Posted by News Express | 30 August 2013 | 3,958 times
Since November, last year, Taraba State has been enveloped in anxiety. The health of Governor Dambaba Suntai, who was involved in a plane crash, has been a subject of concern. But the governor’s return from his 10-month overseas medical trip has not ended the tension.
Yesterday, 16 of the 24 members of the House of Assembly presided over by Speaker Haruna Tsokwa rejected the decision of the ailing governor to resume work. They said he was unfit to perform the arduous responsibilities of governor. Majority of the lawmakers belong to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The implication is that the two-third majority of the House is not convinced that the governor should continue in office, until he is medically fit. For now, their definition of fitness is that the governor should be able to shake hands heartily, walk unaided and speak without inhibition.
But in a report, Suntai’s Chief Press Secretary Hassan Miniyawa said the governor held a meaningful discussion with the legislators, contrary to the Speaker’s earlier allegation that they were prevented from seeing the governor. Reports also suggest that the opinion of the lawmakers contrasted with the view of other indigenes of the state who were said to be jubilating on listening to the governor’s broadcast on Wednesday. In fact, the eight dissenting lawmakers disagreed with their colleagues that the governor has not sufficiently recovered. They said the 16 legislators were wrong.
Observers contend that the governor’s camp and his detractors are locked in a power play. Suntai returned to a divided state last Sunday. He met a divided cabinet headed by his deputy, Alhaji Garba Umar, who was about to stabilise as the acting governor. Before his return, Umar had taken some decisive steps, including the sacking of some commissioners and special advisers. The move, sources said, had generated bitterness.
Also, it was alleged that the forces loyal to the deputy governor wanted to capitalise on the governor’s absence to alter the geo-political calculus. The changes effected in the cabinet and parliament underscored the desire for power consolidation by the acting governor, who according to party chieftains, was scheming to become the substantive governor. To the governor, it is the height of disloyalty.
Suntai’s return may have jolted the deputy governor’s camp from its delusion that the number one seat will soon be vacant. His first priority was to reassert himself. Thus, the governor removed the Secretary to the Government.
But the anti-Suintai forces will not surrender easily. Since the governor is still recuperating, they may hide under that to demand for his resignation and ouster. It may be a difficult option. In saner climes, governors may resign based on prolonged illness. But African leaders are always reluctant to abdicate because their supporters believe that their destiny is tied to the leader’s survival on the throne. Therefore, resignation is an avoidable route.
The Constitution actually envisaged many of the challenges confronting the current dispensation. However, the operators seldom adhere to the law. The 16 lawmakers have claimed that the governor is unfit. Illness, or gradual recovery, is not an impeachable offence. There are puzzles to be resolved. At what point should a leader’s illness make him a liability? How did the legislators arrive at the conclusion that the governor is unfit? How can a case of incapacitation be proved? Has any medical board certified Suntai unfit? If a medical board is to be constituted, who should constitute it? What is the time frame for the medical investigation?
According to the 1999 Constitution, a governor can be removed from office. But it is a tedious process. But there are certain guidelines. A notice of allegation in writing by not less than two-third members of the House should be presented to the Speaker detailing his gross misconduct. Within seven days, the copy of the notice is served on the legislators and the governor inviting him to make a statement of reply to the allegations.
Within 14 days, the allegations are investigated, whether the governor replies to the allegations or not. To investigate the allegations, a motion supported by the two-third of the House must be passed. Then, within seven days, the Speaker will notify the Chief Judge, who will set up a non-partisan panel of seven persons to investigate the allegations. The governor will defend himself before the panel. After submitting the report of the panel to the House, it is debated and adopted by the House within 14 days and the governor is removed.
In case of Suntai, the onus is on the House to prove that he is permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office. A medical examination by a medical panel is required to establish his fitness or otherwise and the panel must make a report to the Speaker.
According to the Constitution, “where the medical panel certifies in its report that in its opinion the governor is suffering from such infirmity of body and mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the Speaker shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the State”. The key words here are “permanently incapable of discharging the functions”.
From the date of the publication, the governor will cease to be in office. The Speaker is constitutionally empowered to raise the medical panel. The panel should be made up of five medical practitioners, one of which must be the governor’s physician’.
These conditions must be satisfied before Suntai can be removed.
•Credit: The Nation. Photo shows Suntai being assisted to alight from the aircraft on his return, Sunday, from 10months’ medical treatment abroad.
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