The Governor of Taraba State, Mr. Danbaba Suntai, returned to Nigeria some few weeks ago after almost one year of absence from the country. He has been abroad for medical treatment since October 2012 when he was involved in a fatal crash in the plane he was the pilot.
Since his return to the country, much dust has been raised over the state of his health. While his loyalists are insisting he is as fit as a fiddle to return to work to move the impoverished state forward, others, who are mostly from the deputy governor’s camp, are saying he is a vegetable and therefore unfit to govern.
However, what is painful over the Taraba debacle is not much the health status of the governor but the coloration and shape the argument is taking. Already, the state has been divided along religious lines, with Christians who are in the majority insisting the governor must continue despite his ill-health.
The problem in Taraba is not as easy as some of us may believe, especially when religion has become an issue, though not pronounced. Many of those who are calling on the governor to resign do not know the implications. No serving governor or president has willingly resigned his position in Nigeria. If Suntai resigns, what becomes the fate of the Christian majority on whose crest he rode to power? What becomes the power configuration in the state which inexorably will tilt in favour of the Muslim minority? Already the deputy governor Alhaji Umar Garba is being accused of surrounding himself with Muslim faithfuls in his hastily constituted cabinet.
My take on this is that the governor should not resign. From what I saw in the television on the day he came back, Suntai may not be physically fit but he may be mentally alert to still perform his functions as governor. Franklin Delano Roosevelt as President of America was struck down by polio. He was on a wheelchair for the rest of his tenure but that did not prevent him from performing his functions as president.
Even if on a wheelchair Governor Suntai should be allowed to take over governance of the state now that he is back. He is not the only physically challenged governor in the country; after all, the governor of Nasarawa state is deaf. Besides, No medical panel or court has pronounced him incompetent, and until that is done he is legally and constitutionally the governor. He has satisfied all the constitutional requirements to assume duty. He came back and transmitted a letter to that effect to the state legislature as required by constitution. The constitution did not say he must appear in person to the Assembly, but the Speaker who is already vying to become deputy to Garba in the event they succeed in shoving Suntai away is insisting he must appear in person.
The constitution is very clear in removing a sitting governor. It states clearly that the office of the president, governor or local government chairman shall become vacant in the event of impeachment or incapacitation in which case the person is unable to perform his duties. In the case of a governor, he shall be declared incapacitated after two-thirds of members of the state executive council have certified he is no longer fit to perform his functions. And that is why the battle for the soul of Taraba has shifted to who controls the state cabinet.
I admit that Life is paramount and comes first before anything else. The Holy Book even tells us that a man can give up anything in exchange for his life. Of course there have been many instances in history where leaders have resigned their positions on account of ill-health. In recent memory, Pope Benedict XVI vacated his pontificate on February 11, 2013 as a result of sickness. The conservative Prime Minister of Britain Harold Macmillan resigned in 1963 due to illness. And recently too, Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan resigned his position in 2007 as a result of sickness.
But if Suntai says he can cope with his limitations, he should be allowed to assume the mantle. The fight over the soul of Taraba state is uncalled for. It is a show of shame that the Deputy Governor should be that crazy and brazen enough to insist on profiting from his Oga’s misfortune by not ceding power to him. Power brokers in Taraba should come together irrespective of party leanings to save the state from the cliff edge of doom.