|Saturday, February 22, 2020|
Taraba sets the pace
07/18/19, Biodun Omojola -Photos by PSYCHOLOGY
Mambilla Plateau, Taraba State, Nigeria
In agriculture, water and sanitation, youth and women empowerment, Taraba shows the way to other states surrounding it.
When committed, result-driven and visionary politicians are elected to local, state or national offices, chances are that the local government, state government and central government will benefit from well-thought out programmes and policies. Good and well-executed policies and programmes of these elected officials, irrespective of the challenges confronting them, tend to indicate how farsighted they are. In Nigeria these challenges can be many: from the perpetual lack of funds, to insecurity, to high level of corruption, and to apathy within the polity. These are just a few and they are massive inhibitions for any politician. However, some have risen above these impediments to deliver projects that impact positively on the electorates.
No doubt, it takes hard work, and thinking outside the proverbial box; a lot of juggling of priorities vis-à-vis available funds while pandering to the wishes of the people. Getting into office, one is faced with the challenge of balancing and fulfilling promises made with the stark realities of governance. This balancing act between promises made and reality can take a toll on elected officials but the desire to deliver pushes the result-driven politician on. Nowhere are these challenges more pronounced than in the northeast state of Taraba, which has all the above listed challenges and more.
One may be forgiven if promises are not kept in the state. But one doesn't need to entertain that fear as Taraba State boasts of one of the most result-oriented elected officials sitting in any Government House in Nigeria. For this governor, the catch phrase might as well be Bring It On! - It being any challenge. He has said about embracing challenges: "I like challenges and don't cringe because of problems" - and so he has been balancing and juggling these past four years to deliver promises made in the face of the harsh realities.
To Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku of Taraba state, a challenge is no reason not to deliver on promises made. Rather it should be a stepping-stone in the quest to keeping the promises made. Remember his 2015 campaign was predicated on the promise of rescuing Taraba State and transforming it into a leading state within the northeast region. Has this promise been fulfilled? That answer is in the affirmative. Achieving that meant a massive rescue operation was embarked on that cut across the socio-economic landscape of the state. Today, Taraba state can rightly boast that in certain sectors it is heads and shoulders above some states in Nigeria. And work is still on going as Governor Ishaku has just been reelected for another four-year term.
Will the objective of the Rescue Agenda be met? There is an African saying that best answers that question: how good the morning is a harbinger of the evening. Under Governor Ishaku Taraba has had a good morning.
WELCOME TO TARABA: Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku and his wife Anna.
Water and Sanitation
Remember that immortal line about water being everywhere but none to drink? That summed up the water situation in Taraba state prior to Governor Ishaku's assumption of office in 2015. In spite of the state being almost an aquatic state - rivers, lakes and ponds covers about 500,000 hectares of the state landmass -providing portable water was a major issue. Before Governor Ishaku's first term, the water situation was so severe that even Jalingo, the state capital, lacked water. It was that bad. It therefore made practical sense that water was the first thing on the agenda of the new Ishaku administration in May 2015. To his credit - some would say stern insistence to civil servants in charge of the state water agency to buckle up or get the sack letter - water was restored in the capital in less than 30 days into his first 100 days in office. It was a major achievement for the new administration.
The success in Jalingo began a revolution in the state's water sector that continued well into the very last days of Governor Ishaku's first term in office. Weeks before taking the oath for another term, Governor Ishaku launched the state's Water Sanitation and Hygiene, (WASH) policy while also declaring a state of emergency on the water sector. The policy launch was a befitting end to the success of the revolution in the water sector - at least regarding Ishaku's first term. The successes recorded include water flowing from the old dry taps in Jalingo, massive investment in modern day water technologies including water ATM machines and water treatment, new water infrastructure and the sinking of hundreds of boreholes in various towns, villages and communities across the state among others.
Governor Ishaku's rescue strategy on water is an all-encompassing plan. It involves the rehabilitation and construction of water intakes and treatment plants, the extension, rehabilitation and replacement of water distribution networks including the construction of trunk mains, booster stations and water reservoirs and instituting reforms and capacity building and training of professionals to ensure that the people of the state had a wider access to clean water supply and to ensure water flows without hiccups. Governor Ishaku's passion for provision of water made his administration to embark on the ambitious N7 billion Jalingo water project to complement other on-going water projects in the metropolis and also to focus on improving access to water to the rest of the state. So ahead is the state in access to water that it has been recognised locally and internationally. In 2018, seven states out of the 36 Nigerian states were selected for an in-depth study on provision/access to water and Taraba came out Number One. This is remarkable for a state that four years prior didn't have water running its capital city and was on the very last rung of the ladder of access to water in the country - it had been estimated that access was less than 30 percent when Ishaku took over in the state. The administration's achievement on water development, in a remarkable short time, has also drawn the attention of various international bodies including the African Development Bank, the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the United States Agency for International Development, who are in partnering with the state on water issues. During the last days of his first term, Governor Darius Ishaku launched the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) policy, an indication that there is still more to be done for the state. Part of the WASH policy includes the total ban of polythene and plastic bags and the introduction of paper bags in the state. It is pertinent to note that Taraba State is the first Nigerian state to officially ban the use of polythene and plastic bags and to introduce recyclable bags - in-line with global trends - in an effort to boost a clean environment in the state. With the policy in place, Taraba is now on a track to rid itself of the ubiquitous polythene and plastic bags that litter very Nigerian state. That alone will contribute immensely to the state's effort to protect the environment form non-biodegradable waste. Governor Ishaku, perhaps because of his academic background, grades himself, some would say, rather harshly. He has said it at various fora and interviews that achieving 70 percent of any challenge is not a pass mark for him. The declaration of a state of emergency on the water situation is clearly one of such occasions that 70 percent did not indeed make a pass mark for the Governor. He is determined to improve on the gains of the past four years, attract more donor interventions and utilise the state's natural water resources especially for agriculture among other objectives.
