Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku of Taraba State is one of the governors whose electoral victories were characterised by legal battles that dragged up to the Supreme Court. But this former minister of State in the ministries of Power and Niger Delta has put those legal battles behind him and he is now preoccupied with fulfilling his electoral promises to the people of his state. In this interactive session with the media, he speaks on several issues, including how post election legal battles affect governance, the lingering leadership crisis in PDP, the recurring clashes between herdsmen and farmers, what the governors of the Northeast are doing to tackle the development challenges of the zone, and how he has brought his wealth of experience to bear in the governance of Taraba. Tokunbo Adedoja was there
You emerged as governor after a fiercely contested election and post election litigations that dragged on for several months. What impact did all this have on governance and how far have you gone with post election reconciliation?
Let me start from the electoral process. The electoral process in itself in Nigeria is defective. Right from the onset, most of the votes counting, or the deductions in the votes that I scored, right before the pronouncement was protested; then the man who came as the umpire to conduct the process, who was the chairman of whatever, had a preconceived notion that he must ensure that a different person from a different party wins. My vote was reduced as much as possible; the fact that I was even declared the winner was because it was an overwhelming win. My vote count was reduced by over 50, 000 or more.
Then there were cases of double standard. In areas where the APC won like Jalingo Local Government, areas where they perpetrated more fraud were not cancelled but that of Donga was cancelled, Wukari was cancelled, part of Takum was cancelled. Results from Donga was cancelled but they refused to cancel that of Jalingo; so there was double standard on the part of the election umpire.
Then eight hours before the election was declared inconclusive, somebody called me from Abuja to intimate me that the election will be declared inconclusive. I said to him that the election is still on; which means there was a deliberate effort to ensure that we do not win the election. That is the flaw in the electoral process that I alluded to earlier.
Honestly, we have to work hard to make sure that our electoral process is as thorough as possible in Nigeria if we want our democracy to survive.
Then we must get credible Nigerians, not the type of man that came here to supervise the conduct of the election, I understand he is a Vice Chancellor, he is not credible at all, because what he did was so bizarre. Such people should not be allowed to be an umpire in an election or monitor it. Somebody that said he was going to cancel the election and the other members said no, it is wrong to cancel the election; yet he insisted and he had his way.
Another problem has to do with us politicians. Yes, I was contesting against Hajia Alhassan; I remember that I called her several times and told her ‘please let us not heat the polity too much, don’t insult me I won’t insult you, don’t incite your supporters by saying things that will have repercussions from our supporters, I will not do that and I listed the things that I won’t do and I urged her to keep to it so that we can campaign peacefully, finish peacefully so that whoever wins we concede to one another. She agreed. And you can ask anybody who followed me during the campaign we did not record even one ugly incident. It was not that we didn’t have rascals amongst us, all the politicians move with all kinds of people because everybody has his own role; but we ensured we contain our own people and we never had any problem.
But somebody allowed his campaign group to kill two school children by firing at them and up till now that I’m talking to you that person has not been prosecuted. Is that the kind of politicking that we want? I do my politicking cleanly and I am proud I do it so and I think that was why God was behind me despite all the odds.
Then after the election she said she doesn’t agree with the result of the elections. Of course you all saw the rubbish that the tribunal did, the tribunal said I won the election, the tribunal said everything about the election was open yet they went on to act on what they have no jurisdiction to act on. The tribunal talked about the primaries in my party; of course they do not have that prerogative, the primaries were a party affair and it had been concluded before the governorship election.
She’s not in my party any way, she is in APC, and I’m in PDP. I Thank God that people that still fear God in the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court finally declared me the winner. You cannot imagine the tortuous moment that we went through, the psychological torture that we went through; the distraction from the works that we needed to do.
And that takes me to the fact that the constitution needs to be amended in a way such that all the processes and trauma that come with it (post elections litigations) are over before somebody resumes in office as a governor. I spent two years battling with court cases. What we have accomplished in two years here were achieved under two years that were full of stress; unnecessary stress, just because somebody is desperate that she must be a state governor, becoming a governor is not a function of gender. You don’t become governor by your sex.
