Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Taraba Conundrum

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men" – Lord John Dalberg Acton, British historian in an April 3, 1887 letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton.

This is not the best of time for the behemoth called the Peoples Democratic Party. The  walk-out of seven of its governors and a former vice president from the venue of its mini-convention on Saturday, August 31 and the formation of ‘a new PDP’  and parallel executive by this break-away faction is an ominous sign for the self-acclaimed biggest and  largest political party in Africa who wished to rule Nigeria for 60 years. In fairness to the party, it has been making frantic attempt to manage its numerous crises since the last general election attempting to woo back some of its members who had left to team up with opposition parties. However, the more the party tries to patch things up, the more things get messier within its fold.  The party in recent time formed its governors forum as separate from the multi-party Nigeria Governors Forum. When the aspiration of the party to sponsor a consensus candidate at the May 24 NGF election backfired, the party encouraged the formation of a parallel NGF led by its preferred candidate. The party had even had cause to suspend two of its governors even though one of them has been recalled. In Anambra, Adamawa and Rivers State, the state chapters of the party are in crises. In Taraba, the party watches as the executive and the legislative arm square up in a titanic battle of supremacy.  Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of PDP?

The central focus of this piece is the unfolding drama in the North-Eastern state of Taraba. You may ask what my interest in the affairs of that state is. Well, Taraba is in Nigeria and the north-east geo-political zone has been particularly mired in endless bloodletting for some time now particularly in Borno and Yobe States. As I write this, three of the six states in the zone are under state of emergency. It will be in our collective national interest to do all we could to prevent another state in the zone from coming under emergency rule with its attendant negative impact on the lives of the innocent and law-abiding citizens.

Since October 4, 2012 when the former Deputy Governor of Taraba State, Alhaji Sani Danladi Abubakar was impeached by the state’s house of assembly, the 22 year old state had been in the national news. That action set in motion series of other events with Alhaji Garba Umar, a businessman and longtime friend of Governor Danbaba Danfulani Suntai nominated, confirmed by the Taraba House of Assembly and sworn-in by the governor as his new deputy. Providence played its game exactly 21 days after (October 25) as the  governor got involved in a near fatal plane crash which resulted in him and a couple of his aides sustaining life-threatening injuries and therefore had to be  flown abroad  for medical treatment.  Governor Suntai was reported brain damaged by some section of the media. This was hotly contested by some of his comrade governors and political associates who visited him while in the hospital. Several pictures of him were published and different dates were reported for his homecoming. He only fulfilled that on August 25, 2013.

Since his arrival, much water has passed under the proverbial bridge. On Monday, August 26, he was said to have written to the State House of Assembly on his readiness to resume duties as governor. By Wednesday, a letter signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media announced the dissolution of the state executive council and appointment of new Secretary to the State Government and Chief of Staff. By Thursday, August 29, sixteen  of the 24 members of the state house of assembly purportedly signed to empower the hitherto acting governor Garba Umar to continue to see to the administration of the state while the governor is urged to go back to complete his medical treatment. The acting governor was said to have countermand his boss by directing that the members of the state executive council should disregard the dissolution order.

The Speaker of the House, Hon. Haruna Tsokwa said their observation during their meeting with the governor last Wednesday does not show him as someone medically fit to administer the state. He even said that the letter allegedly written to the House by the governor for resumption of duties may have been forged.   Early last week, the lawmakers decried the attempt by the Suntai’s family and close associates to prevent them from seeing the governor. Even the acting governor was also alleged to have been prevented from seeing his boss. The state commissioner of police and director of state security services were equally said to have been prevented from seeing the governor. However, close associate of the governor said the governor was advised to rest for 72 hours by his doctors due to jetlag.

To my mind, the lingering governance crises in Taraba State is all about self interest of few powerful individuals whose focus is all on the 2015 elections in the state. It is noteworthy that in the ten months that Governor Suntai was away, his loyalists have been swept away from the helms of affair in the leadership of the State of Assembly. Not only that, it was reported in the editorial of Thisday of September 1 that about six weeks ago, the acting governor sacked the secretary to the state government, four commissioners, two special advisers  and the head of the state emergency agency. They were reported to have abused their office and committed gross misconduct by a committee set up by the Taraba State House of Assembly to investigate the management of the funds for flood victims.  It is believed that the handlers of Governor Suntai may have rushed him home to wrestle power back from his deputy given the seeming plot of the acting governor to consolidate his hold on power. They smelt rat that the leadership change in the state house of assembly and the sack of some of the commissioners were not mere coincidences but may be a prelude to eventual impeachment of the ailing governor.

Given the above scenario, the question on the lips of many keen observers is that, is the governor medically fit to govern? Not many people are convinced that he is. Someone remarked that since the governor is a licensed pilot, those who contend that he is fit as fiddle to rule should allow him pilot them on a flight from Yola to Abuja as a proof. Governor Suntai looked frail on his arrival from his Medicare abroad and had to be assisted to disembark from the plane. Even, on Monday, August 26 when he received his Adamawa State counterpart, Governor Muritala Nyako in his office, it was his wife, who spoke on his behalf.   His official address to the state on Wednesday, August 28 was brief and uninspiring and was not even a live transmission but a recorded one. Since the major contention now is whether the governor is hale and hearty enough to resume duties,  it is my opinion that the state executive council  should invoke section 189 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended to have a medical panel establish the state of the governor’s health. Although the likelihood of this happening is in doubt given the purported dissolution of the executive council. Maybe the governor will of his own accord publish his medical report to show that he is healthy enough to govern. That should lay to rest the insinuation of governance by proxy. In a more enlightened society, the governor would have been more thankful for surviving a plane crash and honourably resigned to take care of his health, but that is an alien culture in Nigeria. So sad!