'Government Has No Business in Business'
04/25/17, Kayode Soyinka
"Niger Delta with the amnesty
programme going on and all that. That
exposed me to an aspect of the art of
negotiation, the art of looking at a
human being and seeing further than the
face and reading him from behind, and
then sitting down to find out what is it
that is troubling this fellow and what we
can do that can change him."
Photography: Dan Asabe Shidawa
In this special interview with Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku of Taraba State, in north-east Nigeria, Kayode Soyinka, Africa Today's publisher and editor-in-chief, explores with the governor what government's role in business should be and what he and his government are doing to put Taraba at the top of the development map of Nigeria. His first steps are forward looking and are destined to tackle the neglect the state has suffered under previous administrations.
Africa Today: Let me start by asking you perhaps the most difficult question first. You have had an accomplished career as an architect and urban planner. We know about the Nigerian political environment, it is not the easiest in the world. It is rough - very, very rough, and can be very brutal. In fact, to be a politician in Nigeria is like being engaged in a thankless job. That's why good people who have worked very hard over the years to earn their reputation and won't like to soil it shy away from politics in Nigeria. What, therefore, is an urbane person like you doing in it?
Governor Ishaku: I moved into politics because I felt that a lot of us Nigerians that are educated, that are professionals, that are exposed have shied away from it because of its difficulties, uncertainty, and the damaging effect it has on the person's integrity. And so every good person who has excelled in his own profession will not want to bother himself, particularly as an architect - in those days, architects were doing quite fine, quite well, and so you don't really need politics to be financially stable. But some of us have been critics of what is happening, and we thought we should move into the political arena with the hope that we can make a change and make things change differently for the betterment of our people. My first attempt was in 2003 when I tried to contest for the Senate. I couldn't get the vote then because I couldn't get through in the primaries for the obvious reason that I was then politically naive. I came speaking beautiful English, talking a lot of grammar to the people, and I thought I had done a lot of charity work at home. I will give you an example. I am from Takum. Takum is not too far from Cameron, and we have this ward that has a boundary with Cameron. And before you get to that ward, you have to cross this big tributary of River Benue. And the only way to cross it was through the bridge that was built by the Germans during World War II and they call it Cable Bridge. The cables are still there but the slippers had gotten rotten, and I had told the people I was coming to visit them, and they told me the only way I could come was to change the slippers. So I had to contract that one out for it to be changed with the idea that I would go over to see them. So what used to happen in the town across the river was that they don't come to the big city any longer once it was rainy season until the dry season, because there were no slippers to cross. So anybody attempting would slip over and drop inside the big river, and he's gone. So I did all that, but the day of the primaries, huge amount of money was changing hands. And all the people that came from over seven villages with strict instructions to vote for me voted for other candidates. I think I had the first baptism then laughter that politics in Nigeria wasn't all about the charity you do, but that you have to have money to be able to make headway. So I lost as it were then, and I left and went back to continue my practice until 2014, and I had to resign my appointment as a minister to now continue with the party. I was already in PDP, so it wasn't going back to join it, it was just to continue from where I stopped off. To sum it up, I am into politics for service and change.
Africa Today: You haven't done badly in it though. You've been a minister at the federal level and you are now serving as governor of your state, Taraba?
Governor Ishaku: Yes, I've been a governor for close to one year and ten months and I have evidence to show what I have done in this state with the very, very little resources at my disposal. So I think, with determination, a great will to perform, something can be done for our people. When I arrived in this state as governor, there was no water in the state capital. And I summoned those working in the Water Board. There were no commissioners then. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it was a woman that was permanent secretary. So she came to my office and I asked, "Are you the permanent secretary?" She said, "Yes," she's the permanent secretary. I said, "You better change the wrapper and go and put on jeans laughter and then come, because you are going to take directives." So when she came back with her director, I said, "I want you to drop your letter of resignation." She thought I was joking. And then I asked them to type a letter of the next man in the office to take over. I said, "I'm giving you seven days, you go and restart the waterworks, or this fellow will take over." And I tell you, within that period, she didn't sleep, with all our workers. And we started to get water running out of the taps. And by the grace of God, we are now building a much bigger water scheme for the whole town.
