Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State on Sunday afternoon arrived the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja after spending about 10 months abroad for treatment for injuries sustained when a small aircraft he piloted crashed.
The governor, who left Nigeria for Germany in October, was supported on his right and left arms by aides while disembarking from a chartered Gulfstream aircraft with registration number G4 at the domestic wing of the airport.
The aircraft touched down on the tarmac at about 12.41pm and the governor was immediately driven to the VIP lounge of the airport in a Toyota Land Cruiser.
At the lounge, he sat between two men before he proceeded to Jalingo, the Taraba State capital where two advance aircraft marked N224BA and 5NBMR were already on the ground.
Suntai was visibly weak and could not speak, but his associates told journalists that the long haul flight from the United States where he had the last phase of his treatment, made him tired.
He was shielded from responding to questions from journalists by heavily armed security personnel.
But a personal friend to Suntai, Mr. John Dara, said, “I am fully in the picture in all the arrangements for his return and we are really excited to see him back. What is clear is that after the long haul flight from the US, he is obviously weak and tired.
“But we are thrilled by the fact that he recognised each of us and called us by our names. This shows that he is mentally alert and this is an indication that he is capable of running the affairs of the state as governor.”
On why he was prevented from speaking with journalists, Dara said, “Normally, talking to press can be spontaneous and can be organised; but we felt that when he has rested well, it will be easier for him to address the press logically.”
Another associate of the governor and a former of member Niger Delta Development Commission board , Mr. Rima Shawulu, said that Suntai would commence work in earnest.
He said, “We have no doubt in our minds that when he gets to Jalingo later today (Sunday), it will be whether he will resume today or in a couple of days from now. But he is clearly okay and able to function.
“It is what the doctors report says about him that should be followed. When I met him in Germany in February, he did not look like somebody that had lost his senses. We discussed. He told me things and asked me to do some things for him which I did.”
A board member of the Peoples Democratic Party, Prof. Jerry Gana, who was part of a Peoples Democratic Party team that welcomed the governor, also told journalists that Suntai was strong enough to start work.
He said, “We thank God for his safe arrival and he is hale and hearty as you can see. We give God the glory that he has returned to start work as governor in his state.”
Suntai arrived Jalingo around 3.45pm aboard another chartered aircraft marked 5N-12Y amid tight security and cheers by government officials, his friends and sympathisers.
Before he alighted from the plane, his wife, Hauwa, first entered to greete him and then his deputy, Alhaji Garba Umar, who ran the affairs of the state in acting capacity.
When Umar came out of the aircraft, Suntai emerged, this time, assisted by his wife, who led him into an unmarked marooned Range Rover Sports HSE.
The Range Rover –Sports HSE made straight for the governor’s lodge in Jalingo with the ailing governor waving to the people that had gathered to welcome him.
Some of them were heard shouting “ya dawo”, meaning ‘he has come’ while others were saying “shi ne”, meaning ‘he is the one.’
Security chiefs in the state, including the commissioner of police and the director of the State Security Services were cited at the lodge but it was unclear if they were able to see the governor, whom doctors asked to observe a 72 hour-bed rest
Meanwhile, Plateau State Governor has dismissed rumours that he financed Suntai’s return.
The Commissioner for Information and Communication, Mr. Abraham Yiljap, told our correspondent in Jos that Jang didn’t have to do so since the government and people of his state were capable of financing his return.
He said, “Governor Jang did not have to shoulder the financial responsibility for his return as the government of Taraba and people and people of good will were very capable of undertaking the operation; after all he (Suntai ) is a sitting governor.
Abraham said that Jang was happy that the governor was back in the country.
He added, “Jang prayed and visited him in Germany when he was first taken. He encourages him and he (Jang) will continue to support him in any way to fulfill God’s plan and purpose in his life.
“His return gives Jang a feeling of exhilaration. Being back in the presence of his people will offer him the perfect atmosphere for complete healing.”