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Column: Who will take me to Kenya?

Iliyasu Gadu

I have had my fair share of travels around the world. But one country I have not been to and would love to visit is Kenya.

From the pictures and footages I have seen of Kenya and accounts of people who have travelled there, it must be a fantastic country to visit.

The landscape of rolling mountains, lush green fields, beautiful beaches, mosaic of cultures and most of all the wildlife, makes Kenya a tourist delight.

Which is why when I heard that about 40 officials of the Taraba state government led by Governor Darius Ishaku went on a junket recently to that country, I bit my fingers over an opportunity lost. If I had prior information about that trip I would have lobbied hard to be on the plane. I would not have minded sitting on the lavatory seat on the return trip just to fulfil a life-long wish.

But on a serious note come to think of it why was the trip necessary in the first place? The incoherent account on the justification of trip by government spokesmen said that Governor Ishaku was on a private visit to the east African country to grace the wedding of his niece. Another account said it was a training exercise organized by the Taraba Water and Sewage Corporation (TAWASCO) for its staff which happened to coincide with the Governor's visit to Kenya. And so a whopping 40 persons decided to accompany him on the junket. Yet another account had it that some private well- wishers of Governor Ishaku who are so enamoured of the fantastic and wonderful ''rescue'' strides that Taraba state has recorded under his tenure that they decided to bankroll (that word again) the cost of the entire trip. And of course they chose the occasion of the Governor's niece's wedding to demonstrate this uncommon love for the Taraba ''rescue captain''.

In this gravy plane (not train this time around) were included, legislators from the state House of Assembly, the Secretary to the state Government, Commissioners, Advisers, traditional rulers, political figures and all sorts of flunkeys. Indeed I make it that the entire Taraba state government had relocated to Kenya for the duration of that trip.

Apparently the saying that if you are in a hole don't keep digging, is not imbibed by the spokesmen of the Taraba government who sought provide an unconvincing defence of this unconscionable waste of scarce resources.

And in trying to do this the government of Taraba state ended up making more mockery of itself.

In the first place whether the trip was organized by an agency of the state government or whether it was sponsored by private individuals, it is wrong, wrong and wrong. If it was a training programme for an agency of the state, then it cannot be justified that such a programme had to be done outside Nigeria. Is it that there is no place anywhere in this country for such a programme to be organized or what? And was it appropriated for in the budget? Do other agencies of Taraba state government have the same training arrangements in their training calendar?

And if it was sponsored by private individuals then it raises all kinds of legitimate questions as to why and under what auspices. And in this regard of course we are entitled to ask why the government of Taraba state would allow private individuals sponsor such a trip which for all practical purposes is in contravention of public service ethics and procedure. We all know of the case of a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who was once found guilty and indicted for accepting the gift of an expensive watch from a private individual. We are also aware of the several cases being investigated by the anti-graft agencies of public service officials accepting gratification from private individuals with the hope of being favoured for one contract or another. In the instant case of the Taraba state government accepting the ''gift" of a sponsored trip for about 40 persons to a foreign country is way beyond the pale. For all intents and purposes this is one slam dunk case that will surely attract the attention of the ant-graft agencies sooner or later.

The anti-graft agencies will want to know who sponsored the trip and why. They would want to launch a forensic investigation on where the funds came from for such a trip, the memos and signatories who approved the list. They will also want to see the manifest of those who were on the trip and the receipts of the accommodations where the delegation stayed in. In view of the close cooperation between Nigerian and Kenyan authorities all these will be eventually tendered to the Nigerian ant-graft authorities on request. A good many of the public officials who were connected to that trip should be ready to answer for their roles when the need arises.

Let us crunch the numbers per this trip. Granted but not conceding that the trip was paid for by private individuals, the 40 or so number of persons must be given estacodes from the public coffers. The lowest estacode will be in the region of three hundred dollars ($300) per day. If the 40 officials were given estacodes from public coffers for a trip sponsored by a private individual then it is wrong and unjustifiable. And if the estacodes were part of the travel expenses for a trip that was not captured in the budget then it is equally wrong and contravenes the public service ethics and rules.

Taken together, the trip would have cost hundreds of millions if we factor in air tickets, hotel accommodation, estacodes etc for the 40 persons involved. For such a number, the flight would have been a chartered one both from Jalingo and on to Kenya and back. And counting the cost for the charter operator in terms of airspace, parking fees crew costs and add ons it had to be two or three times above the cost of transporting such a large number by normal scheduled flight.

All this from one of the states that leads from the rear in terms of development indices like education, health, water, poverty, infrastructure etc. As I write, some categories of workers have not been paid salaries for months. Pension, gratuities and other emoluments have been on hold. Levies are being charged on young applicants for vacant positions in the state civil service.

The amount of money being expended on this jamboree to Kenya for a few days would take care of a good chunk of some of these sectors in crying need of attention which have been wilfully and callously neglected by the Taraba state government.

Why can't Governor Ishaku organize the wedding of his niece without such ostentatious waste of public funds? Indeed why go far away to Kenya? Isn't there a venue in Nigeria that is fit for purpose? We do know that the wedding of his children were done here in Nigeria though not in Taraba.

We do know that the type of tourist attraction in Kenya exists in Taraba. For wildlife, there is the massive Gashaka Gumti games reserve brimming with all kinds of wild life. For scenic beauty and clement weather nothing in Nigeria beats Sardauna local government. For cultural diversity, Taraba state with over 50 ethnic groups is second to none in the country. A good chunk of the money spent on that trip to Kenya would go a long way to help raise the tourism potentials of the state providing employment and earning foreign exchange for the state from tourists both from within Nigeria and abroad, opening up the many investment opportunities that abound in the state in the process. Instead we had to take the scarce money needed for development in the state to a country with similar tourist sites like ours.

The pitiful, pathetic apology of an explanation by functionaries of the state government over this needless, profligate exercise does not jell. It amounts to an insult on the intelligence of the long suffering but patient people of Taraba who have had to bear the excesses of this government with equanimity. It is an example of an in your face insensitivity that shows that the Taraba state government is merely hiding behind a finger.

The people of Taraba state who have long been manipulated on the altar of religious and ethnic politics can now see the whole shenanigans for what they are. In the list of that public money guzzling trip to Kenya are our pulpit bibles holding Christian sermonizers and holier than thou Islamic jihadists. There are also ethnic champions from the different ethnic groups who routinely instigate us to fight against this or that ''traditional enemies of ours''. All of them united to dine and wine at our expense.

This is the lesson we should take from this whole outrageous trip to Kenya by the Taraba state government.    





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