By Bala Dan Abu
On Wednesday, May 29, 2019, Arc Darius Dickson Ishaku will step out of the crowd to the podium in the main bowl of the Jolly Nyame Stadium, Jalingo, to be sworn in for a second term as governor of Taraba State. The historic event is coming as the crowning glory for his efforts in repositioning the state during his first tenure as governor of the state. The 2019 election was mainly a contest between the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Ishaku’s political platform, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, candidate, Sani Danladi which Ishaku won with a wide margin.
That victory is seen by the people of the state as a fitting reward for hard work, honesty and patriotic leadership which he had offered them during his first tenure. His first tenure has given a new positive name and direction to Taraba State. It has wiped tears off the faces of the long-suffering Tarabans, given youths the hope for a better future and re-assured all other groups of people in the state of the opportunity to live peaceful and prosperous lives everywhere in the state.
Before now the question frequently asked by most Nigerians was: where is Taraba? Not many people knew the position of the state on the map of Nigeria. The state was hardly known by Nigerians living outside the state. People only got to hear about the state when one of those perennial communal crises occurred again and lives were lost. That was when the state got generous mention in the media.
Not anymore. The coming of Arc Darius Dickson Ishaku as governor has changed that toga of obscurity. Taraba is today a traveler’s delight, a tourism and investments destination of choice. Many people now want to visit the state for leisure and business, taking advantage of the regular daily direct flights to Jalingo introduced by Ishaku.The state is now a trailblazer in several areas of modern development some of which have served and are still serving, as positive advertisement for the state locally and internationally. Governor Ishaku has, in his first tenure as governor which ends on May 29, 2019, succeeded tremendously in rescuing the state from the jaws of infrastructural decadence and placed it on the path of sustainable development.
One such area of immense success of Ishaku’s rescue mission is education. In 2015 when Ishaku took over the mantle of leadership as Governor, Taraba schools were in shambles. Students performances in the West African School Certificate, WASC, wavered around the ridiculous figure of 20 and 30 percent. This miserable record of performance in an examination that is critical to the future of every school children greatly worried Governor Ishaku. The fad then was for parents who could afford the costs to take their children to schools outside the state to receive better education.
This situation got Ishaku working. His common refrain then was that education is too critical to the future of the state and our children to be toyed with. He got working, investing heavily in the provision of instructional materials, rehabilitating most of the school buildings to make the schools learning-friendl. He also employed thousands of teachers who were trained through several refresher programmes to become more efficient in the art of teaching. Soon after, these investments in education began to manifest in huge gains harvested through impressive jumps in WAEC performances by students in the state.
In 2017, the state’s WAEC score jumped to 75.3 percent. This score earned for Taraba State a new and enviable position on the education map of Nigeria. The state took the number one position in the entire Northern states and the 8th among the 36 states in Nigeria. In 2018, the story changed even for the better. The state scored 85.3 percent and retained its first positions as number one in the north and 8th in the whole country. Today schools in the state are centres of academic excellence and those parents who took their children and wards out of the state in the past have brought them back.
Another major area of remarkable progress in education in the state is the Taraba State University where government invested heavily in the recruitment of professors and other academic staff to raise the standard of teaching. Many new faculties were also added in order to widen the choices available to students from the state and to eventually meet the manpower needs of the state in critical areas.
The provision of clean water is yet an area of radical changes during Ishaku’s first tenure. The situation he found on assumption of office in 2015 was very embarrassing indeed. It was a classical case of a people living by the riverside but lacking water to drink. Ishaku tasked himself and officials of the state water agency to turn the situation around in a few weeks. This was achieved through the re-activation of broken down water facilities. This greatly improved water supply in Jalingo and other major towns in the state. Thereafter, the administration embarked on major water projects to extend water to more people. The Jalingo Primary Water Source is a perfect example of such major interventions. The project is close to completion.
But perhaps the more radical intervention was the government’s water programme in rural areas. Government provided 300 boreholes in 300 communities, thus covering a significant proportion of areas that was lacking good drinking water. These community boreholes have earned Governor Ishaku accolades from international donor agencies who have now promised their support for him to do more.
The administration’s approach to the problem of water goes beyond producing enough water for the people. It is also bothered about efficient management of water produced. This was the reason 67 staff members of the water agency in the state were sent for training in Kenya in 2017. Government has installed water ATMs in strategic locations in Jalingo, Taraba State’s capital city to ensure that water produced is not wasted but available always to the people at minimal costs.
