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Column: Governor Ishaku and the zoning issue in Taraba politics

My articles on the zoning conundrum in Taraba politics drew a lot of comments from interested readers.

Some readers (from the northern and central zones) accuse me of being a mouthpiece for the southern zone in its bid to retain power and renege on the power sharing arrangement among the three zones in Taraba state. Indeed one prominent son of Jalingo with whom I exchanged extensive robust but friendly debate on the matter pointedly labelled me as an apologist of the Chamba/Jukun strategy to marginalize the two other zones in the state not just in politics but also in appointments into the state's civil service. 

Similarly, a prominent personality from the central zone sent word to me through a mutual friend of ours that " Iliyasu is biased against the northern and central zones in his articles on power rotation in Taraba''. He further told our friend to tell me that my ''campaign'' as he calls it, for the southern zone to retain power will not work as the two zones (northern and central) are poised to decisively thwart it.

From the southern zone I have received similar flaks. One gentleman called me ''a southerner with a northern voice''. In a comment laden with unpalatable innuendoes and dipping with vitriol against my person, he accused me of betraying my southern origins on the altar of religious bigotry. He believes my articles are in service of the Hausa-Fulani Muslim Jihadist agenda to gain control of the state which is predominantly made up of adherent Christian faith. Again, like the prominent figure from the central zone, he promised that my efforts on behalf of the ''sponsors of Boko Haram'', will not work and that Taraba will forever remain a ''Christian state where no Muslim will ever rule''.

As a journalist and commentator on public affairs, I cannot hope for a better outcome than to be in position, such as I am now, where opposing sides of the subject matter I write on accuse me of being biased. In the particular case of my beloved Taraba state I cannot but feel mightily glad and elated that the mutually exclusive sides in Taraba politics and religious faiths are for all practical purposes giving me the works.

What this tells me and neutral readers is that indeed the message is getting through the hardened bunkers of Taraba's toxic and unhelpful political and religious narrative, which has been largely responsible for the lack of relative progress in the state.

But to cut to the chase, the trending political issue of power rotation in Taraba state which is currently raising the political mercury in the state need to be approached with tact and maturity by all involved.

There are indeed merits to the various strands of the issue.

At the base of it is the argument that for a multi-ethnic and religious state like Taraba, a power sharing arrangement among the three zones representing roughly the various political and religious tendencies is the best guarantee of ensuring justice and equity and fostering a sense of belonging for all in the state.

In practise of this we have seen the three zones ''take a shot'' as the say, at the governorship. Next year the rota of power sharing arrangement among the three zones would have been completed at the conclusion of the mandatory eight year two term of incumbent Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku.

There are those who hold the belief that three zones having gone through the process, the playing field should be thrown open. To them the experimental stage of the power sharing arrangement has been concluded and we have now reached a point where we should give other options a try. In effect Taraba politics should not be held hostage to archaic ideas but we should be ready to task our politicians to engage and make the entire state their constituency.

It would appear that the issue of power rotation will greatly task the Taraba political establishment in the run up to the 2023 elections. On the one hand the issue of justice and equity which was the basis for arrangement is germane and relevant to the state especially as there genuine cries of marginalization. But again we must bear in mind that the power sharing arrangement is at best a gentleman's agreement not enshrined or supported by law. The arrangementcannot prevent a member of any political party from challenging it as an affront to his constitutional right to aspire for the position of governorship.

Again for it to be effective, the issue of power sharing has to be agreed across board. It cannot work if only one political party alone (PDP) applies it. In the APC which has never produced a governor, for obvious reasons the issue is muted. How can the party come out and zone a position it had not won? Is it not better to win the position first then sit down and decide on zoning afterwards? To put the question better for the APC which desperately want to win power as a party which is the preferable option; winning the governorship election or applying the zoning principle on its potential governorship candidates?

From all indications, the zoning issue is likely to be very contentious and because of the divergent views and interests involved it will pose a serious challenge for both the PDP and APC to implement. There will be much talk and even threats about it from politicians and their sponsored groups. But in the end both parties cannot prevent any of their members from the southern zone from breaking ranks with the arrangement and insist on contesting the governorship elections in 2023.

Realistically we can even discern from the body language of Governor Darius Ishaku that power sharing is not his top political priority. His overarching priority is to actualise his ambition to clinch the southern senatorial seat in 2023. As a result he has not shown any inclination to support or push for the power shift issue in Taraba preferring to rather hedge his bets. He believes that pushing for power shift may invariably make him lose his bid for the southern senatorial seat which is his political preoccupation.

As a result proponents and canvassers of the power shift arrangements may have to consider doing away with the support of the governor. They will either have to find alternative ways to actualize the power shift arrangement without the governor if they insist or allow him have his way to bury the arrangement on the altar of his senatorial ambition.          


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