A friend called me the other day from Jalingo and complained about a certain top government official who he said was giving everyone a piece of hell. He went on and on while I patiently listened with rapt attention.
At a point I broke his flow of woe-filled talk and inquired who he was even talking about. To my consternation he said it was Mr. Rebo Usman, the current Chief of Staff to Governor Darius Ishaku.
My friend’s complaint was that he saw some deductions in his salaries and that it was even delayed in the first place. I told him to take things easy as I would try and do my inquiries. I think I must have forgotten about that but about a week ago I was in a public place in Abuja when a group, apparently, of Taraba state indigenes were rambling on various issues.
From nowhere, I heard “it is Rebo’s fault”. I got interested and navigated my ears to their direction. One of the skills of a reporter is the ancient art of eavesdropping. It seemed their discussion had centred on a certain state official who was relieved of his duties.
The guy narrating it said he was sure Rebo was behind it. He said Rebo has become the most powerful figure in Taraba state, almost at the level of the defacto number two citizen. I got interested because I know the man they were talking about.
One speaker in the group said Rebo currently controls all the Special Advisers, commissioners, the traditional rulers, the religious institutions and, ultimately, the governor himself.
I was honestly alarmed and excited, even though I doubted anyone in a state having that kind of power. But then, if my friend and big brother is now that powerful, I silently reasoned, then what am I waiting for? I mean I personally have some needs that can only be sorted out by a powerful figure in the state and if Rebo has become this powerful, why shouldn’t I talk to him.
After all, before he became this Chief of Staff, Rebo and I have been foot soldiers in the bloody field of the Taraba struggle. I had walked closely with him since fate brought me to the state’s power circle. I admire him for his sense of details, his seriousness and, as I discovered later, his love for reading and writing.
At a point during what we all like to call “the struggle”, I “appointed” him my editor because of his penchant for taking out errors out of any work I did. And I had prided myself as an editor! So, yes, I like the guy but what I heard that day at the Abuja joint surprised me. This can’t be the man I know, I quietly thought.
The Rebo I know actually shuns excessive and oppressive power. He has contempt for mediocrity and thugs, preferring the urbane and polished. Rebo loves standards, protocols and procedures.
We even have a word for it: Rebonomics as coined by the wordsmith of Taraba’s political lexicon Gebon Kataps- my colleague in cabinet then. The Rebo I know fought a certain Alhaji Garba Umar (UTC) who wanted to wrest power out of boss’s hand.
Rebo and I also worked assiduously when the mandate of Governor Darius was facing a serious legal tussle in court. I know Rebo as someone who sticks with the truth and stubbornly pursues what is just. So, while on one hand I was secretly delighted that my big brother has become this powerful, I didn’t like the characterisation of him that I heard that day at the hangout.
I was however curious about how powerful he is said to have become. I told myself I would test that. I called him and blandly made my request. It was classical Rebo who replied me at the other end of the phone.
After a long laugh, he said “Honourable, I see you have also heard and believe the lies making the rounds. I know you have heard the new talk because of what you just asked me to do for you. My friend, who do you think I am?
Haba, my brother what you just asked now can be done only by the governor nah”, he protested.
I demurred and insisted that he is very powerful and that he can pull it off. That was when both of us started laughing and then he told me his latest ordeals. It was the Rebo I had always known that spoke: straightforward, down to earth and always rigid in a way.
He told me that his current ordeal wasn’t any different from the one he suffered years ago in the hands of civil servants.
Back then, he assiduously worked to ensure that ghost workers were given a befitting burial. That was when he was commissioner of finance from 2007 to 2011 and introduced the Biometric Data Captured that saved N227 million naira per month in personnel cost for the state.
Back then, Rebo was the definitive word in accounting because even at the federal level, he was the chairman of the association of commissioners of finance. In one of his deft moves at the time, he was able to cause a refund of N450 billion to the federation account which was in turn shared by the states.
It was also at this point that I met Rebo. I had just been appointed the Senior Special Adviser (SSA) to the governor on media. Back then, former Governor Danbaba Suntai was locked in a war of attrition with some Abuja based critics of his government. Top on the list was Rebo’s relation, the late Senator U.J Yohana.
Now, I was to write a rejoinder to one of their missiles. The piece I did was signed by Mr. Joshua Ivo- another relation of Rebo.
Although Suntai was the issue, a deep seated family feud was equally playing out at Donga where Rebo hails from. I remember Rebo strolling into my modest office in government and giving the write up a good look.
I couldn’t help but take note of the humility displayed by the then powerful commissioner strolling into my office. He did some correction to the piece (something he was going to be doing with my write ups for a long time). The article must have been acerbic because the late U.J Yohanna went to court, starting a long legal tussle.
Rebo and I eventually ended up in cabinet in 2011 as commissioners. Again, I watched him from my corner to observe how his keen mind works. He was the commissioner of water resource but his interventions during cabinet meeting showed his mind was still in finance.
His critics said he still sees himself as the number one finance man of the state till this day. In time however, Rebo and I were eventually enmeshed in the crisis that brought about the current dispensation.
I watched him as he worked hard to clear his reputation after UTC tried to rubbish him with a flood fund allegation. I keenly also watched how he navigated the ambition of the current governor and how we travelled together to Lagos and Abuja appearing on TV/Radio programs on the issue.
Apart from relishing sparring with him, I knew he would deliver when it came to the media outreaches on Taraba matters. So, for instance, when Adaora Onyechere of the African Independent Television (AIT) wanted someone from Taraba on her program, I had no second thoughts.
I contacted Rebo and he delivered brilliantly. It was on this show that Rebo said Taraba was proud of Senator Aisha Jummai who was in the trenches with us over the governor’s mandate. It was a strategic thing to say at the time and it was effective.
It took away the claim that we didn’t want a woman to be governor. Eventually we both appeared on another program on the eve of the Supreme Court judgement that brought the whole debacle to closure.
I think many Tarabans should take it easy with Mr. Rebo and see the other side of an otherwise misunderstood person. He is passionate about Taraba as evident in all his forays into politics. He can’t possibly be responsible for all the troubles in people’s lives.
I think some people are probably even using Rebo’s name to cover their inadequacies. As a demonstration of his love for learning, Rebo runs a private school in Jalingo where he gives out scholarship to indigent students. He may be shrewd but he is far from being wicked (A word I heard being used).
He has political differences with certain big men but then he is also a human being trying to survive in the slippery world of power.
In a sum therefore, Rebo is just another human being caught in the vortex of existence like the rest of humanity. Let’s deal with him in mercy and in compassion.
After all, no body holy pass, as Tuface Idibia would say.
Bello, a former commissioner of Information, sent this piece from Lagos where he is studying.