By Bala Dan Abu
A couple of weeks ago, I sought for and got an audience with my boss, Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku. The venue was his main office in Government House, Jalingo and my mission was to first remind him of his 65th birthday anniversary which was fast approaching and then seek his permission to make some elaborate arrangements for a befitting celebration in the media. What I got was an emphatic rejection of the celebration plan.
But he was quick in providing an explanation, perhaps, to assuage my feeling of disappointment. “How can I be celebrating my birthday when my people are being killed? That statement was both a question and an answer rolled into one sentence. And so, I needed no further explanation. I just took back my memo file and left.
That encounter says volumes about Ishaku, a renown architect and town planner who has been in the saddle as Executive Governor of Taraba State since May 29, 2015. It says a lot about his humanity, the depth of his love, empathy and care for the people of Taraba, particularly, victims of the incessant herdsmen killings and kidnappings in the state and also of the communal clashes involving Tiv and Jukun living along the Taraba/Benue borders. It is also a loud statement of his abhorrence and rejection of violence as a means of dispute resolution.
These crises and conflicts have not only given Ishaku stressful days and sleepless nights but have created for Taraba State – our beloved “Nature’s Gift to the Nation” – the underserved image of a place that is perpetually in turmoil. That image is hurting social and economic activities and the development agenda of his administration in which foreign investors are expected to participate actively.
Crisis was strange to the boisterous culture of communal life that Ishaku was born into on July 30, 1954 in Lupwe in present day Ussa Local Government Area of Taraba State. Lupwe was then more of a missionary settlement where every person was the other person’s good neighbor. There was no discrimination on the basis of tribe, religion or occupation. The young then Darius imbibed that culture. His grandfather was a pastor and his father, a teacher. Both professions created an ambience of peace and love which brought the children of other parents to live and grow together under the care of the parents of the young Darius and his siblings. It also shaped the future attitude of Darius to people and issues. Even as governor, he has not stopped wondering why anybody would take up a gun or any offensive weapon to kill and maim a fellow human being.
School environment further widened the scope of the cross-cultural exposure for Ishaku. At St Bartholomew Primary School, Wusasa, Zaria, where his school career started in 1961, he met and studied side by side with children from different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. He left there in 1967 with a good School Leaving Certificate for the famous St Paul’s College, Kufena, also in Zaria, where he obtained the West African School Certificate in 1972. In the same year, he was admitted into the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he obtained a B.sc. and a Masters in Architecture aa well as a Masters in Urban Planning. He was a part-time lecturer and a doctoral student in the same institution before politics eventually took over.
Before he went fully into politics, Ishaku had made his mark as architect and urban planner through his own private company. He is a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Archtitects, FNIA, and also fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, FNITP.
Despite his outstanding success in his profession, politics remained for him an irresistible attraction. In 2003, he took the plunge. He ran for a senate seat in his Southern Taraba constituency. He lost the seat but gained useful experience that was to help his political career years later. In 2011, he was appointed Minister of State for power under the Goodluck Jonathan presidency. Later he was deployed to the Ministry of Niger Delta Development in the same capacity. He also had the privilege of supervising the Ministry of Environment at the same time. The experience he gained from these three key ministries and his professional calling as an architect prepared him adequately for exemplary leadership of honesty and service delivery which have been the hallmark of his administration as governor of Taraba State.
In 2014, Ishaku decided to try his luck at the polls once more but this time round, for the position of Governor of Taraba State. He voluntarily resigned from his job as minister. The contest was fierce but against all odds, he won at the polls. He also triumphed over his opponent in the litigations that came on the heels of that victory. His re-election in March this year for a second term was with a greater margin of victory. Support for him was massive. All the gubernatorial candidates of all the political parties in the election, with the exception of two, withdrew from the race and endorsed him for re-election. It was their own way of acknowledging the good job Ishaku is doing in the state. He was sworn in for a second term on May 29, 2019.
Ishaku’s background of a gentle and peace-loving person has immensely helped in his handling of the affairs of the state. At the time he took over as governor in 2015, Taraba state was in crises. Communal and religious conflicts were rife. Basic infrastructure in the state were also in dilapidation and crying for urgent attention. His campaign trips round the state were an eye-opener on the level of decay of basic infrastructure and social services. Taraba was a state in dire need of rescue.
Ishaku put together a rescue team and assumed the position of the rescue captain. But peace must first be achieved before any meaningful development can be achieved. He coined his now very famous peace mantra – “Give me peace and I will give you development.” It was meant to appeal to the conscience of the people to stop fighting and embrace peace so that development which had eluded the state for many years could be pursued and achieved.
Four years down the line, the Ishaku administration has successfully given the state a new positive name. The people may not have fulfilled their own part of the bargain of giving him peace but he has succeeded tremendously in his rescue mission. Today more than 300 communities which previously had no good drinking water now do so, courtesy of the administration’s rural water development scheme. Most homes in Jalingo now enjoy water provided by the repositioned state water agency. Jalingo is looking up to the completion of the biggest water project in this part of the country for a lasting solution to water scarcity in the city. The Ishaku administration is currently working very hard at it.
Education, health, power and transportation and many other sectors have all profited from the rescue agenda of the Ishaku administration. The WAEC scores by students from the state rose from less than 20 percent in 2015 to 75.3 percent in 2018 making the state the best in the entire northern states and number eight in the country. The state also now has three functional hospitals, renovated and equipped with state of the art facilities by the rescue administration. Governor Ishaku is also acknowledged as the governor in the North East zone who purchased and installed the highest number of transformers and thereby contributing the most in improving power supply in Taraba State. For this achievement, the Yola Electricity Distribution Company rewarded him with an award.
In four years, Governor Ishaku was honoured with not less than 20 awards by various local and international organizations for his achievements. His achievements in the health sector earned him an award of recognition by the Nigeria Medical Association, NMA. The Water Man of the Year award came from the Water Suppliers Association of Nigeria for his radical approach in the provision of water. The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE, also jointly gave Governor Ishaku an award for being the most workers friendly-governor. At that occasion, the two organizations acknowledged him as the best salary paying governor in the country. The Vanguard Newspapers Governor of the Year given to Ishaku in 2017 is an encapsulation of the achievements of the Rescue Captain and his rescue administration.
There may not be wining and dining today to celebrate the 65th birthday anniversary of Governor Ishaku but the people of Taraba State acknowledge and appreciate the sacrifices he is making for them to live in peace and to enjoy a new lease of life being provided through his administration’s numerous projects. Women and youths cannot but be grateful for the skills acquisition programmes of his administration and also that of his wife, Barr. Anna Darius Ishaku’s Hope Afresh Foundation. This twin programmes have taken more than 5,000 young men and women from the unemployment market.
Happy 65th birthday, Governor DDI.
*Abu is Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Media & Publicity