Dambaba Suntai, former Governor of Taraba State, a man who survived food poisoning and plane crash, continued to be the governor of the state until 2015 when he completed his second term in office, even when it was obvious that he had suffered brain damage.
Suntai, a pharmacist who enrolled for training as a pilot at the Nigerian College of Aviation in Zaria in 2010, was piloting his private plane when it crashed at the Yola Airport in Adamawa State on October 25, 2012.
He was transferred from a hospital in Yola to the National Hospital, Abuja, on October 26, 2012, and flown to Germany the following day. He was later flown to US for further treatment.
Following the ill-fated air accident, Taraba Sate was embroiled in political controversies and intrigues over Suntai’s stay as Governor despite being incapacitated. Here are a few of them:
FAILURE TO HAND OVER
Suntai and his handlers refused to transmit a letter to the Taraba State House of Assembly investing his deputy with the powers to be Governor in acting capacity. But when he hadn’t returned after 21 days, the legislature invoked Section 190(1) of the 1999 Constitution to swear in Garba Umar, his deputy, on November 14, 2012.
‘BRAIN DEAD’ CONTROVERSY
Few weeks after the accident, it emerged that Suntai had a serious brain injury and had lost his memory. This knowledge divided the state. It was alleged that Umar’s supporters mounted a strong propaganda in the media against Suntai to give credibility to claims that he was a ‘vegetable’ and that the deputy should be made substantive Governor. However, the Suntai’s group continued to report that the injured governor was recovering fast and that he had a sharp memory. They staged several false events, including one that Suntai made a broadcast to the state, inspected some projects and that he could walk unaided.
RETURN TO TARABA
On August 25, 2013, 10 months after his medical trip abroad, Suntai returned amidst reports that he could not talk. He was carried out of the plane by his aides because he clearly could not walk at the time. Umar, his deputy,was blocked from receiving him in Jalingo. Still, the people around him all claimed he was fit to return to his duty post. In fact, one even said at the airport that Suntai was “mentally alert and lucid”.
In less than 72 hours of his return, he dissolved his cabinet. It was unclear if he had the mental alertness to take the decision, or if it was taken by the people manipulating him. Apart from sacking the cabinet, he also removed the Secretary to the State Government and replaced his Chief of Staff. However, Acting Governor Umar countered the dissolution of the cabinet and said the cabal wanted to hijack the government.
Despite sacking the cabinet, it was obvious that Suntai was not in the right state of mind. He could not recognise members of the State House of Assembly when they visited him. It was therefore resolved that Umar should continue in acting capacity but should always liaise with those in Suntai’s camp for peace in the state. Within a week of his return, Suntai was flown back abroad on the bill of the state to continue his medical treatment. Tax payers’ money wasted!
FAILURE TO ADDRESS STATE ASSEMBLY
During the period that Suntai tried to cling to power, the legislators demanded just one thing: that he should address them to prove that he was hale and hearty. It was a period that unnecessarily heated up the polity and divided the two power camps in the state.
Umar’s alleged plan to become substantive Governor did not materialise, though, as he was sacked by the Supreme Court just six months to the end of Suntai’s tenure. Danladi Abubakar, the impeached Deputy Governor, was reinstated.
THE SECOND COMING
Suntai returned to Nigeria in November 2014, shortly before the Supreme Court was to decide on Abubakar’s suit seeking his reinstatement as Deputy Governor, and — as a consequence of Suntai’s illness — Governor. The timing of that return is believed to be related to the impending judgement, and it again heated up the polity. The court ruled in favour of Abubakar and he became substantive Governor. Suntai, meanwhile, remained in the state until the 2015 election, which marked the end of his tenure. He subsequently left the country in June to the US, where he received treatment until his death.