By Emmanuel Bello,
Even the bitterest critics of Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku seem to be absorbing one fact: the Architect is committed to good governance. And has his eyes firmly on the verdict of history. He once told me he was confronted with two choices: get the praise of a few power brokers or work towards a good legacy and testimony from the “talakawas” of Taraba. He decided to go for the latter to the chagrin of those who have now formed themselves into an angry few.Their main grouse with the governor is his determination to break out of the mold and do things differently. With a biting recession raging, a state’s chief executive is left with only a few options. Of course the aggrieved had to find a way to clash the governor with the people by painting him in all sorts of colours. A blistering social media war ensued towards this goal. Yet, discerning minds are starting to take a hard look at the man and his efforts. They are starting to appreciate the fact that Governor Ishaku came into office at the height of political upheaval in the state. Governor Danbaba Suntai had just been involved in a plane crash; his deputy had insisted on upstaging him; the state treasury was almost depleted to zero level by a rapacious regime; a six-month transition government had been constituted to help restore some sanity and usher in the new government. Governor Ishaku came in a whirlwind alright. He could have spent the last 21 months speaking on all of these and blaming the past for any perceived challenge. He could have followed in the footsteps of some to begin an era of inquisitions and probes thereby wasting time in vendettas. He could have actually thrown up his arms in surrender.
He didn’t do any of these. Rather, bracing up for work, he dug down. Salaries, pensions and gratuities were always going to be a challenge to any new regime in Taraba state. Past governments have not done much here. Ishaku promptly inherited two months of unpaid salaries and with a near dry treasury, he had to practically turn Houdini to clear the Augean stable. Some people have opined that he should have allowed the old order to persist for peace to reign. He thought differently. There was no way he was going to continue paying a demoralising wage bill in the face of an unprecedented scarcity of funds threatening the very basis of decent existence. Secondly, he had made a lot of promises at the campaigns in keeping with the Rescue Mission. For a state with low Internally Generated Revenues, a governor has to watch waste. There is no luxury to become extravagant. His traducers, ever so creative, twisted to this to mean tightfistedness. But as he once told the press, ” I would rather bear the taunts than to be profligate with public funds.”
But even as he worked for fiscal responsibility, another monster confronted him: security and issues of all sorts of internecine conflicts. Governor Ishaku inherited a state that was practically at war. Religious intolerance has been encouraged and south was burning as Fulani herdsmen marched on. Internally displaced persons were pouring in from neighbouring states to swell the state’s own displaced persons. It took some wisdom and a whole range of actions to bring about normalcy. His slogan: “give me peace and I would give you development” caught on. Peace has gradually seeped into these troubled zones.
Achieving peace gives the impetus for development. Governor Ishaku kicked off by opening the Taraba airspace. A moribund airport jerk back to life and started experiencing commercial activities. Three flights each week redefined transportation in a radical way. Improving power supply also changed the story of Taraba in a revolutionary way. He was minister of power and knows what to do. Besides, the Kashimbilla dam with its potential for 40 megawatts is in the governor’s hometown of Takum. But it was reviving the Kakara hydro electric dam that changed the tale. This milestone, apart from its symbolic import, revived the comatose tea industry up there. The return of Highland Tea was a signal of sorts that better days were ahead.
Power and effective air transport means tourism has been enhanced. The state started experiencing inflow of investors and businesses. Road constructions increased access for farmers and other sectors. Water and housing also benefitted from the new regime of power supply and access.
In all of these, the governor never forgot the salary sector. A state that is historically a civil servants haven is one in which monthly emoluments are like a sanctuary. No one must trifle with it. Yet, the governor, armed with tools of modernity, embarked on aligning that sector with best practices. As he said at a recent parley: ” I believe in salaries and in paying them promptly. I’m a salary earner too and know the joys of being paid. But even this sacred duty has to be done well. I’m paying salaries but I want to go to sleep knowing someone is not eating fat on other people’s sweat.”
He was clearly referring to the evil conglomerate in the salary department. Here is where we find big shots and small operatives working hard to shortchange civil servants. The governor is on the side of salary earners but like a good mother trying to dress the wounds of a child, some pains may have to be endured. But the governor has to cut off waste, enhance productivity and apprehend hoodlums. Hence the current exercise with all its dramas and revelations. As I write this, the situation is getting stabilised as more people are getting cleared to enjoy unimpeded flow of salaries. Saboteurs are at work no doubt; displaced fraudsters are fighting back; fake employment contractors are up in arms; but the civil force is starting to isolate saboteurs from the sincere intentions of Government.
Bello is the Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs to Governor Ishaku.