I was in Washington last November, I was there when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were campaigning; somebody asked me a similar question and I told him here was Clinton reaching out to everybody, even when Trump, to her dismay, told her three times that “You’re a liar, you’re a liar, you’re a liar” the woman was calm but here in Nigeria, it is the opposite; you have a woman who was shouting to the heavens that she is a woman and that she is already the first woman governor. She declared herself the winner to the media even before the election result came out as if elections are conducted in the media…
(Cuts in) But that could be psychology warfare…
Psychological warfare or whatever way you look at it, it is wrong. Elections should be seen as the decision of the people, that was why we opted for democracy; if because she is a woman the people of Taraba State love her more than me, I will concede; I will be the first person to buy her champagne and tell her ‘congratulations, the people love you more than me, do the best for our state.’
But instead we went all the way to the Supreme Court then we came back and started another case against David Sabo Kente of SDP. This is someone who had left the PDP for the SDP, someone who campaigned with us (on the platform of SDP) and returned a distant third (in the governorship election). One of the courts asked him that supposing he had won under SDP, would he have changed the ticket with which he won the election? Definitely, the answer is no.
The point is, as politicians we must get to a level of being honest with ourselves, with our people and then we should be God fearing. I am not exposing her desperation. In all of these processes, besides the psychological trauma there has been a lot of cost to everybody and honestly, I must tell you it was the grace of God that enabled me to put together something like this for you all to see. A lot of people didn’t realise that I shuttled between here and Abuja almost on a weekly basis. I come in here, spend one or two days, hold cabinet meetings, afterwards I make sure everyone understands what needs to be done then I travel back to Abuja; and then somebody will rent 50 buses to carry people to the courts to be shouting, before they leave the state they will go about the whole place boasting that they’re taking my ticket tomorrow. We were kept busy doing what we shouldn’t bother doing at all; it was a very sad story, I hate to recount it.
I thank my reverend gentle man who reminded me that God blessed us with forgetfulness otherwise we will perpetually be crying; whatever bitterness may have happened to us we should thank God that we’re able to forget quickly. I thank God that I have put all of that behind me and that I have remained focused from day one when I was sworn in. I also said it when we were being sworn in that I will welcome the opposition, I urged them to come, let us join hands and build the state but they refused to come, even when I made attempts to woo them they refused still. So, we are doing our best, we have positioned our state towards what we have to do.
You have just two women in your cabinet, does this have any connection with the electoral process which threw a woman up as your main challenger?
In fact, in the state they say having two women in the cabinet is too big a proportion, we’re just 20 in the cabinet and they say the proportion is very high. Anyway, I chose them based on merit, I chose them based on the performance they had put in during the election proper, may be next time we will pick more women, I know that they are demanding for 30 percent.
Quite frankly, personally, I prefer women sometimes because women sometimes are more forthright, they are more focused and when they take a decision they stand by it; and I’m assuring you that next time around, God willing, we will be able to include more women; those in the cabinet are doing their best and I appreciate them.
You party is in crisis and currently at the Supreme Court for a ruling on its leadership.
It is sad that we’re having crisis in PDP. We have tried all our best to get a political solution but it seems the crisis is being fueled by those in power just to make sure that the PDP perpetually stays in crisis because, believe you me, if PDP were in one piece, by now people would have known what direction the country is going because many people are disappointed with what is going on. In the state, we have had a lot of people who have decamped to the PDP from the APC.
But here we are with an unfortunate situation, we have tried the political solution which didn’t work so we’re waiting for the judicial solution. To me, either way it goes, PDP is losing because the party is bound to lose membership and then it would have been better if we had solved our problems politically. But I will urge the court to do good justice and dispense with the case quickly because we have already lost Edo and Ondo states; these are states that we should have won if PDP were together and the crisis is allowing more members to leave PDP for the APC because they have the license to do so if there is crisis in the party; and by losing more and more members due to the delay, the courts should also know that they are not being fair to the country.
I don’t admire this country being run via a one party system, we can all see what is happening in Zimbabwe, we can all see what is happening in other African countries. Nigeria is the biggest black country in the world and I don’t think it will be fine if we end up being a one party state where the president could easily change the constitution of the country and make himself president for life; I don’t think we will like that. So the judiciary should act as a matter of urgency and dispense with the case so that PDP (members) will know on which side it should be. I think that is what everybody is waiting for since finding a political solution to the lingering crisis has failed.
What have you been doing to bring the warring parties together for reconciliation?
