On Wednesday last week, the Taraba State Executive Council passed a resolution directing the House of Assembly to constitute a committee of medical experts to make a determination on the health status of Governor Danbaba Danfulani Suntai, who has been away from his duties for nearly two years now on medical grounds. Such a resolution should have been passed a long time ago, but given political and inter-communal sensitivities in the state, this issue was allowed to linger for this long.
Governor Suntai was the pilot of a plane that crashed near Yola on October 25, 2012. He sustained serious injuries and has been undergoing treatment in hospitals in Germany and in the United States. After he had been away for 21 days, the state’s legislature acted according to the 1999 Constitution as amended and recognised Deputy Governor Garba Umar as acting governor. Suntai returned to the country after ten months’ absence and apparently wrote a letter to the House of Assembly announcing that he had resumed duty. The legislature rejected the letter, declaring it a forgery.
Although some lawyers faulted this position and said the legislature had no right under the law to make that determination, subsequent events vindicated the Assembly, because Suntai has all this while not made a meaningful public appearance. He was subsequently flown out again to a London hospital.
Suntai’s prolonged absence from his duties has created all kinds of problems in Taraba State. There was much instability in the state’s Executive Council itself with many of its members working at cross purposes with the acting governor. Civil servants were not sure who to answer to, as a group close to Suntai tried to wrest power from the acting governor. Though Acting Governor Umar has skilfully navigated his way to create a semblance of normalcy in governance, it is apparent that the situation is uncertain, even untenable. No meaningful long-term policies and projects can be initiated in this situation.
On top of all these is the insecurity that has pervaded parts of the state in recent months. What started as inter- communal clashes in Wukari later spread to other areas of southern Taraba State, attributed to the jockeying for power by various political groups as elections in 2015 approach.
It is in this light that the Taraba Executive Council’s move is both pertinent, though long overdue. It is in accordance with Section 189 subsection 1(a) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. The legislature is expected to act on this resolution by appointing a three-member expert medical panel, one of which must be the governor’s personal physician. If the panel’s report finds that Governor Danbaba Suntai is not physically or mentally fit to perform his duties, then he would be declared incapacitated. This is one of the four ways in which an elected executiveofficer can lose position; the others being death, impeachment and resignation.
The latest move is likely to be resisted by forces that are not so much bothered by Danbaba Suntai’s health as to want to use the powers of his office to gain political advantage in the run-up to 2015. Consistent with that process was last weekend’s episode in which the ailing Suntai was more or less smuggled back into the country.
The prevailing state of uncertainly should not be allowed to linger for much longer; two years is far too long to resolve a simple medical diagnosis, which the panel must now determine without external pressure or other encumbrances. The fortunes of several million people of Taraba State transcend Sunta. That is why the constitutional process that is now underway should take its course, so that the state can forge ahead in peace and unity, because a lot of time has been lost already.