From Sylvanus Viashima, Jalingo
The Taraba state governor, Darius Ishaku, is arguably one of the luckiest victors in the 2015 general elections in the country. Coming from relative obscurity in the state, the governor rode to power on a rescue mantra, promising to rescue the state from financial recklessness, educational backwardness, infrastructural decay and deficit, insecurity and other challenges plaguing the state.
Coming at a time the state was constrained by political instability, insecurity, decaying infrastructure, and a general sense of failure permeating the system, the would-be governor’s eloquent promise to address these issues worked like magic and he won overwhelmingly at the poll.
A few months into office however, the governor realised governance was not as easy as it looked as a spectator and admitted that his campaign promises were easier made than fulfilled.
For some political observers, the political, ethnic and religious complexities of the state are too daunting for a man who is relatively not so familiar with the state’s political dynamics to fully grasp and manipulate to his advantage. For others however, the present economic recession in the country is the causative factor for the relatively low pace of development, while another school of thought believes the governor has performed above average, everything considered.
Located in the North-Eastern region of Nigeria, Taraba state boast of a population of over 2.6 million persons, a land mass of about 54,473 km2 and over 80 ethnic groups spread across 16 Local governments and two development areas with Christianity and Islam as the dominant religious groups.
Since the return to democracy in 1999, Taraba state has come under the leadership of Five persons including Rev Jolly Nyame (1999-2007), Danbaba Suntai (2007-2015), Alhaji Garba Umar- acting governor (2012-2014), Alhaji Sani Danladi-also acting governor (2014-2015), and currently, Darius Ishaku.
In the months following the unfortunate plane crash involving the then governor of the state, Suntai, the battle for the soul of the state was basically between the then acting Governor, Alhaji Garba Umar-UTC and the Senator Emmanuel Bwacha -led Cabal. The contest for power and space led to the polarization of the state along religious, political, tribal and other indiscernible lines that eventually plunged the state into a three years ethno-religious crisis.
The ‘woeful performance’ of previous administrations ensured an acute infrastructural deficit and a porous system that ignored the enormous resources of the state to rely entirely on allocations from federal government, which was in turn ‘shared among the political elites’ at the detriment of the state and its people.
Taraba state is perhaps, one of the most polarized states in the country. The divisive lines of religion are so glaring with overbearing influence in all ramifications, governance inclusive. Already, the opposition APC, seeing chiefly as a ‘Muslim Party’ has accused the governor of running an “exclusively Christian government, not minding the fact that Muslims are also his subjects”, while the Christian community also accuse him of not doing enough for them even though they were the ones who brought him to power.
The religious factor is so strong that it draws criticism in citing of projects, appointments, employment and just anything and everything. For Governor Ishaku therefore, he either tries to pacify both religions and risk irrational decisions that would haunt him later, or remain focused, allowing competence and other objective parameters determine his decisions.
Beside religious polarization, Taraba state boast of more ethnic groups than any other state in the country. There are over 80 ethnic groups spread across 16 Councils in the state. Each of the minority groups feels slighted in the scheme of affairs while the dominant groups are locked in a perpetual struggle for dominance.
Coming from one of the major groups in the state, Ishaku has the onerous challenge of trying to give the minority groups a sense of belonging and douse the tension amongst them without compromising the status of his clan. So far, the governor has chosen to spread political appointments across board to ensure every group was represented. This, however, means coming up with a ridiculously huge number of appointees, thus raising the state’s wage bill exponentially. But even at that Daily Sun learnt it has not stopped the dubbing of his administration as a “Jukunized” government that is peopled by Jukun people.
The state lacks a clear political leader or figure head, who could give directives that would be taken seriously and a clear cut political ideology. As such, the political environment is saturated with political interests.
The retired Gen TY Danjuma has made it clear that he has no interest going into politics and is also seeing by many as playing a sectional interest rather than a collective one. Rev Jolly Nyame on the other hand is considered to lack political focus to the extent that he cannot lead a people. He has also crossed carpeted across parties severally in the last decade.
Consequently, every government policy is hugely criticized and seeing as sectional rather than for common good. This, expectedly, leads to political sabotage, at times even by people on the corridors of power.
According to the immediate past state chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Alhaji Ardo Jika, Governor Darius Ishaku’s two years in office has “brought nothing but deceit to the people as the governor has not commissioned a single project he initiated but is going about commissioning projects that were executed by previous regimes, some already commissioned”.
In an exclusive interview with Daily Sun, Jika challenged the governor to show a single project he has executed, beside the Green House, which, he said, was a misplaced priority.
Reacting to the allegations, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Alhaji Hassan Mijinyawa described the opposition as a group that simply lacks anything tangible to hold against the governor and called on them to be more objective in their criticisms.
Mijinyawa noted that the achievements of the governor in restoring peace to parts of the state, rejuvenating the provision of portable water, stabilizing power supply, empowering youths and women are too glaring not to be noticed.
While there are divergent views on the extent of success or otherwise of the rescue mission, both parties agree that there are great challenges to be overcome if it was to be considered a rescue mission and not just a charade.
One of the major criticisms against the governor, Daily Sun gathered, was his choice of cabinet and aides. It is on record that the governor has over 200 aides comprising Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants, Special Assistants and commissioners. His critics however said that he was not in charge of the appointments and hardly knows the people.
Apart from the outrageous number of aides- which the governor explained was a way of “reaching out to as many as possible as the state is a primarily civil servants state and political appointees are the ones with a direct bearing on those at the grassroots”, some quarrel with the quality of his appointees, alleging that he was more concerned with loyalty than competence.
Insecurity, it was learnt, is also a major challenge. The governor had recorded tremendous success in battling the issue before the herdsmen attacks now reared its ugly head in the state, claiming lives on a regular basis. Already the governor has called on the people to give him peace in exchange for development, saying that there can’t be any meaningful development in a hostile environment.
At the pace the attacks occur and the magnitude of damage caused by each, the hope for a stop in the nearest future is at best shallow, investigations further reveal.
Paucity of funds
Over the years, successive regimes in the state, like most states in the country depended so much on allocation from the federation account to fund budgets, to the extent that IGR was completely relegated to irrelevance. Now that there has been a huge decline from federal government allocation to states, Taraba, like other states is on the verge of going bankrupt, it was learnt.
The challenge now is for the governor to chose between paying salaries of workers as and when due and enjoy the goodwill of the people, or to skip salaries as is seen in most states to enable him execute some projects to his credit and incur the wrath of the people who voted massively for him. Whichever way he decides, there are bound to be widespread criticisms with varying degrees of consequences, especially against his 2019 ambition.
Already, some sections of the state have more or less written him off due to the backlog of salaries, pension and gratuity arrears owed them. To these groups, no amount of physical development makes meaning since they and their loved ones depend almost entirely on the salaries for sustenance.
Meanwhile, the main opposition, APC is lurking in the background looking for any opportunity to pounce on his weaknesses and pave way for it to take over power in 2019.
Already, some of the top political heavyweights in the state are said to be distraught with him as he has allegedly “sidelined them in the scheme of affairs” and are said to be waging a fierce battle against him ahead of 2019.
Primary school teachers, local government workers and pensioners are also said to be mobilising for a showdown with the governor for being “insensitive to their plight”.
On his part, the governor may have recorded some level of success on most fronts but the level of polarization and the extent of pulverization in the state arising from insecurity, conflicting political interests, religious intolerance, bad governance and infrastructural decay and acute paucity of funds have made the challenge of rescuing Taraba a rather uniquely daunting one, its enormous natural resources notwithstanding.