BEVERLY HILLS, June 06, (THEWILL) – Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba State speaks with CHRISTIANA BABAYO on the security situation in the North-East, his experience as governor for the past six years and other issues of national interest. Excerpts:
Some people have warned that Nigeria is on the verge of becoming a failed state. What is your take on this?
Of course, we are moving towards that state. Even the blind can see it and the deaf can hear clearly that we are sliding into anarchy. What are we saying? Soon, splinter groups will be controlling different parts of the country. Is that not anarchy?
Take a ride to Rwanda and see what I am talking about. It’s so sad. This is a very beautiful country and the only one we have. We must work hard to ensure that we protect this country for many generations to come.
Will you support a regional security system for the North-East as we have in other parts of the country?
The North-East is not contemplating a regional security outfit. I, for one, don’t like the idea. But like I have always said that we need state police. I have said it time and again that the constitution has been shortchanged. In the United States of America, where we copied our constitution, it is written and established that they have local, state and federal police and they complement one another. There are situations that only need the local police to handle and where it is beyond them, the state police move in.
In a situation where a matter is beyond the state police, the federal police intervene. They never bring their military to address situations in that country. They go to war externally. But here in Nigeria, the vital components of state and local police is removed. I am addressed as Executive Governor. What am I executing if I cannot implement the decision I take with the troops under my command? So the state police is compulsory and it must be allowed to come to stay. Without the state police, it won’t work. It has reviewed itself across the country.
How can the federal police hope to be all over the nooks and crannies of the country to forestall a breakdown of law and order or to even address security challenges as they arise? It will not work. It has never worked and can never work. The sooner state police are passed into law, the better for all of us. And it is not just the state police. As soon as I get the approval to form state police I will initiate the local government police because they go in stages. There are crimes that are local. Some are state and federal offences and you deploy the right unit to address these issues appropriately. It is only on the last resort that you bring in the military. Regarding the insurgency in the North-East, for example, you need the military to come in and flush it out. The military should be in a position to do this. It is a disgrace if a country’s military cannot flush out insurgency. It is a disgrace to all of us.
So the issue is that we need state police. We need the constitution to be amended and here in the North-East, we don’t need a regional security outfit. It may work in other regions, but we have passed that stage here. It is insurgency and so it needs a superior power in the form of the military, which should be in a position to defeat them if properly equipped and funded. If the Nigerian military could go to Congo, Sudan Sierra Leone and other countries and excel in peacekeeping, why are they not able to contain the insurgency in just one region of this country? That question must be answered.
There has been a resurgence of killings in the last few weeks in parts of Taraba State. What are you doing to address this?
It is a bad situation that originated from Benue State. The Tiv in Benue killed some Fulani at Dogongawa. They burnt some Fulani tankers and killed some of the Fulani. Unfortunately, the Fulani decided to revenge by attacking some Tiv settlements in Taraba State. They killed about 18 people, but we reacted immediately by asking the military and the police to stop and search anybody coming in from Benue. We made sure that a lot of people who took part in that carnage were arrested.
But then, some of these things happen in the hinterlands and before the news gets to the officials or to law enforcement agents, the damage may have been done. For instance, we understand that two days ago, there was an accident involving two Fulani who were traveling on their motorcycle. But then some people went and spread the rumours that it was the Tiv that killed them and some of the Tiv who were in the market on that fateful day were harmed before we got the police and army to prevent another carnage.
Let me tell you that a lot has been done, but you don’t expect the government to disclose everything to media houses. Sometimes we do these things quietly for maximum benefit. As a governor, I can’t be going to the press to say this is what we are doing and all of that. You can only feel the impact with what you see on ground. All the people that went to seek shelter in schools and other locations are being fed by the government. It is the same government that is providing them with beddings and all. It is the government and we are doing it.
It is unfortunate that some people who don’t know what is happening will just be talking. like I said before, if it was not for the day before yesterday’s incident, we have contained the situation. This was an accident that was magnified out of proportion. For now, things have calmed down, but we want absolute normalcy before the people return to their homes.
Are you worried by the cross carpeting going on across the country nowadays?
