From Sylvanus Viashima, Jalingo
Support for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction got new impetus last week when Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba State endorsed the aspiration of the Southeast for the 2023 slot.
He also lashed out at the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government, accusing the ruling party of bullying other political parties contesting in the Edo State governorship election.
The governor also bared his mind on other major issues relating to his state. This exclusive interview was anchored by his Special Adviser on Media, Mr Bala Dan Abu. Excerpts:
How do you feel about the political developments in Edo State ahead of the governorship election?
It is very dicey. The situation there is not something to be happy about because there are threats to the success of the election from both sides. The kind of comments that we are hearing are very unpleasant. That is not expected of our politics at this particular point in time in our democratic journey. We are supposed to grow, become more civil in our attitude to politics and politicking. We are supposed to become more accommodating, and to tolerate voices of opposition, and not to attack and kill people who do not hold the same belief with us. So, the case of Edo State is like the case of Kogi State that we had before and the APC came out in full force and went away with the victory, even though that victory was not, by the judgment of most people, as a result of the voting. We do not expect the same thing to happen in Edo State. The APC should become more tolerant of the opposition. The APC should allow election to hold in a free and fair atmosphere. The attitude of bullying the opposition parties because they are in government is not good enough for the growth of our democracy. In Edo State we plead that the Federal Government should intervene in such a way that they will provide a level playing ground for the parties to engage each other in a free and fair election and whoever wins should be allowed to go with the victory.
Are you implying that the example of Kogi and what is happening in Edo State is showing the APC as a bully?
That is exactly what I am saying. The case of Kogi State was a clear instance of the APC bullying the other parties, especially the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to get victory. The federal might was fully deployed. People were intimidated; people were prevented from voting especially those who were going to vote for the PDP. I am now appealing to the same federal authorities not to allow the same scenario play out in Edo State because it is a huge embarrassment to our country and to our political development. When elections become very controversial, it becomes a do-or-die affair, we lose a lot of lives and property. All these things don’t speak well of us as a country that is aspiring to be a leader in the African continent. That’s exactly what I’m saying.
What is your take on the issue of zoning of 2023 presidency?
I think that if zoning has been applied in the past, there is no need stopping it at this critical time because that would be like changing the rules of the game midway. I support the position expressed by many people that we should stay by the zoning arrangement and that stakeholders should workout a formula that would keep the country united. We must not do anything that would undermine our existence as one united country. Every section of the country has someone or people that are qualified to be president and so the presidency should not be reserved for one section of the country. So, I support that the zoning arrangement should be allowed to continue so that everybody can have a taste of the pudie. However, zoning does not mean that we should sacrifice competence. Whatever section is to produce the president should be able to give us the best and I am sure that every section of the country can produce such persons. I believe that the Igbo have a legitimate aspiration, but what makes their case bad is the threat they always subjected the country to through their agitation for Biafra. Biafra is an unfortunate development in the past and it belongs to the past and people should not be rubbing that on our faces. We have got to a stage in our life in this country that nobody should be threatened. So, if they want the rest of the country to trust them and support their presidential bid, they should stop this agitation and caution their children. Most of the people leading the agitation are people who were not even born at the time and they do not know the cost of war and the psychological implications of war. If they want the presidency, they have the right to demand for it because they are legitimate Nigerians, but they should not remind other Nigerians of Biafra.
Recently, the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) named Taraba among the states in the country that are bankrupt. How bad is the situation and what are the measures you are considering to salvage it?
I will like to say that I don’t know the statistics that the NBS used in categorizing Taraba State among those states. But be that as it may, I want to acknowledge the fact that there is a major economic downturn in the country as a result of so many factors that have been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has crippled virtually all economic activities. For example, there has been a downturn in revenue generation and that does not refer only to Taraba State. Most people are not into good business, most people are not doing anything. There is poverty everywhere and that limits their ability to pay taxes because their businesses are not doing well. That also affects the revenue of every government, including Taraba State. And apart from that, most states depend on the revenue generated from oil, so they depend on the statutory allocations from the Federation Account for most of the money they use in financing their activities and that source also is greatly limited by the fact that COVID-19 is devastating the whole place. So, these are some of the factors and Taraba is not an exception. Be that as it may, we are not giving up. In fact, we are trying to make sure that we correct whatever loopholes there are on the path of collecting the revenue generated. We are doing more, but there is a level to which you can push people who are already suffering due to the general downturn. We have the interest of our people at heart and we will not do anything that will emasculate them, but we will also make sure that the government does not collapse. We don’t believe that we are going to be so economically emasculated that we will not render essential services that we are supposed to render to our people.
How is your government tackling the issue of pervasive insecurity in the state?
I am sure you will agree with me that these vices you have mentioned have gone down. The number and frequency have gone down drastically. It is not like before and that is because there has been a lot of public enlightenment, deployment of forces, soldiers and other security agencies to help check these activities. That is not to say that it has completely come to an end, but we have not heard of any case of kidnapping and killings on the road or fighting. Even the Tiv/Jukun crisis, the frequency of clashes have been minimized and that is because of the ongoing sitting of the Commission of Inquiry and we believe that it is going to be a way of resolving that issue. Generally, the security situation has improved. But it is not yet up to the level we want; we want a situation where there will be no fear of going around, travelling along the roads, fear of going to the farms by our people, we want to get to that stage. We are not there yet, but we no longer live in a state of fear as it was about one or two years ago and I’m calling on these agencies to do more. On the part of the government, we have been out there providing support for the security agencies to do their job.