Africa Today: You also rehabilitated the electricity supply to the state. How did you do that?
Governor Ishaku: Fortunately for me, I was a federal minister for power. So I just picked my telephone and called our centre at Oshogbo, and when the telephone rang, I asked, "Who is there?" The guy said, "How can you ask me who is there, when you are the one that phoned?" I said, "I'm asking again, who is there?" He said, "I won't tell you my name." I said, "I'm asking for the third time, who is there?" He said, "Sir, I won't tell you my name until you tell me your name." I said, "Okay. My name is Darius Dickson Ishaku, the governor of Taraba State." He said, "Sorry, sir. I'm laughter standing at attention. Sorry, sir. This is one of your boys. You promoted me and brought me here." So I called his name, is that Sola? He said, "Yes. What is your problem, sir?" I said, "I'm in Jalingo now, and I have no light. How many megawatts are you supplying to Jalingo?" He said, "Sir, we're hardly giving you two a day." So I said, "Well, I want more light in the town." He said, "How many megawatts do you want?" I said, "Well, we can do with eight or more." He said, "No, sir, we'll give you 18." And since then, they have been living true to their word and giving me sufficient light in this city and the surrounding towns. So that is my short story of a consultant architect converted to a politician laughter.
"Nigeria is like a man with a candy store
who sells candy. And his children are
busy eating the candy until they all catch
diarrhoea. He uses the profits of the
candies to be treating them of the
diarrhoea and at the end of the day the
shop closed laughter. So let me tell
you, some of us are happy with the
dwindling oil revenue because it is now
opening our heads and brains to think
well." Photography: Dan Asabe Shidawa
Africa Today: You have served as federal minister for Power, Environment, Minister of State for the Niger Delta and now halfway through your first term as governor of your home state, Taraba. Have these high positions of state helped you in any way to understand and may be even appreciate better the challenges of leadership that Nigeria has been facing since independence, that have been preventing it from fulfilling its potentials to be a well-developed country and the undisputed leader of Africa?
Governor Ishaku: You see, people like me are fortunate. I am one of those people that God is very kind to. And I've been very fortunate that God has sort of positioned me at any given time in life. He had prepared me, unknowingly. I was a minister in President Goodluck Jonathan's administration and how I became a minister was coincidental. And how I also became a minister of state in power was one of the things I couldn't believe. Here is an architect, an urban planner, who was cleared in the senate and so everybody was speculating I would be in either works, housing, environment or thereabout. And all that came out was that I'm going to be Minister of State in Power. So I was wondering, "Power? Okay. Let's go." In any case, before you become an architect, you must have read power with all the electrical engineers to year three, because you must know electricity before you can even design a building. So to talk about what is power, basically one is in the knowledge of it, but I didn't know that I was pencilled down for that position, and it was pre-determined that they needed somebody with my background and years of experience. I thank God because the power ministry exposed me in a great depth to the rot that was happening in that sector. There was a big rot; and to the fact that there was no desire to actually change the fortune of the country. I saw a lot of potential wins, but I couldn't get to do them. For example, there is something that pains me up to date. There was a time that the president gave us an exercise. We went on the exercise and we realised that we had over 200 dams in the country. Some completed. Some abandoned halfway. Some abandoned three-quarter way. Some abandoned one-quarter way. Some, they just took the money, stole it and left. The most annoying one was the one in Kaffe after Kabba. You pass Lokoja, you go to Kabba. After Kabba, then you go like almost eight to nine kilometres into the bush, and there was this brand new dam commissioned by former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and since the day he commissioned it, no human being was there. On our way back, I saw this NYSC (National Youth Service Corp) chap. He was the only human being living in the bush with a pond where he's fishing, catching the fish and selling in Abuja. Unfortunately for me, we were coming back at about 8:00, 9:00 PM, and Kabba was in total darkness, complete absolute darkness, and here's a dam that I could easily, easily put like five megawatts, and the whole of Kabba will be in light, and even taking some even to Lokoja, but there they were in absolute darkness. That got me frustrated, and it got me thinking that it's not the big dams we need, that the small dams will perform magic. And as God would have it, the United Nations through UNIDO, now came. They were doing one small pilot project between Jos and Bauchi - closer to Bauchi - in one small little village. They put 45-kilowatts - less than half a megawatt - not up to a quarter of a megawatt, about 250 kilowatts, in that little village. And the village was having 24 hours of light. It's a sugarcane farming village. So within a short time, the village has started to do Mazarkwela. Do you know what Mazarkwela is? It is the local brown sugar that we make. They now have machines that crush the sugarcane, boil the sugarcane, and they come out