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COLUMN: Taraba: Loans, loans everywhere and no viable project in sight

By Iliyasu Gadu

I adapted the title of this piece from the poem Ancient Mariner by the poet Coleridge in which the Mariner lost in the sea following a shipwreck in a rowing boat was lamenting about the fact that despite his deep thirst for water to quench his thirst he could not possibly drink the sea water; ''Water, water everywhere but none fit to drink'' he complained in the poem.

As reported in the media, Taraba state is groaning under the weight of humongous loans running to billions of naira which the present administration has taken from banks adding to the ones taken by previous administrations.

The loans Tarabans are told were taken to finance some critically important infrastructure and economic projects necessary for the transformational development of the state.

To be sure, in themselves loans are not a bad thing. Governments the world over are run on loans. Indeed loans are necessary and are as old as the first human civilisation. They are needed for many reasons ranging from building and installing public infrastructure to financing and balancing public accounts.

But the caveat is that loans must be accountable and above all must be invested and tied to viable projects and programmes that will not only pay their way profitably but also add value to the public.

In the case of Taraba such cannot be said unfortunately. The billions that past and present administrations in the state have taken ostensibly to finance some projects marked in the books are non-existent. And in situations where such projects are started in a flurry of fanfare and expectation, they are soon abandoned and left to rot.

It is no rocket science. Go round the state and see for yourself. Roads in Taraba are atrocious death traps; water projects do not provide water for the people; health care is abysmal and structures in primary and secondary schools are in a state of serious dilapidation if they exist at all.

And where are the factories and industries that will employ our people and harness our abundant raw materials? Where are the agro-allied industries that will help improve our agriculture and provide our farmers with a means of reasonable subsistence?     

So what are the massive loans for if we cannot record any appreciable development in these sectors? Where then did the loans go?

Tarabans have every right to ask these questions because the loans were taken on their behalf ostensibly to develop the state for which they will be the beneficiaries. What is more Tarabans will be the ones to pay the loans even though there has been little or no benefit enjoyed by them from these loans. And as the loans keep piling up with interest payment and percentages, they and their children will be paying these loans for a long time to come.

And how will Tarabans pay for these loans? Through delay or non-payment of salaries, gratuities and pensions because the banks and financial institutions from where these loans were sourced have to paid. As government is committed by the terms of the loan agreement to service these loans as at when due, funds will have to be defrayed for these purpose. And so government will have to dip its hands into public finances to pay which in effect means that government will fall short in its obligations to workers etc.

This is what it boils down to.

But who do we hold to account for all these? Although it is the executive arm of government that signs for these loans, the greater responsibility on how these loans are approved and to what purpose they are to be used lies with the Taraba state Assembly. It is their constitutional duty and responsibility to scrutinize the entire loan issue and decide whether it should be taken or not. And it is also their duty to exercise oversight over the projects and programmes that the loans are meant for.   

But sadly the Taraba state Assembly seems to have gone to sleep over this very constitutional function for which it is vicariously responsible. Indeed Tarabans are moved to ask whether we even have a functioning state Assembly. On the several issues that have been agitating the minds of Tarabans, the state Assembly has been virtually out of sight. It is as if we do not have a state Assembly and the people who elected them have been left to their fate.

The state Assembly is the arm of government which has direct connection to the people of the state and in its wisdom the Constitution allocates far reaching powers for it to safeguard the people and their interest from the excesses of the Executive arm of government.

But to Tarabans the state Assembly for all the abdication of its constitutional responsibilities and duties it owes the people of the state might as well be non-existent.

And nowhere is this clearly shown than on the issue of the massive loan burden threatening to crush the state. The Executive could not have taken these loans without the approval of the Assembly; the neglect and abandonment of the projects and programmes for which the loans were sought should be blamed on the state Assembly for not doing the needful oversight; and the defraying of public funds to pay for the loans which leads to non-payment salaries, pensions and gratuities should also be placed at the door step of the state Assembly.

Where does this all take us to?

We are not only stuck with a huge debt burden arising from the loans, our state is littered with projects abandoned or not implemented but which have been marked as done. Our entitlements as public servants and as Tarabans are denied us leaving us in a situation of penury, poverty and without hope for the future. Worse still the future of generations coming after us have been mortgaged by these loans which will have to be paid one way or the other.

When we look at what some neighbouring states have done positively with their finances we are entitled to ask why not Taraba? It is a legitimate question which we address to our leaders in the state and for which we need answers to.

And it is something we should also bear in our minds as Tarabans as the next election circle nears. Our political leaders now warming up in earnest to seek our mandates in the 2023 elections must be subjected to questions on the abysmal state of development in the state. We should demand answers as to why our state is among the laggards nationally in many areas of development. These questions must be asked especially of those who have been occupying elective public offices as the state remains undeveloped under their watch. If they have not been able to deliver the dividends of democracy to our people all these years, why then should they be allowed to continue?

As other states in the country are exercising their power in holding leaders accountable for the mandate given to them, Taraba must also emulate such democrative imperative. Tarabans must make a bold political statement to the nation in 2023 that it is ready to shake off the yoke of uninspiring political leaders who have not been able to lift the state to higher heights.           


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