BY Soni Daniel, Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Abdulwahab Abdulah & John Mkom
ABUJA — Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State, yesterday, commenced a legal action against the Speaker and members of the State House of Assembly for refusing to allow him resume duties as governor after his return from medical treatment abroad.
Suntai, who was previously incapacitated to carry out his official duties sequel to his involvement in a plane crash, in an originating motion he filed before Taraba State High Court, Jalingo, accused the state legislature of attempting to usurp his position and constitutional powers.
Suntai had on August 26, transmitted a letter to the Speaker of the Taraba State House of Assembly, notifying him of his return after a 10-month absence and his readiness to take over his office as governor.
However, his request was rejected on the premise that the letter ought to be deliberated upon by the House of Assembly before a decision could be reached on it.
Accordingly, the state House of Assembly directed that the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Umar Garba, whom it had declared acting Governor, should continue to exercise the powers of governor pending a resolution of the House on Suntai’s letter.
Dissatisfied with the action of the legislature, Suntai, in a suit filed through his lawyer, Dr. Alex Izinyon (SAN), yesterday, maintained that his letter notifying the Speaker and the House of his return and intention to take over was not subject to the exercise of their discretion to accept or reject, saying it is “mandatory” for them to do so.
Specifically, he urged the court to determine “whether by virtue of Section 190(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), the 1st and 2nd Defendants can by press release or debate, interfere with, do anything whatsoever in connection with or in relation to the letter transmitted by the Plaintiff to the 1st Defendant pursuant to the said Section 190(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
“Whether the 1st and 2nd Defendants can debate the letter of Plaintiff, dated August 26, transmitted to the 1st Defendant and, by press release, direct that the Deputy Governor of Taraba State, Alhaji Garba Umar, should continue in office as Acting Governor of Taraba State till Plaintiff is declared medically fit to resume office having regard to the provision of Section 190(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).”
‘My letter mandatory’
He is also urging the court to “declare that the letter of the Plaintiff dated August 26, transmitted to the 1st Defendant is absolute, mandatory, immutable and cannot be debated or contradicted by any means whatsoever as the 1st and 2nd Defendants lack any discretion and that upon transmission of the said letter, Plaintiff has automatically assumed his powers and responsibilities as Governor of Taraba State.”
Besides, he wants the court to declare that by virtue of Section 190(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), the 1st and 2nd Defendants cannot by press release or debate, interfere with, do anything in connection with or in relation to the letter transmitted by the Plaintiff to the 1st Defendant pursuant to the said Section 190(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
“A declaration that the 1st and 2nd Defendants’ press release of August 29 or any other date whatsoever directing that the Deputy Governor of Taraba State, Alhaji Umar Garba, should continue as Acting Governor of Taraba State is null and void, ultra vires and constitutionally void and of no effect whatsoever.”
Accordingly, he is seeking an order of perpetual injunction restraining the 1st and 2nd Defendants from debating, interfering with, doing anything in connection with or in relation to the letter transmitted by the Plaintiff to the 1st Defendant pursuant to Section 190(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, made a spirited effort, yesterday, to reconcile the ailing governor of the state with his Deputy, Umar, who has acted as governor since October last year.
The party held a successful consultation with the different factions in the state’s raging political crisis and pleaded with them to give peace a chance by allowing the governor to recover fully from his medical condition.
The Hope Uzodinma Fact-finding Committee, which was empaneled by the party’s leadership, flew into Jalingo in the morning and was able to meet with the critical parties, including Suntai, his wife, Hauwa, acting governor, Umar and members of the state House of Assembly before arriving at a political solution to the crisis.
Although the seven-member panel met Suntai in secret, they later held a session with others at the Governor’s Office, Jalingo, before making known their verdict on the crisis, which accentuated with the attempt by Suntai’s loyalists to take over the mantle of leadership from Umar following the return of Suntai.
…arrives at decision
The committee aligned with the position canvassed by the state House of Assembly and the representatives of the state in the National Assembly that while Suntai remains the governor, the Deputy Governor, Umar, must continue to act pending when Suntai would recover from his condition.
The bitter struggle between forces loyal to the two political leaders in the state led to the sack of the State Executive Council by the governor’s supporters.
The situation forced the state House of Assembly to openly oppose the takeover of the administration by Suntai’s men.
They promptly asked the ailing governor to return to the United States and seek further medical attention, while Umar continues with the running of the state’s affairs.
However, after a closed-door meeting with the stakeholders in Government House for about two hours, Senator Uzodima announced that the acting governor would continue to hold the fort for Suntai, who remains the governor.
Uzodima, who played down on the problem in the state since the return of Suntai, said that the state was merely involved in what he called “little quarrel” and nothing more.
It’s settled — PDP C’ttee Chair
He said: “We had a little quarrel in the state, but not crisis as some people may describe it. We met with Governor Suntai and discovered he is getting better by the day.
“He (Suntai) has also agreed that Umar should continue to run the state in acting capacity and we all agreed with him.
“Umar, the acting governor will be running the government in serious consultations with Suntai and we urge all of you to support him to succeed in the onerous task.”
Umar told journalists that he was grateful to President Goodluck Jonathan and the National Chairman of the original PDP for taking urgent steps to resolve the crisis.
He restated his commitment to work in strict collaboration with Suntai, particularly on matters of politics and the development of the state.
Umar said: “Today we have been able to tell ourselves the truth and we have been able to resolve all the differences.”
On the dissolution of the State Executive Council by Suntai, Umar said: “I am still in consultations with my boss and I will communicate to you on the issue after our consultations.”
The governor and his deputy were expected to hold the consultations last night and the outcome made public today.
Umar and the Secretary to the Government, Gavey Yawe, had earlier received members of the team at the Jalingo Airport before leading to the crucial meeting with stakeholders at the Government House.
Before the arrival of the team, Suntai’s wife, Hauwa, had touched down at the Jalingo Airport with chattered plane marked No.5N-BMR at about 10am.
Another hired private plane, No.9H-ZAT, Hawker 900, with members of the National Assembly from the state, also touched down at exactly 10:25 am.
The NASS members on the team were Sen. Abubakar Tutare, representing Taraba Central; Jerry Mamwe, representing Karim-Lamido; Lau, Aldo-Kola Federal Constituency; Aminu Male, representing Jalingo, Yorro and Zing Federal Constituency and Ibrahim Tukur, representing Gashaka, Kurmi and Sadauna Federal Constituency.
However, in spite of the intervention of the PDP fact-finding mission, the Senator representing Taraba South, Sen. Bwacha, and a close ally of Suntai, had maintained that members of the House of Assembly should respect the position of the law regarding the letter transmitted to them by the governor.
Police boss sued
Meanwhile, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has been urged to compel the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, to investigate the letter sent by the Governor Suntai to the Taraba State House of Assembly, indicating his readiness to resume duty.
In the suit, No. FHC/ABJ/CS/593/13, filed by Falana Chambers on behalf of Haruna Daniel and Bako Ojoda against the police boss, and Taraba State House of Assembly, they also asked the court to compel the lawmakers to equally constitute a committee to investigate the state of the Governor’s health before he resumes duty.
No date has been fixed for the suit.