After spending 10 months away from home receiving treatment to restore his health, Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State returned from the United States of America on Sunday still looking weak and unable to speak audibly.
He had first been flown to Germany before being transferred to the U.S. following injuries he sustained in a helicopter crash on October 25, 2012.
The Governor personally flew the ill-fated aircraft on the day of the crash.
When the plane that brought him touched down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on Sunday, Suntai was supported out of the aircraft, as he could not raise his legs properly.
The Governor was also prevented from speaking to reporters. Only photographers were allowed to take pictures.
He arrived Abuja airport at 12.45 p.m. in a private jet with registration number N388CA.
He was received at the airport by many prominent Nigerians, including former Information Minister, Jerry Gana, former Minister of Sports, Damishi Sango, Minister of State for Niger Delta, Dairus Isiaku. Taraba State Acting Governor, Garba Umar, was said to be in Jalingo, the state capital, together with other top government officials waiting to receive him.
Speaking briefly to journalists, Gana said: “As you can see, he (Suntai) is back, he is weak due to long hours of sitting in the aircraft.” “After such a long flight, he is fine and we thank God he has arrived safely.
We are delighted. Governance doesn’t mean he will be running around. It is thinking. There are those who are governing even on wheel chairs,” Gana added.
Also, responding to questions from newsmen, a close associate of the Governor who was a one-time Presidential candidate of the National Transformation Party (NTP), John Dara, said: “We are really excited to see the Governor. What is clear is that after a long haul from America, he was obviously weak and tired.
“But we were all thrilled by the fact that he recognised each and every one of us by name which shows he is mentally alert, he is lucid and that itself is a clear indication that he is capable of running the affairs of Taraba State as Governor.
“We have no doubt in our minds that when the Governor gets back to Jalingo later in the day, it will be up to his doctor who is accompanying him to say whether he will resume office today or a couple of days from now. But he is clearly okay and able to function.”
On why the Governor was not allowed to speak to the press, Dara said: “Normally, speaking to the press can be spontaneous, it can be organised. We felt that when he has rested well, it will be easier for him to address the press and talk in a more logical way.”
On his part, a former board member of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Rima Shawulu, said: “Even though the Governor was supported to come down from the aircraft, from the way I see him, he is okay.”
On whether the Governor will assume duty on Monday, Shawulu said: “When he goes back to the state, there are constitutional provisions for you to take over or disengage. If he goes back today and transmits a letter to the House of Assembly through the Speaker that he has arrived, that is all, he takes over the function.
“I don’t see any reason why there should be any challenge. He appointed the Deputy Governor who is acting; the Deputy Governor is not in competition with him. I don’t know why the speculation is rife.
“Or has the Deputy Governor told anybody that he wants to take over as Governor? There are constitutional provisions for which when someone becomes too sick to perform his function, it is not for us to sit down and speculate.
“For example, just 20 minutes after the accident in October last year, some people were already reporting that he was dead. Some people were even reporting that his dead body was removed from the wreckage of the aircraft, then they said he could not talk.
“So I don’t know why we should be speculating whether he is going to be this or that. It is only what the doctors will say that will stand.
“The doctors’ report in this case is the report that will be followed, but when I met the Governor in hospital in Germany in February, he did not look like somebody that has lost his sense.
“We discussed with him, he told me things and asked me to do some things for him which I did. That was in February.
“Between February and now any person should have recovered more and not to degenerate further. Even those who are hostile to him, there is no report that said that he is degenerating,” Shawulu said.
It would be recalled that Suntai’s wife last week told newsmen that her husband was expected in the country on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Suntai landed at the Jalingo Airport later on Sunday at about 3.40 p.m.
He was conveyed in a chartered white airplane marked 5N-12Y.
Before then, two planes (also white-coloured) marked N224BA and 5NBMR had landed at the airport at 2.58 p.m. and 3.37 p.m. respectively.
Security was very tight, and as the plane landed, his wife first entered into the aircraft followed by the Deputy Governor, Umar.
Suntai then alighted from the plane –assisted by his wife into a red Range Rover –Sports HSC.
The car had no registration number.
Suntai waved at the people briefly. His body looked healthy but still weak and tired.
He was clad in a navy black suit with a blue stripe shirt, without a tie.
Like in Abuja, he did not speak to either the crowd or journalists.
But reporters were allowed to cover him even at close range amid the tight security.
His natural fair skin complexion was radiant –unlike when he was pictured some months ago in the German hospital. The Governor was conveyed in the red Range Rover straight to the Government House, Jalingo.
In the vehicle, he sat with his wife.
The glasses of the car were wound down and he waved –with his hand inside the vehicle – at the crowd along the road.
People who saw him shouted, ya dawo (he has come).
Others said shi ne (he is the one).