Governor Darius Ishaku had promised to ‘rescue Taraba State’ during his electioneering campaigns. But as he makes his key appointments to help him steer the ship of the underdeveloped state, tongues have continued to wag over the reality of his ‘rescue mission’.
During his electioneering campaigns, architect Darius Ishaku never left his audience in doubt that his ambition was predicated on his mission to “rescue Taraba State.” But now that elections are over and Ishaku has since assumed the mantle of leadership as the new governor of the North-East State, there appears to be doubts among Tarabians over the possibility of his rescue mission. Interestingly, the new governor, who hails from the Southern zone of the State, seemed to have confirmed such doubts on the very day he was sworn into office in Jalingo.
‘We are in a very precarious financial situation. During the dark 25 months, when Governor Danbaba Suntai was incapacitated, there was wanton greed and financial recklessness with impunity, which led us to unprecedented indebtedness to commercial banks. As I address you today, the immediate task ahead is seeking creative ways to revamp our finances; otherwise we shall be heading for bankruptcy. It is becoming increasingly difficult to pay workers’ salaries, let alone embark on any project”, Ishaku had lamented in his inauguration speech.
“As I speak to you, I see the reality of a disenchanted and degenerated bureaucracy; I see the reality of an oversized public service; I see the reality of a financially indebted state; I see the reality in the decline and deterioration in the quality of education and the depletion of qualified teachers; I see the reality of patronage from stakeholders and the political class; and I see the reality of a swelling army of unemployed youths”, he said.
Although the Governor was silent on the actual state of indebtedness of the State, the immediate past commissioner for Finance, Emmanuel Gowon, had previously hinted that Ishaku would be inheriting a debt of N22 billion. The former acting governor of the state, Alhaji Garba Umar, was said to have accumulated over N17 billion debts before he left office, which was further raised by the immediate past acting governor, Sani Abubakar Danladi. As a result, the state government had to source for loans and bank overdrafts to pay workers’ salaries.
Gowon had told journalists in Jalingo that things would not be easy for Governor Ishaku at take-off but expressed hope that the new administration would be able to surmount the problem. This hope was rekindled by Ishaku on his inauguration day when he said: “My fellow citizens, as I stand here on this podium looking at the horizon of Taraba State, I see a promise of possibilities; 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.”
Although the Governor’s inaugural speech sounded promising, tongues began to wag a few days later when he announced key appointments in the State. Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that there has been apprehension in the State, following last week’s emergence of the member representing Mbamnga constituency, Mr. Abel Peter Diah as Speaker of the Taraba State House of Assembly and the appointment of Mr. Anthony Jellason as Secretary to the State Government.
Many Tarabians have faulted these first key appointments by the governor on the grounds that they amounted to recycling people from the previous administration, thereby raising doubts over the possibility of his new cabinet members helping him drive home his ‘rescue mission.’ While Diah was impeached as deputy speaker in 2013 along with the then Speaker, Istifanus Gbana, over allegations of financial misappropriation, Jellason was sacked as Commissioner of Agriculture by the then Acting Governor Garba Umar over allegation of misappropriation involving N400million federal government grant for the 2012 flood victims.
“If the “Rescue Taraba Mission” of Mr. Ishaku, the newly sworn in Governor is anything to go by, why is he not injecting new blood in the system? It was expected that he would be very careful and properly guided in the appointment and election of key officers that would bring about the desired ‘rescue’ he touted during the campaigns”, said an analyst in Jalingo.
According to the analyst, who wouldn’t want his name in print, Governor Ishaku was ‘caged on arrival’ by a group of sycophants who surrounded him 24 hours, without giving him a breathing space, not to talk of allowing him take decisions as a governor.
It was gathered that Diah emerged speaker after intensive scheming through the influence of Governor Ishaku and the leadership of the PDP in the state to frustrate the ambition of John Anthony Bonzena representing Zing constituency, Mr Charles Maijankai and Joseph Albasu Kunini who had also declared their intentions to contest the speakership position. The opposition against Diah’s emergence as Speaker is also hinged on the fact that he comes from the central zone which already has the deputy governor.
While some members of the House were said to have been heard grumbling, indicative of the fact that Diah was not their choice, others faulted Diah’s imposition as speaker, arguing that his impeachment along with his then speaker Mr. Istifanus Haruna Gbana for allegations of financial misappropriation was yet to be cleared. Curious enough to some observers is the fact that while Diah has emerged as Speaker, his former boss Istifanus Gbana has been appointed by Governor Ishaku as Senior Special Assistant on Assembly matters.
Another analyst said: “Diah comes from central zone which already has the deputy governor in the person of Haruna Manu, and the issue that is also generating concern in the state’s zoning permutation. For his inability to stamp his feet and get a speaker in consonance with the yearnings of the majority, and particularly the northern zone of the State, may also be an impediment for Governor Ishaku’s rescue agenda.”
On the part of the new SSG, Jellason, the public perception of his appointment after he was indicted by a committee of the state Assembly set up to investigate the flood relief committee he chaired not too long ago, in 2013, is also seen as morally wrong. Regarded as rather too old for such a rigorous schedule, the appointment of Jellason was seen more as a consolation for the Mummuye people who constitute one of the largest groups in the state.
It would be recalled that Jellason, including the former SSG, Ambassador, Emmanuel Njuwa and six other commissioners serving under acting governor Garba Umar were dismissed from office for alleged embezzlement of funds meant for the relief materials for the victims of flood disaster in Taraba state in 2012. Although they challenged their removal from office in a Taraba High Court, they were yet to obtain judgment in their favour to ascertain the innocence or otherwise of their indictment.
Although Ishaku is yet to send his list of nominees for commissioners to the State House of Assembly, the general feeling is that it may be populated by people who served in the immediate past administration. “If the governor continues this way, his quest to rescue the state would be a mirage. It therefore behooves on him to exercise his authority as the governor and go all out to deliver on his campaign promises because it is his integrity and score card that is at stake, not that of the people surrounding him”, said a top civil servant, who wouldn’t want to be named.
Beyond these, the governor is faced with the challenge of returning peace to the troubled state, which had witnessed killings and destruction of property in recent times. Taraba state has been highly polarized along religious and ethnic lines, which many have said is responsible for the cycle of unending crises in the state.
Perhaps it was in realization of these challenges that the governor declared in his inaugural address: “In the days ahead, a lot of sacrifices will be made to restore the soul of Taraba State. Emotional investment would be required of all patriotic citizens. We may not begin to see results immediately; we may not see the upturn of the darkest hours of our financial crisis; but I can assure citizens of Taraba State that we shall overcome, if all hands are on deck.”
- Daily Trust