opinionBy Fidelis Mac-Leva
BARRING any last minute change in plans, DanbabaSuntai, Taraba State executive governor who had been abroad on medical vacation for the past 10 months is expected back in the country this morning. Although some analysts believe that his return would put an end to the 'conspiracy of silence' that hitherto existed from official quarters over his continued absence, others say his return would do little to douse the political tension that had left no oxygen in the air for citizens of the north-east State to breathe.
There had been several failed promises in the past over governor Suntai's return but this time around there seems to be convincing evidence suggesting that the ailing governor would be back home for real.
Suntai's wife Hauwa, on Wednesday announced that her husband who had been receiving medication in the United States since March is expected to return to Nigeria on Sunday (today). With an aura of oracular conviction, Hauwa reportedly told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that Suntai would leave the Sea View Hospital Rehabilitation Centre and Home in New York on his way home.
This was further corroborated by the state acting governor, Garba Umar who confirmed on Friday that his boss is scheduled to return today (Sunday). "His Excellency the acting governor of Taraba State, AlhajiGarba Umar is pleased to announce that the executive governor, DanbabaSuntai has recovered from the injuries he sustained during the air mishap of October 25, 2012", a statement by Umar's chief press secretary, KefasSule said.
According to the statement, Suntai would be arriving Abuja this morning at about 10 am in the company of family members and friends from where he would take off for Jalingo, the Taraba State capital where he would be received by the acting governor and other top government functionaries at about 2pm.
Reports from Jalingo indicate that the state capital is already agog over Suntai's planned return. To this end, several mementos bearing the pictures of the ailing governor are said to have been produced and distributed among his supporters, students and women in the state capital in preparation for his 'triumphant return'.
But beyond Suntai's return lies the big question concerning the future of Taraba politics which had become polarized along ethno-religious divides while he was away. Emerging signals indicate that the political temperature in the state which had charged to a boiling point is unlikely to abate with his return.
The biggest question on the lips of Taraba people, especially critics, is whether upon return Suntai would be physically and emotionally fit to carry on with his duties as governor. What becomes the fate of the acting governor, Umar, who was believed by Suntai's loyalists to have been planning to assume the driver's seat at government house Jalingo?
Apparently worried about their fate following alleged moves by acting governor Umar to consolidate his hold onto power in substantive capacity, the pro Suntai 'cabal' in government were said to have masterminded the plans to bring Suntai back in the state in order to maintain the status quo.
This cabal, according to sources, is working on an agenda of restoring all the political structures of Suntai that were 'tampered' with by the acting governor. This include the G-7 led loyalists of the governor in the House of Assembly, including its principal leaders that were impeached last April, a development the pro Suntai group allege was masterminded by the acting governor in order to bring in his loyalists.
The implication of this is that the state Assembly which was already polarized between the pro-Suntai loyalists and those loyal to Garba Umar would further be thrown into political crisis that would impinge heavily on its statutory legislative business. Sunday Trust learnt that there was a foiled attempt to impeach the current leadership of the House last week following plans of Suntai's return.
There is also the aggrieved commissioners and SSG who were sacked following their alleged indictment in the misappropriation of N400 million released by the Federal Government to alleviate the sufferings of flood victims in the state. Sunday Trust learnt that one of the earliest steps to be taken by Suntai upon return is to void the sacking of these commissioners who recently claimed that they were victimized because they failed to key into the plot by the acting governor to initiate impeachment proceedings against Suntai. This, according to our checks is to be followed by the voiding of some of the key appointments made by the acting governor in Suntai's absence.
It is also unclear whether or not the acting governor would return to the back seat as deputy governor when his boss returns. Given the loyalty gulf that had been created between Suntai and Umar coupled with a seeming crisis of confidence analysts say Suntai may no longer be confortable working with Umar upon return; hence there is an alleged plot to impeach him and get a replacement as deputy governor ahead of 2015.
But the plans by the pro-Suntai cabal may not go unchallenged by loyalists of the acting governor Umar, who are also said to be pushing hard to ensure that the latter is empowered to take over from his boss. The pro-Umar group who believe that Suntai is not physically fit to return to government house Jaling as governor are seeking the application of the 'doctrine of necessity' to empower Umar.
Danjuma Isa Munga, pioneer chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in Taraba state and now chieftain of the PDP said there was a 'cabal' in the state that wants the status quo to remain for their political gains. "Taraba is being hijacked by a cabal that wants the old order to be maintained and these people are trying to intimidate the acting governor. I feel Garba should be sworn in without further delay because the governor is sick and since he cannot come back to assume duties, the executive should urgently write the state Assembly to empanel qualified doctors to do the right thing", Munga said.
Meanwhile, some pressure groups have started sending signals of impending political bedlam even in the aftermath of Suntai's return to the Taraba. One such group, the Justice Forum which had spearheaded the struggle against the long absence of the governor has warned associates of the governor against foisting another Yar'Adua arrangement on the state in their bid to protect their selfish interest.
Already the Forum has issued a six point demand over the governor's return which include: that the governor publicly address the state live on radio and television within twenty four hours of his arriving Jalingo, that the governor also should also proceed to address the State House of Assembly ,that the governor and his associates provide to the state his full medical report which must show his state of health as at the time he was discharged from John Hopkins Hospital.
Another group known as Society Network Against Corruption has reportedly filed a Freedom of Information request with the Taraba state government seeking information about the state of health of the returning governor.
The group led by its chairman, OlarenwajuSuraju, is specifically asking for evidence of proof that governor Suntai who is said to be on his way back to Nigeria to resume duties "has fully recovered , including possible video recording of visits to him by a delegation of the PDP or a medical report certifying him well.
But Taraba Information Commissioner, Emmanuel Bello denied receiving any request from the group, saying that such request would have been unnecessary in the first place sine the governor was already coming back to the state.
Acting Taraba Governor, Umar had repeatedly pledged his loyalty to his boss, Suntai, but analysts say whether or not he would successfully assume his proper place in the emerging political equation in the state would better be appreciated in the days ahead.