I am totally not worried because these are personal decisions. Regarding those who are leaving, well, I would say that they are taking a bad decision. Democracy is about having a strong opposition. If you don’t have a vibrant opposition in any democracy, then it will fail. So you need a strong opposition that will keep those in power on their toes.
Nigeria belongs to all of us. If the country crumbles today, I have nowhere else to go. So we must fix our problems. Those of us in the Peoples Democratic Party made a proposition that if Nigeria is in a mess, we have some knowledge that will be useful. We offered to co-sponsor a national dialogue on how to tackle this, but they refused to listen to us. In some places, even members of the opposition are appointed into the President’s cabinet if they are seen to have something to offer.
So why can’t we set aside political affiliation and make the country work for us? It is a beautiful country and like I have always said, our strength lies in our diversity. Diversity is beauty. Even the most beautiful flowers have thorns. We must be able to tolerate ourselves and work for our common good.
What is your position on the implementation of N30,000 minimum wage?
I have always been a labour friendly governor and have been very friendly with the trade unions. As a matter of fact, I have been paying my workers’ salaries up to date and I have no problem with the civil servants and employees. Now what the labour union must understand and take into cognisance is the fact that you do not go on strike for the sake of it. You don’t just wake up and say you want to hit the streets to demonstrate and enforce the implementation of the minimum wage. You must weigh your employer. It’s just like not feeding your cow for several months and then you try to milk it. You won’t get milk. In fact, you may end up having blood flushing out instead.
So when a labour union decides to fight for a new minimum wage, while the current minimum wage is yet to be realised, then there is a problem. Some states are not even able to pay the current minimum wage and you are talking about a new one. So the labour union must sit down and objectively look at the feasibility of their demands and their employer’s capacity to afford it or otherwise. You can’t extract juice from stones. But when you sit down with your employer and listen to his constraints, then you will be able to come to a compromise on what to do. Some states decided to sack some workers, up to 30,000 and and you went to demonstrate against it. If those states did not sack the 30,000 where will they get the balance to pay the new minimum wage?
For some of us, I will rather maintain all my staff, rather than sack a chunk of them to get money and pay the rest a new minimum wage because that will have a more devastating implication for the generality of the people. Mind you, all the people you want to sack to save money and pay others also have at least 10 dependants each. What kind of damage will you be doing to the rest of the people just to please a few? I will rather maintain the 100,000 workers I have and continue paying them what I have and speak to their conscience that I cannot afford an addition. Let us be reasonable about these things.
You don’t have to go on the streets to get what you want. Labour should not be about going to demonstrate on the street. I was looking for some people in the labour union to join my team in our efforts to block ghost workers because that is how I can raise more money for them. But they were not there because they were going on strike.
How would you assess your six years in office so far?
The six years of Darius Ishaku on the saddle in Taraba State has been a combination of the good, the bad and the ugly, or the sweet, the sour and the bitter, however you look at it. It has been a tortuous journey, as expected of any leadership. You would remember that when we resumed here, there were crises in different ramifications from ethnic and religious violence, banditry, cattle rustling and others and they keep changing faces. It degenerated to insurgency, but now we have substantially surmounted the evil days. We still have security challenges, but they are not as intense as they were in 2015. The situation had worsened in 2017 with the crisis on the Mambila Plateau, but now the graph is flattening out. Of course, you know that the whole country is battling with insecurity and we are no exception.
On the developmental side, we have done a lot and I will score myself 80 percent, both at the visible and invisible levels. We have recorded giant strides in education, roads construction, agriculture, and others. Now there are other components of development that are not very visible, for example chieftaincy titles,that have helped to reduce tension in the state. Look at efforts aimed at getting people to accept to live with strange people.
There are others that are intangible but indispensable components of development that must be put in place for tangible development to take place. So summarily, it has been a story of success and tears. Tears because I wish I had done more. I wish I had the enabling environment because if you have all the resources and you don’t have peace, even the things you put on ground will be useless because nobody will enjoy it.
So we have done our best, given the prevailing circumstances. I assure you that in the remaining two years of our tenure we would be able to finish all the projects that are already in the pipeline so that we can hand over a better state and allow those coming in to have a softer landing.