Governor Suntai And The Abuse Of The Constitution By Public Interest Lawyers League (PILL)

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Governor Suntai of Taraba state leaving an aircraft with help after his recent arrival in Nigeria.

By Abdul Mahmud

Yesterday, Governor Suntai returned to the country almost exactly ten months after he was evacuated to Germany and later the United States for treatment of injuries he suffered in a plane crash. That he survived the crash and ten grueling months of recuperation from injuries that Nigerian newspapers and online blogs speculate range from a debilitating head injury to permanent mental and physical incapacitation is a testimony to his indomitable spirit.

However, his prolong absence raised, and still raises, questions over the state of his health, the extent of his injuries and the more specific question: is he fit to govern Taraba state?

The picture of a man being helped by aides down the gangway of an aircraft fuels the speculation that Governor Suntai is gravely ill, incapable of discharging the functions of his office. The failure of Governor Suntai to address the media or the people of Taraba state since his arrival in Jalingo appears indicative of a more serious medical case.

We have travelled the beaten path before. Recall President Yar’Adua’s saga. As it was then, so it is now: a public servant, feeling very poorly, is corralled by criminal cabal intent on subverting the spirit and letters of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).

Today, like yesteryear, Governor Suntai is imprisoned by his aides and a wife who is more interested in power than that the desire to help her husband deal with his fate, the circumstances he has found himself, away from prying and inquisitive public. Nigerians must help Governor Suntai out of his misery.

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) is very clear. Section 189 provides that:

• The Governor or Deputy Governor of a State shall cease to hold office if:

• By a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all members of the executive council of the state, it is declared that the Governor or Deputy Governor is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; and

• The declaration in paragraph (a) of this subsection is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the Speaker of the House of Assembly

• Where the panel certifies in its report that in its opinion the Governor or Deputy Governor is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice thereof signed by the Speaker of the House of Assembly shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of the State.

• The Governor or Deputy Governor shall cease to hold office as from the date of publication of the notice of the medical report pursuant to subsection (2) of this section.

• The medical panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Assembly of the State, and shall comprise five medical practitioners in Nigeria.

The above section doesn’t need the adumbration of the court, nor does it elicit interpretation beyond what the Constitution charges named statutory bodies to give it its simple and plain meaning. Therefore, we call on the executive council of Taraba state and the Speaker of the Taraba state House of Assembly to give effect to the Constitution; and to without delay:

• Pass a resolution declaring Governor Suntai incapable of discharging the functions of his office;

• Appoint a medical panel as directed by Section 189 (4) to investigate the true medical state of Governor Suntai

Pursuant to the foregoing, we call on the Attorney-General of the Federation, as Chief Law Officer, and the Attorney-General of Taraba state to immediately initiate steps to protect and secure the sanctity of the Constitution. We shall serve no other notice of our intention to approach the court to compel them to discharge their constitutional functions if they fail to do so within seven (7) days of the publication of this press statement.

For those who ask: what is it with Taraba state and why Governor Suntai? Our response is that constitutional infractions undermine the integrity of constitutional democracy everywhere. And for a nascent democracy like ours, Taraba state poses a dangerous precedent; and it behoves us as Nigerians to resist this clear abuse and subversion of our constitution.

Abdul Mahmud

(President)

Abuja

26th August, 2013

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