We have done a lot in that regards. Of recent, ex president Goodluck Jonathan stepped in but you are aware that (Senator Ali Modu) Sherriff worked out on him; that wasn’t too good, despite that the party has not relented in the pursuit of a political solution to the problem. Former President Jonathan is still working hard to make sure he gets us back to the negotiation table politically and I am optimistic that the PDP will come back, I am also optimistic that the PDP will still wax strong because the difference between the PDP and other parties are clear; of course you know that APC is a combination of several parties that merged together, but the marriage has not been consummated.
Yes, in PDP we have our own problems, that we lost the presidency is due to the PDP being in power for too long, then we got consumed by arrogance of power, and got consumed by lack of decency. The right people who won primaries were denied tickets and the tickets were given to wrong people and those people moved to APC and then won elections, there are examples to list out; even me, I didn’t have it easy in the primaries, I literarily passed through the eyes of the needle. These were the arrogance of PDP and we are trying to see that when the new PDP comes out we should be able to correct all the anomalies because if the anomaly are not corrected, if the party structure is not properly put in place, you will not have the type of governance that is the people’s wish; I mean both parties now, I am not talking about PDP alone, I mean the both divides, the party should be able to instill discipline in its election process and at the end of the day come out with selectable candidates that are saleable, so that, if you have an A candidate in PDP and you have an A candidate in APC, that means ‘As’ are competing, then you will end up with A+ winning, that is better for the country; but where you have a C candidate in one party and an A candidate in another party, when the C candidate becomes a president or becomes the governor in the state, then that state loses.
What I am advocating for is that for the process to allow qualitative people to emerge and vie for political positions. But once you bring in sentiments, it then affect the standard of leadership and when you get a weak leadership, all of us suffer. That is why I will plead with the press as the third eye of the society, you should look inwards and make sure that all the party leadership work hard in making sure that primaries, gubernatorial up to the presidency all come with quality leadership.
There was a report recently that Lagos State has more Internally Generated Revenue than 30 states in Nigeria put together, and we have always been talking about getting to that situation where the states will not have to wait for the federal allocations; what are you doing to raise the IGR of the state?
It is true that Lagos State makes the IGR of 30 states put together. Lagos State has the advantage of so many infrastructure that already exists there and the advantage of huge population. Lagos state is like a team of 30 million people cramped into that little piece of land, like I told one former governor of the state, the whole of Lagos State is not up to the size of where we want to put up the Mambilla Dam; but you can imagine the high density in Lagos.
Besides, Lagos has the advantage of seaports, it has the advantage of the international airport and so many advantages, so it was easy right from the Tinubu days to continually increase taxes in Lagos and it was also easy for people to pay the taxes and transfer it down because their income is many times that of somebody living in a place like Jalingo in Taraba State. While the woman who fries and sell akara outside of my office here may hardly sell akara of N200 to N300 in a day, somebody who sells akara in Lagos will not make less than N25, 000 to N30, 000 in a day; so if you look at it, the cost of billing people in Lagos and the fact that they are also paying those taxes means that they could afford it. In other parts of the country it is not easy to automatically raise state taxes.
I have increased the state’s IGR over four times since we assumed office. We are now getting four or five times more of what I met on ground but that is still not good enough for me. My target is to make it like 10 times what I am currently getting. If I can get 10 times what I am currently getting, then I should be in a position to reduce my overhead internally before going cap in hands to Abuja to beg for more money. We are working on it to make sure that we increase our IGR; we have got some people who are talking to us on how to increase our IGR in a sensible manner.
There are a lot of taxes which for now we are not getting. After agriculture, the second revenue endowment in the state is mining, and up till now we only have illegal miners, no thanks to lack of enabling law or laws that are not implementable. But we are trying our best, we have been talking to the Federal Ministry of Solid Minerals and Development on how we can co-cooperate so that we can have a law that is implementable and make it easy for people who want to mine legally to do so and pay their taxes to the federal government, the state government and also take care of the local communities.
But a situation where the state governments are sidelined completely in the law that allow somebody to get a mining licence, come to the state, mount his equipment and start mining is wrong and unworkable, and this has been a hindrance for a lot of states. The law lists mining, just like anything below the surface of the ground in terms of mineral resources, as belonging to the federal government; yet the law recognises me as the owners of the surface, how then do you access what is below the surface if you don’t touch the initial layer at the top? I don’t know if you’re getting the conflict. The federal has the right to do the prospecting, but then I have the right to allow you live on the surface. So without me allowing you to live on the surface, how do you access what is under the surface?
