Nigeria: Epitome of Humility, Pragmatism in Taraba

6 December 2019

Darius, the son of Ishaku, the governor of Taraba State, displays pragmatism in the art of governance.

That was my first impression and assessment of Darius Ishaku, governor of Taraba State, on meeting him for the first time at the government house in Jalingo, capital of the state, while working on a project to assess achievements of state governors.

Before our meeting, 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 news-worthy developments that have emanated from this northeastern state of Nigeria since then. Four years gone, I went back to Jalingo, not to celebrate his re-election last March but to see for myself what he has made of the first mandate.

Darius Dickson Ishaku, who holds two Master's degrees in Architecture and Urban Regional Planning from the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, was at one time or the other, the Minister of Power, Environment and Minister of State for Niger Delta Affairs before he resigned to contest in the 2015 poll.

In this write-up Governor Darius tells us two of his stories, as there are many of them, of how he found Taraba in 2015, and how he is battling to change those stories positively.

The governor told a story of his trip to Germany to attend a mining conference that demonstrated his handicap. He tells 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 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?" And he jumped at it and asked: "Where did you get this?" And I told him it was scooped from the surface. He asked again: "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 stretched my hand and said: 'This is Gold.' He asked: 'Where did you get it?' I told him some people got it from the surface of the water. He said: 'Oh my God!' And 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 at the conference was all over me, trying to enquire more about the Gold, Silver and the Sapphire"

The second story of the governor is on the sorry state of the civil service he met on assuming office as governor. You are cautioned, the story is quite distressing... but instructive at the same time... and it goes like this:

"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 and were interviewed with. He told my wife not to bother as all the salaries of the names approved will be for her. She had to rebuke 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.

"These cankerworms that I'm telling you about included both religious leaders and traditional rulers. It was so bad. A particular case was of a certain old man living in Ardo-Kola Local Government Area who sent his son every month to 10 different banks to make salary withdrawals. So, one day, the young man returned to the father and told him that he was only able to withdraw from one bank. The old man's remark was that this government is not cooperating but my reply to him was that there is a different government in place. We made arrests and prosecutions. So many were charged."

Despite all these challenges, Darius has been able to tackle many socio-economic maladies bedeviling the resources-endowed state. From here on, we will look at how the governor is trying to change the story of Taraba.

For the sake of brevity, we will be content with just two areas exemplified by the revolutionary ways he is addressing - water shortage with a tinge of technological innovation and the skill-first approach to taking the youths off the streets.

With over 300 boreholes sank across the state in towns and villages, the new story of water crisis in Taraba, as captured by reporters covering the state development, 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 governor has spent the largest amount on water supply amounting to N7 billion. In Jalingo today there are "ATM" (debit) cards for accessing water, the first ever in this country. Water sellers no longer have to go to the stream to fetch water and sell to people, but instead go to any of the water kiosks dotting the capital, using their water debit cards to fill their jerry cans. Depending on the amount prepaid on the card, it is immediately registered in the Water Board headquarters and the bank that the money has been deposited.

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