with a brown local sugar that comes in a round can. You just break it and throw in your tea or kamu or whatever. And from that village, everybody started getting money because Mazarkwela, the brown sugar, was taken from that village to Bauchi - and it got me thinking. The United Nations saw that I helped them so they came back to me and said, "Look, you have helped us in this project, but your state has a problem laughter." We bought a small hydrolyte. This has been there for three years." So I asked, "Where?" They told me it's in Kakara. Kakara is where we produce our tea. But we have not been able to get this project off the ground. "Please help us talk to the governor." And my governor then was Danbaba Suntai, a very simple man, so I just picked my telephone, and I put a call to him. Before you know it, within the week, the money, which they hadn't gotten for years, was released to them and the project started. So I learned a lot in power about power. Then I don't know the too many mistakes I must have committed there, but certainly I must have kicked too many people so they didn't want me in power any more. I became a nuisance. So the president moved me to Niger Delta. And in Niger Delta, I got exposed to a different thing entirely. Here I was with militants, and I started thinking how I could rehabilitate, restructure the psyche of somebody who doesn't believe that he as a man who lays the golden egg he should eat anything apart from the egg itself. And so we had to battle with different people, some people who were over 60 and claimed they were still youth, and then battling with youth who were less than 20; so we had to come to terms with how we could manage these human beings without necessarily using the force of arms. And when I got there, fortunately, President Yar'Adua, before he passed on, had set up the Ministry of Niger Delta with the amnesty programme going on and all that. That exposed me to an aspect of the art of negotiation, the art of looking at a human being and seeing further than the face and reading him from behind, and then sitting down to find out what is it that is troubling this fellow and what we can do that can change him. And we started doing different kinds of programmes. I went and brought this Nigerian from Ireland to come and start manufacturing telephones, laptops and cameras in Calabar. I think he is still there doing very, very well. We started introducing our people to skills acquisition. We did one of the best fish projects in Buguma, which turned the sleepy town into a fishing hub. My tenure in the Niger Delta ministry taught me a lot of things. And while there, President Jonathan asked me to oversee the Ministry of the Environment for a year. I traversed three ministries. Very, very, unusual: power, Niger Delta, and environment.
"The Chinese have told us that any
quantity we have in sesame or soya
beans, they are ready to buy off."
Photography: Dan Asabe Shidawa
Africa Today: Now, here we are, Nigeria is going through a recession - the most severe in its history. There's a lot of suffering in the land. How did it get to this situation? What is the way out?
Governor Ishaku: Nigeria is like a man with a candy store who sells candy. And his children are busy eating the candy until they all catch diarrhoea. He uses the profits of the candies to be treating them of the diarrhoea and at the end of the day the shop closed laughter. So let me tell you, some of us are happy with the dwindling oil revenue because it is now opening our heads and brains to think well. Instead, like me, as governor of my state, I have no business going to Abuja if my agricultural, mining, and tourism potentials are developed. I have no business to go to Abuja. But all of us have been depending on the oil. You'll be surprised oil is found here but in a little quantity. It's the gas that is found in commercial quantity in Taraba State along the Benue Valley. But I don't want to look at the oil because the oil Nigeria has is black, but my oil is edible white. Because if I am exporting avocados, which can be grown very well on the Mambilla Plateau and which is being sought after in Europe. Avocado, they say is very good for those with high blood pressure. So, we can make dollars. What of milk? The minister told me that we're spending well over $18 billion in importing milk. Why should we use that kind of money with the cattle I have here plus the beef. So I'm just talking of what we have on the mountain - tea, coffee, milk, and beef. Let's say I restrict it to that. Then I come down lower the valley where I'm farming cocoa, palm oil, wheat, rice, sugarcane, sesame, and soya beans. The Chinese have told us that any quantity we have in sesame or soya beans, they are ready to buy off. And I have an airport here. All I need is to bring a plane from London that will land here in the morning, pick all these things, and it is back in the evening. You've seen our vegetables. You've seen our product. Very soon you'll see Taraba vegetables. And if I can be exporting them - imagine in Kenya, they export rose flower. So even I can be exporting food, and there are foods they are looking for in London. I just brought some of the pepper yesterday from the mountain. They are looking for it. They only get it here in the mountains here. It has this aroma, and it's very hot, and they need it in most of the restaurants in London. So they sent it to me, and now I've got the people. I've bagged it. I sent it, and they said that is what they want. I brought them down yesterday. Look, you need the candy store to be shut down, so that your children don't have diarrhoea, but they can have brain to think of alternative.
