Taraba State Governor Darius Ishaku is a nominee for the LEADERSHIP Governor of the Year. During this interview with ANDREW OJIH, he speaks about the achievements and challenges of his administration since the last three and a half years
Taraba State is ranked first in the Northeast in terms of education. What is the level of your government’s commitment to that sector?
We were ranked first in terms of education in the Northeast, and our magic is simple. When I took over the mantle of leadership, the state was very backward. In fact, before I came on board as governor, I recalled in Gombe State, we heard a presidential retreat of the Northeast Economy Development, it was said there that Taraba State was backward in terms of education and even in other things in the Northeast and as God would have it, I became the governor.
While on campaign tour in 2015, I found out that it was very correct, because most of the schools were dilapidated. If you met the whole school, you would be lucky if any class had a roof; not to talk of several schools. You would hardly have maybe two, three, four regular teachers, but then, the salaries were paid for every school having like 50 to 60 teachers.
What I saw on ground was less than five to six on the average, and when I resumed, it proved itself because I was looking at the average because there were no teachers, no classrooms. The teachers that they had were not regular. What I did was to sit up and do a cleaning exercise to remove the ghost workers and check the standard of teachers, and not like sacking over 20,000 teachers as they did in some other states, because if I did that, it would be like a political suicide because my state is purely a civil service state.
What I did was to engage consultants. I engaged some universities, they came in and what they did was training and retraining. While we were doing these, we were also fishing out the ghost workers and then we got to know the exact number of teachers we have in our schools.
We hardly found any school that had 10 regular teachers but the bill was maybe 50 to 60 teachers by the time we finished the cleaning. We did the retraining for two years.
In 2017, I equally built WAEC office here in Jalingo and got them a car to make sure that they were functional. We had less than 20 percent in two years, but it went up to 60 to 70 percent of becoming the first in the Northeast and the eighth in the country.
Now we have fished out many of the ghost workers. We now have the true number of teachers in schools and we have saved a lot of money, and later launched the 3,000 rescue teachers programme and do you believe that over 70 percent of them are graduates.
We did not stop there. In the university, we brought in a new vice chancellor. He’s quite good. From four faculties we now have eight. From three professors, we have over 60 now, and of course, you will imagine how this standard would go, this standard improved dramatically. So, we have improved the primary schools, secondary schools and university. The whole value chain of education has greatly improved in over three and a half years.
Don’t you think you also need to build the safety vibe of providing employment for these people when they finally get out of school? Again, what is the template for industrialisng the state?
I have plans to industrialise the state, and not only that, I inherited 20 moribund companies. I have ratified and brought back about seven, and the question I always ask is, 20 companies were dead completely, so what? Until I answered that question, I told the MD to hold on, until I answered the question.
I told myself, so what, before we ratify the companies I don’t want to finish ratifying the companies and they go back to where they were, which means we must train people with vision like me, we must train people with mission like me and we must train people that can continue with what we already have. Take for example, the tea company was down completely, I bought new machines, they had power problem, small hydro power was introduced there when I was a minister of power and power is now always constant. I went and further purchased some machines, they call it CGC, they put in brand new machines and power is now constant. There is 24 hours power supply.
We now went into plantation, we reactivated most of the plantations, now we went into the out grower scheme which to me was the sweetest part of the programme because out growers are women and children who are nursing their own tea farm which was just left forlorn because nobody needed the tea, nobody was buying but now they have customers.
So, every week, they are posting cheques for them, every week, they will just plug, the beauty of it was that women who are mostly doing nothing at home, go there to pluck the tea during the day and then in the night, do you know of what they do? The shaft is blown out of the tea, they mix it since they have electricity, they bring in and put this big bob because it is very cold in the Plateau. So, the chickens go round and the chickens are feeling very well because it is a neat clean weather.
They are warm and so, they are rearing chickens, they are plucking their tea and selling their tea. When we went there last month, I had a new ADC so he was asking me in the car, sir something is unique here, I said like what? He said look at these women, they are beautifully dressed, very nice with their Aligogoro and all their children are lying up well kept. They are waving at you and shouting, why are they different from where we are coming from? I said wait in the next 10 to 15 minutes, you will see the reason. So, in 10 to 15 minutes, we were able to see the smoke emanating from the factory.
