Nigeria: Fresh Power Game in Taraba State
Jalingo — There seems to be a lull in the politically-tensed atmosphere of Taraba state yesterday after the state lawmakers declared that the ailing Governor Danbaba Danfulani Suntai is too sick to take charge as governor.
After the lawmakers’ resolution, the state capital Jalingo seemed quiet with citizens moving about their normal activities.
This is partly because the top politicians, who in the last one week have been invoking fire and brimstones over the ailing governor’s health status, have all travelled to Abuja for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) mini national convention holding today.
Despite claims that Suntai is healthy and even purportedly expressed his readiness to the State House of Assembly to resume work, he is the only top PDP chieftain left behind in Jalingo, purposely because of his ill-health.
The dicey political situation in the state has created two camps: that of the acting governor and the Suntai’s group with his wife as the de facto leader.
Acting governor-Madam Suntai face-off
The relationship between the acting Governor Garba Umar and the wife of the ailing governor, Madam Hauwa Suntai, has been cordial until about three weeks to Suntai’s return, Weekly Trust learnt in Jalingo.
A source very close to the issue told Weekly Trust that since the plane crash on October 25 last year that took Suntai to Germany and later United States for medical attention, the Taraba state government dutifully footed medical bills through an associate of the ailing governor.
The involvement of a third party in the managing of the funds, the source said, didn’t go down well with the ailing governor’s wife. “She therefore had to complain to some powerful forces in the presidency and the acting governor’s attention was drawn to her complaint by the presidency. Subsequently, arrangements were made in such a way that some funds are channeled through her directly,” the source said.
The relationship remained cordial until after the sack of the SSG, some commissioners and advisers over the misappropriation of flood relief funds and the subsequent appointment of a new SSG and chief of staff.
After that, “the woman started believing what she’s being told by some associates of the ailing governor – that her husband would soon be sacked by the acting governor.”
The source said that the power game climaxed after the Senator Hope Uzodinma -led committee empanelled by the PDP visited Suntai in the US.
After his return, Uzodinma was said to have summoned a meeting between the acting governor and Madam Suntai for them to “negotiate” and agree, the source said.
But even before leaving New York for Abuja, the Suntai camp resolved that the acting governor would remain in charge, but he has to change the recent appointments he did of the SSG and the chief of staff, the source explained.
But the whole thing changed because of a crack in the ailing governor’s camp. “Some people believed that that is not enough. They have to take full charge. They have to dissolve the cabinet, change the leadership in the house and ultimately impeach the acting governor,” he said. That explained the scenario that played itself in the state in the last couple of days, he said. Attempts to get Madam Suntai reaction yesterday in Jalingo was not possible as she was said to have travelled to Abuja for “a crucial meeting.”
Her spokesperson Malam Abdulmalik Gembu, when contacted on phone over the matter, promised to call back “in two minutes” but he never did. Subsequent calls to his number didn’t go through as the phone was switched off. Truce in the offing
A source close to the Suntai family told Weekly Trust last night that a truce may soon be reached between the acting governor and the ailing governor’s family.
“The family is worried by the politicization of their father’s health by some politicians for selfish reasons. The development in the last couple of days has subjected them to ridicule, therefore they are planning to meet the acting governor and tell him their resolve to take their fate in good faith,” the source said.
There was political dynamite in the state since the return of Suntai last Sunday from foreign medical trip.
Since his return, associates of the ailing governor and his family have restricted access to him, further fuelling rumours about his condition and putting the question the purported dissolution of the cabinet and swearing in of new top government officials.
Meanwhile, the leadership of the state assembly, who met with Suntai last Wednesday, addressed the press on Thursday saying that the governor is too sick to take charge.
Addressing journalists in Jalingo, the assembly speaker Haruna Tsokwa said the lawmakers’ visit to Suntai and the manner he spoke had brought more doubt to his authorship of the purported letter he transmitted to them signifying his return.