Most of the people who voted for Ishaku’s re-election are youths. They championed the campaign, mobilized the people and ensured that electoral frauds by the opposing political parties were minimized. They had good reasons to do so. They were a major beneficiary of the welfare programmes of the administration.
During his first tenure, Governor Ishaku proved a great friend of the young people in the state. They were the beneficiaries of the skill acquisition programmes of his administration and that of his wife’s Hope Afresh Foundation. Many of them were trained in various skills and provided with free starter packs with which they have established their personal businesses and are now self-reliant.
They were also the major beneficiaries of all the employment opportunities created by the government. These include the Rescue Teachers Scheme under which 3,000 young men and women were employed by the state government in one fell swoop in 2017. They also filled most of the vacancies created with the establishment of Green House, one of the most celebrated agricultural projects in Taraba and Nigeria at large. Green House is essentially a vegetable farm where unique species of assorted vegetables are produced. These products are sold in major department stores in major cities across the country.
The revival of seven out of the 26 dead or dying government-owned companies inherited by the Ishaku administration provided yet more opportunities which both the old and young profited from through employment and other gainful commercial activities. The Highland Tea Company in Gembu alone has provided 5,000 direct and indirect job opportunities to both the young and old. It has revived tea farming from which they are making good money. The provision of un-interrupted power supply to the factory by the Ishaku administration through the commissioning of a hydro-electricity power plant in the area, has turned Kakara, the tea production community, into a big village of artisans who are making good money from their trade tapping from the benefits of regular power supply. The story is the same for the other revived companies like Taraba Gas, Taraba Feed Mills, Tarabal Oil which are all providing employment and business opportunities for the people of the state.
The Ishaku administration has changed the face of healthcare delivery in the state. Three General Hospitals in the three senatorial zones in the state have been renovated and equipped with state of the art equipment. The one in Wukari, Southern Senatorial Zone has already been commissioned while the two others in the North and Central senatorial districts are awaiting commissioning. In addition, smaller healthcare centres have been built and commissioned in many towns and villages in the state.
Manpower problems in the health sector were addressed by Ishaku through the re-opening of the State College of Nursing and Midwifery which was closed down for ten years. Ishaku met all the condition for its re-opening and the collect has started graduating students. In addition, he recalled retired nurses on contract appointments to bridge the manpower gap.
Several medical intervention programmes were also executed by the administration with the support of global health agencies which have succeeded tremendously in elevating healthcare delivery in the state. The most outstanding cases were the fight against hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, infant mortality and deaths through child birth. Governor Ishaku’s achievements in taking medical care to the grassroots were acknowledged and rewarded by the Nigeria Medical Assiciation, NMA, with an award of Excellence. Ishaku was one of the two state governors selected for this award.
In the past four years, Ishaku ran an administration with a human face. The people were at the centre of his policies. During the period, he paid salaries of workers promptly. Pensioners also had a good deal. Payment of gratuities was also started and has progressed gradually and to the happiness of retired civil servants. This earned Ishaku the sobriquet of the Most Workers-Friendly Governor. This positive disposition to the plight of workers caught the attention of the nation’s foremost labour union bodies – the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the Nigerian Union of Local Governmenr Employees, NULGE who jointly honoured him with an appreciation award.
Every sector of the infrastructure of socio-economic development received the attention of Ishaku’s rescue agenda. The roads – intra-city and inter-city, as well as rural communities received the attention of the administration. Electricity was boosted in many communities through the purchase and installation of many transformers. This achievement earned him an award from Yola Electricity Distribution Company which said Ishaku generated more electricity than any governor in the country.
The major problem faced by the Ishaku administration was communal crises, the herdsmen/farmers crisis and the more deadly Fulani militia attacks which have created a monumental problem of Internally Displaced Persons for the government. These crises were a major distraction for the government. The did not only slow down the pace of government plans and projections for developing the state, they also limited the contributions expected of the people to this process.
The people of Taraba State are generally happy about the re-election of Governor Ishaku for a second term. The state had erupted in a wild flame of jubilation soon after the declaration of his election by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC in the April 9, 2019 elections. Their expectation is that the Governor would do more for them in the new dispensation.
Governor Ishaku has also pledged to consolidate on the gains of his first tenure and build solidly on them. What is required is peace. The Governor’s matra – ‘Give me peace and I will give you development’ remain relevant even as the administration begins the phase two of the rescue Taraba project. The people must become united against external forces of destabilsation that may still be seeking to make Taraba State ungovernable.
*ABU is the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Taraba State on Media and Publicity.