the Lion Building. Ugochukwu Agballa of the Accord Party at the tribunal had prayed the members to declare him winner, having, according to him polled the highest number of votes.

The tribunal disagreed with him, because his figures and submissions conflicted with the voters register, among others. There was also the reluctant petitioner Roosevelt Anigbo. Stories went round town that Anigbo’s petition was the only one disturbing Chime. INEC was said to have excluded his name. But INEC argued that Anigbo was not the eventual PPA candidate for the election, having been replaced.

It was rumoured that the man had abandoned his case after collecting some millions of naira. Stories were flying right, left and center. “He took the money, abandoned his party, the PPA and disappeared”, reports said.

Top shots of the party were said to have later cornered him and forced him back to the tribunal since he refused to share. Other sources simply said Anigbo was happy with Chime’s performance and decided to throw-in the towel. Allegations all through.

Dubem Onyia was also said to have been approached for settlement. Apart from claims of election malpractices, he argued that Sullivan Chime contested election without a valid deputy. Sam Ejiofor, a former special adviser to Governor Chimaroke Nnamani was initially picked for deputy, but when Ribadu’s EFCC came disturbing, a substitute, Sunday Onyebuchi took over. Dubem believed it was an untidy arrangement.

Initially, Ugochukwu Agballa contested the conduct of the election, but at the tribunal, he changed gear. Like in 2003, he claimed the poll was attended by malpractices.

Agballah took pains to assemble result sheets said to emanate from polling booths. His lawyers said they were the certified true copies of EC 8 Forms, but INEC disowned the documents as forgery. His followers were everywhere in town telling those who cared to listen that the presidency as was then constituted had endorsed him. “It was a matter of time before he became Governor-elect”, they posited.

Oscar Egwuonwu was said to have connections with the powers that were at Abuja. His supporters believed that his frequent contacts with the high and mighty were indication of his endorsement.

Recall, it was he that spilled the beans for which the EFCC came calling in Enugu state. Egwuonwu was said to be a fearless fang, having queried the rationale behind extraneous influence in local government administration and finances. He did not believe council accounts should be touched by anybody outside the local government.

Okey Ezea’s desperation was so overwhelming that he resorted to using newspaper pages to fighting his battles, even battles that had been settled or could be seetled in open courts. Sentiments about coming from Nsukka zone, an area he alleged had been marginalized dominated his campaigns.

With millions of naira mobilized to prosecute his campaigns and political wars, he was said to have resisted moves made to him to drop the case. Ezea’s supporters even alleged that a former governor beat drums for him, and in fact surrendered his political machinery. All is now history.

Apparently, the sweetness and lure of office drove everybody to the Court of Appeal. It was even speculated that the Ebeano family under the firm leadership of former Governor Chimaraoke Nnamani held nocturnal meeting with the opposition to unseat the governor.

In fact, false and imaginary stories made the rounds. Storytellers and listeners savoured the tales, depending of course, on one’s interest in the whole exercise.

Each political camp had one good story or the other to dish out so as to be believed. Each also had some nasty stories about other rivals.

A certain talkative follower of a governorship aspirant was confronted several months after the election with the falsity of earlier information, which he dished out during the tension soaked moments. He snapped: “Nnaa! We were merely exercising our mouths for lack of what to do and what to eat  at that time.”

Stories, some real, some imaginary were still flying around. Die hard supporters of the former governor went about with the story that in fact, all documents relating to the governorship poll were in the possession of Chimaroke  Nnamani.

It was said Sullivan Chime tendered nothing at the tribunal and had nothing to tender at the Court of Appeal. Some people believed, some merely laughed while some disagreed. Level of education and versality with how the law works somehow determined where every group belonged.

The judgment by the election tribunal sparked off demonstration by the people, most of them visiting Government House Enugu more than once. Principal Officers of the government, especially the secretary to the government, SSG Mr. Martin Ilo and the special Adviser (Media), Mr.Vin- Martin Ilo relegated other state duties and faced the challenges of receiving hordes of residents, associations, unions, corporate bodies and individuals who trooped to the Lion Building, and Old Government Lodge on daily basis to pray God to substitute the judgment of the tribunal with the endorsement of Chime as Governor.

God, as people expected, using the Court of Appeal declared the tribunal verdict Null and Void. The solidarity Rally during which a mammoth crowd of Enugu people expressed their resentment about the court cases in the state amplified Chime’s belief that should there be a rerun, he was sure to brace the tape first before other contenders.

Political analysts believed and still believe that two major factors attracted public support for him. They included alleged disagreement with Nnamani over his style and Sulivan’s Early Rise to work.

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      Chimaroke Nnamani

The first was that Sullivan Chime both in speech and action tried to dissociate or rather distance himself and the new government from the style of the erstwhile administration led by Chimaroke Nnamani. Even though majority of the people who constituted his cabinet were inherited from that government, Chime charted a course totally different from that of his former boss. He saw himself as an indigene of Enugu state, a stakeholder who reserved the right to call the bluff of those who felt he should remain subservient to their idiosyncrasies.

In fact, Enugu people who dismissed the new governor as another lackey and robot in government House were mistaken by Sullivan Chime’s deft moves, self- assertion and courage to shun any allegiance. For this reason they trusted him as one who could successfully lead them to battle. The Ebeano sympathizers described him as a small Iga masquerade that would soon run out of steam and be chased back to its hut by the Ijele supremo. They boasted of their connections and contacts in high places to retire him prematurely.

In response, those on Chime’s side agreed that Nwa Nza does not dance in the middle of the road without a mighty fellow beating the drum in the nearby bush. For them, God Almighty beat drums for him. Throughout the period of the litigations at the Court of Appeal, and especially the judgment day, parties to the dispute were optimistic. There were series of publications in the national and local dallies where the opposition tried to educate the appellate jurists, albeit outside the courtroom on the electoral flaws which according to them the electoral body ignored and went ahead to declare Sullivan Chime the governor.

Again it was a diligent prosecution, albeit on newspaper pages, after all the parties had concluded submissions at the court of Appeal chambers. Even laymen know that sentiments canvassed on newspaper paid adverts, not tendered, cannot be reckoned legally and therefore remain what they are: ineffectual.

However, some political watchers argued that the best Chime could get from the Court of Appeal was a fresh poll. Supporters contended that fresh ballot would enable the electorate pour out in large number to clearly endorse him. The opposition groups prayed for his disqualification. The governor’s growing popularity was a source of great worry to those who plotted his fall.

It came to pass that on the judgment day, the ambitions and dreams of the political opponents of Sullivan Chime came crashing like pack of cards. The Court of Appeal held that the respondents failed to prove allegation of non- compliance with the electoral act in the election. Those who prayed for disqualification or fresh poll were disappointed by God who crowns His kings.

Those said to have to been lured to beat drums in jubilation had to quietly pack their music instruments. They sneaked out of view and vamoosed to where they came from.

Sullivan Chime, true to prediction maintained low profile, concentrating on his four- point programme. To him there was no time for celebration. The people accepted compliance to his choice of zero celebration after the Court of Appeal verdict.

(This article was first published in a book: Enugu – The Turning Point)

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