Taraba State may be plunged into a needless succession crisis following the inability of the deputy to assume office as acting governor. But Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo says the present situation of Governor Suntai is that he is unable to constitutionally discharge the functions of his office as a result of the injuries he sustained in the crash. Below is an excerpt of an interview with Shaka Momodu
What is your take on the situation in taraba state now that the governor is clearly incapacitated due to injuries he sustained in a plane crash last week?
You see, our politicians are extremely incorrigible. They turn normal situations to abnormal ones. The situation in Taraba State should not even attract all these controversies. It is as clear as daylight. We just lost a whole President in Ghana and the transition was without any hitch. So, what is wrong with us as a people?
My take is that the Deputy Governor should act in the stead of the Governor as the Acting Governor pursuant to section 190 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). The 1999 Constitution (as amended) does not envisage any vacuum in governance that is why it clearly mandates the governor to transmit a written declaration to the Speaker of the House of the Assembly whenever he, the governor, is proceeding on a vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office.
The present situation of the governor is that he is unable to constitutionally discharge the functions of his office as a result of the injuries. The deputy governor must now act as the Acting Governor until the governor transmits to the Speaker of the House of the Assembly anything to the contrary. In order words, it is the governor himself that should inform the Speaker of the House of Assembly that he is now capable of discharging his functions as governor any time he returns.
This section of the Constitution envisages a situation where the Governor may be unable or fails to transmit such declaration just as the present situation in Taraba State where the Governor is undoubtedly unable to transmit such written declaration. Therefore, sub-section 2 of section 190 stipulates a time frame of twenty one days within which the Governor is to transmit such written declaration to the Speaker. Should the Governor fail to do so within twenty one days, the House of Assembly shall, by a resolution made by a simple majority of the vote of the House, mandate the Deputy Governor as Acting Governor, until the Governor transmits a letter to the Speaker that he is now available to resume his functions as Governor. So why all these fuse now?
The House of Assembly has stated clearly that the injured governor remains in office because no physician or medical personnel has stated that the governor is not in position to discharge his duties of his office?
They are getting it all wrong. Section 189 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) talks about permanent incapacity of the Governor. We have not come to that yet. We pray for the Governor’s full recovery. What we are saying is a situation of temporary absence which is covered by section 190 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). That is when the Deputy Governor should act as Governor. We shall come to the situation of a medical panel very much later after we wait for many weeks or months and the Governor fails to reappear.
But for now, for Christ’s sake, let there be no vacuum. Let the Deputy Governor act. This is a purely constitutional matter; I therefore call on the House of Assembly, Taraba State not to play politics with it, so that what transpired in the case of late Yar’adua will not repeat itself.
Is this not a repeat of the Yar’Adua scenario, when for months the president could not discharge the duties of his office and a cabal held the nation hostage governing in his name?
The scenario in the Yar’adua regime is playing out now in Taraba State. It is absolutely a repetition of what happened in the immediate past regime. The reasons are not far-fetched; this is because the members of the cabal who allegedly forged the then president’s signature were not punished by the relevant law-enforcement agencies. If they had been punished, it would have served as a deterrent. The House of Assembly, Taraba State and indeed other legislative houses in Nigeria should see themselves as serving the people first and not the Governors. The powers they wield belong to the people and not the Governor. It is rather unfortunate that we play politics on matters that are purely constitutional in this country.
The amended section of the Constitution clearly addressed the issue of succession, and states that in the event that the governor fails to transmit a letter stating his inability or temporal inability to function within 21 days, the House can by simple resolution appoint the Deputy Governor as Acting Governor pending when the Governor transmits a letter that he is now able to function or discharge the functions of that office.
Absolutely! I adopt my arguments in the first question above.
Clearly intrigues and power play are at work and governor’s aides are likely going to be functioning in the name of the governor and taking decisions on state matters in his name, where does this leave the Deputy Governor in the scheme of things, does this not leave a power vacuum for all manners of permutations to play out?
No doubt, it leaves a power vacuum and all manners of permutations will begin to emerge like in the case of Yar’Adua. The Constitution does not envisage any power vacuum. Government can be likened to the human heart that beats continuously and should not stop beating at any point. I once more call on the House of Assembly, Taraba State to uphold the spirit and letters of the Constitution to which they have all sworn to abide. It is not about Governor Danbaba Suntai, it is about the good people of Taraba State.
I call on all well-meaning Nigerians to condemn in strongest terms any attempt to deny the Deputy Governor of the right to act as Governor pending when we clearly know the condition of Governor Danbaba Suntai.