That it took eight months after the plane crash that left Governor Dambaba Suntai critically injured for the political uncertainties in Taraba State to unravel is a real surprise. But now the gloves are off and the unfortunate power struggle is now in full swing. It all started last Monday when several newspapers quoted an anonymous source as saying: “there are plans to bring the governor (Suntai) back into the country by some of his loyalists. Under the plot, the governor will be kept in a way that the public will be told the man is still recovering. You remember the dark room Yar`Adua was kept, that is what they are planning. I am making this disclosure because this game is not in the best interest of Suntai.”
This ubiquitous source, “a friend” of the ailing governor, said the aim of the plot is to prevent the state executive council and the House of Assembly from applying Section 189 of the constitution to determine Suntai’s exact medical status. “They want to stop such possibility. But I am sad. And I cannot bear to see Danbaba in the position of late Yar`Adua. I appeal to all friends of Danbaba to reach his wife to stop this game”.
Not long after the report was published, the Taraba State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr. Emmanuel Bello, dismissed it as no more than sheer mischief. While denying that a specific date had been announced for what he described as the governor’s “imminent return”, Bello, a core Suntai loyalist, nonetheless said the governor “now does rigorous physical exercises to strengthen him for the flight back home.”
While one can only be happy about the miraculous recovery of the governor who, as we are now told, is already doing physical exercises (a familiar tale), I honestly do not think bringing him back home would serve either his interest or that of Taraba State. I therefore believe it is incumbent on all men of goodwill who can intervene on the side of common sense and decency to do so now, before a political crisis is created in the state.
From my little understanding of an issue like this, if indeed the governor is leaving the hospital as being suggested, it can only be under any of three scenarios. One, the hospital has certified him medically fit, in which case he is ready to resume his job as Governor of Taraba State when he returns. Two, the hospital believes it has done the best it could medically and has therefore concluded it was better the governor was taken home so he can spend the remaining period of his life under proper care, surrounded by family love and attention. Three, the governor is being forcibly discharged from hospital by a combination of forces over which he has no control and for motives that are neither altruistic nor in his personal interest.
The last reason seems more plausible, based on the accounts of those who recently saw Suntai at John Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore in the United States where he is currently receiving treatment. In any case, a clear hint about his delicate condition was first given last December by Governor Gabriel Suswan of Benue State who had visited him at the German hospital where he was at the time. In seeking prayers of protection at a church service following the death of Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State, Suswan said that whereas four Christians from the North were elected governors of their states in 2007, with the death of Yakowa and “the almost hopeless condition of Governor Suntai”, only himself and Jonah Jang of Plateau State remain as Christian Governors in the entire 19 northern states.
While I therefore hope and pray that Suntai fully recovers, any attempt to take him from the hospital based on the political calculations in Taraba would be very dangerous both for his health and the health of the state he had governed for more than five years before the unfortunate plane crash. But the preoccupation of those close to him now should be his health. I have it on good authority that the Governor is partially blind, can hardly mutter any comprehensible word and is still unable to recognise people. So any attempt to bring him back home would be based on the political calculations in his state which would be very unfortunate, yet Taraba cannot continue without a substantive governor in charge.
The fact of the matter is that, as acting governor, Alhaji Garba Umar will not be held accountable for the problems in Taraba as he can easily rationalize any failure on his part to his being politically hamstrung. There is always a “cabal” to blame in such a situation because he can claim that he is not in full control, even when he is, and that would excuse him of any responsibility and accountability. However, I am also aware that given the mix of ethnicity and religion, two potent political weapons in our country today, Umar indeed has to tread with care and so to that extent, there is no way he can function effectively under the current atmosphere in the state without substantive powers.
There are four ways this issue can be resolved. The first is for Suntai to resign. I am not sure that is possible under the current circumstance so the alternative is to get the wife to do so on his behalf; which is a clear illegality. Under this kind of arrangement, Mrs Suntai may be expected to do a crooked deal that goes somehow like this: surrender the governorship on behalf of your husband and name any price, including nominating someone to be deputy governor. Assuming a spouse does have such power, (which I doubted in the past and still doubt today), this is a corrupt idea that should never be countenanced in any self-respecting democracy and it is not an option I would subscribe to. The second option is for the House of Assembly to impeach Suntai but then what would be his crime: that he is sick? The third option is for the status quo to remain since the relevant section of the amended constitution still does not specify for how long a president or governor can serve in acting capacity. The implication, however, is that there will be no real government in Taraba for almost three years, if we add the period Suntai has already been away.
