New Deputy Governor Alh. Garba Umar with Governor Suntai
Wole Ayodele, The Taraba State House of Assembly, penultimate Wednesday, mandated the deputy governor, Alhaji Garba Umar, to act as governor of the state pending the return of the governor, Danbaba Danfulani Suntai, in line with the provisions of section 190 (2) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
Sub-section 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.”
Suntai has been away from the state since October 25 after a plane he was piloting crashed in Yola few minutes before landing. After being treated at the Federal Medical Centre, Yola, and National Hospital, Abuja, he was flown to Germany two days later for further medical treatment.
Bickering for Acting Governor
Since his absence, there had been clamour from several quarters that his deputy be declared acting governor of the state. But the House of Assembly and the deputy governor had dismissed such calls on the grounds that Suntai was not incapacitated and was responding positively to treatment and as such, remains the governor of the state.
Taking a swipe at those making the calls, Chairman, House Committee on Information, Hon. Ishaya Gani, had insisted that Suntai would remain the governor of the state until his physicians confirmed that he was no longer physically and mentally fit to continue in office.
“Medical doctors of the governor have to confirm that he’s 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 to function in that office,” he had declared. “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.”
In the same vein, Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. Abel Peter Diah, had said the situation on ground did not warrant the swearing-in of the deputy governor as acting governor.
According to Diah, “The situation on ground does not warrant the deputy governor to be sworn-in as acting governor. There’s a condition to be fulfilled but we’ve not gotten to that stage. The present situation in the state is totally different from the situation that necessitated the swearing-in of Goodluck Jonathan as acting president.”
And in tandem with the position of the House, Alhaji Garba Umar, who was only sworn-in as deputy governor on October 5, barely three weeks earlier, following the impeachment of Alhaji Abubakar Sani Danladi on grounds of gross misconduct and abuse of office, said he would remain deputy governor since 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 National Hospital, Abuja. I remain the deputy governor of the state,” Umar declared.
Suntai Still Holds the Reins
Meanwhile, as the controversy raged, Suntai remained perfectly in control of the governance of the state and continued to call the shots even from his hospital bed in far away Germany – through his deputy who he gives directives on phone to run the affairs of the state.
Specifically, he was said to have directed his deputy to approve and release funds for the running cost and payment of salaries of staff of Taraba Publishing Company Limited, publishers of Nigeria Sunrise, the state-owned newspaper.
Suntai was billed to approve the release of the Sunrise fund the day after he was involved in the crash. To prevent the disappearance of the paper from the newsstands due to lack of funds, Secretary to State Government, Ambassador Njiwah, met with the deputy governor on the issue and Umar put a call through to his boss who directed him to release the fund.
Similarly, THISDAY gathered that the governor equally directed his deputy to approve and release funds for some other pending issues, including his attendance at the Council of State meeting as well as meetings with some ministries and parastatals.
But while Umar continued to steer the ship of the state in the absence of his boss, a group, Save Taraba Group, demanded to know the true state of health of Suntai and called on the state government to issue an official statement on the matter. The group said since he was being treated with tax payers’ money, the people of the state deserved to be properly informed about his status.
Addressing a press conference at the NUJ press centre in Jalingo, coordinator of STG, Razak Umar, said, “We have waited patiently and 17 days after the incident, nobody is saying anything. All we are hearing are lies and lies everyday. That is why we have decided that we’re tired of these lies and we are demanding an official statement from the state government.”
Similarly, a former special adviser to Suntai, Hon. Kabiru Dodo, called on the House of Assembly to mandate the deputy governor to act as governor in line with the constitution, saying if the House fails to do so by November 15, the people of the state would have no choice than to take up the matter in court.
But in a swift reaction and toeing the line of constitutionalism, the House on October 14, after its plenary sitting, invoked section 190 (2) and passed a resolution mandating the deputy governor to work as acting governor pending the return of Suntai.
Moving a motion under matters of urgent public importance, Majority Leader of the House, Hon. Charles Maijankai, stated that the need to comply with the provisions of section 190 of the 1999 Constitution had become necessary in view of the governor’s absence from the state for 21 days.
Maijankai’s motion was seconded by the only female member of the House, Hon. Rashida Abdullahi, and supported by 18 out of the 24 members of the House.
Speaking in the same vein, Diah said, “Taraba State House of Assembly is an institution saddled by the constitution of the country to make law, hence, there is the need to see us as a people who respect the law. The governor, as a complete gentleman and a respecter of law, always transmited power to his former deputy whenever he’s going on leave. Therefore, there shouldn’t be any controversy over this matter.”
Contributing to the debate, House Committee Chairman on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Hon. Mark Useni, said the resolution would go a long way to convince the people of the state and Nigerians in general that the Assembly believes in the rule of law and constitutionalism.
After the passage of the resolution, the Speaker, Istifanus Haruna Gbana, directed the Clerk of the House to immediately communicate the resolution of the House to the deputy governor so as to assume governorship of the state in acting capacity.
The Speaker expressed the readiness of the entire members of the House to give the acting governor all the needed support for him to succeed and discharge the responsibilities vested on him.
Addressing the people of the state in a state broadcast shortly after the resolution of the House, Umar said the mandate given to him was purely for the exercise of the powers in the constitution and the strengthening of the democratic process, adding that he would continue from where the governor stopped.
“May I remind us that the mandate given to me by the state Assembly today as acting governor is purely for the exercise of the powers of the constitution of Nigeria and the democratic process. I specially acknowledge the high sense of legislative duty exhibited by members of the House of Assembly. Our security operatives deserve to be commended for maintaining peace and security. The media has also played no less an important role,” he stated.
Barely a week after he assumed office as acting governor, Umar’s capacity to govern the state, particularly, in the midst of crisis, was put to test by the violence that erupted at Ibi between Muslims and Christians, which led to the death of about 10 persons.
In a swift reaction aimed at preventing further escalation of the crisis, Umar ordered a dusk to dawn curfew in the town on the day the violence broke out. The curfew was later extended to 24 hours following an escalation of the violence. Soldiers from the 93 Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Takum and anti-riot policemen were drafted to the town to maintain peace. This helped to return normalcy to the town.
Meanwhile, as the people of the state continue to pray for Suntai’s speedy recovery and anticipate his return to the state, observers say Umar has continued to steer the ship of the state in a manner that has so far built confidence in the people of the state.