Governor Danbaba Suntai
By Chuks Okocha, Patrick Ugeh, Onwuka Nzeshi and Dele Ogbodo, Wole Ayodele and Aisha Wakaso
The Taraba State House of Assembly has said that Mr. Danbaba Suntai, who was injured in a plane crash in Yola last Thursday, remains the state governor, notwithstanding his condition.
The clarification came in the wake of the gathering campaign for Suntai’s deputy, Alhaji Garba Umar, to take over as the acting governor in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
Section 190 (1)(2) of the constitution, as amended, stipulates that the deputy governor should take over if the governor is on leave or is unable to discharge the function of his office.
Sub-section 1 reads: “Whenever the Governor is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, he shall transmit a written declaration to the Speaker of the House of Assembly to that effect, and until he transmits to the Speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration to the contrary, the Deputy Governor shall perform the functions of the Governor as Acting Governor.”
Subsection 2 reads: “In the event that the Governor is unable or fails to transmit the written declaration mentioned in sub-section (1) of this section within 21 days, the House of Assembly shall, by a resolution made by a simple majority of the vote of the House, mandate the Deputy Governor to perform the functions of the office of the Governor as Acting Governor, until the Governor transmits a letter to the Speaker that he is now available to resume his functions as Governor.”
However, the House Sunday faulted the campaign for Umar to assume the duties of acting governor, saying until physicians confirm that Suntai was no longer physically and mentally fit to continue in office, he (Umar) should continue to function as the deputy governor.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also dismissed claims that Umar should take over in an acting capacity because the governor, who was flown to Germany on Saturday for further medical treatment, is incapacitated.
In addition, three of the governor’s aides who were with him when the plane crashed have been brought from the Specialist Hospital, Yola, where they were receiving treatment to the National Hospital, Abuja for proper care.
Northern governors, however, have called for continued prayer for their colleague for speedy recovery.
Chairman, Taraba House of Assembly Committee on Information, Hon. Ishaya Gani, told THISDAY that Suntai would remain the governor and Garba his deputy until a medical report from his physicians indicated that the governor was no longer mentally and physically fit to function as governor.
“Medical doctors of the governor have to confirm that he is not fit to continue in that office before an acting governor would be sworn in. I doubt if it is possible to swear in the deputy governor at this stage because there is no report that the governor is no longer capable of functioning in that office.
“The governor is still alive and from reports, he is still physically and mentally fit to act and function as governor. Therefore, there’s no basis at this stage to swear in an acting governor,” he added.
Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. Abel Peter Diah, also said the current situation does not warrant the swearing-in of the deputy governor, as acting governor as there was a condition to be fulfilled before that could happen.
According to him, “The situation does not warrant the deputy governor being sworn in as acting governor. There’s a condition to be fulfilled but we’ve not gotten to that stage yet.
“The present situation in the state is totally different from the situation that necessitated the swearing-in of Goodluck Jonathan as acting president.”
On his part, Umar, who was sworn in on October 5 as deputy governor, following the impeachment of his predecessor, Alhaji Sani Abubakar, appears not to be enthusiastic about filling the vacuum.
He said on Saturday that it would be wrong for him to be sworn in as acting governor when his boss was only sick and not dead.
“I was sworn in as deputy governor of the state. The governor is only sick and not dead. He is in a stable condition as confirmed by Mr. President and the Chief Medical Director of the National Hospital, Abuja. I remain the deputy governor of the state,” he said.
The deputy governor also debunked a report that he was chased out of the Government House by thugs who were trying to prevent him from taking over the reins of power.
Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, representing Taraba South, also said the matter would be sorted out between the executive and legislative arms of government in the state in the best interest of the state.
The PDP’s reaction to the calls for Umar to be made the acting governor also tallied with that of the State House of Assembly.
The party said Suntai should not be declared incapacitated, as he was in a stable condition, but only injured.
It held the view that Umar should continue in the discharge of his constitutional duties, at least for now.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, who was responding to a question by THISDAY on how appropriate it would for the deputy governor to take over the duties of the governor because of the injuries Suntai sustained in the plane crash, said the situation does not call for that yet.
“The governor is injured and not incapacitated. Before he was flown out of the country, he was in a stable condition. It is to be assumed that the governor is on leave,” he said.
Referring to the interpretation of Section 190 of the constitution, Metuh, a lawyer, said: “There is no death here; no resignation or a question of permanent incapacity.
“The governor was merely involved in an accident and he is receiving treatment; he is stable and therefore there is no question of long absence due to sickness as the case may be.
“Therefore the deputy governor should continue with his duties as deputy governor. This just happened three days ago and therefore the deputy governor should continue with his duties as there is no vacuum.”
However, THISDAY checks revealed that political intrigues are at play in the state to prevent Umar from acting as governor.
A powerful clique in the state, it was learnt, is plotting to ensure that Umar does not temporarily step into his boss’s shoes.
The clique is said to comprise some top officials and close aides of the Suntai administration, who were said to have perfected plans to frustrate Umar, whom they perceive as a stranger in their midst.
The clique was alleged to have been behind the mob action that chased away the deputy governor out of his official lodge shortly after Suntai was hospitalised.
The State Security Service (SSS) has been ordered to probe the incident. It has also been ordered to probe the allegation that the Secretary to the State Government, Ambassador Emmanuel Njiwah, is being positioned to step into the shoes of the governor.
Meanwhile, Senator Abubakar Tuturi, representing Taraba Central Senatorial District, has debunked allegations linking him and his other colleagues in the Senate to the plot to sideline Umar.
In an interview with THISDAY yesterday, Tuturi said there was no cause for alarm as the entire state was praying and expecting Suntai to get well and return to Nigeria soon.
But as the intrigues in Taraba politics unfold, three of the aides of the governor who were in the plane that crashed were moved from Yola to Abuja Sunday for further medical treatment.
They were the governor's Aide de Camp (ADC), Dasat Illiya, who had reportedly been lying unconscious with a fractured leg at the Specialist Hospital in Yola, the Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the governor, Timo Dangana, who sources said had two fractures on both legs and the Chief Detail to the Governor, Joel Dan, who had a fractured arm.
THISDAY learnt that family members and colleagues were said to have been concerned over the three officers and felt that they required more attention from the government than they were getting.
But it was not clear at press time whether they would also be taken abroad for further treatment or shall remain at the National Hospital.
The patients were conveyed in two National Hospital ambulances in a long convoy of vehicles occupied mostly by security officials from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on their arrival.
National Hospital spokesperson, Tayo Haastrup, confirmed their admission. However, the degrees of the injuries sustained by the governor's aides could not be ascertained.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Northern State Governors’ Forum and Governor of Niger State, Dr. Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, Sunday called for prayers for Suntai to enable him to fulfil his vision of a great Taraba State.
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Danladi Ndayebo, the governor said Suntai deserved prayers because he had shown tremendous goodwill and a fatherly disposition towards the people and government of Taraba State.