(1) Taraba State Governor Danbaba Suntai being assisted out of an aircraft by his aides at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja … on Sunday; (2) An SUV that conveyed him to the VIP lounge of the airport; (3) Security personnel and aides welcoming him at the Jalingo airport.
There was confusion in Taraba State on Wednesday as the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mr. Haruna Tsokwa and the Majority Leader, Mr. Joseph Albasu, disagreed on who ran the affairs of the state as governor.
While Tsokwa said the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Alhaji Garba Umar, would continue to act as governor until the Assembly deliberated on the letter by the recuperating Governor Danbaba Suntai seeking to resume duty, Albasu claimed that Suntai had already taken charge as the state’s Chief Executive.
The Majority Leader told journalists at the assembly complex in Jalingo that the lawmakers gave the governor the nod to begin work since he had fulfilled the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
Albasu, who said he was speaking for all the lawmakers, added that the governor was mentally fit to carry out his duties.
He argued that the constitution did not make it mandatory for a governor to appear before the assembly on the matter in question.
The Majority Leader, also stated that it was against the spirit of the constitution for the assembly to debate the letter by Suntai.
But the Speaker faulted him, saying the governor must appear before the Assembly or be prepared to receive its principal officers in his office in the Government House, Jalingo.
He said, “Governor Suntai has transmitted a letter to the Assembly, but his deputy, Alhaji Umar, will continue to act, until this assembly deliberates on his letter.”
The PUNCH however learnt that the lawmakers might deliberate on the letter on Wednesday (today).
The speaker, who claimed that he was unaware of the claims by the Majority Leader, also confirmed earlier reports that Suntai’s wife blocked him from seeing her husband on Tuesday.
Tsokwa became the speaker when Istifanus Haruna Gbana –an ally of Suntai, was removed while Suntai was still receiving treatment abroad for injuries he sustained last October when a small plane he piloted crashed.
Findings by The PUNCH on Tuesday showed that apart from the speaker, who led a delegation to the Government House, Alhaji Umar; the Commissioner in charge of the state Police Command and the Director of State Security Service were prevented from seeing the governor by Suntai’s family members and influential associates on Tuesday.
There were reports on Monday that Umar, who acted as governor during the 10 months that Suntai was out of the country, was barred from seeing the governor on his arrival at the Jalingo Airport. But a credible source had told The PUNCH that the deputy governor met the governor in Jalingo even before he alighted from the aircraft that flew him there.
Sources close to the state government informed one of our correspondents on Tuesday that Umar, Tsokwa and the two security chiefs were told that Suntai would not be able to see them until he had rested for 72 hours.
One of the sources said, “What we have been told is that the governor will rest for 72 hours in compliance with the instructions of his doctors. This was the explanation they also gave to the D-G, SSS and the CP. They were there to see him, but they were stopped.”
According to another source, “the speaker’s delegation was kept waiting for about one hour and the governor’s wife (Hauwa) later told them that Suntai was resting.”
He added that because of the development, the state House of Assembly had resolved to sit on Wednesday (today) and debate the governor’s letter.
“What the members have decided is to sit tomorrow (today) and formally invite the governor to address the House. He has been away for about 10 months; so, coming to address them will at least put all the speculations and uncertainties surrounding his health to rest”, the source added.
Asked what Taraba stakeholders considered to be the way forward for the state, a top Peoples Democratic Party member from the state, said that much depended on the assembly’s decision.
He said, “This situation must be addressed with all the caution that it requires. There is no point rushing things or being unnecessarily preemptive.
“If the House say they are going to invite him, the right thing is to await the outcome of the decision of the House. Let them come up with their decision.”
In Abuja, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties and the Inter Party Advisory Council called on the state House of Assembly to set up a medical panel to examine Suntai’s state of health.
Both CNPP and IPAC, whose officials spoke separately with the News Agency of Nigeria, said this was in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
The CNPP National Publicity Secretary, Mr Osita Okechukwu, told NAN that the assembly should set up the panel immediately “to determine if Suntai is capable or incapable of carrying out his constitutional functions.”
IPAC, through its chairman, Mr. Yusuf Tanko, also said the governor’s health status must be established before any action could be taken.
It said, “It is in the interest of democracy that Suntai’s health situation is established. If he is found incapable, there are constitutional provisions that should be followed, otherwise we will continue to put democracy in danger.’’
In Lagos, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), gave a three-day ultimatum to the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, to investigate the governor’s letter of intention to resume duty.
Falana, in a letter to Abubakar, which was obtained by one of our correspondents, threatened to go to court if his demand was not met before the expiration of the ultimatum.
The letter reads in part, “We therefore urge you, in the interest of the people of Taraba State and Nigeria as a whole, to use your good offices to cause a detailed investigation to confirm the authenticity of the letter of intention sent by the Governor of Taraba State. We believe that the letter of intention may have been forged by the governor’s handlers.”
Another civil rights lawyer, Mr. Bamidele Aturu, said Suntai’s medical fitness must be ascertained to avert “governance by proxy.”
Aturu said, “We thank God that he has returned. But it is not all about returning. We want to know if he is capable of performing the functions of his office. His state of health must be ascertained by a medical team otherwise Taraba State may be governed by somebody else we don’t know. That will amount to governance by proxy, which is not recognised by the constitution.”
Chairman, Ikeja branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Monday Ubani, who described as worrisome “the secrecy that still surrounds Suntai’s health status”, argued that it was criminal to allow an ill person to govern a state.
Ubani said, “Why are these facts shrouded in secrecy and why are Nigerians, nay the citizens of his state, denied the opportunity of hearing from their governor. It will amount to fraud and ill governor to run the state contrary to the express provision of the constitution.”
Two civil society groups – Say No Campagin and United Action for Democracy – also criticised the politicisation of Suntai’s illness and return by “some people who are against the state.”
The groups, at a joint press conference in Abuja, described the hasty tranmission of the letter to the state House of Assembly as “the handiwork of political jobbers bent on satisfying selfish interest at the detriment of the state.”
The Convener of the SNC, Ezenwa Nwagwu, said, “While we sympathise with the Sunatais and the entire people of Taraba State, we however condemn unequivocally, the attempt by some political vultures within and outside the state who are bent on holding the whole state to ransom and making effective governance once again unrealistic.”
The UAD Director, Jaye Gaskia, likened what was happening in Taraba State to a repeat of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s saga when he was brought in by his associates to keep running the country even though he was incapable of doing so.
Also,the Conscience Nigeria and Northern Youth Assembly disagreed with those advising the state House of Assembly to invoke relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution to make Umar the state governor.
According to them, the deputy governor cannot be made a substantive governor, given the fact that he was not democratically elected alongside the governor in 2011.
They argued that Umar was handpicked by the governor after the impeachment of the former deputy governor, Alhaji Sani Abubakar.
The Executive Director of CN, Mr. Tosin Adeyanju, and Speaker of NYA, Mr Gideon Oband, who stated this at a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday, asked the state assembly to urgently treat Monday’s letter from the governor so that he could resume work in earnest.