TARABA AND ITS TROUBLED WATERS
Taraba State was created in 1987, and boasts of robust tourist centers including the famous Mambilla Plateau. The present administration is the third democratically elected.
Since democracy took roots in the state, one man has dominated the scene, ruling it twice, and facilitating the emergence of his successor. But for the constitutional bar of two terms for elected chief executives, fears are that he would have continued to rule the state ad-infinitum. He is Rev. Jolly Nyame, a consummate politician and minister of God.
He was first elected governor of the state in 1991, during the aborted Third Republic and was swept out of power when the late Gen. Sani Abacha dissolved all democratic structures in the country. With the return of democracy in 1999, he again became the governor and was re- elected, in 2003. He ruled till 2007.
Nyame controlled the politics of state in its entirety, until recently when cracks developed between him and his godson, Governor Danbaba Suntai. He is said to be the political godfather to virtually all the politicians in the state, and enjoys a good relationship with the vast majority of the people, many of whom have benefited from him in so many ways. While he reigned, he built massive structures and following in all the 16 local government areas of the state, which has made it difficult for him to be relegated to the background in the present scheme of things. Unlike in some states where godfathers have been decimated and chased out by their estranged godsons, Nyame's influence looms large in Taraba, and he is vicariously holding out in the ever- thickening gale of brickbats.
Socio-religious mix and zonal structure
Taraba, a state on the far fringe of the North-east geo-political zone, has 16 local governments unevenly spread along the wide land mass. Taraba North has six, which include Karim-Lamido, Ardo kola, Zing, Lau, Yorr, and Jalingo, the state capital. Taraba South has five namely Wukari, Ibbi, Ussa, Donga, and Takum, while Taraba Central has Sardauna, Gashaka, Bali, Gassol and Kurmi.
The North holds the ace in the political calculations. Karim-Lamido dictates the swing in who rules the state as it has the highest number of eligible voters. This is followed by Gassol, in the central zone. The state also has a mass of politically apathetic elite, who evidently prefer national to local politics, with the resultant effect that their influences are hardly felt at home despite their national prominence. Religious considerations are surprisingly minimal in the politics of the state.
Christians are in the neighborhood of 60%-70% of the population, Muslims are about 25% , while traditional religion adherents are about 5% of the populace.
Nyame intended to put a Muslim, Alhaji Danladi Baido, in power in 2007, before certain manouevres torpedoed the move. In the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the choice of Baido, despite being a Moslem had enjoyed support .
The state Commissioner for Environment and Urban Development, Barrister Kutebs, underscored this when he said that 'anybody campaigning based on religion will lose. Tarabans are too wise for that.'
He went further to illustrate it with his background: 'I come from the Mambilla Plateau and the village I come from is called Bambiye. I come from a royal family.
We are Christians but some members of that family are Moslems. If I want to campaign based on religion, don't you see a conflict there? So the truth, I tell you, is that religion, as an issue will not be considered at all. People are going to judge you based on your antecedents, and your capacity to convince them on what you can do. They will look at the candidates, the credibility of the candidates and then make up their minds'
In the geo- political configuration of power, it is only the south that is yet to produce a governor. The reason is because of the variation in population of the three zones. Although it has six local governments as the North, they are not homogeneous. Two local governments in the zone always opt out to align with other zones. The perennial enmity between the Jukuns and the Kutebs is at the base of the pattern. The Kutebs exclusively control a full local
government of their own, while the Jukuns have at least three local governments of their own.
Fearing internal domination and the possibility of losing-out in the rivalry with the Jukuns, the Kutebs would team up with others to ensure that the Jukuns are caged. A former speaker of the State House of Assembly and chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Hon Hamidu Sulaimon, is optimistic that the prevailing atmosphere would soon give way.
'I assure you that with what has happened, we have now come to realize the mistakes of the past and corrective measures are taking place. I hope the southern zone will taste power soonest'.
An appraisal of the party system in the state shows that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has all its takes to retain power. But this is not without some extraneous factors like the issue of performance of the incumbent governor and his relationship with his godfather, Nyame.
Hon. Habu Isa Ajiya, ex-speaker of the state legislature and former commissioner and local government chairman sees it this way: 'The issue of the governor's relationship with the godfather of Taraba State, Rev. Jolly Nyame will also go a long way in making an easy or rough road for him in 2011. It is not godfatherism trying to bulldoze, but what I mean here is that whether we like it or not, Rev. Jolly Nyame commands huge following in Taraba State, and he has a lot of influence on his followers. So he can decide to use this influence or not in 2011. But I don't mean imposition. I don't mean that he will use imposition as a political weapon. No. He has a lot of weight and he commands a lot of respect politically. And this will definitely count in 2011.'
Until late 2006 Taraba, politically was calm and cohesive. When Alhaji Danladi Baido won the primaries of the PDP, he was roundly perceived as the governor- in- waiting. He had the support of Nyame, and his victory was heralded with excitement. Then came the jolt. Security reports on him were allegedly unfavourable.
Petitions were reportedly sent to the presidency by influential politicians who were opposed to Nyame's total domination of the scene. Former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo ruled with a peculiar style of dictation. He held the levers of power in the states by determining the candidates of the party ab-initio. Unknown to Nyame and Baido, their fate had long been decided. A few weeks to the elections, while Obasanjo was presenting the candidate of the PDP in Bauchi to the people, he announced Baido's disqualification.
