Despite the indisposition of Taraba State Governor, Mr. Danbaba Suntai, who was involved in a plane crash last Thursday, there seems to be a plot to prevent his deputy, Alhaji Garba Umar, from stepping into his shoes. With Suntai flown to Germany for medical treatment, analysts are wondering if a vacuum had not been created in the state, writes Omololu Ogunmade
The current situation in Taraba State brings to mind the constitutional crises that trailed the absence of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua when he was receiving medical treatment in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2009. The crisis, after months of tensed political atmosphere, was eventually resolved by the National Assembly a novel approach described as Doctrine of Necessity.
Thus, with the simmering development in Taraba State, unless conscious efforts are made to contain the situation, the vacuum in the hierarchy of the government in the state owing to Governor Danbaba Suntai’s indisposition, may herald a crisis in the state.
Yar’Adua had flown to Saudi Arabia on November 23, 2009 after he was diagnosed of pericarditis, an inflammation of the membrane covering the heart, without transiting a letter to the National Assembly which would have provided his then deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, to act as president as stipulated by the constitution.
The nation was left without a leader until February 9, 2009 when the National Assembly invoked the Doctrine of Necessity which empowered Jonathan who is now the nation’s president to act in Yar’Adua’s position.
Mindful of the crisis the development had engendered, the National Assembly did not end it there; it undertook a precautionary measure with a view to avoiding a repeat of the situation. By so doing, it further amended Section 190 of the 1999 Constitution, which stipulates that the president or governor must transmit a letter to the National Assembly before his deputy could act in his stead .
The amendment, however, empowers the deputy to act after 21 days in a situation where the president or governor fails to transmit a letter to the National Assembly or House of Assembly while leaving the country or being medically unfit to discharge the functions of his office.
Therefore, the current medical state of Suntai brings to the fore another situation of the exit of a governor without transmiting a letter to the House of Assembly, albeit owing to unforeseen event. Nevertheless, given the proactive move of the National Assembly to have promptly amended the constitution, it is expected that the needless uproar and tension that gripped the polity between 2009 and 2010 would be consciously averted.
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.”
In the same vein, Section 145 Sub-section two of the constitution as amended stipulates that the Vice-President becomes acting president if the President is not available for 21 days.
Given this trend, if Suntai is not back in office after 21 days, Umar would automatically become the acting governor.
This is, however, in contradiction with the position of the state House of Assembly which has predicated its resolve to embrace such a decision on medical reports from Suntai’s doctors.
The House which faulted the campaign for Umar to assume the duties of acting governor, said 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.
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.
“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.”
Even Umar who was sworn in on October 5 as deputy governor, following the impeachment of his predecessor, Alhaji Sani Abubakar, appears indifferent. He said 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.
Similarly, leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has 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.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh 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.
Already, there are reports that Jonathan might have met with Umar, Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Istifanus Gbana and PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, to possibly evolve ways of averting the imminent crisis in the state.
How the situation will be resolved remains an issue to watch out for just as many had hoped to see if political solution can be sustained without necessarily invoking constitutional powers to address the issue.
That aside, the crash of Cessna 208, 5N-BMJ aircraft about 38 miles to landing in Yola, the Adamawa State capital, piloted by Suntai, has raised a number of issues one of which is of what essence is the owning of a fleet of aircraft to the development of Taraba, one of the least developed states in Nigeria?
Many are still wondering how a sitting governor could combine the arduous task of governance with attending aviation school to train as a pilot
Suntai obtained a pilot’s licence from the Nigerian College of Aviation in Zaria in 2010 and had until the crash, engaged in a number of solo flights. Suntai’s somewhat incurable love for flying was said to have driven him to set up Taraba Airline after purchasing an Embraer ERJ-145 jet.
There is also the question on why other victims of the crash have not been flow abroad, like the governor, for further treatment. Many are not buying the argument of the state government that the case is not as serious as that of the governor.
Suntai had flown the crashed plane from Jalingo, the Taraba State capital, to Yola on that fateful day but lost contact with Yola air control around 5:20 pm shortly before the plane crash. The news of the crash has raised concerns amongst Suntai’s Northern colleagues and other Nigerians.
Report said the rescue team did not get to the governor until around 8 pm, more than two and half hours after the crash which reportedly occurred on a hill at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) depot near Yola International Airport in Adamawa State.
Suntai along with his aides were, however, rushed to Adamawa Standard German Hospital where he was visited by the Governor of Adamawa State, Murtala Nyako. He was later rushed to the National Hospital, Abuja, where he was visited by the president on Friday and who also said his health condition was stable.
Suntai has been described as a controversial politician who allegedly masterminded the impeachment of his former deputy, Abubakar, on October 4, 2012 by Taraba State House of Assembly following adoption of the recommendation of the seven-member Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by Justice Josephine Tuktur, the Acting Chief Judge of the state.
But for ill-fate which saw Abubakar out of office, barely 21 days before the crash, he would have been warming up to take charge of the state’s affairs in the absence of Suntai. Ironically, it is now the lot of Garba who just came in as the deputy governor. But the PDP leadership and indeed, the generality of the Nigerian people have since the incident been praying for Suntai’s quick recovery even though his predicament is rather self-inflicted.