TARABA FIRST FAMILY: Daughters of Governor Ishaku. Mary Darius Ishaku (right) and Kairi Darius Ishaku (left) at the inauguration.
Governor Ishaku's objective was to find a long-lasting solution to the state water challenge by developing and sustaining a good water delivery strategy to meet people's desires for portable water and to improve access to safe water supply. Has this objective been achieved in the past four years? It had been estimated that access to water when Ishaku took over was less than 30 percent - it must be noted that this percentage was far below the average threshold figure for Nigerian urban areas - and through his rescue agenda in the sector, access has grown to 80 percent, more than the 70 percent the Governor sees as the low pass-mark. So yes the objective has been met but at 80 percent Governor Ishaku believes there is still a lot to be done in the sector.
In the next four years, Taraba state will probably surpass the 100 percent mark with the people having access to water more than neighboring states, even more than the federal capital, Abuja. Access to water is already better in Taraba State than most surrounding states, all thanks the rescue intervention on power by Governor Ishaku.
Taraba state is purely an agricultural state. Nature has been extremely kind to it as it is blessed with fertile land that is capable of producing various food and cash crops to feed Nigeria and for export too. But because of the lack of a well-thought out plan for this most critical sector over the past decades, the state's inherent capacity to produce millions of tonnes of crops has not been fully realised. However, that changed with the coming of the Ishaku administration, which placed a high premium on agriculture. Under the Rescue Agenda, agriculture was identified as a major sector that needed full government attention because of two key issues it can solve: unemployment and revenue generation.
Chairman Taraba State Transition Committee Ambassador Idris Waziri (right) with the PDP National Vice Chairman & PDP Chairman North East Zone Chief Gebon Kataps.
The agriculture sector in Taraba state has been totally transformed under this Ishaku administration. Nowhere is this transformation more evident than in Jalingo, the state capital. Right in the middle of the capital, sits the Taraba Green House, a first of its kind project in Nigeria. The Green House has transformed the state into a local exporter of various vegetables including cucumber, tomatoes, cabbage, carrots and various types of pepper to large consumption areas like Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt, all year around. Prior to the establishment of the Green House, Taraba, like all other states, usually had a dearth of these vegetables especially when they are not in season. This is because the ability to store excess crops commercially during the harvest seasons is lacking in Nigeria. The Green House has solved that problem as vegetables are grown all year around using modern technologies in the Green House and delivering to markets fresh.
Tea production has, under the Ishaku administration, witnessed a major boom. Cultivated in the Mambilla region of the state, its production dipped significantly partly because the Mambilla Beverages Limited, makers of Highland Tea, the principal recipient of the harvested tea, was moribund. Governor Ishaku's foresight in commissioning the Tunga hydro-power project has not only resuscitated the Mambilla Beverages Limited but also increased tea cultivation because the now revived beverage company is ready to buy harvested tea leaves for its Highland tea brand. To meet increasing demand of Highland Tea, the government is encouraging tea cultivation - and the response is encouraging - because there is a ready market for harvested tealeaves. Coffee production is similarly booming in the Mambilla region. Although at the experimental stage, its cultivation will be accelerated in the 2019-2023 term.
Various cash crops have also witnessed a big boost during harvest time thanks to the introduction of modern farming techniques to an old profession. The ratio of land to harvested crops has increased almost three-fold with the supply and distribution of certified seedlings and fertilizer and the training of farmers in modern farming techniques. For example, rice production increased from an average of 2-3 metric tonnes per hectare to 5-6 metric tonnes. Cassava production increased tremendously too from 10-15 metric tonnes to 20-40 metric tonnes. The case of rice is worthy of note. Dry season rice farming received a massive boost with the empowerment of 20,000 farmers annually. According to Governor Ishaku, Taraba state is capable of producing 10 million tonnes of rice per year saving the country millions of dollars in rice importation.
The Ishaku administration has made agriculture more enticing especially with the introduction of technology as a means of increasing yield with minimal effort, in line with global trends. In this regard it has partnered with various internationally renowned agriculture research institutes including the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, Oyo State and the Nigerian Institute of Oil Palm Research in Benin-City, Edo State, for the provision of seedlings of cocoa, cassava hybrid and palm trees. The NIFOR collaboration, for instance, has led to increased palm tree farming, which has ultimately led to commercial palm oil production through the resuscitation of the Taraba Oil Mills company. The Taraba Oil Mills is now profitable thanks to the palm oil farming that the government is encouraging.