Talking about the Commission of Inquiry, the only named party in the commission, which is the Tiv have decided to boycott the sitting…
(Cuts in) That is very unfortunate, I think it is the misunderstanding of the intention of the Taraba State government. First, they are complaining about the name given to the commission. I don’t think there is anything in the name and there is nothing wrong with that name because we are talking about the people who are involved in these crisis. It is Tiv group on one side versus several other ethnic groups on the other side. All the other ethnic groups are not going to be mentioned in the name of the Commission of Inquiry. That is why it is proper to say, Commission of Inquiry on the crisis between the Tiv and their neighbouring community. It’s an immaterial issue because it is not going to affect the outcome of the job of the commission. There is nothing to that, I think the Tiv group should reconsider the opposition to the commission on the basis of the name. The name is not going to affect the outcome. Secondly, their decision to go to court is their right, but I think we are at the stage where everyone involved should show maturity and understanding because without it we cannot achieve the desired goal. If we question every step the government takes to resolve this issue it means we will not go far. So, I am asking the Tiv group that has been out there protesting every step taken to bring about peace to reconsider their attitude. It is not fair to be suspicious of every step taken by the government and it is also unfair for them to continue to accuse the person of the governor as being unfair to them.
Are you not worried that this move could jeopardize the aim of setting up the commission?
We are asking them to reconsider their decision to oppose the commission because the ground that they are citing is not fair. They are not right because there is nothing in the name that is wrong that will make them withdraw and then to say they will go to court to stop it and disrupt the entire exercise; that is unpatriotic. It shows that they are not interested in these crisis coming to an end. The panel members were carefully selected to make sure that there is no bias. I don’t think anyone of them is even from this state, they are carefully selected so that they can be fair to all concerned so that the outcome of whatever they are doing will also enjoy the support and legitimacy that can lead to lasting peace between the Tiv and the other people in the area.
Is the government worried about a possible food crisis in the state and what is it doing to confront it?
There is a big threat to food security in the state. In fact, one of the focal points of this administration is promotion of agriculture. Farmers have been given a lot of encouragement through financial and material support in order to be able to produce more food and those policies have been working well. Today, Taraba State has become the hub of rice and vegetable production and exportation. Much of the rice bagged and sold in Nigeria as local rice come from Taraba State. But we feel that the agriculture industry is greatly threatened by insecurity and that is why we are very concerned and determined to ensure that there is peace so that people can feel safe and go to the farm and produce more food for the people of Taraba and Nigeria, that is why we are also pleading with those who have taken the position against the commission of inquiry to reconsider their position. We all need to work together to ensure that the peace we are pursuing, we will secure it in the interest of our people.
What is the state of the PDP in Taraba now and is the party under threat considering that some key stakeholders of the party were conspicuously absent at the last congress in the state?
Well, first of all, let me say that it is not expected that all party stakeholders must be present at the congress, it is not possible. Some people for whatever reasons may not be able to attend. We are not saying all the party stakeholders were in attendance, but that does not in any way, I say this with emphasis, diminish the value and authenticity of what happened during the congress. The congress was well attended by important party stakeholders, only a few people were not in attendance and they did not say they were not attending in protest of any issue. There was no public announcement by any of them saying that they would not come because we’re protesting. There was no protestation, I am sure they were just not disposed to be in attendance and I believe they agree with what happened there. The only thing I know is that a lot of horse trading took place in the weeks leading up to the congress and that is how it should be, we must not come into the open to begin to fight for positions. If there are ways that we can minimize conflicts, differences, open fighting for positions, then we can do it and that is what the PDP did on the occasion and it worked out very well. There is no threat to the position of the PDP in Taraba State. PDP is totally in charge of the politics of the state and it is going to remain so for many years to come.
What is your take on the revelation coming out from the probe of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC?
The news about the NDDC is very disturbing, but I wouldn’t want to jump into conclusion because there has been allegations and counter-allegations about huge sums of money that have been misappropriated and we don’t know and cannot say at this stage if it is true or not. Everything is still under investigation so we would not make any categorical statement about it. I would, however, advise that those who are saddled with the responsibility of managing the NDDC should not forget the reason for the setting up of that agency. It was as a result of popular demand for amelioration of the peculiar problems that oil producing states face and if that special provision of funding does not achieve its aim, we all have to worry because the people would still continue to suffer and development would not take place in that region. But we cannot make any categorical statement.
What is the situation with the dualization of major entry and exit roads to Jalingo and the proposed new Government House project?
The dualization of the road into Jalingo has become the priority of this administration. We are committed to it and resources are fully committed to it as well. It is not going to be affected and it will be completed. The only thing that affected it is the COVID-19 lockdown when people could not go out to work on the project. That was the only problem that we encountered at the beginning, but since the lockdown was lifted, workers have been back to work. We see that project as a priority and have given all attention to it. We believe that it will be completed in time. Any delay would not exceed the six months that were wasted at the initial stage due to the lockdown. The Government House project is another project that is dear to this administration. It will be embarked on very soon and once it is started, it will be pursued vigorously because we want to leave a legacy that people can point to in addition to all the things that we have already done. We still want to do more in this phase of this administration. We know that we are already going out and the speed with which we would prosecute the rescue mission is definitely going to be a lot faster than when we started.
What is your take on the approval of funding for community policing instead of state policing?
The difference between community policing and state policing is that the former is still under the control of the Federal Government while the later is under the control of the state government. What the states prefer is a state police that would be under the control of the state, but it seems the Federal Government is reluctant to grant that request. So, if they want to start with community policing, we may just have to go with that but that is not what the states want. But half bread, they say, is better than none; so we will accept this for now pending the time that the Federal Government will see reasons to do the needful because state policing is just inevitable. So, long as this will mean more police presence in our communities, the purpose is served. We believe that one day, state policing will come to be, such as would be completely under the control of the state government apparatus.