By Victor Gai.
It is indeed an irony that some states with good potentials are wallowing in the lowest rungs of the GDP ranking in Nigeria. Some are also having some of the lowest Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), in the country. So many factors could be attributed to this anomaly, among which are:
- bad leadership,
- lack of political will,
- ignorance of the potentials available,
- the ‘oil curse’ and of course,
- lack of interest by government.
However, thanks to the bitter economic condition the country has found itself. Many states are forced to look inwards in order to salvage themselves from the pangs of misery. A lot of states are unable to pay salaries; some are threatening to cut wages, and some don’t have enough to run government and embark on capital projects for the good of all.
In the light of this, Victor Gai tries to examine the social and economic potentials of Taraba State- Nature’s Gift to the Nation, and indeed one of the most gifted states in Northern Nigeria.
The socio-economic, geographical and tourism potentials speak for themselves. This state, perhaps, has the largest expanse of rivers in the country, with the River Benue flowing through several Local Government Areas. Also tributaries that flow into the Benue abound in villages and towns which makes Taraba one of the greatest fishing belts in Nigeria.
The marshy terrains and wastelands also make Taraba suitable for rice and vegetable farming. Then, down south, the state is endowed with fertile soil suitable for palm kernel, banana, timber, yams, cassava production and so on. The Mambilla Plateau has a terrific tourism potential to compensate for its harsh and rugged terrain only suitable for a few exotic crops. Tourism is indeed the birthright of Taraba State. Tourism potentials range from eco- tourism, like the Nwonyo fishing festival, travels and sightseeing on Mambilla Plateau, which indeed has one of the best weather conditions in Nigeria.
However, with all these, the state has little or nothing to show for it and it is not among those to reckon with in the committee of states. The state is very isolated from the rest of the country.
This is no thanks to the region it finds itself- the north-east, which is distant from the hinterland of corporate Nigeria and unfortunately ravaged by insurgency, illegal immigration and marginalization from successive governments since independence.
The lack of political will and bad leadership by successive governments in the state has worsened the situation. But by the grace of God, the time has come for the salvation of the state; if not because of the new government in place which it seems, has the political will, but because the economic condition has made it quite imperative as a matter of emergency, to salvage the state.
In a published document of the 36 states in Nigeria in the order of their total GDP for 2010, Taraba was ranked 29th with a GDP of US3,397, only ahead of Kebbi, Nasarawa, Jigawa, Ekiti, Ebonyi, Gombe, and Yobe. This means that some of its citizens are richer than it. Gen T.Y Danjuma is worth a lot more than that in that year.
Also an analysis of the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) data for 2015, released by the Joint Tax Board (JTB), has shown that Taraba occupies the 28th position of the 36 states in terms of performance, with a total revenue of N4,155,053,816.15. If the state could look inwards and with the political will, more can be achieved. The political will is hinged majorly on the politicians having to make sacrifices in the interest of the state.
Today, the largest industry in the state outside agriculture is politics. The greater percentage of the state’s resources is in the hands of politicians in form of wages, allowances, contracts and unfortunately corruption.
Secondly, aside politics, the state’s hard earned resources go down the drain through unwholesome practices in the civil service like the ghost workers syndrome, overstaffing, wastefulness and extravagance.
Suffice it to say, state patronage has proven to be a burgeoning enterprise in the state where established business tycoons depend on government for sustenance. And these businesses are mostly service oriented and not into manufacturing.
Unfortunately, no society has become great with a product economy alone like oil or trade and services. Going round Jalingo the state capital, one would become bored with the sight of shopping malls and petrol stations springing up everywhere.
These investments, although potential sources of employment, are not enough considering the limited opportunities involved in job creation. Besides, there is no value chain in such ventures unless that a particular class is served, a few opportunities are opened and profit goes to the owners, full stop.
That is why Agriculture and Tourism, remain the most promising sectors for Taraba, because of the value chain to be derived. Government, must then initiate a paradigm shift with the people, particularly graduates, keying into it.
For instance, Agriculture involves land clearing, cultivation, planting, weeding and treatment, harvesting, processing, marketing, consultancy, education and promotions; a long value chain that the youths can get involved as a source of empowerment.
Likewise, tourism involves, transportation, consultancy, hospitality, promotion, tour guiding, ICT and so on. These areas can be exploited as potential sources of employment for the youths and revenue for government.
By the way, the use of sports as a means of youth empowerment and job creation is very important. Fortunately, the state is endowed with one of the best sporting facilities in the country, which unfortunately has not been utilized efficiently. With abundant talents that is evidenced by the presence of international stars of Taraba origin, the government will do well to create incentives to state athletes like free meal during training, kits and a little allowance to cater for their transportation.
Government need not do more than this in the short term for it to see a revolution in our immediate society. Crime rate will reduce as the youths would be attracted to sports, unemployment will reduce and the state will benefit since it will have the credit of producing national and international stars. The potentials and facilities are there already!
However, the idea of evolving a policy for social and economic empowerment of the state using agriculture, aquaculture and tourism, is very crucial. It would equally serve as a social security safety net for the unemployed youths.
Note that Taraba is majorly a ‘civil service’ state by which the economy revolves and politics has become and continues to be an attractive enterprise for the youth because of the money in it. To buttress these points, one would notice that majority of businesses-traders and service providers in the state are left in the mercy of civil servants to run their businesses.
When salaries are not paid, businesses are almost at a recession. On the other hand,when the time of politicking is over, these youths, who have worked as thugs and ‘political dogs’ for the politicians, resort to crime and other vices.
Therefore, in order to ameliorate this social and economic disorder, government can start by establishing a window or social safety net like those run by the Federal Government, such as YouWin, SureP etc, in Taraba and make it to suit our immediate environment based on the realities on ground.
Graduates and other categories of youths in the state should be the target and the areas of agriculture, aquaculture and tourism- areas where the state has comparative advantage should be considered.The selected youths could spearhead the ventures and as the business grows, there is bound to be a trickle down effect on the society and the youths would benefit thereof.
Also, convening an economic summit for the state would be beneficial at this point as it would create a platform to rub minds with citizens and experts on how to boost the state’s economy.
During such a summit, a mini fair could be staged in order to showcase the endowments of the state in the area of agriculture, solid minerals,fisheries and tourism.
The present administration is indeed on point already as it has, despite scarce resources, began the building of a foundation for the economic and social revival of the state. One of such is the construction of a state government website: www.tarabastate.gov.ng.
It is only a serious government that knows the place of ICT in any development programme. Also, the Rescue Watch, launched by the governor recently to boost the revenue of the state and take development to the grassroots, must be commended. Government therefore, must look inwards the more in order to use what it has to get what it wants.