By Our Reporters
ABUJA—A letter sent in by the recuperating Governor of Taraba State, Danbaba Suntai, to the State House of Assembly intimating them of his intention to resume work, has split the lawmakers along political lines.
The undercurrent also brought to the fore the divided loyalty between those in support of Suntai, who returned to the country on Sunday and his deputy, Garba Umar, who has acted as governor in the last 10 months.
While the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mr. Haruna Tsokwa, asked the governor to come and address them at plenary as a condition for resuming, the Majority Leader, Mr. Joseph Albasu Kunini, asked the governor to start work with immediate effect.
Kunini had addressed a press conference in Jalingo earlier, yesterday, during which he said that there was no need to table the letter sent in by Suntai to the plenary for deliberation since the constitution did not stipulate such as a requirement.
He therefore gave the nod to the governor to resume work based on his claim that he was fit enough to carry on with the task of administering the state.
Kunini, who doubles as the Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, explained that the governor was free to resume work having transmitted a letter confirming his fitness and readiness to resume work.
“There is no room in the Nigerian Constitution for the House to deliberate on the letter once it has been transmitted to the House by the governor,” Kunini told journalists.
“To us, the governor has complied with the provision of the law by sending the letter to us through his Special Adviser on Legal Matters. The letter from the governor was received by the Clerk of the Taraba Assembly and promptly handed over to the Speaker and that completed the required action.
“The Taraba State House of Assembly does not need anything other than the hard copy with the governor’s authentic signature and there is no need to discuss it at the plenary,” the House Leader explained.
But barely two hours after the press conference by the Majority Leader, the Speaker, Haruna Tsokwa, also addressed the media in his office and insisted that the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Garba Umar, remains the Acting Governor until Suntai addresses them on his state of health.
He must address the House — Speaker
Although Tsokwa acknowledged the receipt of the letter sent in by Suntai, he nonetheless made it clear that the letter must first be deliberated upon by members at plenary before the governor could resume.
Tsokwa said: “Governor Suntai should come and address the House of Assembly before we decide on his resumption. The letter is with us and it has to be debated at plenary,” the Speaker told journalists.
While pleading with the people to remain calm and law-abiding, the Speaker assured them of the readiness of the House of Assembly to work for the interest of the state at all times.
What the constitution says
Section 190 of the 1999 Constitution states: “Whenever the governor transmits to the Speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to the Speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration to the contrary, such functions shall be discharged by the Deputy Governor as Acting Governor”.
Hordes of Suntai’s supporters believe that the governor has fulfilled the constitutional provision by writing the Speaker and informing the lawmakers of his readiness to return to his seat, thereby compelling the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Garba Umar, who has been acting as governor, to return to his position with immediate effect.
Falana urges IG to investigate Suntai’s letter
Meanwhile, Lagos lawyer and rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, has petitioned the Inspector-General of Police to investigate the letter purportedly written by the Suntai to the State House of Assembly on his intention to resume duty.
In the petition dated August 27, 2013, with the title: “Request for Investigation to confirm the Authenticity of the letter of Intention to Resume work”, the lawyer said the letter may eventually turn out to be fake.
Falana said: “Following the involvement of Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State in a plane crash in Yola on October 25, 2012, His Excellency arrived Nigeria on August 25, 2013 having undergone 10 months of treatment in Germany and the United States of America.
“Barely a day after his return, a letter was delivered to the Taraba State House of Assembly purportedly written by the Governor, declaring his fitness and intention to resume office immediately.
“In the letter written by the Governor to the State House of Assembly, he claimed to have fully recovered from the injuries he sustained in the plane crash of October 25, 2012 without affording the public a copy of his medical report of mental and physical fitness.
“We, therefore, urge you in the interest of the people of Taraba State and Nigeria as a whole to use your good offices to cause a detailed investigation to confirm the authenticity of the letter of intention sent by the Governor to the House of Assembly as there are several allegations within and outside Taraba State that the letter of intention may have been forged by the governor’s handlers.
“Please take notice in the event that our demand is not acceded to within three days inclusive of the day of receipt of this letter, we shall not hesitate to approach the law court to mandate your office to carry out its constitutional duty”, he added.
Suntai not fit to continue—Eyienyien
Also a senatorial aspirant in Edo State, Egheomhanre Eyienyien has called on the Taraba State House of Assembly to immediately declare the state governor who returned to the country at the weekend incapacitated and unable to perform his duties as the state governor.
The Senatorial aspirant urged the state House to immediately swear in the Deputy Governor who had been on acting capacity as the substantive governor.
In a statement made available to Vanguard last night, the aspirant said “it was sad to say but Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State cut a very pathetic sight as he was being helped to disembark from the chartered aircraft that brought him to Abuja after undergoing medical treatment abroad for about 10 months following the injuries he sustained when his self-piloted plane crashed on October 25, 2012, in Yola, Adamawa State.
He was frail, emaciated, and still looked unwell and unfit. Why did he allow himself to be put under such needless trauma? Gov. Suntai should still be in a hospital,” he contended.