This took the wind out of the sails of the PDP machinery in Taraba State. Before then, it was learnt that Obasanjo had summoned Nyame to Abuja and intimated him of his plans to replace Baido based on security reports. Nyame had taken the whole thing in his strides, hoping eventually that the plot will not play out. He trusted in his closeness and rapport with Baido, whom he had accepted as a confidant. He kept hope alive, until it became very apparent that Obasanjo was not going to budge.
At the last minute, in order not to lose out completely, he drafted in his Secretary to the State Government (SSG) Danbaba Suntai. The man, a pharmacist and civil servant, was apolitical, and Nyame had hoped that he would reap from the abundant traditional civil service loyalty in him. Besides, Suntai has a calm mien and is perceived as a God- fearing Christian, who would rock no boat.
When Suntai came to power, in the spirit of give and take, he appointed Baido as Chief of Staff, Government House. But the appointment, according to Baido, did not come with responsibility. That was the earliest sign that the centre could no longer hold for Suntai and Nyame. Baido resigned the appointment and challenged the election of Suntai in court. He alleged that Suntai did not buy forms for the primaries of the party and therefore his participation in the election was illegal, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.
That was how the bubble burst and it triggered-off an ever-deepening crisis of confidence between Nyame and Suntai. Nyame had initially tried to reconcile his feuding godsons but gave up when he realized that government information machinery has been arrayed against him. Some sources said Suntai called Nyame's bluff and refused to accept the reconciliation overtures based on the advice of his loyalists. It was also alleged that he proceeded to either sideline, remove or transfer Nyame's loyalists in his government, especially civil servants, thus drawing the first blood.
At a recent political gathering in Jalingo, Nyame acknowledged that things are no longer at ease between them. It was at the defection of the then ANPP governorship candidate, Senator Abdull-Azeez Ibrahim to PDP. He said, he regretted replacing Baido with Suntai. According to him, he did it in good faith and with the best of intentions because he regarded Suntai as God-fearing,but to his surprise, he betrayed him and has related with him in the most ungodly and vicious manner. The feud between them has led to a schism within the PDP and by extension in the state.
With the approach of the 2011 elections, both camps have oiled their strategies for victory. In their PDP, which currently holds the ace, the calculations are changing and deepening with each passing day. While Nyame's group is banking on alleged non-performance and lack of political astuteness of the governor to secure victory at the party's primaries, the governor's group insists their man has done well within the prevailing circumstances, and that Nyame is merely living in the past.
On performance, Habu Isa Ajiya says: 'I went to the website of the Federal Ministry of Finance and was able to compute the revenue accruing to the two administrations. I discovered that just within three years the present administration got about N160 billion, while the former administration in eight years got only N164 billion. You can see the comparison. Again, you should take into consideration the performance of the previous administration with the amount of money they got in eight years and compare it with what is on ground now with over N160 billion in three years. I am really disappointed in the present administration.
Even the governor himself has confirmed that he has failed. Somebody who has confirmed that he has failed does not even warrant going for a second term in office. This will be taken into consideration to give him a second term or not'.
But Kataps disagrees. He says he is satisfied with the level of development by the current administration.
'Evidence abound everywhere of monumental strides by this administration and the people will not be deceived or cajoled, because these things are physical and can be felt and seen by all. Feelers the government is getting from the people are also positive. In Taraba State now, so much has happened in the last three and half years, so I am satisfied, the people are satisfied, and I believe these will transform positively for the administration in 2011, putting into consideration all the problems and distractions the government had to contend with before settling down.'
Defending Suntai further on the issue of his eligibility to be governor in the first place, he says; 'let me tell you, between 2007 and 2008, Danbaba Suntai was distracted by litigations. He had litigations from candidates of other political parties, who felt that they shouldn't have lost to him in the guber poll. He had issues even within his own political party, when some aspirants went to court to seek to replace him , because he was allegedly not properly nominated.
But of course as a lawyer, I disagree with that , because I understand the issue and process of nomination, and I have read the case of Governor Amaechi of Rivers State, and I know what the Supreme Court ruled on valid nomination. I was at the Court of Appeal and of course, I know what the court pronounced as valid nomination.' But the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Haruna Istifanus Gbana, drives a middle wedge between the contesting groups. For him, the people will ultimately decide their fate.
Said he :'It is all about the people. If there is a rift between the governor and his predecessor, when it comes to the primaries or the general elections, the people will determine who has the majority at the end of the day. So we are not threatened by whatever wrangling that is going on. So, whichever group you meet, they confirm to you that they are firmly on ground. We don't want to talk much. We will know who is actually on the ground, and who has the people when the primaries come.
'But I want to assure that we are focused, and we don't want to be bothered by the storm that people see around. Those of us that are on the ground know the dynamics, which is with the people. This is not the system that used to be, the power that used to be, most of the things that happened previously. PDP is transforming, it is already getting it right and then we have to key in.
'If you come with the old system now, it won't work. But if you are not within, you will think the old system will still work. So we are working for the 'D' day. We hope that God will take us to that day and then the difference will be very clear. But I want to assure you that this government and the stakeholders that are solidly behind it are optimistic, and we are very sure we have the majority of our people, and we carry them along in this system.'
For now Suntai has pitched tent with President Goodluck Jonathan and is campaigning vigorously for him. Nyame is also supporting Jonathan. This makes the contest even fiercer and the saying that whoever is with God is in the majority becomes more apt.