By Sylvanus Viashima, Jalingo
Taraba State Governor, Darius Ishaku in this exclusive interview has alleged the Federal Government is either confused or not telling Nigerians the truth about the prolonged fuel scarcity and other causes of hardship in the country. He also spoke on insecurity and fears for the 2023 general elections and the crisis in the PDP and other issues.
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How do you feel about this prolonged fuel scarcity and what in your opinion is the way out?
It is a pity that we have found ourselves in this kind of situation. Yes, fuel scarcity is not something entirely new to us but then it has never been this bad. To the extent that diesel is selling for as much as eight hundred Naira per litter. Aviation fuel is also extremely expensive such that there have been flight cancellation all over the place. It is simply unheard of. The case of PMS which affects the common man even more is perhaps the most pathetic. People have to spend days on the queue to get fuel and it is terrible. The sad reality is that, it affects virtually every aspect of our lives.
Transportation is almost paralyzed and where people are able to travel especially to convey goods for sale, they are made to pay heavily for it and naturally, they factor the cost into the overall cost of the goods and that means a sharp and unpleasant rise in the cost of goods and to that extent, even services. The entire economy is in distress because of this situation. As a purely agrarian state, I can tell you I am in a position to understand this better than anyone else. By the time the farmer moves his yam from Tsukundi to Wukari, the cost of transportation compares him to sell the yam almost twice the normal price he would have ordinarily. Same thing is the challenge with those moving rice from Karim Lamido to Jalingo or from Baisa and Abong to the town for sale. They are made to pay twice or even triple the normal price and this is factored into the final sales price for the products. So the people are suffering untold hardship.
I have listened to the authorities and those who are supposed to manage the situation and I think they are virtually confused. They said that they have pumped millions of gallons of petroleum products into the market and yet we cannot see the impact. It is like they are not even telling the people the truth. They should come out and be more sincere with Nigerians because the situation is really very bad. You must also bear in mind that this is happening at a time that the prices of crude oil have reached an all time high for over a decade now. There should be a windfall and not this. We have heard this administration tell us time and again that the previous administration enjoyed a windfall and if it were replicated, things would be better. Now, we have the windfall and things are actually worse. I think this is as a result of our inability to manage the oil sector of our economy.
Unfortunately, it is the most critical sector. Sadly, we keep hearing stories of millions of barrels of crude oil missing and all of that. It is very sad and unfortunate. If our refineries were working well, we would not be having this conversation. The thing is that the managers of the system are not telling us the truth about this fuel subsidy. Why is it impossible to end the subsidy? This administration came on board denying the reality of oil subsidy. They said there was nothing like fuel subsidy. That it was a scam. From there they moved on to say that okay there is a subsidy but we would remove it by jacking up the price of fuel. They did that promising us that it would be the end of fuel subsidy and fuel scarcity and yet we have not seen any of that. Rather, we still have huge budgetary allocation for fuel subsidy and we are suffering unspeakable pains from fuel scarcity.
As a governor, you go out to take a drive in the night and find husbands and fathers on queue at filling stations rather than in the warmth of their loved ones and you really feel their pains. So, I think there is a lot of insincerity and short practices going on in the sector and some persons are profiting hugely from it and the people who are profiting from the scarcity and of course the subsidy regime are doing everything to ensure that the status quo remains. For instance, if our refineries were working, it would have been a lot more difficult to manipulate the prices. And so they make sure that the refineries don’t work.
What is your take on the ongoing strike by ASUU?
The ASUU strike has become a regular problem in our education system and it is very sad because our universities have become places students just go to waste time. You get into school and you cannot tell when you will graduate because of strikes occasioned by the attitude of our educational administration.
The federal Ministry of Education in particular, I don’t think they have the right attitude towards the management of the crisis. In fact, ASUU strikes are very avoidable. Most of the demands that they are making are not so monumental that they cannot be met by the Federal Government. It is just that we don’t have the right attitude to education. Otherwise, the ASUU is not asking for too much. In any case, they are asking for the government to fulfill its own promises and for better funding of the education system in the country. These are not too much.
However, the ASUU also believe that the only way issues can be resolved is through strike and that is also very wrong. They need to explore more of dialogue and compromise rather than confrontation. That is my problem with them otherwise, I don’t think they are asking for too much. I think we need to fund education better and address some of these issues so that students and parents don’t get to suffer this much all the time.
