By Bashir Ibrahim Hassan
Darius, the son of Ishaku, exudes humble persona. Darius, the Governor of Taraba State, displays pragmatism in the art of governance.
These are my reporter’s first-time impressions and assessment of the Darius Ishaku, the Governor of Taraba State, on meeting him for the first time at the Government House in Jalingo capital of Taraba State, while working on a project out to assess achievements of State Governors.
Before our planned 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 Masters 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 the Minister of State for Niger Delta Affairs before he resigned to contest in the 2015.
In this write-up I allowed the Governor Darius, fondly called DDI, to tell us two of his stories, as there many of them. These are stories of how he found Taraba in 2015, and how he is battling to change those stories positively.
But first, a bird’s eye view of the state. According to Wikipedia, Taraba State lies largely within the middle of Nigeria and consists of undulating landscapes dotted with a few mountainous features, including the scenic and prominent Mambilla Plateau. The state lies largely within the tropical zone and has a vegetation of low forest in the southern parts and grassland in the northern parts. The Mambilla Plateau, with an altitude of 1,800 meters (6000 ft) above sea level, has a temperate climate all year round.
The Benue, Donga, Taraba and Ibi are the main rivers in the state. They rise from the Cameroonian mountains, straining almost the entire length of the state in the North and South direction to link up with the River Niger. The major occupation of the people of Taraba State is agriculture. Cash crops, such as coffee, tea, groundnuts and cotton are produced in commercial quantities. In addition, cattle, sheep and goats are reared in large numbers, especially on the Mambilla Plateau and along the Benue and Taraba valleys. Taraba is also rich in untapped mineral resources, gold, silver, sapphire, petroleum and natural gas, etc.
However, the sad story is that these mineral resources will remain untapped for a long time to come because of so many factors, not the least the Boko Haram insurgency rocking the Northeast. The governor told a story of his trip to Germany to attending 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. And when it was my turn to talk I asked for the man who said they go down thousands of metres of 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 in the conference was all over me, trying to enquire more about the Gold, Silver and the Sapphire”
The civil service is the engine room of running a state. If the engine is decayed the states apparatus, including the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), will not function and the entire system of government will collapse. The second story of DDI is on the sorry state of the civil service he met on assuming the mantle of leadership. 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 canker worms that I’m telling you about included both religious leaders and traditional rulers. It was so bad. A particular case in time 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 the Darius the Governor has been able to tackle many socio-economic maladies bedeviling the resourced-endowed state. From here on, we will look at how DDI is trying to change the story of Taraba. For the sake of brevity, we will be contentwith just two areas exemplified by the revolutionary ways he is addressing water shortages with a tinge of technological innovation and the skills first approach to taking the youths out of the streets.
The Water “ATM” Scheme
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 state capital, 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 dotted all over the capital, using their water debit cardsto fill their jerry cans. Depending on the amount prepaid on his card, it is immediately registered in the Water Board headquarters and the bank that so-so-so amount of money has been deposited.
Many officials of the state water board were sent to Kenya under the World Bank and trained on this water sanitation and supply project. These feats earned the Governor Water man Award of the Year in 2017.
Governor Darius’ approach to youth’s empowerment is to give them skills first and encourage them to train others close to them. Beneficiaries are drawn from all the 168 electoral wards and comprise both males and females. The story of Aishatu Ali from Gashaka is very popular in the state media and it was typical of the Governor’s approach to skills acquisition programmes. Aisha was given sewing skills. She went back to her community and started applying her skills with the empowerment she received and soon trained her daughter and a widow relative. Today they are all doing well offering tailoring services to their communities. Through this approach the state government has taken many youth off the streets, which has helped in addressing the issue of youth restiveness.
The humility of Darius manifests itself when he was asked about the kind of person he wants to succeed him and he has this to say: “I will rather pray for God to bring somebody after his own heart, someone who thinks about people first to take over from me. That is the time that one needs to pray even more that God should give him somebody with equal or better vision, somebody with a heart for the people; somebody who thinks about the people first before himself. All these are attributes that are accumulated. Above all, you need somebody who is humble and willing to learn.”
I would say it takes a humble person to recognize humility as imperative character of a leader. For Darius’ pragmatism we need to only look at his performance in the 2019 elections. For someone who had to go into a re-run election in his first tenure, only to win landslide in the second, must have been a pragmatic politician. No doubt Darius’ humility and pragmatism gave him the second mandate in a conclusive manner for that matter!
In all these lies great lessons for our aspiring politicians.
Hassan is a writer on Business and Economy.