December 7, 2015

Governor Ishaku and the progress of Taraba State

THERE are certain things that serve as dream killers in life; you do not want near you. The news of the annulment of the election of Darius Ishaku, the Governor of Taraba State, is one of such.

An amiable politician who is loved by his people, Governor Ishaku was voted into office in April 2015 after defeating the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan, in a keenly-contested election and runoff. He emerged winner because the people believed in his ability and capacity to help rescue, rebuild and reposition the state.

The news of the annulment of his election by the Taraba Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Abuja was a rude and immense shock not only to those of us privileged to know him, but indeed, to all well-meaning citizens of the state.

In the controversial judgement, the Justice Danladi Abubakar Tribunal announced that Ishaku did not emerge the candidate of the PDP in a properly-conducted primary election and so must vacate office. Meanwhile, here was a candidate who clearly won the elections by the valid votes cast in the elections and was so declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Now, if the surprise decision and conclusion of the tribunal doesn’t shock, nothing else will!

What is not in doubt is that the tribunal’s ruling continues to puzzle many close watchers of events in the state especially with the fact that not a single candidate in the PDP even went to court to challenge Architect Ishaku’s emergence as the PDP flag-bearer to contest the April 11 election! In the first run of the election, Ishaku scored 317,198 votes while the APC’s Alhassan polled 262,386. The difference between the votes of both candidates was 54,812. Over 100,000 potential votes were cancelled at some polling units.

However, INEC, through its Returning Officer for the election in the state, Prof. Muhammad Kariey, on April 13, declared it inconclusive and announced there would be a supplementary election within 30 days.

INEC specifically said it took the position following its discovery that the total number of votes rejected and cancelled was more than the total votes with which Ishaku led the runner-up, Hajia Alhassan. Of course, INEC’s position made sense and Ishaku had no cause to argue against it despite the fact that he was leading.

The electoral body, through its Head of Public Affairs in the state, Fabian Yame, later announced April 25 as date for the runoff which held in Donga Local Government Area of the state, and some polling units in Bali, Karim Lamido, Takum, Ussa, Wukari, Yorro and Zing. INEC eventually declared Ishaku the clear winner of the election with 369,318 votes to the APC’s Alhassan who scored 275,984 votes. The victory thus cleared the coast for him to commence his mission of rescuing and rebuilding Taraba state while seeking to position it as a state to watch in the North East geopolitical zone of the country.

Indeed, immediately he was sworn in on May 29, Ishaku promised to be the governor of all Tarabans and asked for the cooperation of people in the quest to move the state forward. He pointed out some achievements of former Governor Danbaba Suntai and promised to continue from where Suntai stopped. He equally urged the people to set aside all political, religious and ethnic differences and unite to move the state forward.

Towards tackling crime as well as religious and ethnic crises in the state, he promised that his government would introduce community policing aside urging civil servants in the state to be guided by the rules, adding that more is demanded from them.

Understanding that the task of rebuilding Taraba cannot be delivered by him and his commissioners alone, Governor Ishaku expressed his intention to work with traditional rulers in the state and always seek their fatherly advice on critical issues. A genuine patriot that he is, and ever ready to commit his all in serving his people, Governor Ishaku also galvanised Tarabans and called on them to ask themselves what they will offer to the state rather than what the state will do for them. With all stakeholders in the state working together, he added that the job of rebuilding Taraba would be easier and achieved faster.

That’s why despite the November 7 tribunal ruling, Governor Ishaku appealed for calm and called on the citizens of the state to remain peaceful even as he expressed his decision to appeal the tribunal’s ruling towards upholding the mandate freely given to him.

However, it’s clear that the Governor is not losing any sleep on the matter. Already, his party, the PDP, through its Acting National Chairman, Mr. Uche Secondus, has expressed its support for him in the quest to ensure that his electoral mandate is not tampered with. The party decided to appeal the judgment.   The party chairman stated that the PDP followed every stage of the Electoral Act and the party’s guideline in the submission of the name of the governor and his deputy to the INEC.

Yes, the tribunal’s ruling could come across to some as a setback. However, I believe it’s only a temporary one that Tarabans and well-meaning Nigerians expect to be overturned by the Appeal Court in the interest of justice. It’s just a matter of time.

And a week after the tribunal’s judgement, Governor Ishaku launched his “Rescue Agenda” for Taraba State while swearing in his 20 commissioners. The Rescue Agenda is hinged on the pillars of health, education, economic development, agriculture, peace and security.

At the ceremony, the governor urged the commissioners to quickly key into his mission to cover all lost grounds in the state and work together to make Taraba equal to none among states in the North East geopolitical zone. Large crowds of people from across the state turned up to witness the ceremony and also show solidarity with their governor. Of course, Governor Ishaku used the opportunity to express his confidence in the judiciary and assured his supporters of his optimism that the judgement of the tribunal would be upturned by the Court of Appeal.

Judging by the vigour and manner with which the Governor and his team are carrying on, it’s clear that the mission to rebuild Taraba is very much on course and the citizens of the state have absolutely nothing to worry about. Without a doubt, Ishaku’s experience as an architect of almost 40 years will come in good stead as he focuses on achieving his Rescue Agenda and transforming Taraba into a much more modern state.

Yes, there may be some level of uncertainty among some of his supporters. Yes, the tribunal’s ruling could come across to some as a setback. However, I believe it’s only a temporary one that Tarabans and well-meaning Nigerians expect to be overturned by the Appeal Court in the interest of justice. It’s just a matter of time.

Mr Mike Ikpechi , political analyst, wrote from Abuja