EMMANUEL Bello was at separate times a senior journalist with Daily Trust, Leadership and Thisday newspa
pers. Presently, Senior Special Assistant on Media to Governor Danbaba Danfulani Suntai of Taraba State, Mr. Bello in this interview reviews the administration of Governor Suntai asserting that the governor has done enough for a second term. Excerpts:
How do you assess the Governor’s chances ahead of this election?
Frankly speaking, I believe we are cruising home in victory. From what I saw I believe the people really want Governor Suntai to come back. The campaign is centered on the issue of peace and security. You might say what is this peace and security that we are making a lot of noise about.
But when you appreciate the fact that Taraba state was once an arena of unrest, you will see why we are making a big deal of this. The last regime created a situation where everything was chaotic and residents couldn’t sleep with both eyes. So everywhere we went during the campaign, people were really sympathetic to us and understand all the governor had to cope with.
They know the damages done by the last administration and the work to be done to fix it. And then in all the local government, the people told the governor what he has done for them. For some it was a road that he has built which is changing their lives. For some it is electricity. In some places it is hospitals, school and many other things. Some of them sometimes break down in tears when hailing the governor. Somehow in the last four years there is just no area in the state that hasn’t felt Suntai’ s impact. But by far, it was the peace and security they have enjoyed all these years that they applaud the most.
Your campaign is coming against the backdrop of a labour strike that was eventually suspended. Did that matter to the people you met?
Surprisingly, no one said anything about it. It didn’t come up at all. The only mention was at Gashaka where a speaker reiterated the position of government during the face off; that government cannot take everything it gets from the federation coffer and pay salaries. The man aligned himself with the position of government and that is the common sense in the whole fracas. How can government use all it has to pay off salaries?
Another thing you should note is that the governor was very frank with the workers. He told them that he would not negotiate with the workers. He told them why their leaders were after him. Do you know the whole trouble started when the governor made a commitment to build labour a befitting secretariat for the workers? He made the pledge earlier on in his administration.
The labour leaders then went to the governor at night and asked him to give them the money he wanted to use to build the edifice. The governor was bemused by that kind of request. He told the labour leaders “look gentlemen, I want to build the house myself. It is a promise from me”.
They refused, insisting that he must give them the money. So governor disagreed and the next week these same leaders went and called out their members to strike. You see. Where is the truth in all these? Then the same leaders started taxing their members to pay for the same house the governor said he was going to build. These men were defrauding their members, taking from them without conscience.
Then let’s come to down to the real issue. They wanted some increment and the state sat down and discovered two things. One, Taraba was paying one of the best salaries in the North. At the time those thoughtless labour leaders asked their people to picket, the state was actually paying the best salary in the North. The only state paying more than Taraba was Zamfara state.
But Zamfara has only a work force of 5000 workers. In Taraba, we have 16,500. If you make comparison, you would know that we are still the best in monthly salaries. Another fact is that Suntai does not delay in paying salaries. He pays immediately it is time. Then, it was Suntai who actually changed the lives of workers in the state. When Suntai came in, many permanent secretaries had no befitting cars to meet the standards of their office. Their offices were a sad sight with no proper furnishing.
But Suntai changed that. First, he moved their pay upwards. He then equipped their offices and then gave them cars to provide an enabling environment for working. That was how he gave them a raise both in quality of service and work environment. Today in Taraba, Perm secs and directors earn higher salaries that their colleagues elsewhere. Go check it out and see what I’m saying.
Speaking of opposition, some of them are alleging that the ruling PDP wants to muscle them out.
That is totally untrue. In fact, even before the campaigns and the elections, Suntai was always telling people to shun violence. He will be the first to deal with even his own people who dare to intimidate others. Everyone knows this.
It is common sense and it is public knowledge that Suntai detests violence. He hates the sight of thuggery. The first thing he did in office was to deal a blow on thuggery. So how can he be the one employing the services of thugs today? It would be the case of King Saul in the bible. You know the man killed all the witches in the land. He was so full of zeal that he killed all the witches and soothsayers. But when he fell from grace and lost it, he went about searching for a witch to help him. He couldn’t find one. He eventually found one at Endor. So if Suntai who outlawed thuggery starts using their tactics won’t we all exclaim that he is like King Saul?
What about using soldiers and police to intimidate opposition?
That is also a lie. The governor does not command the police or soldiers. The only time he may need to talk to soldiers or police is to urge them to maintain the peace. Look, we have worked real hard to maintain peace and security in Taraba. We have spent millions and would not allow our gains to go down the drain. The governor has already said that the election is not worth any one’s blood. He would be the last to see any bloodshed happen. So that is the position of government.
Back to you, when this administration is over, what is your next move?
But we are coming back now.
Well, let’s assume you are not reappointed….
(Cuts in) ok. That one is a different matter. I will go back to the newsroom from whence I cometh! Honestly, I enjoy this job. But change is the only thing that is permanent… you know the saying now.