Africa Today: Now, let's focus more on Taraba State. Tell us about the "State Rescue Mission".
Governor Ishaku: The rescue mission? When I started the issue of running for the government house, I told you earlier that some of us were critics of the state government. I forgot to tell you that I and the late Yunusa Yerima, the two of us drew the map of Taraba State when we were agitating for the creation of Taraba State, and the then late proprietor of Punch, somebody...
Africa Today: Olu Aboderin?
Governor Ishaku: Yes, Aboderin. Aboderin was a friend to my cousin. He helped us publish it (the map) for free. We drew the map, and I felt that the state should have progressed better than it did. So while we're on this process, and immediately the election was won, I went down to sit and think of what the rescue mission will be, and my idea was to look at the whole state holistically and pick out the advantages we have in the state. Those that are implementable within four years, those that if God permits within eight years, and to see the most difficult ones, the winnable ones so that we can be able to hit the ground running. I put my thoughts down in what is now called "The Green Book", which is a very small book and it says all that I want to do and achieve, should God give me the tenure of eight years. And if it is four years I also have my targets. Taraba State is endowed with three major good things. Number one, agriculture; number two, minerals. And number three, tourism. Agriculture, we have the best land. I understand that Nigeria imports 7.5 million tonnes of rice. I'm telling you that Taraba State alone can give 10 million tonnes of rice to Nigeria; we will feed Nigeria and West Africa. Because we have the beautiful River Benue, which flows the longest in Taraba State, so it left us with a beautiful valley, and that valley is very rich, starting from our boundary with Adamawa State. It stretches through Lau. It goes all the way down to Ibi and crosses to Benue. That valley is very, very rich. If you go closer to my place in Bantaje you will see a Fadama field without limit. I, as a person, I was farming four square kilometres of rice.
I understand that Nigeria imports 7.5
million tonnes of rice. I'm telling you that
Taraba State alone can give 10 million
tonnes of rice to Nigeria; we will feed
Nigeria and West Africa. Because we
have the beautiful River Benue, which
flows the longest in Taraba State, so it
left us with a beautiful valley, and that
valley is very rich, starting from our
boundary with Adamawa
State.Photography: Dan Asabe Shidawa
Africa Today: Yes, someone told us.