So what happens is, like a case that happened in Gembu, somebody had a Certificate of Occupancy since 1982 and the federal government gave somebody a licence to come and mine mineral resources and that person came to the state and mounted his rig on somebody else’s plot and started to mine. The owner of the plot of land reported the case and I asked the Police to go there and arrest the miner.
When we asked him who asked him to come here, he said he has a licence to mine from the federal government. I told him, ‘well you have licence from the federal government but the state belongs to me, at least I am the custodian here’. So there must be a way that the law can be made in a manner that you have to get a Certificate of Occupancy from the state or a licence that allows you to even sojourn on the land before your mining licence can be effective, otherwise it cannot work.
We have fashioned out our own laws within the state and we will soon put it into practice, and we’re trying to see how we can marry our laws with that of the federal government. But this remains a hindrance to the mining industry in the state; I wish we could get many miners into the state under the right environment because we have so many minerals resources in the state. We have more than 30 different kinds of mineral resources in Taraba State, the seven rarest minerals are found here. Somebody like me has no business in Abuja going to look for subventions to pay workers’ salary if things were made to work properly. I have 25 state owned companies that went aground, they were all not functional when I came into office, I have since revived five and you saw it yesterday when we showed you, the tea factory, feed mills, polythene company and the others; all five are now running and making profits, hitherto, they were dead and nobody was talking about them. These are ways by which we could have been generating revenue but so far it is hope rising, we’re hoping that from there we can go on to do more in that regard.
We are also trying to restructure a lot of our laws, our land rates here are very poor, especially in the urban areas. So that people can pay appropriate fees for certificate of occupancy and the likes.
Have you been able to expand the infrastructure level, especially roads, even train services to local governments and to link neigbhouring states given the fact that Taraba State is like a hotbed of tourism in Nigeria?
There is no train rail in Taraba State before now, even the last train project by former President Goodluck Jonathan, I had to fight for the rail tracks to pass through Taraba to Maiduguri (Borno State); I am not sure Taraba was included. Taraba State does not have rail track passing through anywhere in the state. And you know that rail transportation by its nature is very capital intensive.
I wish we had railways in the state because Taraba should be known for her agriculture. I love the title, “Taraba: Nature’s Gift to the Nation,” in all true sense we are a gift to the nation. I told the Acting President that Taraba can feed the whole country with rice; Nigeria imports between eight to 10 million metric tonnes, we can do that, we have the land, River Benue has the longest stretch in the state, so it leaves us with a rich valley starting from Numa to Ebiu and Wukari where we have boundary with Benue and Nasarawa States. We also have a very expansive fertile land. If you go to Bantaigi you won’t see the end of the FADAMA project, if you go to Karin you won’t see the end of the valley; I have been to Karin where we did the Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme, which did very well to the extent that, now if you go to Karin the farmers have refused to farm, they are saying they won’t farm because the rains have come; the farmers get four times the normal yield during the dry season.
What happens is that the whole of these fields are flooded during the raining season, the rice will grow quite alright but when you put the fertilizers and herbicides they are washed away and then the sun is less than 12 hours in the day because of cloud problems. During the dry season they have about 18 hours of sun and they give the rice the water that it needs and it stops there; the rice grows faster and the yield is bigger. All of the farmers are busy harvesting now and waiting for the dry season to come. We have made many of them semi-millionaires of them.
Are they paying back? One of the problems of the Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme is repaying loans?
They are paying back. Why won’t they? We have about 12,000 of them because we registered late. This year we planning to register about 30,000 of them. They are paying back; they are making so much money. I have a record of seven people who bought brand new tractors which costs between eight and 10 million naira. If someone that is a peasant farmer can buy a brand new tractor it means he is doing well.
I am looking at how to get the people irrigation facilities because in the dry season what you need most is to irrigate the farms, they currently do it crudely by digging borehole which is not deep, in that place if you dig like three meters, you’ll get water, then pump it. I am trying to see how we can get water from River Benue and pump it to a high altitude then distribute it to a kind of canal; just like what they have in Kano, a Canal Dam where you take the water to a high altitude, then you release the water and people can use it to irrigate their farms, that way we can be able to increase the number of acreages and also increase the number of farmers in the place.
Taraba State is basically an agrarian society and there is an ongoing national discourse on herdsmen and farmers clashes. People have talked about ranching, grazing routes and the likes. I know your state is affected, how do you think this issue can be resolved?
