|Thursday, December 8, 2022|
PROMISES MADE, PROMISES DELIVERED
01/27/22, Africa Today
Governor Darius Ishaku signing the 2022 Taraba State Appropriation Bill
I see a promise of a greater tomorrow and I see a promise of a united, indivisible Taraba State. Based on these promises, I have a vision. I have a vision that in 10 years, Taraba State will be the leading economy in the north-east sub-region." That was the solemn declaration of Darius Dickson Ishaku in his inaugural speech after taking his oath of office as governor of Taraba State on May 29, 2015. Six years on, that vision of "possibilities" and a "greater tomorrow" continues to anchor and underpin the performance of the Dickson administration, which is on track to making Taraba State the leading economy in the north-east of Nigeria.
Today, Taraba State is recognised, locally and internationally, for its emerging developmental progress, agricultural prowess, and peace in an otherwise troubled region.
Achieving this lofty ambition of making Taraba the leading economy in Nigeria's north-east has required a holistic approach to tackling the challenges facing the state are as many as they are diverse. Physical infrastructure was a major problem, human capital development and unemployment came a close second, while health issues and problems were also there. In addition, internal strife had created a high level of insecurity thereby making Taraba the state with probably the highest number of internally displaced people in the country. Added to the big issues were several small but weighty ones including the dearth of funds. Taraba was not the only state facing funding challenges; very few states had a robust Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) strategy. As resources coming from the federal government dwindled because of low price of crude oil at the international market, many states, including Taraba, were faced with funding challenges.
Indeed, what Governor Ishaku inherited in 2015 was an administrator's nightmare; there was no synergy between sectors. But guided by a comprehensive and well-thought-out plan called The Rescue Agenda he and his team have been able to weld all the sectors together in a bid to transform the state. Although the Rescue Agenda aimed to develop all sectors some, like infrastructure, did take precedence over others. Due to the premium placed on infrastructure, Taraba State, during Governor Ishaku's the first term, could be likened to one huge construction site. Across the state, roads, bridges, culverts and other infrastructural projects including housing estates, schools and hospitals were being built or refurbished. All the districts and local government areas in Taraba felt government's intervention one way or the other, an almost unheard-of phenomenon in resource-rich Nigeria.
The concentration on infrastructural development is understandable. There is always an impetus for countries to have good, durable, and effective infrastructure because having it means that incremental development is easier and achievable. This logic is also applicable to states and if Taraba wants to be one of the top economies within Nigeria's north-east region by 2025 what better way to start than by developing its infrastructure? Road construction, particularly, has dominated Governor Ishaku's agenda since the inception of his administration. He, perhaps, took his cue from the ancient Romans who built roads in conquered lands to open new spaces for quick development. Taraba State is Nigeria's third largest state by landmass with hundreds of kilometers between settlements. Ishaku's road construction programme is linking far-flung communities, opening areas and bringing development and government's presence to distant locations. The Ishaku administration did not distinguished between federal and state roads as it constructed/rehabilitated long-forgotten federal government roads in the state.
The road effort has spread from Jalingo, the state capital, outwards to the hinterlands. Right in the middle of Jalingo is a noteworthy project, a fly-over bridge, the first ever to be built in Nigeria's north-east region, which, aside from adding a touch of modernity and aesthetics to the capital, is also a practical solution to the increasing traffic problems of a growing metropolis. Certainly, Governor Ishaku's background as an architect and urban planner informs this development. There is also the dualisation of the highway from the NYSC Camp to the Danbaba Suntai Airport and the second City gate at Kpantinapu along Yola Road with pedestrian walkways, pedestrian bridges, and a gigantic bridge across River Nukkai. On the other side, the road leads to Wukari, a growing university town and tourist destination. Then there is the ongoing Jalingo-Kona-Lau Road project which lies in the state's northern senatorial district. This road is particularly significant: Lau is an agricultural belt famed for its rice production and the road makes it easier for farm produce to get to the capital and beyond.
Off the Jalingo-Yola Road is Yorro local government area, another agricultural belt. It is in this local government that the ancient Romans' reasons for road construction is best appreciated. Yorro, despite being rich agriculturally - it produces some of the biggest varieties of yam in Nigeria - doesn't have good roads. Today a massive road project which includes the construction of two bridges, one at Lashtike and the other further inland, is ongoing in that local government. The project is opening up Yorro and is a life-saver for the yam farmers. Other road projects include the Takum-Katsina-Ala Road, the Jalingo-Abuja Phase 2 Road, Wukari-Tsokondi Road, Takum-Chachanji Road, Mararraba-Baissa-Abong Road, and the Gada-Pantisawa Road, in addition to the reconstruction of several feeder roads. All three senatorial districts in the state have at least one major road project ongoing.
The infrastructure boom is not limited to major roads alone. It includes construction of township roads with effective drainage systems, erosion control in erosion-prone areas, urban beautification including restoration of landmarks and provision of solar powered streetlights and rural electrification. Government buildings including housing estates, schools and hospitals were also constructed. The administration renovated and upgraded three general hospitals and existing primary healthcare clinics (PHCs) across the state. These upgrades overhauled and transformed the state healthcare system as patients now go through a referral process - from the local level (PHCs) to the state level (GHs) - until they get to the top tier of the state healthcare system. This process means patients with ailments that can be handled effectively at the PHCs level are handled there without a need to visit the General Hospitals or the Specialist Hospitals.
