State Governor, Mr. Danbaba Suntai
There are strong indications that Taraba State Governor, Mr. Danbaba Suntai, who is presently recuperating in a German hospital after surviving a plane crash may return to the country before the end of the week.
This is coming as the state House of Assembly assured the people of the state that the Assembly would abide by the provisions of the constitution and take a decision on his deputy, Alhaji Garba Umar, as acting governor of the state tomorrow.
Suntai was flown to Germany on October 27 for medical treatment two days after the Cessna plane he was piloting from Jalingo to Yola crashed few kilometres before landing.
By tomorrow, it would be 21 days since he was flown abroad.
Though there are reports that he is responding positively to treatment, his absence from the state has continued to raise dust from different quarters as there are fears that his absence has created power vacuum in the state.
Though his deputy, who was sworn in as deputy governor barely three weeks before Suntai was flown abroad has been piloting the affairs of the state since then, there have been calls for his declaration as acting governor in line with the provisions of Section 190 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Section 190, sub-section 2 of the statute book read: “In the event that the Governor is unable or fails to transmit the written declaration mention 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.”
In the wake of the calls for the application of section 190 (2), Umar dismissed such calls, saying he remains the deputy governor of the state notwithstanding the condition of his boss just as he insisted that there is no basis for such.
In the same vein, the state House of Assembly dismissed such calls which it described as premature, saying it would not be stampeded to make such move just as it reiterated that Suntai remains governor of the state.
Taking a swipe at those calling for Umar to assume duties as acting governor, the Chairman, House Committee on Information, Hon. Ishaya Gani, told THISDAY: “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.”
Continuing, Gani noted: “Here, 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.”
Also speaking, the Deputy Speaker of the Assembly, Hon. Abel Peter Diah, said the situation on ground does not warrant the swearing-in of the deputy governor as acting governor, saying there is a condition to be fulfilled before that can happen.
But as the drama continues to unfold, Suntai remains firmly in control in the state even on his sick bed as he has continued to direct his deputy to take critical decisions bordering on the governance in the state.
Meanwhile, three days to the expiration of the 21 days stipulated by the constitution for the declaration of the deputy governor as acting governor, a group has given the state government 24 hours to issue an official statement on the health status of the governor.
The group, Save Taraba Group (STG), threatened to march to the American Embassy in Abuja to compel the state government to do so.
It noted that keeping the health condition of Suntai secret when he is being treated with tax payers’ money could lead to anarchy in the state, saying the government has been involved in serious cover up of the governor’s condition.
Speaking at a press conference held at the NUJ Press Centre in Jalingo, Coordinator of the group, Razak Umar, declared: “We have waited patiently and 17 days after the incident (and) nobody is saying anything. All we are hearing are lies and lies and lies everyday. That is why we have decided that we are tired of these lies and we are demanding an official statement from the government.”
But debunking the claims of the group, the state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Emmanuel Bello, insisted that the state government was not hiding anything, saying: “We have kept the whole world abreast of the progress of the governor’s health. If the group says we are not telling the truth, then they should tell us the lies they are accusing us of.”
However, a former Special Adviser to Suntai, Hon. Kabiru Dodo, has called on the state House of Assembly to mandate the deputy governor to become the acting governor tomorrow otherwise the people of the state would have no choice than to take the matter to court.
According to him, “Apparently, the Assembly should on Thursday mandate the deputy governor to become acting governor and if they fail to do that, the people of the state would have no choice than to take up the matter in a court of competent jurisdiction.”
Also reacting to Dodo’s statement, the information commissioner stated that the state would abide by the provisions of the constitution on the issue as he stressed that the Attorney General of the state and the Assembly would do the right thing at the appropriate time.
“Taraba State is one that abides by the rules. We are governed by the constitution. I have no doubts that even Governor Suntai would have respected the constitution in this situation. So no one is opposing the provision of the law to swear in an acting governor at the right time. But these things must be properly done. I am sure both the Attorney General of the state and the Assembly know exactly what to do at the appropriate time. No one is opposed to the constitution and this shouldn’t be a thorny matter,” he declared.
Meanwhile, the Assembly has expressed its readiness to invoke the provisions of section 190 sub-sections 2 at the expiration of the 21 days stipulated by the constitution.
Making the position of the Assembly known on the issue while speaking to THISDAY in a telephone interview, Gani said the Assembly was comprised of lawmakers and not lawbreakers and would abide by the provisions of the constitution on tomorrow.
“We are lawmakers and not lawbreakers. We would abide by the provisions of the constitutions. We’ll surely go with the constitution. Come Thursday, I can assure you that you’ll see what we’re going to do,” he revealed.
THISDAY investigations revealed that the governor may return to the country before the end of this week. Though there is no official confirmation to that effect, his aides and personal staff were being mobilised to go to Abuja as at the time of filling this report ostensibly in anticipation of his return.