In Nigeria, we have to decide whether we want to be a nation or whether we want to split. A decision has to be taken whether we want to be like Somalia, where the warlords command the different sections. I understand that Said Barre is still alive in Nigeria. When they convinced him to step down I said what a mistake. Since he left there the country has not known peace; the Americans removed Saddam Hussein and since then the country has not known peace. We have to decide if we want to build a nation or whether we want a reign of factional leaders because building a nation means putting down the principles and the constitution that must be followed. My bishop came here the other day and he was talking, I told him, ‘Bishop, I sit here based on the constitution of Nigeria, you sit there based on the constitution of the Bible and they are both mutually exclusive.’
I will tell you how. The constitution tells me that when there are more votes, I deserve to be here and I am here; but the Bible says if you have 100 sheeps and one is missing, leave the 99 and go after that one that is missing; so you see that it is not the same, you could see that it is completely different.
I am sitting down here and the constitution says forget about that one, if it wants to die let it die, concentrate on the 99. I tell you what, we have to decide whether we want a country or we just want to continue to patch-patch. At independence we were 60 million people, today we are 200 million people and still going. In December, one of my very good friends came over and said ‘Oga, I saw more than 100 tubers of yams’, and I asked to know who brought the yams, and they said it was a certain friend of mine and I asked where was he, and they told me that he was outside. So I told them to bring him in.
When he came in, I offered him a seat and he sat down with the young lady that he came with, after exchanging pleasantries, and I said to him you again, why bring that many yams? Then I offered my condolence because I learnt he lost one of his children; and then I asked him, how many children do you have now? And he said ‘only 45’. I then asked if the young lady he was with was his daughter and he said no, that the young lady was his new wife. I told him ‘you need to double your yam farm’ and he said ‘no need, I have plenty yam farms’.
One of my late friends and coursemates died having 48 children in Zaria, Kaduna State; when I go there I will simply call one and ask him where are your brothers because the ones that I recognise are the elderly ones. One of the things that amaze me is that if you go to his house, as you are entering he has a whole store for food; it is by the gate. He had two buses, one will carry the ones in secondary school and the other one will carry the others, fortunately all of them are posh schools.
I am just telling you the scenario of our culture and then the problems that we have at hand. We are 200 million people and we are still going ahead. When you allow somebody to walk his cattle from Gembu to Port Harcourt to sell; first of all the beef is not as nutritious as the ones that were slaughtered in the bush and taken to Port Harcourt in a refrigerated truck to be sold.
Secondly, having grazing reserves is not a problem, they are available, and then the people who are herding the cattle have some sense, even when they encroach on your farm it is a local person that settles the quarrel. Quarrels normally never used to arise. Because as they are moving, I am from Takum, when they come down the mountains they go through Takum, those who have farms there usually encourage them to stay around the farm for about one month before they continue because the farms have been harvested, the corns have been harvested and the corn stalks are available for the feeding of the cows, they even give them water free of charge and the cows excrete there on the farm and they go away peacefully. That was what obtained in those days. They don’t quarrel, fight or kill themselves; but now you see Fulani herdsman who has AK47 rifle.
My friend who left Taraba yesterday said when they got to Buruku, he didn’t know that they had just fought at the place; he said he saw a huge number of cattle crossing the road and he noticed a man bent down in the middle of the road as the cattle crossed, then when the cattle crossed into the bush he noticed that the man that bent down had two AK47 riffles hung on each of his shoulders. We don’t know Fulani herdsman with AK 47 riffle, we knew them with sticks.
I used to travel a lot in the night in those days because it was quite safe, I don’t like travelling in the day time, and when you travel in the night back then, anywhere you stopped, the first person you see is a Fulani man who is going with his cattle, nobody stops him or steals his cattle. The Fulani man will say, ‘I greet you respectfully, then asks if I wanted to alight from the vehicle or if I was going ahead’ and I will tell him ‘no, that I was continuing on the journey.’ He will then ask ‘should we escort you or leave you to your journey?’ and I will say ‘yes, don’t bother to lead me on.’ He will then pray that ’God go with you, do have a safe trip and get to your destination well’ and I will say ‘Amen.’
Now we have increased in population, the land remains the same in size, meanwhile we have not disciplined ourselves as to child bearing, both Christians and Muslims. In fact, among the Christians it is worse with the Catholics; even if it is accidental discharge, they will tell you the child must be born, so you have so much pressure on the available land. So here you are… The people rearing cattle now are not the people that we used to know, cattle raring is now left to boys who smoke we-we and use drugs, so when farm owners challenge them on why they destroyed their farm they flare up, bring out gun and begin to shoot everybody in sight. Of what good is it to kill somebody because of quarrel over a land?
