The two months absence of Governor Danbaba Danfulani Suntai due to air crash is creating ripples in Taraba state.
Weekly Trust was in Taraba to gauge the impulse created by this absence, the conflicting reports over his state of health, the capacity of the acting governor as well as the emerging political intrigues.
The state capital Jalingo looks usually normal with people going about their normal business, but what dominates their conversation, usually in hush tones, is the state of health of the governor, Danfulani Suntai, who was involved in an air crash and had to be flown to an undisclosed hospital in Germany for treatment in the last two months.
The state civil service was equally not exempted from feeling the pulse of the governor’s continued absence. On Thursday, the state secretariat that houses most of the state’s ministries on Thursday around 10:40am, had very fewer vehicles at the premises and the balcony of the three-storey complex was almost deserted.
Most of the offices were closed and there were no sign of activities in the various ministries. Most of the workers available were the junior ones, mostly clustered around television sets in their various ministries’ waiting rooms.
But a civil servant who didn’t want to be named told Weekly Trust that “the secretariat was never a centre of bee-hive of activities since the ascension of the ailing governor. Suntai has successfully starved them of funds. They don’t give out contracts. Very few of them organize events now. Politicians and contractors alike don’t patronize the ministries, because nothing is actually happening.”
Regime of the cabal
The information flow of the governor’s actual state of health, according to some political stakeholders in Taraba, is controlled by a cabal who “benefits from the governor’s continued absence.”
A People Democratic Party (PDP)’s chieftain in the state, Alhaji Danjuma Isa Munga accused Suntai’s close associates of concealing information about his health to the people of the state. “It is ridiculous that his aides who never travel to Germany are busy telling us that they spoke with him (Suntai) on phone while the actual people who went to Germany are either keeping quiet or saying the opposite,” Munga told Weekly Trust in Jalingo.
“Some of them went to the extent of saying that they went to Germany and saw the governor taking kunu (oats) and he’ll come back by first week of February. Whereas the likes of Governor Gabriel Suswam said his condition is pathetic,” he said.
“The aides paint a colorful picture of Suntai’s health to discourage the acting governor from taking positive decisions. The governor is left on the conundrum that the substantive governor will return tomorrow, next week, therefore he’s left handicapped without taking any decision for fear of it being reversed on the ailing governor’s return. This allows the cabal to have their way,” the PDP chieftain said.
He said “if at all they spoke with him and he’s not suffering from life-threatening ailment, why can’t they air their conversation with him on the state television or radio? Up to now, the state government doesn’t deem it fit to send an official delegation to Germany to ascertain the actual state of health of the governor, rather feeding us with bare-faced lies and deceit. It is very unfortunate.”
Munga said “like the case during Yar’adua’s illness, the cabal is afraid of losing out in the new political equation. Some of them have been there since 1999 and don’t want anything to temper with the current arrangement. That is why they imposed on the state this waiting game.”
There is no cause for alarm - Deputy Speaker
The state Deputy Speaker, Mr. Peter Abel Diah told Weekly Trust in his office in Jalingo that he spoke with the governor on phone and “the governor will be home soon.”
“I spoke with the Governor last Sunday (December 16) and he said he was getting better and would return as soon as his doctors discharge him. His personal physician is in Germany with him. There is no cause for alarm,” the deputy speaker said.
He said the parliament is not under pressure from any quarters, “because it is carrying out its normal constitutional duty. We have been working cordially with the acting governor and he has been very effective. By Monday, the acting governor is presenting the 2013 budget to us. He has already sent us a supplementary budget.”
Governance is not stagnated in Taraba
The state Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr. Emmanuel Bello, said the fewer number of workers was occasioned by the “NLC calls for strike in solidarity with Plateau workers.”
Bello said “I have heard series of meetings with my Permanent Secretary, directors and staff. There is no stagnation in governance of the state due to Governor Suntai’s absence.”
Also, reacting to Governor Suswam’s statement about Suntai’s condition, Bello said “we’re the first respondent on this matter and we’re saying that the governor is neither suffering from brain damage nor spinal cord injury or any life-threatening ailment.”
He denied claims that the state is stagnant because of Suntai’s absence, saying “the executive council has been holding series of meetings over budget. The acting governor has distributed relief materials, confirmed the acting chief judge of the state, took prompt action on the Ibi crisis and distributed relief materials to flood victims.”
Absence of political patronage
One of the major problems bedeviling politicians in Taraba in the last two months is the inability of the acting governor to dispense political patronage. A politician who declined being named said the anxiety is occasioned by the fact that the acting governor is handicapped in patronizing politicians who worked for the present government during elections. “The acting governor can only pay salaries, but can’t give out contracts which are what is sustaining the political class,” he said.