An ambassador was here with me, he told me he was going to spend two days in the Mambilla Plateau, but he ended up spending five days and when he came right there at the door, he dropped his suit and was walking to the centre of the pallor to shake hands with him and he lifted me up and said, ‘you have done a good job’.
He sat where you are sitting right there and he said, “I thought the greatest thing you have done was the Green Farm, but when I went to the Kakara Tea Farm in Gembu, I discovered that you have done a greater thing and a wonderful job.” And he said congratulations, then I casually said that place employs 1,000 people. But that place is employing 2,660 people. I said you know the details. He said, “yes, I spent five days and there is nowhere I didn’t go and the families are very happy.” Therefore, what I am trying to tell you is that we are already waking up our companies and they are already engaging people. Hence, those who would finish school would have enough to do.
Beyond that, we have trained over 4,000 youths and women in our youth and women empowerment scheme and they are doing very well. We have empowered women in tailoring, welding, computer education and other little things that you think don’t matter but that are now changing the psyche of the people.
I have a guy here who read architecture. He has a master’s degree. He has the best workshop of carpentry; he is making furniture. If you come to my office, I will show you the chairs we bought from him. We trained him, he is now rich. He has three houses and that was as at last count two years ago. So, there is more than enough job to absorb those coming out of the university.
Sir, 2019 is around the corner, the feelers we are getting indicate that there are plans to destabilise the forthcoming elections in the state. What security measures are you putting in place to see that the plans do not succeed?
Yes, you are correct. I heard the rumour but it is no longer a rumour if the opposition could be saying openly that they know they won’t win but will destabilise the election and they are plotting to rig. The plot is that they would destabilise the state, put in a state of anarchy and then then the election would be suspended. It was a bit doubtful to me until Thursday when it happened in Wukari. How can you be going for campaign and you have about 20000 youths and more than 100 cars and then you are shooting guns right from Gindindoruwa? That was about 30 kilometres to Wukari. And as you get to Wukari, the first thing you met was the yam market. They were shooting in the air until they got to the Aku-Uka palace junction and the whole town was thrown into confusion. Everybody in the town was confused. The action of the opposition candidate on that day resulted in fracas. Was it really campaigns that the opposition candidate went for or he went to fire guns into the air? I have been going round with my campaigns. As a matter of fact, that same day the UDP was campaigning in Wukari quietly and I went to Wukari, nobody heard me. No incident anywhere I go even as a governor. I kneel down to beg people to give me their votes because you don’t force somebody to vote you; you must appeal to people’s conscience. I tell them what I have done, if you think I am worth coming back, please come out and vote for me. Yes, some people don’t like me because I am fat, huge and tall, they hate my face. Yes, whatever I said, whether I said I am building them gold or silver and they don’t want; they don’t want. If I talk and they don’t hear me, I go to the next person because it’s now time to beg for votes, you don’t scare somebody with violence before you get a vote.
Now coming to your point, this is where our security agencies are supposed to do their work but they are not. In Wukari, when I called the chairman, he said the police were not out and even when they came, they had no gun, they had no even teargas to even disperse the people. So, everybody had to fight for themselves to secure themselves. It was the military that came into Wukari that day all the way from Takum. I called them that day that there was mayhem in Wukari, they quickly got there and they did a fantastic job, and I was happy.
They did a good job by calming the situation down, but the police need to be well equipped for this election. The police need equipment, they need training their men to be alert, because it is the police that will stay at the polling units on the day of elections and they are not even supposed to be armed. If the election is organised properly, the police should be there unarmed and we are supposed to line up to vote quietly. Those that line up are the ones voting on the day of elections, I am surprised when I went out to know that a good number of Tarabans are giving me their support.
Taraba State is vast in tourism potential; what is your government doing to tap into this?
