The first time it came into public knowledge was in the dying days of last month. And it was the tale of an abused wife crying out for help. Nothing was heard again until prominent Lagos lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana joined the fray.
Falana’s position was based on a petition allegedly sent to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) by Clara.
Mrs. Chime, in the petition, said her husband locked her up in a room and denied her access to her four-year old son and visitors.
Falana, in the letter to the IG, said his client was being held against her will in the Government House on the order of the governor.
He said: “For some inexplicable reason, our client (Mrs. Chime) has been kept incommunicado in solitary confinement in one of the rooms in the Government House, Enugu, Enugu State for over four months on the directives of Governor Chime.”
He urged the police boss to intervene and ensure the release of Mrs. Chime or in the alternative, he would approach the Federal High Court to compel him to discharge his duty in the circumstance.
But, the matter may not be as straight as Falana thinks. It emerged late Tuesday night that Mrs Chime is confined on the order of her doctor as a result of a mental challenge she has been battling since 2011.
The governor and Mrs. Chime spoke to reporters Tuesday night at the Government Lodge, Enugu in the presence of Mrs. Chime’s elder brother, Mr. Tony Igwe, the governor’s siblings, Mrs. May Oji and Dr. Jide Chime as well as Mrs. Chime’s neuro-psychiatric doctor, Dr. Aham Agumuo. The Commissioner of Police and the Director of State Security (DSS) were also present.
Chime said it was quite painful for him to speak out publicly about his wife’s health challenges but insisted that he would do everything, no matter the personal pains, to protect her from ridicule.
He said: “My wife has some medical challenges and it would be very unkind of me to talk about her condition on the pages of newspapers. I’ve done everything to protect her integrity and I’m not now going to expose her to ridicule because some people want to exploit her situation to drag me into a needless war of words.
“We’ve been battling this (Clara’s health challenges) prior to my inauguration in 2011. It was so bad at a time that she had to be taken out of here (Governor’s Lodge) for treatment. When she stabilised, I pleaded with her doctors if she could be brought back here to be receiving her treatment at home and they graciously accepted.
“There was a time she was confined indoors and that was strictly on her doctors’ advice. She’s here and she can confirm or deny it. Also, the doctors then advised against allowing her access to telephones and laptop.”
The governor, at this point, paused, sighed and continued: “I cannot say or do anything to undermine her dignity. She is, first and foremost, my wife. The big blunder I committed was allowing her access to the telephone and her laptop, against the advice of her doctor. I’m paying dearly for that today, going by what is happening now.
“Her brother is here, her doctor is here with us too. You people (journalists) can confirm anything you want from them, either here and at your convenience. Would I have been a better husband if I asked her to leave the Lodge because of her medical challenge? Would it not have been more convenient for me if I allowed her to stay and be treated in the hospital?
“But like I said earlier, I wanted the best for her and that’s why I pleaded with the doctors to have her treated at home. That’s also why I allowed her access to her telephone and laptop, which unfortunately, led to the stage where I’m now being falsely accused of imprisoning or detaining my own wife.”
Mrs. Chime initially did not speak, despite persuasions from her husband and brother, who later took her to an adjacent room where they spent a few minutes before returning to join the others.
Eventually, Mrs. Chime said: “You (referring to the governor) and my doctor can speak on my behalf.”
The governor replied: “Yes; I’m your husband and should ordinarily do so but you know I’m the one being accused of detaining you. This way, I’ve lost that privilege to speak for you, at least on this case. The story out there also is that your doctor is probably scared of me and gives you all kinds of drugs, sometimes against your wish.”
To this, she said: “My doctor and I don’t have any problem.”
On the petition to the National Human Rights Commission, Mrs. Chime said she had not met Falana or engaged him to seek her release from an alleged unlawful custody. She admitted that she wrote a letter to her doctor, Dr. Agumuo and another doctor overseas. She feigned ignorance of how the letter leaked to the public.
She admitted that she was once confined to a room without access to her telephone and laptop.
“That was when I had a serious crisis,”she said.
Mrs. Chime also confirmed that she has the key to her room and controls her entry and exit. Her grouse, she said, was that she had not been allowed to leave the premises, except for mass on Sunday.
Chime added: “All I want to reassure you is that she is safe here. Her confinement within the premises for now is at the instance of her doctor who is here. Why would I want my wife locked up? If it had been that I had issues with her, there are many ways to resolve them. But that’s not the case. She is not well and I’m willing to do anything to support and protect her.
“It was always more convenient for me to have taken the easier route but that would have been very callous and ungodly. When I had my own health challenge, I was receiving treatment in London and thinking about her, making sure she received the right treatment. I’m forever grateful to her doctors who have done a great job. Both families are billed to meet very soon and after that, I’ll take a decision which will be in the interest of both parties.”
On his reaction to the petition to the IGP by Falana, the governor said: “He’s my professional colleague but sometimes you leave people to their conscience. I won’t join words with him. Has he met this client of his as he claimed to assess her state of mind and determine if she can give him the right brief to guide his case? Did he ask for access to her or to me and was denied? I leave it at that.
“That’s the penalty you face as a public officer. When I was receiving treatment in London, some of the newspapers reported that I had died in India. I’ve never been to India and had never applied for an Indian visa. Today, the story is that I’ve imprisoned my own wife in my residence. I know their motives but I wish those behind such wicked tales well.”
Falana last night defended his engagement by Mrs Chime.
He said she requested for his service through someone he called simply Chief Owei.
The letter, according to Falana, reads:”Dear Chief Owei, I, Clara Chime (Mrs,) hereby instruct you to reach out to Femi Falana (SAN) of Falana N Falana Chambers, Ikeja, Lagos on my behalf for him to take all necessary legal steps to secure my freedom from Government House, Enugu State where am presently detained. Your speedy action will be appreciated.
“Sincerely yours, Clara.”