This assertion was corroborated by a PDP chieftain and two-term lawmaker in defunct Gongola State, Alhaji Musa Karamti in Jalingo. “You see the acting governor is handicapped, because he was made deputy just two weeks before the governor’s tragic accident,” he told Weekly Trust.
“There are so many things left undone and there are so many politicians who needed to be catered for through patronage that include contracts and so on, but the acting governor can’t do that now, because he’s not substantive. His hands are tied and the politicians are suffering,” he said.
The waiting game
One issue in the mind of many citizens of Taraba is when is Governor Suntai returning and what happens if he doesn’t? Though it is the question many people are asking in hush tones across Jalingo, it was an issue the state officials are very reluctant to talk about.
Diah told Weekly Trust how long the governor can stay abroad can only be discussed if the need arises, “there is no need to pre-empt the situation. We’ll know how to cross the bridge when we get there,” he said.
In his response to the same question, the Information Commissioner said “all I know is the governor is returning soon and already his two aides had been released.”
When probed further, Bello said the decision of his return would be determined by his doctors in Germany. “The doctors in Germany have the final say,” he said.
The state Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Barrister G.T. Kataps would not talk to Weekly Trust on the matter, saying “you violated protocol. You should ask the Information Commissioner to book you an appointment with me. You can’t barge into my office for information like that.”
When this reporter told him that he wanted to know what will happen if the governor remains outside the state for more than three months, the commissioner just pick a constitution and handed it to the reporter, accusing some online media for disseminating lies information about the governor’s state of health.
Weekly Trust told him that it was in his office for the ‘correct’ information, but even that said that he won’t talk, saying “just go and read the constitution.” Quoting some verses from the Holy Bible, the commissioner said that “life and death are in the hands of God.”
He said that Nigerians should commend him for advising the judiciary to swear –in the deputy governor as acting governor even before the expiration of 21 days. “I should be commended not condemned,” he said. After about 10 minutes “lecture” on how journalism, Kataps left the office and entered his car without responding to Weekly Trust queries.
Political realignment and intrigues
The power vacuum in Taraba has brought an abrupt change in the power equation, making some politicians who fixed their eyes in succeeding Suntai in 2015 to become more desperate. With the near absence of strong opposition in the state, the ruling PDP, which is earlier polarized between Governor Suntai’s camp and Senators Aisha Jummai Alhassan and Tutare’s camp, is now further imploding.
The ailing governor’s camp, Weekly Trust gathered, is now divided into the Taraba State’s Speaker Istifanus Gbana’s camp and Senator Emmanuel Bwacha’s camp. “Bwacha has been considered as heir apparent in Suntai’s camp, but the sudden ill-health of the governor is trying to change that calculation,” a source said.
And the Senator is not relenting. “All this conflicting information or propaganda about the governor’s health is believed to be emanating from that Senator from Abuja mainly to retain his esteemed position as Suntai’s successor,” the source said.
“But a new dimension has been created with the governor’s sudden crash. The Speaker’s group is now challenging the status quo by trying to vie for the governorship seat in 2015. That makes the situation very tense and the politicians very desperate,” he said.
This is not to mention the Senators Jummai and Tutare’s camps which had been giving Suntai’s camp sleepless nights. “The chances that a Muslim may eventually emerge as the state governor in 2015 if eventually Suntai couldn’t return to his seat also make the governor’s camp very jittery. That religious dimension is very critical and mostly responsible for the present cat and mouse game over the governor’s state of health,” a source inside the government said.
Is the acting governor really in charge?
Though the acting Governor Garba Umar is in-charge of the administrative affairs of the state, analysts believed that he is not yet in charge of the political scene in the state.
“He is politically handicapped. That is just the truth. The political allies of Suntai represented by the state PDP chairman Mr. Victor Bala Kona and Senator Bwacha are really pulling the political strings,” an inside source told Weekly Trust in Jalingo.
“The acting governor is under undue pressure to continue with the ailing governor’s political agenda. This can be seen in the controversial manner he was made to sack two aides and board members for simply attending an event organized by Senator Jummai in Abuja,” he said.
The Suntai’s loyalists, according to an insider, is said not to be happy with the acting governor’s ‘new ways.’ “One of the Abuja-based core Suntai’s loyalists had a cause to complain that the acting governor has visited Vice President Namadi Sambo,” the source said.
“He was quoted as saying that ‘the policy of the state governor (Suntai) is that he has nothing to do with the vice president,” the source said. The source added that it may not be out of place if the loyalists “consider options of dealing with the acting governor which include impeachment.”
But the acting governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Kefas Sule, said his boss is “fully in charge performing his duty as acting governor till the return of Governor Suntai. It is all politics. The acting governor has a mandate to hold forte for the governor and he is efficiently doing that without any problem.”