Given our present circumstances, it is clearly difficult to say that any sector can be sufficiently funded. The available resources are simply never enough. The best you can do is to prioritize. What we did in our case as a state is to make sure that we give the sector the needed attention. That is why today, our state University is among the top 20 in the country. We have more faculties and professors and are really doing our best.
The Muslim Council has continued to raise the alarm that the state government is marginalising Muslims in the state in terms of appointment. What is the true position of things?
The government has been very fair to all sectors of our state. Appointments are made based on set rules and standards. These have always guided promotion and appointment. Appointments are made based on qualifications and stipulations that are already there. Look at the University for example, they have their own process of doing their appointments and promotions. So, except if the Muslim Council is saying we should set aside the established rules and sacrifice merit on the altar of mediocrity, I don’t think they have any genuine complain.
In most cases, I don’t even participate directly in appointments and promotions of people. There are rules guiding these and there are persons who are paid to do just that. What I have insisted is that the merit should not be sacrificed for mediocrity. I don’t even know these people. So they should complain if the rules are not followed rather than bring up this issue of religion. This is not a religious affair.
Can you give us an update on the security situation in the state especially as regards activities of bandits?
The security situation in the state is a bit better now. At least there has been serious improvement now even though we still have occasional acts of activities of these elements but things are much better. What we have done is to consciously explore all available options including assisting security agencies operating in the state with operational vehicles and other logistics to aid their work.
We have also encouraged community participation and collaboration with various security agencies so it is relatively easier for them to get the right intelligence to nip some of these things in the bud. Of course, we are not even close to where we want to be. We know the threat that usually comes with the farming season and we are warming up to tackle that. What we actually want is to have a state that is a safe haven for those who want to earn honest living.
The state is full of potentials and the only thing that is stopping massive investment is just insecurity. And so there is so much to be desired but we are not leaving any stone unturned. Recently, we discovered that some of the traditional rulers are not on alert enough. What I mean is that, as a traditional ruler, you should be able to keep track of who comes into your Chiefdom and when you notice the influx of strange persons, you have a duty to investigate discreetly and report your findings to the security agencies who obviously cannot be everywhere. And so we have had to complain bitterly and warn some of these traditional rulers who are lacking in this responsibility. In fact, I have warned that anyone found wanting henceforth risk being replaced. So, we are also calling on all the people in the state irrespective of background to stay alert and vigilant so that we can jointly tackle the issue of insecurity in the state to get the Taraba of our dream.
At the National level, what is your take on the security situation ahead of the activities leading up to next year’s elections?
Well, like I have always said, the security situation is simply alarming. It is totally unacceptable and very worrisome, especially in the North where we have banditry, insurgency, and other major security challenges. Occasionally, we have issues in the South but I think the major threat is here in the North.
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Sadly, this administration has failed badly in tackling this menace. As a matter of fact, the situation has never been this bad. As you know, elections time is very sensitive because it entails mass movement of people going back to their various places to participate in election there. So, if the roads are not safe, then there would be major problem.
You notice recently that even the rail system is becoming unsafe with reported cases of attacks on trains so it is really worrisome. Nigerians are really worried that the roads are unsafe, the rails are unsafe, the flights are becoming too expensive even for those who used to patronize them. And so people can no longer travel with the assurance of safety. And so the APC Federal Government must rise up and do much more to address this issue rather than just giving mere assurances . These senseless killings must stop or be reduced to the barest minimum possible.
How do you feel about the electoral Act as amended?
Well, you know that Nigerians unitedly were really excited about the amendment of the electoral Act and we all saw their reactions when the president was needlessly delaying his accent to the bill. He was eventually forced literally to sign the bill only for him to come back with more amendments which the National Assembly out-rightly rejected. That shows the anxiety and crave the Nigerian people have for free, fair and credible elections. So, it is actually a good thing that the Act as amended is now a legal document and has become a part of our system.
The problem in the past has always been about people having access to election results unduly and manipulating them to suit their agenda with impunity. I think the Electoral Act as amended has addressed much of that challenge. However, as beautiful as it is, we must realise that the law does not implement itself. And so I urge all Nigerians to be faithful to that law. Those entrusted with running the election must do so dispassionately.
After about seven years in office as the governor, what are some of your most cherished achievements?
