There is some kind of samba show playing out in Suntai country, Taraba State of Nigeria. The Governor of that State by the lyrical name of Danbaba Suntai who had been the Baba of that State until October 25 last year when he had a plane crash and had to be flown abroad for treatment has just returned. His return has brought out the partisan political animals in our politicians.
Let’s roll back the tape a bit. Suntai who is said to have acquired a pilot’s license a few years ago and considers himself a flying aficionado decided foolishly even with weighty matters of state on his mind to fly the plane instead of allowing an experienced professional pilot to do the job. The plane crashed somewhere in Adamawa State. Mother Luck smiled on him. He was alive and had to be rushed to a Nigerian hospital. After a few days, he was flown to Germany and United States of America for treatment and rehabilitation. While he was away, his deputy, Alhaji Garba Umar, was sworn in as Acting Governor of the State. He has been holding sway in the State for the past 10 months. During this period, there was a lot of political discussion on what should happen to Suntai and Taraba State. Should the man be removed from office so that Taraba can move with the full speed that only a substantive governor can muster? Or should the State continue to be on standby mode while awaiting the uncertain return of the Main Man? Apparently based on the fact that the Governor and his wife may have thought that the job was gradually slipping away or they were simply homesick or they wanted to take in once more the sweet aroma of power, the Governor returned home a few weeks ago. Since then the dam has broken.
I saw the picture of his arrival on television. One aide was supporting him as he descended the aircraft’s gangway. Another aide was on the ground waiting to hold him in case he slips. He wore a jacket and a shirt but no tie. He didn’t smile. Apparently he tried to smile but couldn’t. He didn’t wave, he simply held his hand out in the manner of someone who wanted to wave to the huge crowd in grateful appreciation but couldn’t. I was sorry for him. The lure of office seemed stronger than the love of self.
Since his arrival things have happened in quick succession. He transmitted a letter to the Speaker of the State House of Assembly indicating that he was AVAILABLE to resume work. This is the prescription in the constitution. The Speaker said he should come and address the State House of Assembly apparently to ascertain the state of his health. This is not a prescription in the constitution. Apparently to meet the Speaker halfway and assuage the feelings of people who think like him, the Governor spoke on television to the people of the State, thanking them for their patience, prayers and support. He sacked the Secretary to the State Government and the Chief of Staff either for perceived disloyalty or to demonstrate that he was strong enough to take tough decisions or both. His deputy was unimpressed and carried on without looking in his direction. So technically Taraba had two governors, one de jure and the other de facto.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which is under intense harassment already by its own high profile rebels, had to sink its teeth into the Taraba problem. It appointed Senator Hope Uzodima, chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation, to chair a committee that is to douse the Taraba fire. The Committee met and decided that the Acting Governor should continue to act while Suntai should stay in the Governor’s lodge and nurse his wounds. The Acting Governor would however, consult Suntai on important matters of State. This solution is the best compromise solution but it is only a half solution because professional religious bigots are at work.
Mr Suntai, the governor, is a Christian. His deputy, now the acting governor, Garba Umar, is a Moslem in a state that has a dominant Christian population. The fear among the Christian population is that allowing Alhaji Umar to continue as Acting Governor means that (a) a Moslem is running their Christian dominated state (b) That Alhaji Umar can become the substantive governor if Mr Suntai is not well enough to govern (c) that since Suntai’s second term will end on May 29, 2015 Alhaji Umar may push hard to become the next governor by election. That would mean that by some fortuitous circumstance two states in the north (Kaduna and Taraba) that were headed by Christians have fallen into the hands of Moslem rulers. That is the sentiment in Kaduna and Taraba which shows you how high we have placed religion in matters of state in our so-called secular country. In fact, that is the crux of the problem in Taraba right now.
In trying to resolve the Taraba situation we can seek help from the 1990 constitution where in section 191 it provides five conditions when a deputy governor can become the governor. They are death, resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or removal from office for any other reason in accordance with section 188 or 189 of the constitution. Section 189 states that the governor or deputy governor of a state shall cease to hold office if by a resolution passed by 2/3 majority of all members of the executive council of the state it is declared that the governor or deputy governor is incapable of discharging the functions of his office. The position of infirmity has to be verified by a five-person medical panel including the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned. The panel is to be appointed by the Speaker of the state House of Assembly.
The speaker cannot set up the medical panel except the executive council does its job. But it is doubtful if the executive council is ready and willing to do the job considering all the cards on the Taraba table. But looking at Suntai with the naked eye no one can say whether he is suffering from infirmity of body or of mind that can render him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office.
We only know that he doesn’t seem well. Anyone who is well can smile when he wants to smile. Anyone who is well can wave when he wants to wave. Suntai doesn’t seem able to perform these simple functions associated with courtesy and good manners. But these do not confirm infirmity of mind or of body.
To keep things quiet the present ad hoc arrangement can survive while we watch whether Suntai will be ready to play squash soon or keep his passion alive by flying a plane.