My elder brother in Takum was telling me the other day that he went to his farm and met a man there, they ate up his banana plantation so he asked them to puts tongs around it so that they could grow back, you know plantain doesn’t die, they were growing back and the man was happy; when he went back the cattle had gone back and ate it up again and they even removed the tongs, and he said, ‘Haba, Fulani, you came into my farm and ate up my banana, I didn’t get offended and planted it all over again only for you to return again the second time, why are you doing this to me? The Fulani man then retorted that what could he have done when his cattle saw ripe bananas and the cattle were hungry. So the man replied the Fulani herdsman that he’ll take steps to make sure his banana doesn’t ripe again so that there will not be quarrel between them.
That was when the farmer realised that they were not on the same page. Now if the farmer weren’t smart the issue would have resulted in a quarrel.
The question for the intellectuals amongst us is what the solution to the issue is. I was in Arkansas, US last October to November during the campaigns, and I visited a lot of cattle ranches there, people grow grasses; I found out that somebody’s business is planting grasses, he will cut it and neatly wrap it up and place it at the back of his truck then go to deliver it to the cattle ranches where the cattle will feed on it, they can’t finish the first delivery before another round of supplies arrives.
Meanwhile, before he delivers the grass, all the necessary nutrients are mixed into the grass. In six months the cattle would have become fat and well fed even if it used to be lean, and they are all in one place. Some of us who don’t like to eat beef, when we go to America we eat it and we are so carried away, the beef there are sweeter than what we have here because they are in one place; here you take cattle through 1000 kilometers, they develop muscles and their meat becomes very strong; sometimes to cut the meat you must go and sharpen the knives.
We need to educate our people; there is nothing wrong with ranching. Ranching will provide a place to keep the cattle, ranching will provide employment opportunity for the person that will grow the grass and sell. We will try the model here and see how it works.
The first thing that I did as governor was that I brought a female American here who brought a special kind of semen and injected it into female cattle because the first thing I wanted to do as governor was to start yoghurt drink on the Mambilla Plateau, but the civil servants killed the project. In fact, when I told the woman to meet the civil servants she told me that she didn’t want any civil servant involved. She asked that I set up a committee that she could work with, but I told her that I had experts in the civil service, including veterinary doctors and people that are knowledgeable in animal husbandry, she refused still. After two months, she packed her things and left. She went to another state; when I went to Abuja and I learnt that she was in town, I located her. I asked her why she left Taraba and she said your people are not serious and you are not serious too. Of course you know they could be very blunt.
Then I asked her what went wrong. She said, ‘first of all, when I told the people you asked to work with me on the scope of work, they over blew it up, then inflated the amount involved to an amount that was too much and I know that you can’t afford it, but I didn’t agree and since then they kept blocking me from seeing you, so I left. Now that you have come looking for me I will tell you what happened.’
She said she won’t return to the state except I get a private sector person who wants to do the project as a business and she will come in as a technical partner.
When I invited her over, she was to inseminate about 3000 cows and we will put them in one place and when they give birth, the young ones will become special breeds of cows like the ones that I have seen in the US. You can’t carry one of the breasts of the cows; they give at least 30 litres of milk in a day. My efforts were frustrated on that project but then it is part of the job; sometimes you succeed at other times you don’t.
What I am saying in essence is that if we don’t adopt the ranching model, we will continue to witness increased clashes between our people. Is that what we want? Obviously, not; we need the farmers to farm so that we could have food; we also need the cattle owners so that we could have meat and the milk. The milk is even more important because there is virtually nobody that doesn’t take milk every day. Honestly if you asked me, I think ranching is the best solution.
It wasn’t a problem when the population problem wasn’t there but the issue is now a problem, so we have to be imaginative with how we deal with it. Honestly if you ask me ranching is the best way out. I believe it is the elites that need to encourage our people, most of our people are not literate, you even have educated illiterates, somebody that has gone to the university but the university didn’t pass through him or her. Why do you need to travel 800 kilometres on foot, whereas if you keep your cow in one place, in a year you have more quantity and even make four times the money; so we need to educate them on this, but we in government need to put the machinery to facilitate that in place, which is part of the education that needs to take place. On our part in Taraba State, we will do something in that regards.