Also, the state is encouraging sesame farming and has distributed improved sesame seedlings to farmers for three years in a row thus leading to increased output - from 0.5 metric tonnes per hectare to two metric tonnes.
As a means of encouraging sesame farming, the state government bought all output at competitive prices. International marketers of the sesame are drawn to the state because of the quality of the sesame produced there. In addition, one of the embassies in the country has offered its assistance and has offered to buy once ready. Governor Ishaku is a proponent of public private partnership and is always on the lookout for partnership deals. One of such PPP deals is with the Dangote Group, Africa's largest conglomerate, in the area of sugar production. The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Taraba state and Dangote Group has seen the Group acquire 16,000 hectares in Lau local government area for the establishment of a sugar plantation and factory for the production of large quantities of sugar, animal feeds and ethanol. Under the terms of the MoU, the state has six percent equity shares in the Group, which is a plus for Taraba State. Already the Dangote Group has begun planting sugarcane seedlings in anticipation of large-scale sugar production. In what can be considered an open invitation to commercial farmers, Governor Ishaku has said Taraba State will continue to encourage the establishment of private sector-led agro-allied industries by providing strategic infrastructure. In Taraba today, it is probably safe to assume that the farmer is king because of the way the Ishaku administration is encouraging farming. The government has taken pragmatic measures to assist farmers in boosting crop production by giving them access to modern farming techniques and implements and agriculture extension services. Part of these include the purchase of tractors which are then sold on hire purchase to cooperative farming groups based on equity to boost mechanised farming, fast distribution of fertilisers and improved seedlings at subsidised rates. The administration wants farming done all year round has thus concentrated on dry season farming. To this effect the state government gave out water pumps to assist farmers.
Tarabans at the inauguration.
In well under four years, the Ishaku administration has transform agriculture in the state beyond the subsistence level. It has become a huge revenue earner and is solving the larger issue of unemployment. For instance, the Green House project already employs, directly and indirectly, about 1000 people down the value chain. This does not include students of the state College of Agriculture who come in for hands-on practical experiences. Independent assessment say the project is capable of generating over $50 million in sales especially in the export market, which the governor is actively exploring.
Even with the successes recorded in agriculture within the past four years, there is a second Rescue Agenda for agriculture in the works. Dry farming, which is a success in some parts of the state, will be replicated in other parts with support from such international development partners as the European Union, International Fund for Agricultural Development and World Bank Fadama. Support for the 20,000 farmers will be increased, the cassava mass production programme will be completed and government will encourage tea estates under its out-growers scheme to increase tealeaves production.
Certainly, it is good time to be a farmer in Governor Ishaku's Taraba state.
Youth and Women Empowerment
One of the major problems Governor Ishaku inherited in 2015 was a large pool of unemployed youths and women. Past administrations had no strategy to tackle this social challenge. However, that changed as the issue of youth and women employment and empowerment was placed front and centre by the Ishaku administration during its first term. The strategy employed was the establishment of the Rescue Watch Skill Acquisition programme which, to date, has successfully trained over 3000 youths and women from all the 168 wards of the state in sixteen different trades including carpentry, welding, tailoring, hairdressing and IT operations.
Since the establishment of the scheme, youths and in particular women, have become productive elements of the Taraba society through training and capacity building. These are not the only things gained by attending the state's Skill Acquisition programme. The Ishaku administration also gave them start-off tools and seed money to ease them into productive life. Governor Ishaku is particularly elated because the programme has met and surpassed its set objectives. It has helped reduced youth restiveness, developed a group of vocationally trained population and also a small group of entrepreneurs while also contributing to the state's socio-economic development and the training of other youths through the apprenticeship scheme.
It is the multiplier effect of the Rescue Watch Skill Acquisition programme that Governor Ishaku is particularly proud of. This he alluded to in his inaugural address when he said, "I am proud to announce that these trained artisans are not only gainfully employed but have also in turn trained others. The multiplier effect of this cycle will go a long way in checking youth restiveness (and) we will aggressively continue on this drive." The success of the programme has been commended and rewarded especially by the private sector. Some banks have come to assist government to reach more youths by donating three skill acquisition centres in three different local government areas.
Governor Ishaku is a firm believer in the saying that an educated (trained) woman feeds the nation. Recognising the contribution of women to the home and society, it is, therefore, no surprise that his government places a premium on women empowerment. Under the scheme women are given equal opportunities to contribute their quota to the development of the state. One of the female successes of the skills acquisition programme is Aishatu Ali-Sese, a 2019 tailoring graduate of the scheme. She's a role model for other aspiring small entrepreneurs. Today, as a business owner, she mentors other trainees in her shop.
The empowerment scheme for women is supported by the non-governmental organisation of the state's First Lady, the Hope Afresh Foundation.
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