The fourth and most plausible option is for the state executive council to invoke section 189 of the constitution by initiating the process that will culminate in declaring the governor incapacitated. This is plausible in that it can be done in a manner that is both compassionate and sagacious, if all the critical stakeholders in the state come together to find common grounds. But even this will require some deft and tricky political negotiations.
At the root of the lacuna in Taraba is religion. The state is predominantly Christian and the acting governor is a Muslim. The calculation is therefore about 2015. In the event that Umar becomes substantive governor, he may want to run in 2015 and with the power of incumbency, the odds would be in his favour. That definitely will alter the political equation in the state. To therefore reach any consensus, powerful stakeholders from the state like Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, who I understand is a kinsman of Suntai (and the anointed front-runner for 2015 before the crash); PDP State Chairman, Mr. Victor Bala and others will have to work out a compromise. The way things are, President Goodluck Jonathan will also have to come in. But the most powerful actor from what I hear is actually the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) without whose support there can be no deal. And of course, nobody can forget Lt. General T.Y. Danjuma, the most prominent Nigerian from the state.
I believe that with the intervention of all these people, the Taraba logjam can be resolved in the interest of the state. Otherwise, the potentials for crisis are all too evident even if avoidable. The ultimate lesson, however, is that for us to deepen our democracy, we must begin to learn from our experience, including mistakes that may have been made in the past. That is how other societies developed. Yet the 20th anniversary of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, marked yesterday only in a section of the country, is a sad reminder of how divided we have become as a nation and how we learn nothing from our history.
Unity Schools Indeed!
The evidence that the Nigerian authorities have a way to bastardise every concept came early in the week when the cut-off marks for admission into the Federal Government Colleges nation-wide were released. According to a statement by the federal Ministry of Education, pupils that scored above the following cut-off marks (in the recent common entrance examination) based on their state of origin are eligible for admission into the so-called Unity Schools: Abia– Male(130) Female(130); Adamawa:– Male(62) Female(62); Akwa-Ibom:– Male(123) Female(123); Anambra:–Male(139) Female(139); Bauchi:– Male(35) Female(35); Bayelsa:– Male(72) Female(72); Benue:–Male(111) Female(111); Borno:– Male(45) Female(45); Cross-Rivers:– Male(97) Female(97); Delta:– Male(131) Female(131); Ebonyi:– Male(112) Female(112); Edo:– Male(127) Female(127); Ekiti:– Male(119) Female(119); Enugu:– Male(134) Female(134); Gombe:– Male(58) Female(58); Imo:– Male(138) Female(138); Jigawa:–Male(44) Female(44); Kaduna:– Male(91) Female (91); Kano:– Male(67) Female(67); Kastina:– Male(60) Female(60); Kebbi:– Male(9) Female(20); Kogi:– Male(119) Female(119); Kwara:– Male(123) Female(123); Lagos – Male(133) Female(133); Nassarawa:–Male(58) Female(58); Niger:– Male(93) Female(93); Ogun:– Male(131) Female(131); Ondo:– Male(126) Female(126); Osun:– Male(127) Female(127); Oyo:– Male(127) Female(127); Plateau:– Male(97) Female(97); Rivers:– Male(118) Female(118); Sokoto:– Male(9) Female(13); Taraba:– Male(3) Female(11); Yobe:– Male(2) Female(27); Zamfara:– Male(4) Female(2) and FCT Abuja:– Male(90) Female(90).
That a score of less than ten out of 200 total marks would secure admission for candidates from Sokoto, Yobe, Taraba, Kebbi and Zamfara States whereas even a score as high as 130 is not enough for candidates from Anambra, Enugu, Delta, Ogun, Imo and Lagos states is beyond the ridiculous. Even when I have for long concluded that the federal government has no business running secondary schools, I fail to understand this sort of absurdity in which a mark of two (as in 2!) will secure admission for a boy from Yobe while his counterpart from Anambra would need a score of 139 to gain entrance into the same school.
I have friends from Yobe who reside in Abuja with smart kids that can compete with their colleagues anywhere in the country and will never go to a school with such ridiculous admission criteria. But because the education sector in Yobe (like many other states, especially in the North) has broken down and nobody is concerned about how to fix it, the federal ministry of education is compounding the problem with this cynical proposition which can only feed negative stereotypes, breed ill-feeling, fuel misdirected anger and help to further divide the country along regional lines. Whatever the motivation behind it, I sincerely do not think that this admission policy represents the spirit or the essence of the federal character principle that is being clearly debased here.