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Turning Taraba State Around: Three Priorities For Taraba Governor-Elect Lt. Col. Kefas Agbu (Rtd)



By Mathias Luka Agbu and Danladi Yunana, PhD.

On March 25th, 2023, Lt. Col. Agbu Kefas (Rtd) was elected as the next Governor of Taraba State. Kefas is an army veteran, clergyman, and administrator with extensive experience. He served in the Nigerian Army Intelligence for over two decades before retiring and chaired the Board of Trustees of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency. He also served as the immediate past state chairman of the People's Democratic Party in Taraba before becoming Governor-elect. Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku's eight-year tenure ends on May 29th, 2023, and Kefas will be inaugurated as the new Governor of Taraba State.

Taraba is one of the most resourceful states in Nigeria. Its population is estimated at 5.8 million persons. With a land mass of 54,473 sq km, it is the third largest state in Nigeria by land mass, just behind Niger and Borno state. Taraba also has abundant natural resources, including the largest stretch of the Benue River. The state also boasts of the Gashaka Gumti Park and the Chappal Wadai, the highest point in West Africa. The Mambila plateau presents a perfect high grassland plateau with a temperate climate within a tropical region, making Taraba's weather spectrum broad and comprehensive. Taraba is also well endowed with solid mineral resources.

Taraba has not lived up to its potential. Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku's eight-year tenure was anchored on the Mantra of "Rescue Mission," with landmark achievements such as the "rescue teachers project", expansion in clean water supply, and road infrastructure. However, several sectors still need to be rescued urgently.

According to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics 2022 report, Taraba state is ravaged by poverty. Taraba ranked 30th on the list of multi-dimensional poverty. Eight out of ten persons in Taraba State are extremely poor. One in three Taraba children of school age is not in school. Despite the rescue mission water program, the report indicated that about nine of ten Taraba households are deprived of clean drinking water.

Given all these challenges, the incoming administration has its work cut out. Taraba State needs an urgent turnaround. In this piece, we point out three priorities for the Governor-elect to leapfrog the state from potential to greatness. These priorities are a clear shared vision, carefully curated focus areas, and a capable team pulling in the same direction.

 

VISION:

Over three decades since creation, Taraba is yet to have a shared vision. Every Taraban is aware and boast of our slogan as the "Nature gifts to the nation". But what does that potential all mean and how has it translated to prosperity for Tarabans. A vision for Taraba will help translate our abundant human and natural resources for the greater good of the state. 

Scriptural wisdom in Mathew 15:4 summed it up perfectly "And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." The new administration led by a clergy must not lead blindly. A clear vision is a catalyst for turnaround, it will help to mobilise better and align resources to developmental needs and provides a metrics to measure progress. 

Taraba can model Lagos and Borno state where leaders defined and followed a definite vision leading to state transformation. For example, the vision of Lagos State "Making Lagos State Africa's Model Megacity & Global Economic and Financial Hub by 2030". Borno state, on the other hand, has as its vision: "A secured, competitive agri-business and commercial hub anchored on prosperous dignified people and sustainable development by 2045. 

A good starting point for a vision for Taraba state could be to make it the best place to vacation, live, and work in North-eastern Nigeria by 2030. This vision is achievable thanks to our vast natural resources and human capital. For example, the Mambila plateau could become Nigeria's foremost tourist destination, putting the state in the league of landmark tourist destinations such as the Obudu Cattle Ranch and even beyond to places like Dubai. However, this is just a suggestion. The incoming administration can certainly develop and articulate an even better vision for Taraba.

 

FOCUS:

The government must prioritise what it will pursue to deliver results within resource and time constraints. Trying to accomplish everything in a short amount of time is impossible. It's crucial to identify areas that need the most attention. Governor Darius Ishaku has been referring to a strategic report created by a top management consulting firm, the Boston Consulting Group. It would be wise for the incoming government to review this report and align itself accordingly. Without referring to the report, there are three key areas that we propose the incoming government should focus on to unlock opportunity, lift people out of poverty and usher in prosperity. These focus areas should include human capital development, purposeful infrastructure and investment in agribusiness, small and medium enterprise (SMEs).

Human capital is the engine for growth and development. To achieve progress, we must prioritise the development of healthy human capital by providing access to quality education from primary to tertiary levels. Our children must be taken off the streets and given the opportunity to learn in the classroom. We must ensure that our schools provide relevant and high-quality education. Additionally, we must equip our young people with digital and contemporary skills that will prepare them for the demands of the modern workforce.

Furthermore, we must increase access to healthcare, portable water, and sanitation. These basic needs are essential to ensuring the well-being and productivity of our communities. By investing in the health and education of our people, we can unleash their potential and drive economic growth and development in Taraba state.

Infrastructure development should be strategic and aimed at economic growth. The incoming government must not construct roads for political scores but should focus on strategic routes that improve connectivity and access to markets. 

Taraba state's population is rapidly increasing, and the incoming administration must confront the challenges of uncontrolled urbanisation and population growth. To address these challenges, the administration should invest in urban renewal projects that aim to improve the quality of life for residents and attract new investment and businesses to the state.

A similar approach was successfully implemented in Kaduna State, where a concentrated new infrastructure development program was undertaken in a special renewal project with one local government selected from each senatorial zone. This included significant investment in housing, road networks, commercial and public spaces. Such a program would improve the physical environment and social well-being of residents and stimulate economic growth in the state.

Agribusiness and SMEs present unlimited opportunities for poverty alleviation in Taraba state. Rural dwellers and women are disproportionately affected by poverty in Nigeria and are the most vulnerable. Taraba North is currently one of the poorest senatorial districts in Nigeria, but this can be changed through investment in the agricultural sector and fostering SMEs.

To unlock the potential of agribusiness and SMEs, the incoming administration should invest heavily in the sector by providing access to financing, training, and other resources that will enable entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses. This will create more employment opportunities and promote decent work, particularly for the youth, thereby stimulating a vibrant economic sector in rural Taraba.

 

TEAM

Capable people working together towards a common goal is key to realising a vision. The Governor-elect needs a team with a blend of expertise, experience, and perspective. We will also recommend the team to include individuals with local, national, and international backgrounds and experts from the public, private, and social sectors. This approach ensures a balance of perspectives, including input from women, men, young people, and the elderly. 


In addition to experience and expertise, service and empathy are critical to building a team that will prioritise the needs of the people of Taraba. Team members should have a heart for service and a genuine desire to work for the betterment of the people. Empathy is also essential. 


For example, while Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna State had a strong vision and a great team willing to serve, they delivered their program with less empathy, creating divisions among the people. 


Therefore, the Governor-elect in building his team must not discount the importance of the heart to serve and empathy. In summary, with a clear vision, a focused approach, and a well-selected team working together towards a common goal, we have confidence that the governor-elect can bring hope to the people of Taraba.

 

Mathias and Danladi jointly Host the MLA Connect Show and write from Houston, USA and Sydney, Australia.

 

 

 

 

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