Gov Ishaku: Taking Taraba to greater heights

Darius, the son of Ishaku, exudes humble persona. Darius, governor of Taraba state, displays pragmatism in the art of governance. These are my reporter’s first-time impressions and assessment of Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba state on meeting him for the first time at Government House in Jalingo, the state capital, while working on a project to assess achievements of state governors.

I had followed his activities, especially the political upheaval that followed his election in 2015; the re-run of the election; the contest in court over his victory; and variety of developments that have emanated from this Northeastern state of Nigeria. Four years gone, I went back to Jalingo not to celebrate his re-election last March but to see what he has made of the first mandate.

Ishaku, who holds two Masters degrees in Architecture and Urban Regional Planning from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria was Minister of Power, Environment and Minister of State for Niger Delta Affairs before he resigned to contest in the 2015. In this write-up, I allow the governor, fondly called DDI, to tell us two of his stories; there many of them. These are stories of how he found Taraba in 2015, and how he is battling to change those stories positively.

But first, a bird’s eye view of the state. According to Wikipedia, Taraba state lies largely within the middle of Nigeria and consists of undulating landscapes dotted with a few mountainous features, including the scenic and prominent Mambilla Plateau. The state lies largely within the tropical zone and has a vegetation of low forest in the southern parts and grassland in the northern parts. The Mambilla Plateau, with an altitude of 1,800 meters (6000 ft) above sea level, has a temperate climate all year round.

Benue, Donga, Taraba and Ibi are the main rivers in the state. They rise from the Cameroonian mountains, straining almost the entire length of the state in the North and South direction to link up with the River Niger. The major occupation of the people of Taraba state is agriculture. Cash crops, such as coffee, tea, groundnut and cotton are produced in commercial quantities. In addition, cattle, sheep and goats are reared in large numbers, especially on the Mambilla Plateau and along the Benue and Taraba valleys. Taraba is also rich in untapped mineral resources, gold, silver, sapphire, petroleum and natural gas, etc.

However, the sad story is that these mineral resources will remain untapped for a long time to come because of so many factors, not the least the Boko Haram insurgency rocking the Northeast. The governor told a story of his trip to Germany for a mining conference that demonstrated his handicap. The story: “I was in Germany in 2016 for a mining show and the guy was telling us how they go 8000 feet down the ground to mine silver and how many metres they go to get gold. You know this specimen bottle they give you in the hospital to get urine and stool for test? That was what they put the silver and gold in and I had a feel of all of them. When it was my turn to talk I asked for the man who said they go down thousands of metres of to get silver and gold. I opened my containers and showed him: “Does this look like what you go down thousands of metres to get?” He jumped at it, “Where did you get this?” I told him it was scooped from the surface.  “Surface of the earth? Where?” I told him Nigeria. He opened his laptop. “Where in Nigeria?” I said Taraba in the Northeast. He checked and said: “Aahh! Boko Haram. No no no, my country will not even give me permit to go to Nigeria.” He said: “Oh my God! On the surface?” “I then said: ‘This is gold.’ I took another one and he said: ‘This is Sapphire’ and I said yes. He was marveled. I became a bride of the conference, everybody was all over me, trying to enquire more about the Gold, Silver and the Sapphire”

The second story of DDI is on the sorry state of the civil service he met on assuming the mantle of leadership. You are cautioned, the story is quite distressing but instructive: “I was still scratching my head as to how I will tackle the payment of arrears of local government staff. As if that was not enough, another council chairman approached my wife with the same request for employment of local council staff. She enquired why the council chairman was interested in only the names but not the forms they applied with. He told my wife not to bother as all the salaries of the names approved will be for her. She rebuked him and reported the issue to me. Thereafter, we conducted a rigorous investigation and I discovered that banks, account officers and a whole lot of people, including retired civil servants and highly placed individuals, were involved in the ghost workers’ scheme and this led to me firing successively three consultants I hired to make payments of local council staff.”

Despite these challenges, Governor Ishaku has been able to tackle many socio-economic maladies bedeviling state. For brevity, we will be content with just two areas exemplified by the revolutionary ways DDI is addressing water shortages with a tinge of technological innovation and taking the youths out of the streets. With over 300 boreholes sank across the state, the new story of water crisis in Taraba is summed as “No more going to the stream, no more sickness, no more waking up in the morning to look for water.”

In Jalingo, the state capital, the governor has spent N7 billion on water supply, introducing “ATM” (debit) cards for accessing water, the first ever in the country. Water sellers no longer go to the stream to fetch water and sell to people, but instead go to any of the water kiosks dotted all over the capital, using their water debit cards to fill their jerry cans. Depending on the amount prepaid on his card, it is immediately registered in the Water Board headquarters and the bank that so-so-so amount of money has been deposited.

Many officials of the state water board were sent to Kenya under the World Bank and trained on this water sanitation and supply project. These feats earned the governor Water Man Award of the Year in 2017. Governor Ishaku’s approach to youth empowerment is to give them skills first and encourage them to train others close to them. Beneficiaries are drawn from all the 168 electoral wards.

I would say it takes a humble person to recognise humility as imperative character of a leader. For Darius Ishaku’s pragmatism we need to only look at his performance in the 2019 elections. For someone who had to go into a re-run election in his first tenure, only to win landslide in the second, must have been a pragmatic politician. No doubt, the governor’s humility and pragmatism gave him the second mandate in a conclusive manner for that matter!

In all these lie great lessons for our aspiring politicians.

Hassan is a writer on Business and Economy.

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