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Suntai and the Amunibuni Syndrome, By Olusegun Adeniyi

By News Express on 05/09/2013

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“Amunibuni ewure ibiye. Ibiye f’oju otun, ewure re fo t’osi”—Yoruba idiom 

Ever since the ailing Governor of Taraba State, Mr. Danbaba Suntai, was brought back to the country under controversial circumstances, there is hardly any commentary on the issue that would not involve allusion to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua – a development for which the Yoruba people have a name: ‘Amunibuni’. While the name conveys very deep meaning, it is easily explained in the idiom with which I opened the page. Crudely interpreted, it means if a goat is blind on the left eye and its owner is blind on the right eye, any discussion of the goat as one-eyed would always bring into focus the condition of the owner.

It is understandable, especially against the background that between November 2009 and May 2010, our country went through a serious political crisis on account of the illness of my late boss and the way it was (mis)managed. Apparently because of that, I have received several mails in recent days from people who sought to know my views on the situation in Taraba; despite the fact that I had actually intervened on the issue at a time the crisis was just brewing. While I take responsibility for the personal choices I made as spokesman to the late President Yar’Adua, especially during the course of his protracted illness, I also accept in good faith all the criticisms that come my way, given the way I might also have reacted if someone else were in my shoes.

As I watched the debate in the British parliament on the proposed attempt to wage another war in Syria last week, I paid particular attention to the intervention by Mr. Jack Straw who was the British Foreign Secretary at the time and had made a case for the war in Iraq. This time, Straw is in the opposition and has strong reservations about invading Syria. But he had a rough time from his colleagues who heckled him about Iraq.

Notwithstanding that he kept repeating that he would rather deal with the current issue, there is no doubt that he was scarred by that experience, just as the British people are. It is a burden I can relate to. And for those who may not have read my book on the Yar’Adua years, I recommend chapter 14 titled “Like a Thief in the Night” which captured the drama of the day the late president was brought back to the country from Saudi Arabia under the cover of darkness.

Unfortunately, the current tragedy in Taraba is not only a sad reminder of that tragic chapter in our history, it is a clear indication that we hardly learn from our experience. For instance, the airport scene on the day Suntai arrived the country pointed to the fact that the principal concern of those close to him was to play some sinister politics even at the expense of his personal welfare. Rather than put him on a wheel chair, they made the ailing governor to go through what was evidently a harrowing and humiliating experience that could have ended in catastrophe. Again, it is very obvious that the Suntai who many Nigerians saw on television being virtually carried from the aircraft with a vacant look on his face could not be the person making all the decisions being announced by his audacious spokesman.

It is indeed instructive that just about 11 weeks ago, on June 13 to be specific, I wrote an article here titled, “Power Struggle in Taraba State” where I predicted some of what is happening now, while calling on some critical stakeholders to intervene in the interest of the state. Let me quote a bit from what I wrote back then: “…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.

“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.

“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. 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…”

That we do not learn from our experience is evident from the fact that the 1999 Constitution was amended in the aftermath of the Yar’Adua debacle yet nobody considered fixing the precarious situation the country was in between the period the late president was brought back from Saudi Arabia on 23 February 2010 and when he died three months later. Despite the political crisis engendered by the fact that we had an ailing president that nobody could see and an acting president with doubtful legal authority, the National Assembly, in amending the Constitution, missed an opportunity to redress the anomaly.

That accounts for the current lacuna in Taraba State. The ailing Governor (or some proxy acting on his behalf) has transmitted a letter to the House of Assembly Speaker pursuant to Section 190 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), on which Alhaji Garba Umar’s emergence as acting governor was also based. The section reads: “In the event that the Governor is unable or fails to transmit the written declaration mentioned in sub-section (1) of this section within 21 days, the House of Assembly shall, by a resolution made by a simple majority of the vote of the House, mandate the Deputy Governor to perform the functions of the office of the Governor as Acting Governor, until the Governor transmits a letter to the Speaker that he is now available to resume his functions as Governor.”

The operative phrase in the above provision is that Suntai “is now available to resume his functions as Governor” and to that extent, he is now, technically speaking, back in office. Whether he is medically fit is a different matter altogether but that would require invoking section 189 of the Constitution. Therefore, the resolution by the House of Assembly asking Umar to continue as acting governor has no basis in law. Until Suntai resigns or he is impeached, he is deemed to have resumed as Governor of Taraba State.

It is unfortunate but the amended Constitution neither provides ways out of a situation in which a president or governor would be physically “available”, as specified in section 190 (2) but medically unfit to govern as it is the case in Jalingo right now. Nor does it specify for how long a vice president or deputy governor can serve in acting capacity even when I concede that there’s no way a law can foresee all situations. That’s why we need the intervention of men and women of goodwill and a clear sense of right and wrong on the part of those in authority. But we can also see this crisis as a learning opportunity and as Rob Manuel memorably admonished, we should never “waste a crisis.”

Indeed, the lesson highlighted by the Suntai affair is our tendency to make laws or even amend the constitution to suit individual cases while losing sight of their long-term implications as a perpetual heritage. Notwithstanding, I believe that the ailing governor’s immediate family, especially his wife, has a key role to play in resolving this logjam. Denying Suntai the much-needed medical care by turning him to a pliable tool in the hands of some political opportunists who would want to govern the state by proxy could not only worsen his health, it will further damage whatever remains of his reputation. It is time the political charade in Taraba State was brought to an end.

•This piece by Adeniyi (shown in photo) originally appeared in his column “The Verdict” in today’s edition of ThisDay. Please also see Of Suntai and Yar’Adua: “Like a Thief in the Night”, a reproduction of chapter 14 of Adeniyi’s book, Power, Politics and Death, A Front-Row Account of Nigeria Under The Late President Yar’Adua. Adeniyi can be reached via

Source News Express

Posted 05/09/2013 3:02:27 PM


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