Governor Danbaba Suntai was obviously in pains as he disembarked from the aircraft that brought him back to Nigeria last Sunday. He is doubtless still recuperating, perhaps agonisingly slowly, from the injuries he sustained when the small plane he piloted crashed near Yola, Adamawa State last October. But whether that recuperation is fast or substantial enough to enable him resume his duties as governor is now mired in acrimonious debate. Neither at the airport nor anywhere in his state has Mr Suntai directly addressed the public. Instead, he has offered a few minutes of unconvincing taped video message to his state and the public.
While Tarabans were still trying to make up their minds on how to view their governor’s return, and while the acting governor, Speaker of the State House of Assembly and a majority of the state’s lawmakers were steeling their nerves to resist the governor’s obsession with power, the controversy became even more intense and convoluted. Sixteen lawmakers, together with the Speaker and the acting governor, insisted there was no way the governor would be allowed to resume duty. He still needed medical attention, they said. He manifested clear symptoms of brain injury that would take a long time to heal, some medical specialists averred. Some Tarabans even concluded that the governor and his minders’ manoeuvres reminded them of the chicaneries of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua who was also too unwell in his last months in office to function as president, but was exploited by a cabal to wreak havoc on the country.
If the Taraba drama were limited to the caricature it has become, we would safely enjoy it from the comfort of our homes. But with the determination of the anti-Suntai forces to unhorse the governor growing into a bitter struggle for power, and the pro-Suntai forces clinging desperately to power, the struggle could plunge the state into a violent and embarrassing confusion. On account of what he has manifested since his return, I really doubt whether Mr Suntai can still function as governor. He needs more care than he and his minders care to admit. However, the constitution contains provisions for resolving such difficult matters. I find it appalling that the House of Assembly, which obviously musters a majority to back the Speaker’s anti-Suntai point of view, evades due process and seems to embrace strong-arm tactics. Instead of tomfoolery, let the legislature constitute a medical panel to examine the governor’s ability to continue in office. I doubt whether in such an open case the empanelled doctors would betray their oaths by telling open lies. Nor do I think their conclusion would be any less self-evident than the clear incapacity of the hapless governor to perform the most gentle and menial of tasks