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Before the fatal air plane crash which nearly claimed the life of Taraba State governor Danbaba Suntai, on October 25, 2012, no one had ever heard of Alhaji Umar Garba. His inauguration as deputy governor took place 20 days before his boss’ unfortunate date with fate.

Following the crash, Umar was sworn in as acting governor, and the problems and worries which Suntai had to deal with while in office became his. More than 140 days since the heavy mantle of leadership fell on him, his life has been anything but one of ease. As suddenly as he had been sworn in to represent the former impeached governor, he found himself at the helm of affairs in the State. While he is pushed by those who think they might be better off with him on the seat of power, loyalists of the recuperating Suntai still think that the deputy should remain so, until [and if] the governor ever returns.

These two factions, blinded by loyalty which has bordered on the suspicious and ulterior, have made Umar’s time as acting governor one of sleepless nights.

But, really, what does it take for one to know the difference between ‘Acting governor’ and one who is governor?

Following the sad event which nearly took Suntai’s life, the House of Assembly invoked Section 190 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, which empowered Umar to hold forte for his boss. As he inherited power, he also inherited many challenges.

These challenges had taxed his boss to the brim. Umar became the administrator of a polarised State. His appointment, sadly, has divided the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). As acting governor, the 67-year-old is also acting party leader, despite the presence of a party chairman in the State, Victor Bala.

The acting governor’s challenge has been how to choose between two devil’s alternatives. He is at a loss on how to carry everyone along, and for good reason, too – unless he is sworn in as governor, he might keep dilly-dallying. If he is given the toga and executive powers of governorship (he has the powers, in this case), things will become more stable, as everyone will be silent, poised and awaiting what the new governor has in store. Umar does not need to extend any olive branch to the former governors’ allies, because he has offended no one. Is it a crime to be the deputy of an indisposed governor? Did he plan the governor’s unfortunate accident? He did not ask for all these, but now that he is here, why can’t we all be done with sentimental draw backs and proceed to do what is right? Why are the lawmakers in the State holding out on doing the right thing? False loyalties will profit no one; all it will bring is more trouble and unsettling of the polity.

Worse, it has been nine months since the ill-fated helicopter crash, and there is no timeline on the governor’s return to the State. Must the man die in government house? Must he be governor? When will Nigerians learn to throw in the towel in respect to public yearning and what is right?

This has been thrashed out by the public a lot of times, but the State House of Assembly went ahead to make the banal declaration that Danbaba Suntai remains the state governor, notwithstanding his condition.

This brings to mind the mother of all dramas; during the period of the prolonged sickness of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, while the late president was battling to live, those around him kept lying to the nation that he was “recovering and would soon be back at his duty post” all in a bid to deny his deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, from taking over his job as stipulated by the constitution. Everyone knows how it turned out. Today, Jonathan is president and all those human barriers are hiding their heads in shame.

Within the last 100 days, the state has witnessed religious and ethnic crises that led to the killing of over 310 persons and destruction of property worth billions of naira. It started in Ibi local government area, where a clash between Muslims and Christians left over 10 people dead, and churches, mosques, commercial and residential buildings torched. In Wukari, what started as a mere football pitch argument between two amateur players sparked an orgy of violence.

Is it not evident that the State needs someone who has the toga and authority of a governor to quell the unending the violence and the resultant confusion in the State?

Has anyone, thought, to a large extent, that the State needs a leader as badly as it needs peace? The earlier this is realised, the earlier normalcy can return to the State. Those who are kicking against Umar’s swearing-in as governor are only kicking against reason and the bricks; whether they like it or not, let the truth be said.

Having considered this, what difference does it make to let Umar sit-in as governor for about a year and-a-half and have him re-contest if he wants to continue in 2015? What’s fair can only be fair. No deputy governor, not even an acting governor has power to “create jobs and curb youth restiveness”. Umar has been signing checks in the State, okaying policies and baby-sitting the State for more than 100 days. But is that all he is fit for? How about being full-scale governor?

He put traditional rulers and council chairmen on their toes, saying that they would responsible for any violent act in their domain. Local governments in the state depend on the Federal allocations to survive. The rural state is poor and internally generated revenue is small. The acting governor has promised to pursue an aggressive revenue-generating plan to ensure adequate funds for project funding.

Although, he has not put in place for the machineries to generate the internal revenue, he had succeeded in bridging the financial loopholes.

His supporters have applauded his decision to cut down this year’s budget by N436.5 million, when compared with his boss’ appropriation bill of last year. Suntai’s budget for this year was N73.8 billion and Umar’s is N73.4 billion. “I want to avoid a deficit budget, which would give him problems”, he said. Many have alleged that Suntai had starved some ministries of funds and other ministries get more than what is usually appropriated for them in the annual budgets.

Following the allegation of skewed budget implementation, Umar, who described himself a different manager, said that “funds will be released to implement programmes and projects that are only built in the budget”. He also promised to provide monthly running cost for the ministries, which Suntai did not provide for many years. If he does that, he would be putting smiles on the faces of the commissioners. But at the same time, he would have offended his boss.

Another challenge is the pressure mounted on him by his allies to dissolve the cabinet and appoint new commissioners and special advisers. But Umar is treading softly.

Umar has established a cordial relationship with the legislature and the ruling party. The House of Assembly and the party is also supporting him. After he was empowered to act, the lawmakers approved for him a supplementary budget of N10 billion for last year. The Assembly also passed a vote of confidence on the acting governor, describing his leadership approach as “legendary”.

The PDP national secretariat also applauded him for effective service delivery. Umar has tried to be more frugal with the state resources. He is said to have saved about 30 percent of the state’s wealth. Tackling corruption is a big challenge for Umar.

True, it will not be easy governing a religious-conscious state where Christians and Muslims fight over the soul of Taraba. Umar changed the perception when he stopped Muslim-led pressure groups from protesting the prolonged absence of the governor, although the protests would have been to his favour. In his response to those urging him to instigate a process that could make him become the substantive governor, Umar said: “An acting governor is the governor. When you are acting, like in my case, you are the governor. I have all the powers that the constitution gives a governor. I prepared the 2013 budget and I am paying workers’ salaries. So, what power again? And it is the same government. The only difference is that the people are feeling the absence of my boss.” No one could have said it better. But in Nigeria, where name and title is everything, it is wise to make the man who has been sitting in for the governor to go the whole nine miles and be made the governor. He is governor in deed and in office, so, why not in name, as well?

Taraba would not be tangled by its own shadows if is constitutionally empowered to carry out his responsibilities meant for the office of the governor. We are uncomfortable with Umar being dressed in borrowed garments of course, they are not his, (thanks to blind loyalists). No matter how well they coat his activites and office, it is evident that he cannot exercise full powers unless something gives way.

As it is, the blind loyalists have declared war on the law and its provisions, as well as the morals acquainted with good leadership – thanks to their ignorance. What is unforgivable here, though, is that some people feign ignorance that they may be overlooked by the law. Sadly, the law does not even spare the ignorant.

The odds favour Umar to act well in the absence of Suntai, and turn the people’s worries into hope. He has an opportunity to correct Suntai’s wrongs, complete the projects initiated by his boss and defend his programmes. For one overseeing such a volatile State, if he fails, he will incur the public anger and make the people feel the absence of the governor: If he succeeds, it will be worth the gamble, wouldn’t it?

Written By Ibrahim Muktar

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