The North East, to which Taraba State belongs, has the worst development indices in terms of maternal mortality, in terms of infant mortality, in terms of numbers of children out of school and in terms of abject poverty. What are the governors of the zone doing to get the zone out of this despicable situation?
Governors of the North-East State are discussing amongst ourselves, we have the highest number of illiterates in the country and we also seem to have the highest rate of out of school children. If you have the highest rate of illiteracy, particularly, this is where the girl-child comes in; when you educate a woman you educate a nation, for example if her husband says she should have more than four children she could say no.
When I told my wife that my father had 12 children and I must beat the record and we were quarreling about it, then she told me you can bring in another woman, me I am not going past this; so we only had five children. After we had the fifth child, the doctor called me and said, don’t stretch your wife too much, she has had enough. So I asked him if he was conniving with her to give the advice and he said no. Then I told him, yes we’re Christians but you have to permit me, I will change this law and start to have more because I love children; that is my weakness, especially when they are still small, between the ages of two, three and four when they start to ask childish questions about life, and then all of a sudden all my children have grown up.
So when you educate a woman she will tell you it is enough, this is where we will stop. But most of our local people, my mother had 12 of us, of course we lost the twins, so I only grew up knowing 10. The elites have a role to play, we must educate the people on family planning, when a man has 45 children, no matter how rich you are, you cannot be able to instill the discipline. I still remember the way my mother would flog us and insist you do the right thing. My father didn’t have time for us because he was always out; it was our mother that was always there which was why we were more attached to our mother even as grownups. If my mother is sick, wherever I may be I would get back home to be with her. But when they say our father is sick, we will say it is stress, let him rest he will be alright.
So I think if we can educate our populace on population control and family planning, it will really help particularly in the North-East geo-political zone. That education also link up to mortality rate.
Talking of mortality rate, the facilities are not there. For instance, the water that I am providing, there will be no shortage of water in Jalingo. I like to tell people that the picture that I like most is on page 61 (of our anniversary brochure, which he held in his hand), the picture of our one 100 boreholes being in 100 villages. Look at the mother and the child, look at the old man, see how happy he was, the whole emotions betrayed their inner most joy, to me this is my greatest point. This has answered the real point why I should be here; you can see how the kid is so excited about the water. There is also another woman in the picture looking at the water as if it was a new wonder from heaven. There is also the old man with a look of disbelief on his face and to convince himself that it was real he was playing with the water; while there is still another girl pumping more water. If this is the only thing that I achieved in Taraba State I will tell God, ‘thank you.’
So, this are the kinds of things that we need more in the North-East, providing for our people and filling the needs gaps of our people, not war. Fighting is outdated. Mere insulting others could lead to a court case and imprisonment, how much more fighting and killing people. We need to put things in place to re-orientate our people to value and appreciate how life is; only God can create life and he is the only one that should truncate it, nobody should try to do so.
The North-East will remain with the poverty until we work hard to change it. Thank God for Mr. President, I have pleaded with him and it is going down well and I pray assiduously that God will heal him, one of the things is the Mambilla Hydro Power station; we are currently generating over 3000 mega watts of power; if we have that power the North–East should be power sufficient. In modern life you can’t develop without power. If you have power you can go to any depth to bring out water, but without power we wouldn’t have been staying up here until now conducting this interview because we will need the light and we need the air condition. The governors of the states in the North-East have a lot to do.
We have been having meetings, I am even trying to sell the idea of buying the Yola Power Distribution Company to my colleagues in the zone so that it will belong to the six states; we did the privatisation, since it was returned to the government I see no reason why we shouldn’t be able to take it over.
There is also a national discourse on the viability of states. There is a suggestion that we should have administration on the basis of geo-political zones. What is you view on this?
I don’t agree with that concept for the simple reason that if not for the fact that we have 19 states in the North, who would have known Jalingo, Yola, and Maiduguri? Were it not for state creation, who would have known Sokoto? All of us would have remained in Kaduna and Kaduna wouldn’t be able to contain us by now.
The beauty of state creation is that it divided and brought development closer to the people and to the hinterlands. Don’t mind all the problems of lack of money and the likes; state creation is associated with development.
The problem with Nigeria is that we are not moving at the pace that human development is moving worldwide. We talked about population earlier on; ask yourself what we have done to take care of the 140 million that we have come about since after independence. Unless we are able to meet up once the gap exists, it will continue.
