Born Friday 30th July, 1954, as the fifth of his parents’ 10 children, Darius Dickson Ishaku, trained as an architect at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He made out time last week, to speak about his mission in government, the problems of his state; its vast arid land and the untapped potential for tourism; the crises of leadership that set the state apart from the rest since 2012 and why the country needs a new orientation towards electioneering. He spoke to KUNLE SOMORIN
For the first time in his 40 days in the saddle as the executive governor of Taraba State, Darius Ishaku, confessed he only had a good sleep the night before he was sworn in. Taking away his sleep are the myriad of challenges of governance, development and security of Tarabans. Like most governors, he also claimed to have met an empty treasury and raising funds to turn the rural state to one huge construction site has taken a toll on the psyche of the professional architect turned politician.
It’s been 40 days since you were sworn in as executive governor of Taraba State. How has it been?
The journey has been tough and tortuous, but it has been fulfilling. The lack of funds has made it quite daunting, especially for someone like me, who has got a lot of vision for the state. I came with so much zeal to cause the state to rise, but faced with lack of funds, it has been a huge set-back for me. However, we are going on and, by the grace of God, we will succeed.
The first major task, I believe, will be turning the fortunes of the state around. How are you hoping to do this in the face of paucity of funds?
First of all, I have been negotiating with our bankers. We have been talking about the heavy loans we have to repay and how we can spread the payment of the interest reasonably, so that it can be easier to pay and give us some lee-way for capital development and then create an avenue to tackle the issues which trouble the people of Taraba the most.
Soon, we hope, we will achieve some results from that end and get the needed opportunity to begin infrastructural development in earnest.
I do not believe that a governor should just come and stay for four years paying only salaries. Even for the salaries, I have my doubts. To that end, we are carrying out staff verification to plug the leakages and, though we will pay sooner than people think, I have huge doubts about the salary figures of this state. For a state as small as Taraba, the salary bill is too heavy. The fact that we even have to get loans at intervals to pay these salaries, calls for some inward looking.
You mentioned a huge debt. What was the exact state of the treasury when you assumed office?
Actually, the treasury was quite empty. When the transition committee handed over to me, the state was in debt to the tune of N30bn and still counting, because some of these debts keep popping up in the course of governance. That said, I am equal to the task and will do my best to make do with what I have.
You just said you are trying to verify staff employment status. This means that some people may lose their jobs. Though you promised the people more jobs during your campaign, recently, it was revealed that you have placed an embargo on employment in the state. What informed that decision?
Yes, I promised during my campaign that I would create jobs for the young people in the state who have no employment. However, before my coming, there had been recruitment exercises which did not conform to the standards of the civil service in the state. A lot of people found themselves getting employment outside due process – even people who are not from the state – but I have ordered that every employment letter issued between 2012 and the present time should be suspended. I want to verify, that’s all. I did not terminate their appointments as was wrongly published. If we verify and someone’s services are truly needed, we will engage that person, but if we verify otherwise, that person’s service would not be needed any longer.
Why should you employ someone as a teacher and the person can hardly write his own name? That is one case in point. All we want to do is sieve the wheat from the chaff. When we are done with sieving and we see what we come up with, we can provide them with employment – which is the intention, anyway, but only for those whose services are needed and employable. The chaff will be done away with.
Given the clamour for more states and the case of most states presently in need of funds to pay the salary of civil servants, do you think the call for more states is justified?
A state should be in a position to cater for the needs of her citizens. Fortunately, I was one of those who clamoured for the creation of Taraba State and drew the map with the late Inusa Yerima. One of the conditions we were given was to provide sufficient proof that the state could pay the salaries of its civil servants.
Now, as governor, we are not collecting anything near paying the civil servants. The IGR (internally generated revenue) is very low, not because we do not have the potential; we do, but due to a number of things which are happening; poorly driven IGR, too many leakages in the state’s finances etc. So, there is a lot to be done to drive the IGR as it should be, to prevent the leakages. One of the goals of the present verification exercise is to stop the leakages in the state.
Another challenge you will face is that of security; cattle-rustling, inter-ethnic rivalry and killings in the interior parts of the state. How are you going about tackling this headache?
Let me correct you; we are already tackling them, not “hoping to tackle them,” as you said. I was in Takum for a meeting between the Jukun, Kutep, Chamba and other ethnic groups in that part of the state. I advised them on the need to learn to live peaceably.