Governor Ishaku: Yes. I was farming four square kilometres. I have a combined harvester. I have a versatile machine that farms 100 hectares within one week. So what killed the rice in Nigeria was the importation. When Shehu Shagari was president he lifted the ban. If that had continued, I am sure by today we would not be in position to talk of importing 7.5 million tonnes of rice at all. But we have woken up since I came. We are working, and my people are excited. They are making more profit, more harvest during the dry season with the Fadama farming, than they are even doing during the rainy season. I've just talked of rice. I have not talked of sugar. We have the best fertile land for sugar. I have not talk of tomatoes. I have not talk of soya beans. I have not talk of corn. If you go to Baissa, we farm corn four times in a year. As we are talking now we are in March, some people are tilting it already. March, April, they harvest in May. May, June, they harvest in July. July, August, they harvest. And then September they till when the rains go. And the good news is they don't use fertilizer, because you put fertilizer it will grow wild, and it will be uncontrollable. So name it, we have cocoa. Let me quickly go back to tea, which is interesting because I started by telling you about the power which I was installing. Now, the United Nations people, the white people, I call them the Europeans, they hardly forget. They came to my office the day I handed over my resignation letter to tell me that that Tunga dam I helped them to complete was ready; I should give them date for commissioning. So I pulled my letter of resignation and showed them. I said, "I've resigned." They said, "To do what?" I said, "Well, I'm going to vie for governorship of Taraba State." And they jokingly said, "Okay, we'll wait until you become governor before we commission it." I said, "Well, how do you know I'll be the governor? I've not even gone for primaries. I've not done anything laughter." So they laughed and walked away. Lo and behold, two weeks after my swearing in, they were in my office. They said, "We told you. We've been praying for you. God has made you governor. Give us a date." And now I gave them a date, and we went up there to commission that dam. Ever since then, the Kakara tea factory and the Kakara people have been having 24 hours of light from that dam, and that has changed the whole setup of the people. Those who had abandoned their tea farms for a long time, all of them now suddenly have where they could go and be farming their tea. Every week they go there to collect their money. They'd be given the tea on a daily basis. Everybody prunes his tea farm that they started. And so the problem was obsolete machines that were bought in the '70s. We quickly had to order new machines. The CTC machine is the latest in the tea factory, so we changed the whole machines and put brand new ones. I'll give you some cartons of our tea so you go and take it. It's rated the second best apart from the Ceylon tea in the world. It's about the second best. And when you take it I will like to get your impression.
Africa Today: I look forward to that. I take tea first thing in the morning.
Governor Ishaku: And I want you to take it. I would like to get your impression. Our tea is super. And so the next thing I want to do now, I'm going into coffee. And so I was in Kenya, and I veered off to check, because Kenya is very good in the export of coffee, and I even bought their coffee. Kenya is very good in coffee. So I bought their coffee in Atlanta in the disco shop where we went to relax - I'd always said I would go to Kenya to see how they're making it, and I saw how they are making their coffee. And when I came back we started trying on how to improve our own coffee. There is one old woman and man. I read about them in the book, they normally ship coffee every month to an old retired British engineer. Every month they sent him a carton of locally made coffee, and when I got to her the husband had died, aged 110 and she is like 87 and looking so young. And when I asked her, "Mama, what do you take?" She said, "I take coffee. That's why I'm looking young laughter." So we are working on coffee on the Mambilla. Tea, we've gone very far with tea. My only dream, I went to India to study how they're doing their tea. My dream is to make sure that the whole plateau is covered with tea. When we went to Gazillion in India, before you climb their mountain, which is like four times higher than our own here, it's everywhere, tea. So I want to see that everywhere on the Mambilla Plateau is tea and to encourage more companies to come and settle there in processing tea so that we can be able to satisfy our country's tea requirements without importing tea.
Governor Ishaku, after the interview,
with Chief Press Secretary Hassan
Mijinyawa (1st left), Africa
& Business Editor Biodun Omojola, and
Publisher Kayode Soyinka.
Photography: Dan Asabe Shidawa
Africa Today: We've been to see your Green House Project, which you are doing with some Israelis. It looks unique in Nigeria. The problem in Nigeria is that succeeding governments rarely continue with some of the laudable projects of their predecessors, and that's why there are so many abandoned projects all over the place. What can you do to ensure the sustainability of this Green House Project?
Governor Ishaku: Yeah, yeah, absolutely correct, talking about our greenhouse, which is certainly going to be the best greenhouse we will have in the country by the time it's fully completed. And you're also correct that so many good projects die immediately the regime that initiated them goes. This is the MD of Taraba Investment Company - (pointing to the Official - Iliya Ezekiel). I met about 13 companies. Am I correct? (Asking the MD)
(MD responding): About 25.