So, for me the states are quite alright. What every state needs to do is, maybe the constitution should evolve to allow every state to develop and harness mineral resources in it, just like I talked about it earlier. Something should be done so that if I was in Sokoto and I have rich coal in the state I should be able to explore coal mining and I give the Federal government may be 20 percent, I give the mining company 30 per cent and I keep the remaining 50 percent. That will help the states generate foreign exchange.
I agree there should be some form of restructuring to give the states more strength but I don’t agree that we should go back to what it was in the days of regional administration; certainly that won’t work. We have benefitted more with the states than without it. What we need to do is to work hard at making the states to be viable, and there are resources to make the states viable in every state of the federation.
Recently I invited some German investors to the state, one of them is a scientist too, the day he came here coincided with the day that Palm oil derived from the state were brought here. He asked me if we had palm oil in Taraba State and I said yes. He said you can drive your engines with them, he said we can build you a power station using palm oil; I said really, he said of course. Then he went to the tea farm and saw that the boiler was finished and he exclaimed ‘oh my God, this is energy being lost here.’
We have so many things in the state. Two foreign embassies have assured me that whatever quantity of Sesame seeds and Soya beans that we have they are ready to come and collect it; any quantity at all. And then I was in their office one day, you know I hardly rub pomade on my skin, so he said your hands are dry and he then brought out a cream and squeezed some of it in my palm, when I applied it on my hand, it felt so good. Then I asked, ‘what oil is this, so beautiful and soft;’ he then said, ‘I will give you some to go with it, it was made from Benny seed.’ Taraba State is known more in the south for Benny seed in those days. We grow it here, there is almost nothing that you can’t make with it; in fact they make some soup with it and when eating it in the soup you’d think you are eating meat, the women know how to do it.
So you see if Taraba State could just focus on its agricultural produce like rice, soya beans, benny seed, cassava, we have the best cassava plantation opposite the airport, we are trying to reactivate it now, Nestle still wants it like yesterday, it processes the best cassava flower and you can make bread with it.
A journalist asked me in Germany that with all the trillions that you make from oil why didn’t you develop your country, and I told him Nigeria is a story of the man who owns a candy shop and so his children will eat the chocolates until they developed diarrhea so he used the revenue from the candy shop to cure them of the diarrhea and one day they ran out of revenue, the shop closed down, the children stopped having Diarrhea and they ended up poor. When I was done the poor boy was laughing, and that is our story. If we had used the revenue from oil properly, we won’t be having this conversation.
Let’s take iron and steel, iron and steel was killed and that was the beginning of how we continued to shift our match towards industrialisation. How did the Asian tiger nations started? The iron and steel could have fetched us something good.
Now come to think of it, you go to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, they produce the fuel that they consume, we have the best refinery in Kaduna, it was built by the Japanese and up until today it is still the best; it is better than the one in Warri, the one in Warri was built by Italians. But what happens, when you get Nigerians to manage it, they will wreck it. That is the problem that I have with some of the Taraba State owned companies; they are looking fine now but I have to change the tactics because when you are no longer there the person that comes in may not know how to handle it. They will just appoint somebody to run it and he will divert the thing to his pocket.
Frankly speaking there is nothing wrong with our status in terms of states, what we need to do is to change our thinking. We must be positive in our thinking, we must see things in the correct perspective, report them in the correct perspective and try to get out of the woods. Up until now Nigeria is still blessed. My friend jokingly told a white man that, ‘You criticise us so much, why haven’t you left Nigeria?’ Then the white man told him, ‘My friend, this damn horse still has milk in its breast.’ Just as we’re seeing ourselves, a lot of people admire us, they wish they were Nigerians.
What we need to do is build on structures and not on personalities; let’s build all our political structure, let’s build our security institutions and other structures in the way they should be. Look at President Trump, he came with all his fanaticism, now he is being panel beaten by the laws. Is he talking like before now? If we work at putting our structures right, if somebody is doing something that is not right, you tell him no, you want to rig the elections, we don’t want that. If somebody is doing something that is wrong you tell him no, you’re not doing your work as a police officer.
During Clinton’s last trip to Nigeria as US president, he went to a village in Abuja and they gave him a gift that he so much loved, when the chiefs gave it to him, he received it, then his security detail collected it from him and gave it to President Obasanjo and told him that it is illegal for our president to accept the gift. That was what brought Clinton back. Less than three months after his tenure was over as the President of the United States, he came back to Nigeria to collect the gift.