The Jukun-Kutep-Chamba-Tiv strife was as a result of land disputes. Due to the population explosion among the ethnic people, the land which belongs to us is being encroached on by those from Benue and the ethnic people within the state are quite unhappy about that. Ultimately, it is a question of coming to understand one another and live as amicably as we can by accommodating one another.
When you move further to Wukari axis, you have the ethno-religious unrest. That situation has been on for years and, I dare say it was sponsored by some individuals to create tension and, as a result, depopulate the area. Hitherto, that area was peaceful and there was harmonious co-existence between the ethnic people. Presently, we have calmed the people and we are working quite hard to see that peace returns to the area. I am trying to get to the community level and build from there, instead of going from top-to-bottom. I have been advised by the leaders of these communities that it will be better to get to the people who are involved in the conflict and that is wise.
If you move to the boundary between Benue and Nasarawa, the insurgence which you mentioned involves the Fulani from Nasarawa State. They cross the River Benue and strike towns like Chinkaye, Kente and other areas around that axis. We have deployed police patrols to those areas and we are doing the best we can to pre-empt some strikes which were once incessant.
Moving upwards from Lower Benue to Ibi, the insurgents come from across the Benue, on the other end of Nasarawa State to kill farmers in areas like Ibi and the inhabitants. That is being curtailed too.
If you move up the stream, in Ibi local government, the boundary with Plateau, the cattle-rustlers give them a lot of headache. These ones are thieves and criminals, not insurgents. That crime is committed by a number of ethnic people, not just one.
I understand that a local government in Plateau State has installed traditional rulers in two of these villages in Taraba State.
Who gave them staff of office?
That is an issue which I need to resolve with my colleague in Plateau state, so that we can make the people safe again across our borders.
In Donga area, the Tivs, for some reason we have not identified, are having an intra-tribal disagreement, but we are recording success. If you ask me, it is not good enough, (the effort) because we need to put an end to all the bad blood. We cannot carry out all the development which we want with these things going on as well.
Where will one begin without peace as a bed-rock? How can I get to these places when the people are at their throats all the time?
You also need a team, but that has not happened yet. What is the reason for the delay?
Like I told you earlier, paucity of funds has not helped issues. Also, by the time you get full-fledged commissioners, it is a burden for the state, because you have to be sure to know how they will be accommodated, their mobility, offices, budgets, allowances etc. All these are tied to the existing salaries we are struggling to pay. Secondly, it gives you room to get the right people. I have been appointing people, but if you notice, it is at a slower rate, so as to ensure that those I invite on-board will have the capacity, know-how and be on the same pedestal as we are to drive the state.
Taraba State is blessed with vast arable land for agriculture. Also, it has huge tourism potential but sadly, nothing much has been done about these sectors of the state’s economy, which have the potential to make the state viable. What will your administration do to scale-up the level of agricultural development in the state?
Taraba is truly blessed with fertile land. In terms of agriculture, Taraba is one of the best if not the best. More than half of the yams consumed in our country come from Taraba. In this state, anything grows, even without fertilisers.
We had two investors which began processing sugar from cane sugar, but the tempo died off, sort of. Presently, we are trying to settle a few issues and get them back into it. If it goes full-scale, it can employ up to 15 to 30 people.
The same can be said for rice production in Gassol. All the machinery have been imported and they are already on site for the past 18 months. We are ironing out the issues and, when we are done, it has the capacity to employ more than 30,000 to 60, 000 people. That will contribute hugely to the employment drive and create a huge impact on the human capital development of the state. We are working assiduously to ensure that both farms come afloat as quickly as possible. If you ask me when, I can say yesterday.
Taraba is also the best tourist centre in the country, if you ask me. I even told the former president that whenever he wants to opt for a retreat, he should consider coming to Mambilla. That is the best part of the country. The weather is cool, the temperature hardly goes beyond 22oc and 23oc. The climate over there is temperate and good for cattle-rearing. It is the best place for tea and coffee. Our tea factory is there and doing very well with the constant power supply, thanks to the United Nations’ Development Organisation (UNIDO). Any moment now, the UNIDO people will call for commissioning of the hydro-electric plant which will provide daily power supply to the area.