Governor Ishaku: 25 companies that were set up by the state government, all of them have gone moribund, including the tea factory which is just coming up now because it has free power, brand new machines, and we're changing the whole thing there. So far he has money to revive three of the other companies, the Viva Field Mills, the Taraba Polly bags-making factory, Taraba Gas, and right now he's working on the palm oil production. The best way to solve this is the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model. Government has actually no business in business. That I am so confidently sure of now as a governor. Government has no business in business. Because in Nigeria, government business is nobody's business, and that is the greatest mistake we make. So what I'm thinking is, after I have successfully put back these companies, I will sell some of the shares. And then leave government with minority shareholding, take that share to fix another company, divest the shares there, leaving the minority holding, take the money I am selling there to fix another one. If I have 10 companies and government has 30% in 10 companies and those 10 companies are running efficiently well, they will be giving me 30% dividend every year. If you multiply 30 by 10, I'm getting 300%. That is far, far better than me every year to be voting money from the budget of the state to pump into the 10 companies because they have run down. And they will never wake anyway. So that is why I got a person like the MD here who is from the private sector. And since coming on board, as I told you, he has fixed three companies. He's on the fourth one. And so we are going to use the public, private partnership. We'll get very good private people to buy off majority shares. They can sell some to Nigerians or if there are foreigners, do what they want. I don't want to worry about it. What I want to be sure of is that they are good partners who can run the company efficiently well, who can employ my citizens, who can train my citizens, and then give us dividends so that when the state is in a crisis of finance like we are now. I can wave my hands and look at one of the companies and say salvage us because I have 30% shareholding in them, but right now none of the companies out of the 25 is yielding any profit.
Africa Today: Taraba State, with the famous Mambilla Plateau, a national games reserve that is the biggest in the country - if not the whole of west Africa. The entire scenic view of the state is breath taking. It is definitely a treasure throve for Nigeria. What are you doing to make Taraba State a compulsory destination for both local and foreign tourists?
Governor Ishaku: Tourism is a sad story for me, because tourism is a component of several things working perfectly together. Tourism is a money making venture, a money spending venture, but then you have to get all the component parts fit in together otherwise you don't get it right. Let me give you an example. I booked a flight, I wanted to go and see my child in Cyprus, and they told me that Egypt Air was the cheapest, so I paid for Egypt Air. They took off here in the afternoon. They landed in Cairo towards the evening. They told me my connecting flight is the following day, and I'm given the hotel free. Are you with me?
Africa Today: Yes.
Governor Ishaku: And then my next flight the following day is late in the afternoon. Here I am, taken to another country. The hotel is given to me free. The breakfast is given to me free, but I have from morning till afternoon doing nothing. And before I landed in the evening in my room, they have given me all the pamphlets telling me all the pyramids that exist. How I can use the six hours that I have the following day for only maybe $200 or $300. Now the attraction is huge. Free accommodation, free food, all for one ticket, which is cheaper than the other airlines. Now in the morning, the taxi is waiting. The man said, "Do you want to go for any of the pyramid ride?" I said, "Yes, I'm ready." He puts you in. He says, "Where are the stops?" I said, "Well, I'm the new person here. Take me to anywhere." Phew! He drives you to the first stop. He shows you how they first manufactured writing paper. And then the next stop is a beautiful shop; they take you around. Before you finish going around, it's an hour. And it's very hot so you have to consume one litre or one and a half litre of sweet orange or mango. So before you leave that shop, you'll have bought some gifts to give. $200 will have been spent there. He takes you on the way. He says, "Oh, sir, let me show you the first church; in those days, when Moses was here with his people." He branches there, you see another attraction, "Oh, so they have Christians in Egypt?" He tells you, "My name is Daniel. I'm a Christian. The religion started here." So you're wondering, though you're carrying on a conversation. He drives you, then he takes you to the pyramid, and then he parks you there and says, "Okay, now I will wait for you here." The man with the camel comes. He picks you with the camel, and he takes you, and then he starts to give you the history of all those people who were building these pyramids. And then he shows you their graves, which is by the side, and he takes you on a journey of like 20, 30 minutes and then he drops you somewhere. Another guy takes you. I'm telling you, by the time you make a whole round, you come back, if you're not careful, you will have spent $1,000. So but can you notice the connectivity I am talking about? Somebody has sat to do a good thinking that we have an airline that leaves Nigeria. He did not ask you to leave in the night and connect the flight in the night and pass Egypt. He asked you that this flight leaves Nigeria in the afternoon, which is very comfortable and convenient for you. Now you leave, you're