Two months after staying away from office as a result of the injury he sustained in a plane crash, the plot to remove Gov. Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State, thickened yesterday. The governor was the pilot of the plane that crashlanded near Yola, the state’s capital, on October 25, 2012. He was rushed to a German hospital immediately. Suntai’s aides who were wounded in the crash and flown to Germany, had since returned to the country.
However, political leaders in the state are reportedly under pressure to prepare grounds to declare Suntai “incapacitated” following fears that he may not recover well enough to function as governor. Since October 25 when the governor survived the plane crash, speculations had been rife over his state of health. Suntai’s silence since his hospitalisation in a German hospital has fuelled the speculations. One governor, who recently visited Suntai in hospital told Daily Sun that the Taraba governor might be brain dead.
“He couldn’t recognize us. He just stared as if in a trance. Sometimes he smiled. But he didn’t speak to us and apparently oblivious of our visit,” the source told Daily Sun. But in a swift reaction, the state Commissioner for Information Mr. Emmanuel Bello faulted the claim, dismissing it as “grossly mischievous.” According to Bello, Suntai spoke with some members of the State Executive Council (SEC) on Christmas Day from his sick bed. He stated that the governor’s recovery was “impressive.” Bello told Daily Sun that Suntai’s personal physician called from Germany to break the “good news” that the governor would return “early in the year.” He, however, declined to give any date. “You know there are a lot of people seeking to make political gains from this incident. First, they speculated he died. The story has now changed to his being brain dead.
I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. Governor Suntai is not only responding to treatment, but would soon return to work,” Bello said. On why Suntai has not made a televised speech from his sick bed to douse the speculations, Bello said there was no need for such since, according to him, Governor Suntai would soon return to work. Meanwhile, Daily Sun gathered that top political figures were already piling pressure on the Acting Governor, Alhaji Garba Umar, to dissolve the SEC and appoint new members that would have the courage to declare Suntai medically unfit to remain as governor.
The incumbent SEC, of which Umar became a member recently, was appointed by Suntai. According to Section 189 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, “the governor or deputy governor of a state shall cease to hold office if (a) by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all members of the executive council of the state, it is declared that the governor or deputy governor is incapable of discharging the functions of his office.”
Some political leaders in and outside Taraba are worried that should Suntai’s health condition worsens, he may remain governor from his sick bed in Germany, and Umar, acting governor till May 2015 when their joint tenure will expire. Umar’s associates though believed to be longing for their friend to be sworn in as substantive governor, are calling for caution so as not to rock the delicate political and religious equation of the state. Until his nomination, Umar reportedly was the Secretary-General of Izalla, an influential Islamic group. His associates are reportedly uncomfortable with the way Suntai’s aides have effectively shut out their friend from the running of the state.
“You know Umar hadn’t even earned his first month’s salary as deputy governor when the governor had that plane crash. Apparently because he is new to the system, and had never been in government, some top officials have been playing hide-and-seek game, tossing him up and down”, lamented an associate of the acting governor. However, the Information Commissioner faulted this claim, saying, outsiders may have misconstrued the “synergy” among members of the state council as undermining the acting governor.
“We all know that His Excellency, Alhaji Garba Umar, had been given the powers to act as governor, and he had been discharging those functions. I guess people are jealous of the level of support we give him, reason for all these gossips”, said Bello. Reacting, prominent lawyers including Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), Mahmud Yahaya Magaji (SAN) and Godwin Obla, described Taraba as a test case for the recently-amended Section 190 of the 1999 Constitution. Had the section not been amended, said Falana, the people of Taraba State would have been at the mercy of Governor Suntai.
“When the governor failed to inform the Speaker of his absence at the end of 21 days, the Assembly promptly complied with the Constitution by making the deputy, acting governor,” noted Falana. Yahaya and Obla, however, cautioned on the dangers of allowing an acting governor to function indefinitely. The Constitution did not envisage such a situation where one person would be the acting governor and deputy governor wrapped as one, they cautioned.