Well, when we came to power in 2015, we noticed a lot of challenges and we were determined to make a difference. And so for me, what may be the major achievements of this administration may not be for me. In fact, for me, what I cherish most are the projects that benefit the people directly and have the most impact on the lives of the people. For instance, when we came in, we discovered that there was no water in Jalingo, which is the state capital. That was very embarrassing for me. And so we embarked on massive water projects. Within just the first few weeks, the intervention was monumental. And then we proceeded to provide 2000 boreholes in two thousand communities across the state. And so there is water everywhere around the state now. Presently, there is a gigantic water project going on in Jalingo that, when completed, will solve the water problem of Jalingo for the next 30 years irrespective of population growth and expansion.
In order to tackle the level of poverty in the state, we also embarked on massive skill acquisition and empowerment programmes, training people in various skills and empowering them to start up their businesses. Jointly with the efforts of the pet Project of the First Lady, we have trained and empowered hundreds of thousands of women and youth from Taraba.
Our intervention in the agricultural sector has created several millionaire farmers within a very short time. It gives me great joy each time I meet beneficiaries of all these and see the joy that permeate their faces. Look at the health sector for instance, we had to pick three general Hospitals across the three senatorial zones and transform them into world class medical facilities. Before then, these hospitals were death traps literally because there were no equipment and facilities and so people from all over the place had to come to Jalingo. We have also funded primary health care facilities across the state such that quality health delivery is literally at the doorstep of the people. I feel fulfilled that our pregnant women don’t have to walk long distances or suffer on motorcycles to access basic medical care and attention.
Our students are now competing favourably with their counterparts across the country. In fact, we are the best in the Northeast going by WAEC results and among the best in the country. Our students go for spelling bees and other national competitions and they come home with great results. This boosts their self confidence and it gives us joy.
What most people see and talk about are things like roads and such tangible projects. Even in that regard, we have done remarkably well. I was in Baissa and Abong in Kurmi recently and received overwhelming welcome for constructing the Mararaba/Baissa/Abong road that has been ignored for decades. Maybe, I should shock you that Kurmi is one of the richest non oil producing local government areas in this country. And there was no road there. That is the road that also lead directly to the Mambila Hydropower Dam. And so despite lean resources, we decided to do that project knowing how much it will impact the lives of the people and I must say I am impressed with the result so far. Right now in Jalingo, the dualisation of the Sibre Pantisawa road and the construction of the first Flyover in the Northeast end is almost completed. This project will give Jalingo a new outlook completely and also ease movement. We have also done major road projects across the state that has made it easy for farmers to move their produce to the market and this has greatly improved the lives of the people. That is what gives me joy.
So when people ask me about my achievements, and laugh because they are inexhaustible but I am always very happy when I see the people happy because of the little we have been able to do for them. There is so much we have achieved including giving employment to thousands including almost four thousand teachers.
Who is your idea successor?
It is not in my power to decide my successor. Power comes from God and so what I have always told the people is that I have not ordained any successor. At the appropriate time, I am sure the voice of God will be heard on who should take over the reins of power in the state. That is why I urge the people to pray fervently and seek the face of God in making this very important decision.
How do you feel as a critical stakeholder in the PDP, about the fight between some major players in your party?
Naturally, election times unveil different disagreements of conflict of interest that have been subdued for so long and so it is not unusual. In fact, it is not unusual for people to disagree. What we do not support is people taking such matters to the level that it begins to affect the entire party and by implications, the nation.
To that extent, we have been very vocal in advising stakeholders to watch their public utterances. In as much as there is bound to be disagreements, it is not every fight that must be advertised in the market place. Whatever the issues are, they can be resolved in-house amicably. The party has already reacted by setting up a committee to address the issues and I can assure you that these are not issues that can affect the chances of the party.
Of course, it is very clear that the PDP has proven to be the most peaceful and organized party in the country. Look at our national convention. Just look at all the activities of the party. You can’t compare it with the crisis tearing other political parties in the country. We believe that we are going to fulfill public expectation of providing a reliable and dependable alternative to the gross failure we have faced in the last couple of years.
The APC has already messed up the country and everything is working upside down because the APC has been very negligent. Our hope is for Nigerians to continue to trust the PDP and to join hands with us and once again give us the chance to turn things around.
What are your plans for 2023?
Well, for now, I am still consulting. My people have been calling that I should go and represent them at the National Assembly as a Senator. I am still considering it but my major preoccupation now is to deliver on my Rescue Agenda. When the time comes, if God says I should proceed to the Senate as they are clamouring, fine. Whatever God decides is perfect for me.