It has been a hundred days since Dr Joseph Kunini was elected as Speaker of the Taraba State House of Assembly after the unceremonious resignation of former Speaker Mr Abel Diah.
Following his election, Speaker Kunini’s leadership has managed to avoid what many consider a repeat of the political crisis that engulfed the state in 2012 in the wake of an unfortunate air incident involving then-Governor Danbaba Suntai, a circumstance that triggered the House of Assembly to invoke its constitutional powers to declare his deputy as acting governor while Suntai underwent an extended period of treatment.
The current state governor, Darius Ishaku, has similarly been absent from office, having been away from the state for nearly three consecutive months for reasons that were, until recently, shrouded in secrecy, and this has stirred a lot of controversies.
The controversies have been further intensified by his failure to hand over powers to his deputy Alhaji Haruna Manu in an acting capacity.
For most of the key players and agitators, the ultimate power to correct the anomaly rests with the House of Assembly which has the power to either impeach the governor for a constitutional breach or compel him to either return to the state or hand over to his deputy.
According to Ibrahim El-Sudi, the state Chairman of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), “Section 190 subsection 1 requires the governor to transmit a letter to the state House of Assembly, informing them if he is going to stay out of the state for a long time. Subsection 2 states that in the event that the governor fails to do that, it behoves on the House of Assembly by a simple resolution to make the deputy assume power in an acting capacity until such a time when the governor would return and transmit a letter to the House that he was back and ready to resume his work as the governor.
“Unfortunately, the governor has failed to do the needful and has been out of the state for nearly three months now. The state House of Assembly has also failed to invoke the necessary constitutional provisions.
We, therefore, call on the House to urgently do this in the interest of the state. If the House fails to do this, we may have no choice but to explore legal options to compel the governor to come back to the state. He was elected as the Taraba state governor and it behoves on him to serve the people from the state, not from a remote area. Abuja or wherever else he is staying have their own leaders residing and ruling people from there and he shouldn’t go and erect another seat of power there while there is none in Taraba.”
Many other discordant voices in the state have continued to mount pressure on the state House of Assembly.
Speaker Kunini has, however, managed the situation in a way that has prevented the state from plunging into another political crisis that has the potential to disrupt governance and possibly deteriorate into open violence with the attendant loss of lives and property.
Taraba State is not only volatile due to its ethnoreligious diversity but as a result of its highly-charged partisanship that can easily spiral into violent conflict at the least provocation.
“The opposition in the state here rarely looks at issues objectively. Everything done by the government of the day is considered wrong and condemnable. In recent times, you are aware that if it was not for the sound leadership style of the Speaker and his firm belief in ensuring the entrenchment of democracy, the state could probably have been in chaos now because of the governor’s absence in the state. I personally salute the Speaker for his political savvy,” said Commissioner of Youths and Sports, Alhaji Ibrahim Imam.
According to him, the Speaker has been resolute in ensuring that the “the executive-legislative relationship is such as to serve the interest and infrastructural development of the state without creating unnecessary tension that could stall development in the state.”
The Speaker, in an exclusive interview with Daily Sun, said, regarding checks and balances and the separation of powers, “the principle is aimed at ensuring a complementary working relationship that would ensure that each and every arm of government works towards achieving the onerous goal of providing stable good governance for the people, without abusing their powers.
He explained that “as far as the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is concerned and all the relevant extant laws, the governor has not done anything unconstitutional. Besides that, there is no vacuum in the government machinery in the state. All the relevant projects are ongoing and workers are carrying out their work promptly and are paid as and when due. In fact, I think the ordinary man on the street has the governor in mind and is praying for his quick recovery rather than raising unnecessary issues. If at any point at all the House establishes that the state governor has breached the constitution and committed an impeachable offence, the House will not hesitate in doing the needful. But we need to be very careful.
“As a House, we have passed a vote of confidence on the governor and his deputy for the good job they are doing. We would continue to support the government in ensuring the provision of infrastructural development in the state. My duty as a leader is to make sure that the House is not divided against itself. So far, we have been able to break the barriers of political, ethnic and religious dichotomy so that we can carry out our legislative duties with the sole aim of providing good governance to the good people of Taraba state.”
For now, the Speaker seems to enjoy the confidence of the House in managing a potential crisis. According to a member of the House who spoke to our correspondent in confidence, “I am sure that this state would have been in chaos now if the Speaker was not so tactful in his leadership style. He has been able to unite the House so well just within a few days in office as the Speaker and to literally save the state from a major political situation. For now, he has won our respect, our support and unwavering followership.”