It is a haven of tourism, but there are a few problems; how does one get there? How does one communicate to people that such a place exists and ensure that they have a pleasant time when they go there? You don’t just have tourism for the sake of it; it must be attractive to people. Also, you must be able to get the people there. Mambilla has a high altitude and having an airport up there may not be right. However, an airport needs to be close by to air-lift people to the nearest place where they can take a cab. There is nothing like that. We do not have trains, it could have been better to take a train there. The only means we have of getting people up there is road transport and we are working to get the road completed. There is need for a five-star hotel in that area, golf course, resort and all sorts of infrastructure which will please tourists.
The road is long and tortuous but Taraba will work again. This I promise.
Don’t you think that a properly structured private-public-partnership can easily get this done without the state sinking all her resources into it?
Well, we are working on a proper PPP model, but we need an enabling environment in the state. We are also doing that. We are putting finishing touches to our airport in Jalingo. That is the first port of call. If you take a flight from Abuja, in 50 minutes you are in Jalingo. If a chopper lifts you from there, in 10 or 15 minutes, you are on the plateau.
We are working hard with Kashimbilla, another tourist destination in the southern tip of the state – where we have a 40mw power station – to get these things up and running. The multi-purpose dam has been completed and all that is left is just a few details. Surprisingly, we have got certification for the airport in Kashimbilla which can take smaller aircrafts. Kashimbilla is 35 minutes from Abuja by air and, if you get here and a chopper lifts you to Mambilla, you will be there in 10 minutes. These are the things which the government has to put in place before the private individuals can come in. Which people will throng this place? People from all over our country and beyond – Abuja, Kaduna, Lagos, Port Harcourt, just name it.
We are working on that and I pray that God will create avenues for us to get more funds to see this through.
A few groups have discredited the elections from which you emerged. Your party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won in the state and lost in the presidential election. Are you convinced that the election was free and fair?
Without a doubt, I am absolutely convinced of the fairness of the election at the state level. Remember, we conducted the election twice and I won at the first instance, but was denied victory. It was not inconclusive; it was an election that was concluded, but some people somewhere truncated it. We went for a second election which I even won more than the first.
What are you saying? I, Daruis Ishaku, cannot sit in my house and wish to be a governor just for the sake of it. I must earn it from the people. I have to be voted for, if the people did not vote me, I cannot go to the court.
I appeal to all politicians that they should have a big heart. Jonathan could have also taken President Buhari to court, but he opted to congratulate him. What stops the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) from following that example? Taraba is a PDP state. We have three senators. Of the six, we have four House ofRepresentatives members. In the state house of assembly, we are almost 17. Taraba has been PDP since 1999 and they are still PDP and they voted me. I don’t want to join issues because it is still in the tribunal. But, let if suffice to say that I am the governor who went to the polls twice and got it right twice. The record is there. They cancelled the results for Donga local government which has 160 wards, just because five wards had issues. I didn’t say a word. Is that fair? You say this country belongs to all of us, but we must be seen to be fair and do what is correct. Politicians must learn to accept defeat. The state belongs to all of us, whether we are in the PDP or APC, so we must come together to make sure that the people of Taraba profit hugely from our administration.
If you had lost would you have congratulated your opponent?
If the former president, my boss, could do that, why wouldn’t I? The water which we now enjoy in the state capital and the increased megawatts we can now boast of does not have PDP imprinted on it; it is for the people of the state. Everyone is enjoying it. The whole idea is to give service to the people. I am doing it and will continue to do so.
In the last two years, Taraba has produced three chief executives. What is the reason behind the leadership crisis in the state?
There is no leadership crisis in Taraba State. What happened was that we were unfortunate. Our former governor, Danbaba Suntai, was a well-loved man, loved to a fault, but for the unfortunate accident in October 2012.
Shortly before that accident, he appointed a deputy governor who he had never worked with or knew so much about. They did not even campaign together. This fellow came in raw and new, with no proper knowledge of the state and how it works. He had no administrative experience. As a result, his administration was hijacked and he was misled by power brokers. The rest, they say, is history. So, we have no leadership crisis here. Taraba is very peaceful and, assuredly, within the next few years, the peace we once enjoyed will return. Only, the people have to support his administration to get it right. We can do all things by the grace of God. Soon, actual physical developments will be on ground and the people will be proud of them.