Taraba State Governor, Danbaba Danfulani Suntai who is currently recuperating in a German hospital after surviving a plane crash penultimate Thursday, is still calling the shots as governor of the state. Suntai, was flown to Germany last Saturday in a Swiss Air Ambulance, a Challenger 604 with registration number HB JRC after being treated at the Federal Medical Centre, Yola and National Hospital, Abuja where he was visited by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Before being flown abroad, his condition was said to be critical, but stable as confirmed by President Jonathan and the Chief Medical Director of National Hospital while fielding questions from journalists after his get-well visit to the governor at the hospital.
Though no official information was provided about the degree of injuries he sustained in the crash, unofficial reports indicate that he has a broken shoulder and limbs as well as lacerations on his face and this has raised fears that he may remain in the hospital for a while. This presumption, THISDAY gathered, ignited calls and campaigns for his deputy, Alhaji Garba Umar to take over as acting governor of the state in line with the provision of the 1999 constitution precisely section 190 (1)(2) as amended which stipulates that the deputy governor should take over if the governor is on leave or is unable to discharge the functions 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."
Sub-section 2 reads: "In the event that the Governor is unable or fails to transmit the written declaration mention 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 his now available to resume his functions as Governor."
However, with the condition he was before being flown abroad, it was impracticable for the governor to transmit a written letter to the Speaker of the House of Assembly as stipulated in sub-section 1 leaving the House of Assembly without any alternative other than to invoke sub-section 2.
Few hours after news of Suntai's crash was broken, there was a report that a clique comprising of National Assembly members from the state that has been at logger head with Suntai sponsored some hoodlums to chase away the deputy governor from his official lodge ostensibly to debar him from assuming office as acting governor.
But in total contradiction to the report, another clique comprising of top officials and close associates of the governor was said to have perfected plans to frustrate Garba Umar and prevent him from stepping temporarily into Suntai's shoes. The clique is rumoured to be positioning the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) Ambassador Emmanuel Njiwah to act as governor in the absence of Suntai.
Debunking the report of his being chased away by hoodlums from his official residence, Alhaji Garba, who was only sworn-in as deputy governor of the state on October 5th, following the impeachment of the former deputy governor, Alhaji Sani Abubakar Danladi described the report as not only mischievous, but misleading.
According to him, "The report is totally false, mischievous, and misleading. In fact, there are no thugs in Jalingo in the last five years. 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," he declared.
And in collaboration with Umar in the wake of calls that the deputy governor should assume as acting governor of the state, the House of Assembly declared that Suntai remains the governor of the state notwithstanding his condition.
Taking a swipe at those calling for Umar to assume duties as acting governor, the House says Suntai would remain as governor until his physicians confirm that he is no longer physically and mentally fit to continue to be in office.
Giving the position of the House in a telephone interview, Chairman, House Committee on Information, Hon. Ishaya Gani told THISDAY that Suntai would remain the governor and Umar his deputy until a medical report from his physicians indicate that the governor was no longer physically and mentally fit to function as governor.
"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 declared.
Continuing, Hon Gani noted: "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."
Also speaking, Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. Abel Peter Diah said the situation on ground does not warrant the swearing-in of the deputy governor as acting governor, saying there is a condition to be fulfilled before that can happen.
According to him "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," adding "that the present situation in the state is totally different from the situation that necessitated the swearing-in of Goodluck Jonathan as acting President."
However, some members of the Assembly who spoke to THISDAY on condition of anonymity said no matter the level of loyalty of members for Suntai or their sentiments for him, the path of constitutionalism must be strictly followed and adhered to as they insist that the state is bigger than any individual.
"We are praying for the governor's speedy recovery and return from abroad. But the constitution is very clear on this issue and I don't think there's anyway the Assembly or anybody can change that. If the governor does not return on or before the expiration of the 21 days stipulated in the constitution, the Assembly would have no alternative than to follow the provisions of the constitution", says a member representing one of the constituencies in the Southern zone of the state.
Meanwhile, Suntai's condition is said to have improved tremendously since his admission at the German hospital and has been giving directives to Umar on phone to run the affairs of the state.
Specifically, he was said to have given the deputy governor the authority 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 give approval for the release of the Sunrise fund a day after he was involved in the crash and the SSG, Ambassador Njiwah met with the deputy governor to resolve the issue. Umar was said to have put a call through to his boss who directed him to release the fund.
Beside the Sunrise fund, THISDAY gathered that the governor directed his deputy to give approval for some other pending issues as well as release funds for same though reliable sources say the governor might return to the country next week or before the 21 days stipulated by the constitution for the House of Assembly to mandate the deputy governor to act as governor.
As the clock continues to tick towards the 21 days prescribed for the declaration of Umar as acting governor, and the people of the state and Nigerians generally continue to pray for Suntai's speedy recovery, Suntai continues to call the shots and exercise his powers as governor even on his hospital bed in far away Germany.