relaxed; you sleep for the next five hours in the aircraft. You're landed in Cairo, and they tell you the next flight is tomorrow because it is already late. You're already tired anyway laughter, and here you are given a free accommodation in the beautiful hotel with the swimming pool and the entire bar in the suite. So you go there. You are relaxed. Somebody, the hotel, is making profit. Now, the tourism aspect comes in. You are given booklets and pamphlets, showing you the different places you are. So you are now connected. From Nigeria, you know nothing about going to a pyramid. But they give me free hotel, free dinner. Before morning, I have made up my mind. I need to see this pyramid. It is once in a lifetime opportunity. And before I turn around and come to pack my things to the airport, I've been left down minus $1,000 laughter. So that is how tourism works. What pains me is that I was a minister in the ministry of environment. What additionally pains me is that the biggest game reserve, Gashaka Gumti Park, resides here in Taraba State. And what pains me was that there was no good road leading through to Gashaka. It's now that I came out pumping money to our contractor every month. For the last 22 months, I've been paying them every month. And it took the confidence in me that they trust me. They were working assiduously. Now you can drive easily from here to Gashaka. But even the game reserve itself has not been well developed because it resides with the federal government. I am trying to link up with the federal government, so that we repair the routes. Robbers have infested some of the routes. We tried last year to get them out of it. Some of the bridges have been vandalised, and we're trying to get them back in order. So, you see, these component parts are missing. And in tourism, one part is critical to all the other parts. We've gotten the road, now it's to get the game reserve itself in order. Then we will need accommodation there. We will need security there. We will need somebody who comes to the park to sleep and wake up without having any fear. Like when I went to Kenya. I went to Nakuru Park. They took me there, drove me around. I parked the car very close to the lion, although I told the driver not to go too close laughter, and then you go and sleep there. Nobody, you are not thinking of armed robbers coming to ransack your room. You are not thinking of anybody coming to harass you, and then you leave the next day. You feel very happy. They drop you in some places that are very safe. You go around and even touch the elephant, touch the rhino. So tourism is a whole complex thing. You must get all the components right, starting from the adverts; starting from the education of people; starting from the tourist guides; starting from the taxi drivers; starting from the accommodation; starting from the good meals you produce; starting from how much those meals cost. The value chain must be well connected, such that if you drop a foreigner in Lagos, and you ask him that I want to go to Taraba, and that takes me to why I started with the airline. I opened up the airport here in Taraba. That was the first thing I did when I became governor. It takes you from Lagos to Abuja. You can take Overland Airlines from Abuja to Jalingo. Prior to that, you have to take 9 to 10 torturous hours from here to Abuja with all the police checkpoints. So now if you get to Abuja, it takes you six hours to go up the mountain. It used to be more than that - 10 hours or 12 on bad road. But thank God the road is now good. So all you need now: aggressive publicity, aggressive sale of the place, and thank God, Kayode Soyinka is with me laughter. And I know you will do a good job.
Africa Today: I'll try.
Governor Ishaku: So once that is connected, then it's left for us. I'm working on our airplanes. And I'm working on our helicopters so that they can pick people from Jalingo 25 minutes up to the mountain. If we can have that, then we can say we are beginning to be ready for tourism business. But the biggest problem of the mountain, I don't have a very good hotel. Not even a three-star hotel. So if I carry you to the mountain, what will you be doing there? I need a very good 18-hole golf course for people like us who play golf. Or you take me there, you leave me for one week I'll be there playing golf and then you can bleed in my pocket. When I come, I'll still be happy. I need to put a very good chef there who can be roasting all the types of meat like I ate in Kenya. They'll bring me buffalo meat. They brought me chicken meat. They brought me rabbit meat. They brought me hyena. All the types of meat they call them, they will be bringing it for you. And you'll be choosing and be eating. And so by the time you come, you are happy that you've spent your time very well. The Mambilla Plateau is cooler than this room you are in, even with the air conditioning. There they don't need any air conditioning. You need a heater. So the connectivity is our problem. I'm working, I am achieving result, but I am not yet there.
Africa Today: Taraba State is also blessed with numerous solid minerals. But the problem with that, first, is the issue of who has control over the minerals - the states or federal government? And the argument about derivatives formula rears its head again - who gets what once you start mining the minerals? This issue has been there for years, and in the absence of concrete agreement on this between the states and the federal government (although Fayemi, the minister for mines, now says he has a road map) what we've been seeing are illegal mining all over Nigerian states. I am sure you have the same problem of illegal mining here in Taraba State as well. What in your view is the solution so that you can start to develop the mining sector here and boost your income stream?