It is in maternity and paediatric care that the intervention in health, in terms of infrastructure development, is well established. Governor Ishaku, using his persuasive skills, convinced the Taraba born retired army general, T.Y Danjuma, to build two brand new hospitals for maternity and paediatric care in the state. General Danjuma's foundation, the T.Y Danjuma Foundation, built the ultra-modern Rufkatu Danjuma Maternity Hospital and Kuru Danjuma Hospital for Children, both in Takum. Built on a six-hectare land provided by the Taraba State Government, the maternity hospital was commissioned in 2017 while the children's hospital was commissioned late 2021. Governor Ishaku has said his administration will partner with anyone or organisation with development ideas that will boost the state's development.
While Governor Ishaku has scored high in infrastructure development, he has also done very well on peace initiative. Taraba is one of the most diversified states in Nigeria with over 80 ethnic groups calling the state home. Prior to the Ishaku administration, Taraba was a hotbed of crisis. His intervention in bringing warring parties to the negotiating table is remarkable and has yielded results. While crisis in the state has not completely subsided, it has, however, been reduced to flashpoints that are handled swiftly. However, crises within Taraba and surrounding states turned Taraba into one big refugee camp, but the state absolved the displaced people, provided a safe haven, improving their prospects for education, training opportunities and healthcare services. Since 2017, the state has housed over 18,000 IDPs and its gesture in accommodating them has been recognized internationally, most recently last April when the United Nation High Commission for Refugees' commissioner to Nigeria, Chansa Kapaya, visited Ishaku and thanked him for providing housing, relief materials and training and educational opportunities for the IDPs.
Locally, Governor Ishaku also received commendation for his peacemaking efforts. Two tribes, the Kaka nation and the Mambillas, have even recognized Governor Ishaku's peace-building effort. In this regard, both tribes sent high-powered delegations to Government House, last April, to officially thank the governor. Prior to Governor Ishaku's election, these tribes were usually belligerent, either among themselves or with other tribes. In identifying the crisis' fundamental cause, which is the need for self-determination, Governor Ishaku created chiefdoms and districts and approved the appointments of district heads. With this approach, no crisis has occurred in the state although there may be some simmering agitations by other tribes who crave self-determination. Governor Ishaku has promised to eventually create chiefdoms to meet their needs.
Africa Today was privileged to be at two sessions of the state's executive council meetings, observing Governor Ishaku conduct the affairs of Taraba state. Both meetings showed the different sides to Governor Ishaku. One was a tense affair during which the governor grilled his commissioners, accepted reports of past assignments, assigned others, even to the deputy governor who was mandated to receive an award on his behalf. He talked strategies about increasing internally generated revenue, blocking revenue leakages, and recovering money lost to mismanagement and corruption at the state's polytechnic and bringing the perpetrators to justice. He also received white papers on two judicial commissions on crisis between two sets of tribes, appointing a committee to look into them just as he appointed one to look into boosting state internal revenue. Both committees were given specific time frames to submit their reports. That session saw a consummate administrator in action.
Governor Ishaku inspecting the on- going construction of the Jalingo water reservoir project
Another session saw Commissioner Kapaya of the UNHCR and delegations from Kaka nation and Mambillas visit Ishaku. While Kapaya's visit was formal, the two tribes who met separately with the governor were rambunctious. Both groups presented their demands to the governor who promised to look into them while also cautioning them on how to conduct themselves. The governor praised the two tribes for maintaining peace, while also preaching it to others. He promised other tribes aspiring to have their own chiefdoms that he will meet their demands provided they do so through peaceful means. It was a family affair as the governor took group photographs with members of the two entourages. It was the compassionate side of Governor Ishaku, who formally announced to his executive council the presence of Africa Today and its Publisher/Editor-in-Chief Kayode Soyinka, as observers of the two-day deliberation. He commended Soyinka and Africa Today magazine for their work in promoting the state, most especially internationally.
On the socio-economic stage, Taraba State has progressed dramatically from the level it was when Governor Ishaku took over in 2015. Various government businesses notably the Taraba Oil Mills Limited and the Taraba Beverage Company Limited, makers of Highland Tea, have been revamped, creating thousands of direct and indirect jobs. Hitherto, all the government businesses inherited were either comatose or hemorrhaging money at alarming rate. To create an independent and employable youth base in the state, Governor Ishaku introduced a youth skills development scheme which encourages them to learn a trade or pick up a skill. This scheme has been a success too. Other initiatives include Water Sanitation and Hygiene initiative which aims to improve the management and delivery of water and sanitation services and help people have access to clean water. In agriculture, he has repeatedly distributed farm inputs, sold fertilizer at subsidised rates and provided extension services to farmers.
The new Jalingo landmark - the biggest water reservoir in West Africa, still under construction.
What Governor Ishaku is doing by developing infrastructure, pursuing peace initiatives, and creating a conducive socio-economic environment, is building a foundation for the state to become the wealthiest in the north-east region. For Taraba, this is not an easy task especially when viewed against the backdrop of other challenges including insecurity and paucity of funds which, truth be told, has particularly hit the state hard. However, the security situation is improving, and many strategies are in place now to boost internally generated revenue and most especially blocking revenue leakages. The promise of new possibilities and a greater tomorrow is driving the Ishaku people centric administration to deliver on the governor's dreams and visions.
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