FACTS: My Encounter With Governor Suntai - Reporter
Governor Danbaba Suntai
On the morning of Thursday, August 23, I read online in some Nigerian dailies that ailing Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State, would be discharged from Sea View Hospital Rehabilitation Centre and Home located in New York, United States of America (USA), and flown back to the country.
Out of curiosity, the reporter in me searched for the hospital on Google Search engine.
Promptly, the result showed that Sea View Hospital Rehabilitation Centre & Home is located on 460 Brielle Ave, Staten Island, New York, NY 10314, United States.
Staten Island? I asked myself. With me in Staten Island, then it’s time to pay Gov. Suntai a familial visit since we are both from Nigeria.
After consulting the internet for directions and getting appointment fixed by telephone, I set out on Friday to meet with ‘His Excellency’ at the hospital. There, the receptionist, a relatively aged woman, politely pointed my attention to two Nigerian men seen leaving the hospital and about to enter a black sleek SUV, she said that the visiting time was over. Then, the guard, as he scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to the reporter, added, “Well, you can come back tomorrow and go directly to the fifth floor 5-East Wing.” With a thank you, the reporter left.
On Saturday morning, I left the residence where I was on vacation as early as 6.55 am to join Bus 40 heading for the St. George Ferry Station by 7am. From the ferry harbour, I joined Bus 61 up to Manor Avenue where I was to transfer to Bus 54 for the onward trip to Brielle Avenue location of Sea View Hospital Rehabilitation Centre & Home. Face to face with Suntai
At the hospital, on telling the receptionist that I was there to pay solidarity visit to “Mr. Danbaba Suntai”, I was given a red visitor’s tag that bore the date: Aug 24, 2013 above the inscription ‘Date’. With that empowerment, I located the elevator and pressed the ’5′ button.
On the 5th Floor, visitors are welcome to the Elizabeth E. Conelly Rehabilitation Gymnasium with a hanging direction slab pointing visitor’s in two directions namely: “Sycamore Lane 5East and Sycamore Hill 5West”.
I made for the East which is to the left hand side of the hall. As demanded, I had to stop by the Medical Desk to ask for the Gov’s Room no. But the lady I met, wearing the name tag bearing Dorothy Mointosh-Waddy, Head Nurse, was busy explaining usage of the dispensed drug for Gov. Danbaba Suntai. While waiting, I did a quick look-around. And there, he was. I got locked in eye contact with the man himself, Gov. Danbaba Suntai!
He sat on a wheelchair in Room 503 beside his bed laid in white with three pillows well set aside each one. The name tag on his room read: Dan Fulani. He wore a red T-shirt on an off-white pair of trouser. He also wore a grey coloured sneaker to complete the outfit. On the table beside his bed was a bouquet of white flowers laced with colour pink on the edges with a bold inscription that read: “We love you”. But he did not utter a word to the reporter neither did he move his body. He only raised and lowered his head on the same spot.
On impulse, he looked up and saw the reporter. Then he locked his eyes on the reporter squeezing his face probably for a recollection. This lasted for over ten minutes judging by the clock on the wall. After a while, he looked away and bowed his head.
A few minutes later, I concentrated on some of the medications being prescribed for the man. A few of those read out: amoxil 4mls 2xdaily, there is another drug he is to take at 9am daily; there is another one he is to take every six hours, a liquid medication in a white container with a few measuring cups and several others all packed in a big brown envelope with instruction that everything must be dutifully taken till August 28th when there would be need for him to change to ‘his’ earlier medication, according to Head Nurse Mointosh-Waddy.
As soon as there was a brief pause between the man carefully packing the medication into the bags and the head nurse, I asked him if he was a Nigerian. With a big smile, he responded positively and then asked if the reporter too is from Nigeria, he got a yes.
Then, the reporter told him that she had come to see Gov Suntai. Politely, he said he was not the one in charge of his visitors that his is to see to the governor’s welfare alone. So, he brought out his phone and called the security aide to the governor.
When the man, who introduced himself as Joseph, got to the reporter, she explained her mission and pleaded for understanding. The first thing he asked was: “Did you tell them downstairs that you are a reporter”. The reporter said no, and then added, “why?”
“I am surprised you could be allowed up here,” Joseph said with surprise written all over his face.
“And why is that,” the reporter insisted.
“Because a male reporter came here from Manhattan yesterday, and he was roughly sent out,” he informed.
At that point, I mellowed and said “Okay, Joe, I am here now, I need to speak with the governor, let us know the whole story, what actually happened and several others.”
Joseph said: “I am sorry I am not in the position to permit such. You will have to go to his brother in Manhattan who is the only one that approves his visitors.”
Sea View Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre is located on a vast expanse of land covered with green lush grass. The structure itself is located at the extreme end of the compound.
The reporter then asked for the said brother’s number, but Joseph still declines saying he is not to give that to just anyone. At that point, the reporter asked for Joseph’s numbers. And he gave his USA cell number as well as his Nigeria’s number.
I then asked Joseph if I could talk to the governor while they are taking him out of the hospital in his car on the way home. Joseph blurted, “How can you assume he is going out of here today? Who told you that?”
I replied: “It was in the newspapers that his wife said he would be discharged and taken to Nigeria today (yesterday) which is why I came so I can talk with him to get some facts.”
“Is that what you read, okay o. The people that will come and carry him are still back in Nigeria so I don’t know what you mean by he is leaving here today. Na you sabi sha…”
Suddenly, Joseph switched to the security mood and told the reporter sternly that she has to take her leave and all the pleasantries petered out. Not even the reporter’s pleading smiles would soothe him.
He walked the reporter straight to the elevator and told her to please leave. Surprisingly, one of the guards on the ground floor, who apparently may have been watching the reporter and the security man, or perhaps, heard the conversations, just came out of the elevator and asked Joseph: “Man, it’s like you don’t want this woman here?”
Trust Joseph, he just said “Yes, I want her to leave now.”
So, the guard faced the reporter and asked: “And Ma’am, why did you jump protocol?”
I responded: “I did not jump protocol because I did not know there was any. Joseph and I just met for the first time in our lives. I collected his two phone numbers barely five minutes ago and he just gave me guidelines on how to see a man who is a public figure, a governor in my own country.”
The guard looked at Joseph wanting him to either validate or refute my explanation. Joseph did the former and the guard said: “Ma’am, I agree with the fact that you did not know that you have to get clearance before you come here. Now that you are here, I would please like you to take your leave now.” As the reporter walked away, the guard gave her such a close marking we almost bumped into each other.
Then on the Ground Floor, he still walked the reporter to the outer door and firmly cautioned her to please move far away from the hospital building. I walked away satisfied that I’d been able to see the governor, although not able to talk with him.