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Column: Taraba at 30: Anything to Celebrate?

 Iliyasu Gadu

I was working as Associate Editor with the now defunct Newbreed Newsmagazines in Lagos when Taraba was created out of the former Gongola state (comprising present Adamawa and Taraba states then) thirty years ago on August 27, 1991 by the military regime of President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.

I remember we had gathered around the TV set to hear the eagerly anticipated nationwide broadcast by the president wherein the new states were to be announced.

From our deep sources within the government (Newbreed whose publisher was the late Chris Okolie, was arguably the most influential newsmagazine in the country then), we knew the number of states that were to be created and a good number of their names and capital cities.

For Gongola we knew for sure that the state was going to be split into two. What we were not too sure was which of two main towns Jalingo or Wukari would be made the capital of the new Taraba state. Majority thought it was going to be Wukari because of its history, better infrastructure and most of all the heavy influence of General TY Danjuma (rtd) in the state creation process. As it eventually came to be, Jalingo was announced as capital over Wukari.

Last Friday August 27, 2021 marked thirty years since the creation of Taraba state and it is a most opportune occasion to assess how far the state has progressed all these years.

As expected the views of people I sought in this regard were mixed.

On a general comparative scale, many were of the view that Taraba achieved some progress and I agree on that score.

When I first visited Jalingo the state capital not too long after the state was created it was quite a rustic town with only one major street leading into it. The state government was headquartered at the old Jalingo Local Government Secretariat. Many of the other government offices had to make do with primary school buildings converted to serve the purpose. At night some of these make shift buildings served as sleeping abodes for the hundreds of civil servants who had to relocate from Yola and other towns of the old Gongola state.

The paucity of residential accommodation was such that many other civil servants who were then living in Yola had to make daily shuttles in the morning to Jalingo and back after closure of work.

But today Jalingo is a bustling city ever expanding with a wide network of roads leading into new layouts well beyond the original limits of the town.

Education too has received a boost. The highest tertiary institution in the state then was the state college of education located in Jalingo. There was no polytechnic not to talk of a university. Today we have a state university in Jalingo, a federal one in Wukari, and a couple of polytechnics in Bali and Suntai respectively. There has also been an expansion of primary and secondary schools.

But by the account of many Tarabans the state still lags behind the national average in development indices. The main lamentation is that Taraba state lags behind even states that were created years after. So while indeed compared to when it was first created, Taraba state now is a lot better, the reality is that the pace and quality of development of the state is still not up to scratch for a state so well endowed.

Nothing depicts this clearer than the state of Government house Jalingo the seat of power. The roof which was blown off a couple of years ago is still the way it is. When rain falls it leaks flooding the floors, and wetting the furniture. The entire edifice has certainly seen better days and does not even compare to Local Government headquarters of some states in the country.

Indeed many Tarabans believe that the pace and quality of development in the state which first achieved a boost from inception during the Navy Captain Afolahan administration peaked during the Governor Danbaba Suntai administration. From then it has been a steady regression to the present state where Tarabans have nothing but tales of woe about the state of things.

As the state celebrates its thirty year existence, many workers have not been paid salaries for months. Gratuity and pensions to civil servants have not been paid. Excruciating poverty is the lot of many families who are barely able to cope. In Taraba state most people live from hand to mouth juggling the need to feed, pay school fees, house rent and other basic necessities of life.

Although the state of things in the have not exactly reached the Hobbesian state of nasty, brutish and short, they are near to that.

It is ironic bordering on the criminal that while majority of the people of the state have to wallow in such desperate conditions, the few power elite continue to live in sickening opulence fuelled by public funds. Same public officials who find every reason to deprive the people of their entitlements do not feel squeamish about living it up lavishly at public expense.

At the creation of states in August 27, 1999 which Taraba was included, it was one of the most promising. The bulk of civil servants and bureaucracy of the old Gongola came from Taraba. So also did the technocrats, teachers and intelligentsia and professionals. Some of these came from Indeed the Taraba part of the old Gongola used to hold the joker in political matters. The first civilian governor of the old Gongola state the late Abubakar Barde came from Taraba state. It was not happenstance.

In terms of natural endowment too Taraba is second to none. In physical and cultural diversity it leads.

Taraba's problem is all down to leadership. The elite in the state have not seen the need to tap into the enormous almost limitless potentials of the state to make a positive difference. Instead of mobilizing the human resources of the state to develop it they have deployed the weapon of divide and rule among the peoples of the state. They have also used poverty as a weapon to deprive the people making them desperate so as to be malleable.

These then are the unfortunate state of things in Taraba state thirty years after President Babangida announced its creation. From that date to the present, things have turned full circle. We have reached a point where the people of the state having realised that they have been taken for a ride all these years by the elite who have given them poverty, misery in return are no longer ready to be manipulated. And this is in tandem with developments elsewhere in the country.

Tarabans have seen the ''o to ge'' revolution where a firmly entrenched political dynasty was uprooted in an unprecedented political earthquake in Kwara. They have also seen it happen in some states where political godfathers were shunned and ultimately defeated by the sheer will of the people.

In the next circle of elections in 2023, the slow anger and despair of Tarabans at the abysmal state of things will manifest. Tarabans will join the rest of Nigerians to effect genuine change in the state so that we can begin a new trajectory of positive development that a state of such abundant endowment deserves. 

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