Life and Times of Danbaba Suntai (1961 – 2017)

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By Eric Elezuo

Danbaba Danfulani Suntai was born on June 30, 1961, and qualified as a seasoned Pharmacist before delving into the murky waters of politics, the profession that enabled him become a two-term elected Executive Governor of Taraba State, under the umbrella of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in April 2007, and April 2011 respectively.

Suntai was born at Suntai Town in Bali Local Government Area of Taraba State. He attended Federal Government College, Kano between 1975 and 1980, and the School of Basic Studies at Ahmadu Bello UniversityZaria from 1980 to 1981.

He was thereafter, admitted to Ahmadu Bello University where he read Pharmacy and graduated in 1984. He did his internship at Yola Specialist Hospital and his National Youth Service at the State Hospital, Ijaiye, AbeokutaOgun State (1985–1986). He became his professional career at the General Hospital, Ganye in old Gongola State until 1991 when he actively went partisan.

Danbaba Suntai was elected Chairman of Bali Local Government in 1989, and served through to 1993 before joining the Taraba State civil service as the Director-General of the Taraba State Ministry of Agriculture and National Resources (1994–1996).

In the 1999 elections, he was State chairman of the All People’s Party (APP), when the PDP narrowly defeated the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP). In 2000, he became Chairman of Taraba State Investment and Properties Ltd. He was appointed Commissioner of the Ministry of Education (2000–2003), and worked at the Ministry of Health (2003–2005) before becoming Secretary to the Taraba State Government in 2005, a position he held till 2007 when he ran for the governorship seat.

In the run-up to the 2007 elections, he was used as a replacement for Danladi Baido, who won the PDP gubernatorial primaries but was later disqualified, even as he did not participate in the primaries. Surprisingly, Baido lent his support to Suntai, and in April 2007, Suntai won election as Governor of Taraba State.

However, after the elections, relations between Suntai and Baido soured. The unsuccessful Action Congress candidate challenged the switch of PDP candidates and in February 2008, Baido himself joined this suit. But a Supreme Court judgment validated his election.

During his tenure as governor, Danbaba Suntai made efforts to fight corruption, crime and lack of discipline, while delegating authority and providing funds to the Local Government Areas. In January 2009 a group of Concerned Indigenes of Taraba State sent a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), with a copy to President Umaru Yar’Adua, concerning alleged fraudulent financial practices in Suntai’s administration. Claims included unnecessary imports of foreign cars, use of foreign rather than local workers, and inflated road building contracts.

A lover peace as preached by the Islamic and Christian faith, Suntai, in October 2009 said he strongly supported religious and moral teaching aimed at reducing juvenile delinquency, crime and other vices, adding that his administration was strongly behind both the Christian and Islamic faiths since both religions teach peace, love and unity.

He initiated reforms to make local government administration more transparent. Among other effects, the monthly pension bill dropped from N33 million to N22 million, while pensioners began getting more regular payments. In November 2009 Danbaba Suntai commissioned a N540 million computerized stone-crushing and asphalt plant to provide road building materials. The plant was constructed by the state government but to be operated on a fully commercial basis.

On April 26, 2011, Suntai ran successfully for reelection.

On October 25, 2012 as the sitting governor, he flew an aircraft which crashed, but managed to complete his tenure in 2015 after being treated for the injuries he sustained.

The Aide-de-Camp to Suntai, Mr. Dasat Iliya; his Chief Security Officer Timo Dangana and the Chief Detail, Joel Dangana, were also aboard the private Cessna plane that crashed.

Following the crash the ex-governor was initially treated at Adamawa Standard German Hospital in Yola, the National Hospital in Abuja on October 26, 2012 and at a hospital in Germany.

On his discharge from the German hospital, he was moved to a rehabilitation centre in the United States.

However, in the early hours of June 28, 2017, two days to his 56th birthday, Suntai died as revealed by his former Commissioner for Information, Emmanuel Bello, a senior special assistant to Governor Darius Ishaku.

He is survived by his wife and children, Mariam and Zainab.

May his soul rest in peace.