Taraba State has three major things, agriculture, mining and tourism. Incidentally, tourism would earn you more money than the two combined. Unfortunately, tourism is all about connectivity, nobody goes to where there is no peace, if you heard yesterday they killed 20 people in Kenya, everybody would be running away from Kenya. You must secure the place, you must be able to connect the person to that point and you must be able to expose the potentials of that person,
Let me give you an example of connectivity to drive home the point. I was going abroad, I wanted to go and check my child in the school and then I usually take a particular airline. When I went, it was over booked and since I had short time, I was wondering which airline to take, and a guy suggested that I should go and take Egyptian airline. I had never taken Egyptian airline. When I went there, I found out that Egyptian airline was cheaper, but then I had to spend a night in Egypt. I told them no, I was not ready to spend a night, I wanted an airline that would take me directly the country so that I won’t get down for any reason. But since I had a short time, the ticket was cheaper, I decided to buy it when they told they me would give free hotel. The city looks attractive. After flying five and a half hours, I took a rest, I slept for free, I ate for free, I said, alright let me buy the ticket, but there was a park, when I got to my hotel room in Cairo, I crossed my leg on the table, I now saw all the tourist sites and I need to get to the Pyramids site. It has been my long ambition to physically see the Pyramids, how the beauty is as an architect. It was a wonderful thing for me as an architect. How did they carry all these stones, how did they build and put them in the position they belong. The stones have been sitting there for centuries. I was excited that I must see these Pyramids. So, my first interest from my room was how to get to the Pyramids sites. For almost eight hours I was touring how to get to the main point of the pyramids. So, when breakfast was free, hotel free, a taxi that would take me. They took me, but as he was taking me, he said I had to stop at a point where they started making papers, I went into it, I got so excited then we went to another shop then to another shop. Before we went to the Pyramids site, I had gone up to a dollar, my dollar was going. When I got the Pyramids, I was more excited, because I was going there climbing a camel. So, the man said, ah! ah!, the camel went down they dressed me like an Arab, put on the costume like an Arab. Then they said I had a guide and he said, ah!, and the Camel went up and we settled the guide to the Pyramids site. It was so fantastic, beautiful, exciting. By the time I finished the tour I came back to my hotel room, then I was rushing to pick my bag, rushing to go to the airport. When I went to the bag, I discovered that my pocket was swept with some thousands of Dollars but I was happy. That was the story I kept telling my daughter that you must pass through Cairo and that was how she passed through Cairo. The next time she was going with her friends, they passed through Cairo and she was excited. That was the connectivity. If I didn’t get to ticket to Egypt and if I didn’t insist to cool down for a day to sleep, I wouldn’t have gotten the privilege to tour the Pyramids sites.
Connectivity has a flight that took me from here to Cairo. Once they dropped me, from Cairo to the hotel, it is connected. These are the plans we are having for Jalingo and you can see that a good number of people are coming into the state.
What is your take on the agitation for local government autonomy?
Local government autonomy was there before, then the question I asked, if something had existed and it was scrapped and somebody wants to bring it back, the question should be asked of why it was removed in the first place. When you get answer to that question, then you will be in a better position to request for its coming back. What I think is that those local governments seem to perform better because when there was autonomy, I understand there was a lot of abuse in the process. But when it is being supervised, there is a guide.
Beyond 2019, what should the people of Taraba State expect from you?
When I came in after the first two weeks in office, I came up with a Green Book which tells the story of what I intend to do. That Green Book tells me what I intend to do in Education, Agriculture, Health Care and other things.
I will say that I have laid the foundation. I need to build the structure and put the roof; I am hoping my people now know me.
What informed your decision to create additional chiefdoms to those currently in existence?
Managing people has to be holistic. I have just been talking about how people can be employed, how people can be paid, there is political and social content in it. I discovered that one of the huge factors that contributed to the disturbances in the state is that intention within different components of people, different tribes, different identities, everybody wants to be identified with his own tribe.
Taraba is a mini-Nigeria. Taraba is one of the states that have the largest ethnic groups. The creation of additional chiefdoms was done to give each tribe in the state a sense of belonging.
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