Taraba State Governor Danbaba Suntai is suffering from loss of speech and inability to comprehend what people say to him because of brain injuries that could take years to fully cure, one of his personal physicians reveals.
Dr. Zakari Yusuf Aliyu, a professor of Medicine and Public Health, and Chief Medical Director of Taraba State Specialist Hospital Jalingo, said he recently visited the governor in Germany where he has been receiving medication since October last year, following the crash of a plane he was piloting near Yola, Adamawa State.
Aliyu said Suntai suffered injury to his brain during the plane crash, and that it could take "weeks, months, even years for him to come back to his pre-accident state."
There have been conflicting accounts of Suntai's health, with media reports quoting sources saying he is in a bad shape while his aides insist that he has recovered and would soon return to Nigeria.
Prof. Aliyu's revelation is the first time a doctor and Taraba State public officer is coming out publicly to discuss the governor's state of health.
Aliyu said, "The basic problem that I saw with Governor Danbaba when I was with him included things like expressive aphasia (characterized by the loss of the ability to produce language — spoken or written), some degree of receptive aphasia (a patient's inability to comprehend language or speak with appropriately meaningful words), and spinal cord persistent.
"Spinal cord injuries occur when blunt physical force damages the vertebrae, ligaments, or disks of the spinal column, causing bruising, crushing, or tearing of spinal cord tissue, and when the spinal cord is penetrated, e.g. by a gunshot or a knife wound.
"All these are things that will occur or improve gradually with time. But there are some aspects of procedure head injury in him that only time will tell and I believe we should be patient enough to give him another minimum of three months before we can start talking about anything else."
Prof. Aliyu said he was with Suntai soon after the crash on October 25, 2012, and had been visiting him in Germany since then.
"I have the privilege and honour to see him. But first of all let me say that Governor Danbaba is my friend and very strong ally and a very strong family friend. I was there a day after his plane crash and I was one of those that helped to evacuate him to Germany.
"I actually visit him in Germany, and I was impressed he has progressed significantly. With substantial assistance he was able to undergo shower, brush his teeth, to feed himself; so he has made tremendous progress.
"But there is still a substantial amount of rehabilitation that has to occur. People should understand that he has what is called head injury. However I must also emphasize the fact that there are setbacks in this kind of situation as pendulum moving up and down. A moment the patient may look sound well and there are moments same patient will actually go down."
Asked if it is possible for Suntai to return to Nigeria soon as claimed by his aides, Prof. Aliyu said: "Well, you never say impossible in medicine, but that is very unlikely. I think the concern should be less about when will Governor Danbaba return, it should be more on when he recovers. As a human being, he needs time to have full recovery.
"But for anyone to think that Governor Danbaba Suntai will be back in next couple of days, I think that is blatant misrepresentation of facts or trying to conceal facts. The truth about the matter is that the degree of head injury that he has, he needs substantial rehabilitation.
"And that's why I am advocating he should be transferred to the United States of America to the best centre in the world, so that he and his family will be settled in one place in US, where there is intensive experience when it comes to rehabilitation of persons with head injury.
"If I may explain further, he no doubt suffered traumatic head injury which is secondary to blunt force trauma as a result of the plane crash accident. In a nutshell, Governor Suntai has suffered a closed head injury. It occurs as a result of sudden stop following a high speed movement as in an aircraft or chopper crash. In the instance when this happens, the brain could move back and forth, left and right, colliding with the bony cranium.
"It may take weeks, months, even years for him to come back to his pre-accident state. It may take quite long for the head and brain to resolve the imbalance as a result of the TBI. The good news however is that he improves, so with time he can be able to function independently."
Aliyu said he preferred for Suntai to be moved to the John Hopkins University Hospital in the United States.
"Already, I discussed this with the acting governor and also with his wife on the need to transfer him to US so that we consolidate everything in one place," he said.
On the photos showing Suntai with the Plateau State Governor Jonah Jang, published recently, Prof. Aliyu said, "There is what is called information spin. I was not there when Plateau governor visited him, he might find him while on good track. But to say that Governor Danbaba is having a 24-hour and very smooth conversational period to the extent that he can resume his executive activities as an executive governor, I think that's far from the reality."
But Taraba State Information Commissioner, Mr. Emmanuel Bello, said Prof. Aliyu had no authority to speak on Suntai's health.
"Only the main medical team of the governor can say anything authoritative on the details of the governor's health. Zakari is not Governor Suntai's personal physician, nor is he on the medical team attending to the governor in Germany," Bello said yesterday.
"That distinction goes to Governor Suntai's personal doctor, Dr. Ahmed Kara. I advise you hear from Dr Kara who by law can speak authoritatively on the matter. However, information available to me shows that Danbaba is improving on daily basis and would soon be back."