Governor Ishaku: You are absolutely correct. If you ask me, I think Taraba is one of the states that have the highest raw minerals. I will still go back again to my days of being a minister in the power sector. While we were trying to get the survey of the soil tests of where the dam would sit, in far away London the foreign consultant took me for dinner. While taking me back he now said, "Look, you know what we found out in the soil test?" I said no. He said, "We discovered a huge quantity of bauxite." I said, "Bauxite, bauxite, what does that mean?" He said, "You can have huge aluminium factories, which can get you good money instead of even wasting your time with the dam." And then he went further to say it's aluminium they use to build planes, it's aluminium they use to make all these high rise buildings you are seeing in London. But when I became governor I then discovered that we have all the minerals, the rarest seven minerals in the world are domiciled here - blue sapphire, which is very, very expensive, apart from diamond; I have gold, gelignite, which without you can't drill oil, it's the only mineral that you pour as you are drilling for oil. When the temperature is getting to like 200, 300 degrees that is what is cooling the temperature for the rig to go down until you strike the oil. So the oil may be in the South-South of Nigeria, but what gets the oil out for you is in Taraba. Look, name them; all the precious stones are here. Now, the problem is how our law is fashioned. That exclusive list says that whatever mineral is under the ground is federal government's. Now, they forgot that before you go to the ground, you must be on top of the ground, and who has the ownership of the top of the ground is the governor. So as governor who is in control of the land, now you come to me, you say you want to mine what is under the ground. I will tell you that the C of O (Certificate of Ownership) is here; I will not give you. How do you access it? You can't. We had had several discussions with the minister and others. And if he tells you he has a roadmap, I'm sure by now maybe they've gone round that, but I'm yet to see the roadmap. So what we're saying is that the federal government needs to partner with the states because there is a void in this law when it comes to mining solid minerals. Because the solid mineral, unlike oil where you can punch just one hole - that's all you need - and then you go and strike the real wealth underground. For solid minerals, you have a vast span of land. I had a problem. Somebody who had his C of O on his land since 1972, and somebody just got certificate in Abuja of his cadastre and came and mounted his rig and wanted to rig. I asked the police to get him away, because as far as I'm concerned, I don't know him. And he couldn't mine. And I asked the owner of the farm to keep farming. So we have to have areas where we can now collaborate. If there are genuine investors, let them come. If they identify a mineral in plot A, we give them the papers, the C of O on that plot, the federal government gives them the license to mine, and then with the state government, we collaborate. And if there is private ownership prior to that time, we collaborate and give the state, we give the owner or the community some payments, the state some payment, the federal government some payment, and the man who is doing the mining can now start mining. That is a win-win situation where everybody wins. The man who brings his money to invest, he gets, maybe, the biggest chunk, but then he drops payment for the federal government, he drops payment for the state government, and he drops some payment for the community. So the community will win, and they get this place developed. I guess that is what the minister is telling you, the line he is looking at, and that is the most reasonable thing to do without which we're having a lot of conflicts, you know. There are genuine investors that come. Of course, we couldn't handle them because we are now telling them, look, just wait, let us clear the encumbrances, and then we will call you. Some of them are so arrogant they said, look, I've got my license. Why should you stop us? And so this has given room to illegal miners who are making a huge fortune. The illegal miners go, mine illegally, encourages people to mine illegally, and they go with it. I don't mind a situation whereby we could set up these things properly, and you, the legal miner, can employ these illegal miners to mine for you, and you pay them and give them bonuses in case they need a raise. So they benefit from their salary, benefit from their bonus, and they give you, and then you drop the taxes for everybody, and you leave legally with what you've mined. I think that way we are going to succeed.
Africa Today: Thank you very much Your Excellency.
Governor Ishaku. Thank you so much for the interview. But you didn't ask me of my popular phrase, "Give me peace, and I will give you development laughter." Applause.
Africa Today: Very, very good one. We need the peace. Otherwise, we can't have development.
Comment on this story