Suntai, who returned from foreign medical trip on Sunday, following a plane crash in which he was severely injured on October 25 last year, purportedly wrote a letter to the state assembly notifying it of his return and his readiness to take charge as governor.
But the assembly doubted the authenticity of the letter and asked that he should personally appear before it to prove his fitness to resume as governor.
The 16 assembly members added that “in view of the above, we are convinced that he could not have authored the purported letter transmitted to the Speaker of the State House of Assembly.”
The statement was signed by the assembly speaker Haruna Tsokwa, the deputy speaker Tanko Adamu, chief whip Mohammed D. Gwampo, deputy majority leader Josiah Sabo Kente, deputy chief whip Mohammed G. Umar, minority leader Ibrahim Adam Imam and minority whip Yahaya Abdurrahman.
Other members who signed the statement include Iratsi Y. Daki, Rasida Abdullahi, Aminu Umar Jalingo, Emmanuel Dame, John K. Bonzena, Dr A.A. Jugulde, Hamandama Abdullahi, Abdulkarim Mohammed and Edward G. Baraya.
’16 lawmakers have no such powers’
But hours after the assembly’s resolution, a group of eight lawmakers headed by the majority leader Joseph Albasu Kunini also held a press briefing, urging the public to disregard that decision.
Kunini told this reporter by telephone that the 16 lawmakers “have no legal power to do that,” and “we therefore disregard that statement.”
Kunini accused speaker Tsokwa of causing confusion in the state. “The speaker is shielding away from his responsibility. What they did is not enough. We take resolutions in the chamber not in his private residence. The speaker is trying to cause confusion in the state and the public should disregard it,” Kunini said.
‘Why Suntai can’t rule now’ One of the 16 lawmakers, Dr Abubakar Jugulde, told Weekly Trust in Jalingo that what they did was to save the ailing governor.
“You see, what we did was to save Governor Suntai from those desperados using his ill-health for their personal interests. It is evident he can’t govern the state now.
“What we said is simple. Let him continue with his treatment. So that he can be useful to his family. In a situation where he couldn’t return before 2015, then there are other opportunities ahead. He can be senator, ambassador, minister or even president. But that can only be possible if he is healthy. But for now, unfortunately he is,” Jugulde said. He said that their decision is for the best interest of the ailing governor and his family. “I believe that apart from those politicizing the issue, his immediate family knows the truth and the fact that he should recuperate fully before resuming his functions as governor. We all love him. He is our political leader,” the legislator said.
Suntai is healthy – Spokesperson
But Suntai’s spokesperson Sylvanus Giwa, disagreed with Jugulde’s position, saying that as far as he was concerned the governor is healthy.
“As far as I am concerned, my governor is healthy and he is performing his function as a governor. If you watched NTA Network this evening (Thursday), you would see the governor swearing in the new SSG, debunking rumours that he can’t speak,” Giwa said.
On the other hand, the acting governor in a statement signed by his spokesperson, Kefas Sule Thursday said the public to disregard the purported dissolution of the state executive council and the appointment of new SSG and chief of staff.
The acting governor also urged bankers of the state government to honour only financial instruments with verifiable signatures either him or that of the ailing governor.
Former speaker of the state assembly Habu Isa Ajiya said that the ensuing confusion was unnecessary. “As usual, the politicians are trying to make political capital out of the situation. It is more regrettable that religion is being dragged into something that is purely political for selfish reasons,” he said.
Also, a PDP chieftain Danjuma Isa Munga said the political problem has been tackled by the lawmakers’ decision that the acting governor should continue until when the governor is fit enough to take charge.
“You see, the firework is being orchestrated by some people from outside the state. You can imagine how the likes of Professor Jerry Gana, from far away Niger State are dabbling into the issue. This is not to mention the two governors of Benue and Plateau are poke nosing into our affair.
“Some people are bent in creating religious crises in Taraba by all means. But they forget that in Taraba, it is in Taraba that you would find families where Christians and Muslims coexist peacefully. Certainly, they can’t succeed,” Munga said.