Jalingo, the Taraba State capital, was in a festive mood Sunday as people trooped out to welcome the governor, Mr. Danbaba Suntai, who had been away from the state for the past 10 months for medical treatment abroad after cheating death in a plane crash.
Suntai, who was initially flown to a German hospital for treatment after surviving the air crash in Yola, the Adamawa State capital, in October 2012, was put under intensive care treatment at the Sea View Hospital Rehabilitation Centre and Home in New York in the United States America, as part of his rehabilitation programme. He however left New York on Saturday for Nigeria.
Major streets of the state capital were festooned with banners and buntings to herald the return of the governor who arrived the Jalingo Airport at exactly 3.45 pm from New York en route Abuja.
Gaily dressed men and women as well as top government functionaries, community, religious and traditional rulers were at the airport to receive Suntai who arrived aboard a chartered plane belonging to IZY Air Limited with registration number 5N-IZY.
The loud reception accorded him in Jalingo was in sharp contrast to the subdued but warm one he received in Abuja after his chartered flight from New York touched down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport at 12.48 pm.
On disembarking from the airplane in Abuja, Suntai was received by a few political associates, friends and family.
The governor, dressed in a dark grey suit and light blue shirt, looked fatigued and frail.
He made feeble attempts to wave to a small crowd that had converged on the airport to welcome him as he was ushered into a Toyota Sequoia sports utility van with registration number Lagos SC 989 AAA that drove him to the VIP lounge for a short rest before the onward journey to Jalingo.
The pilot of the aircraft, Mr. Quinn Scot, who spoke briefly with THISDAY, said the more than 12-hour flight from New York was fine.
Former Minister of Information, Prof. Jerry Gana, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Board of Trustees (BoT), thanked God for the governor’s safe arrival.
“After about 13 hours of flight, he will be tired as a human being. He is fine, he wants to rest a bit before the next flight to Jalingo.
“We thank God he arrived safely; he is very sound but because of the fatigue of travelling, he is going to rest for about an hour or two before the next flight to Jalingo. We are delighted, we thank God for his safety,” he told THISDAY in response to inquiries about Suntai’s frailty.
On whether the governor was strong enough for state duties, he said: “Governance doesn’t mean you will be running around; you have to think and act. There are those who govern even on wheel chairs. We thank God he is safe and that he arrived safely. He is healthy. He will be able to do his work effectively. He is going to Jalingo later today (yesterday).”
Also speaking, the Minister of State for Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Darius Ishaku, said it was a good thing that the governor arrived safely. According to him, Suntai could not have stayed abroad indefinitely, as he had recovered and therefore needed to come home.
He said: “Now that he is back after about 13-hour flight, he needs to rest to recoup himself before going to Jalingo.”
Mr. John Dara, a former presidential aspirant, who described himself as a close friend of Suntai, said: “I am a personal friend of the governor and from the moment of the accident to the period of his recuperation, I have been in touch and all the arrangement for his home coming, I was fully in the picture.”
Asked to assess the health of the governor, he said: “We were excited to see the governor. What is clear is that after the long haul from America, he was obviously weak and tired but we were thrilled by the fact that he recognised everyone of us by name, which showed he was mentally alert, lucid and that itself showed that he is capable of running the affairs of the state as governor.
“We have no doubt that when he gets to Jalingo later, it will be up to his doctor who is accompanying him to say whether he should start work today or not.”
After the brief reception in Abuja and a short rest, the governor boarded the chartered flight that flew him to Jalingo.
Leading the dignitaries that were at the airport to receive Suntai was his deputy and the state’s acting governor during his absence, Alhaji Garba Umar.
As early as 9.30 am, various cultural dancers as well as choir groups from various churches had begun to entertain the crowd that had converged on the airport to await the arrival of the governor.
The crowd danced and sang different songs to express their gratitude to God for bringing their governor back alive.
Before the plane conveying him landed at the airport, the enthusiastic crowd, many of who had arrived the airport as early as 8.00 am, threw the airport into frenzy three times when on different occasions they sighted airplanes that they thought was bringing the governor home. But the jubilations were premature, as Suntai was not on board any of the three planes.
Their wait, however, finally ended at 3.45 pm, when the governor’s plane touched down at the airport.
On sighting the governor as he disembarked from the aircraft, the crowd burst into a rapturous joy and surged forward, defying the heavy security presence at the airport to catch a glimpse of him.
He was assisted out of the plane by his wife Hauwa and other relations and ushered into a waiting red Range Rover SUV that was part of a long convoy to the Government House.
Like in Abuja, Suntai was too tired to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd before he was ushered into the vehicle.
As the convoy drove through the major roads in the town, people trooped out in their thousands and lined the streets right from the airport to the Government House, a distance of over 20 kilometres, while enthusiastic youths drove recklessly round the town to express their joy over the governor’s return.
Speaking to THISDAY, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of
Finance, Mr. Danladi Kifasi, who was also on hand to witness the occasion, expressed gratitude to God for bringing the governor home safely.
He said his return to the state would foster peace and unity among the various tribal and religious groups in the state as well as bring to an end all the rumours in the state over his health.
According to him, “You can see that the people are very happy and ecstatic. Actually, his absence generated a lot of controversies and led to rumours. Rumour mongers actually had a field day, but we are happy about his return.
“I must commend the acting governor because he has always pledged and expressed his loyalty to the governor. By and large, his return is good for the political growth and development of the state.”
However, the acting governor was fenced off by security operatives from getting close to the aircraft to receive Suntai.
Unexpectedly, Suntai’s return immediately generated mixed reactions from different people of the state. Many of those who caught a glimpse of him before he was helped into the waiting car Sunday, expressed concern that the governor was yet to fully recover from the trauma of the crash and should have been allowed to fully recover before he was flown back to the country.
Others also expressed reservations over his ability to perform his constitutional responsibilities.
A PDP leader, who pleaded anonymity, said: “We are happy that our governor has returned to the country and in fact, his return calls for all the celebrations. But from my own observations, he is yet to fully recover and I believe he was brought back for political reasons.
“Why was he not allowed to utter a word or acknowledge cheers from the crowd that trooped out in thousands to welcome him and why was he quickly ushered into the waiting vehicle?
“I would be surprised if somebody comes to say the governor has written any letter or performed any official function in the condition he presently is in.”