As he continues to receive congratulatory messages for his re-election, President Muhammadu Buhari, is no doubt subconsciously aware that there’s one more river to cross and a prize to fight for: Taraba state!
And Saturday’s governorship poll is the last ditch effort for him and his party the All Progressive Congress (APC) to prise the state off the ruling PDP there. To underscore the seriousness of the matter, the president has scheduled another trip to the North-Eastern state this week – the third official visit between last year and now. He was in the state last year when the Mambilla crisis claimed scores of lives. Although he called this latest coming a thank-you tour, many political watchers believe Buhari is returning to the state that gave him the biggest rally, to see how he could support his party take it as the ultimate trophy.
This is not coming as a surprise to many because there is no doubt that Buhari has a special interest in Taraba state. First and foremost, though he’s from the North-West, the North-East, where Taraba falls, is his world! Back in the earliest days, he used to stroll into Wukari from Makurdi when he was in uniform. His wife, Aisha, comes from the neighbouring Adamawa state but had relationships with Taraba state.
Last but not least, one of his main motivators, General TY Danjuma hails from here and it was here he (Danjuma) made the Army/ herdmen collusion comments that really troubled the president. But beyond the personal affiliations, it is the potentials of Taraba state that actually attracts the president to this place.
For many, Taraba state is just about power with the three thousand megawatts capacity of the Mambilla Hydro power plant in Sarduana but it runs deeper than that. Taraba state is the crown Jewel of the tourism industry in Nigeria. Forget the hype about Obudu and Argungu fishing festival. Our Nwonyo Ibi fishing festival is bigger than Argungu. Obudu is the geographical tail end of the Mambilla mountainous range! We have the highest peak in the country with the largest forest reserve on the subcontinent i.e the Gashaka-Gumpti game reserves far bigger than the celebrated Yankari in Bauchi.
Taraba also has the largest stretch of River Benue- a fact that makes aqua-agriculture the best here. The best fishes, yams, and rice farming is one of the pride of Taraba state. So any president who wants to make a mark in power, tourism, solid minerals or agriculture, has Taraba state to look to. All these may have engaged the attention of President Buhari who in this second coming may be angling to acheive a major success, say, for instance, in the power sector. He thus probably looks forward to a situation where the political atmosphere of the state would be favourable to accommodate his aspirations. An APC led administration in the state may therefore be what he requires to accelerate all he plans to achieve for the nation through the state.
And, if that’s the case, this Saturday election is where it begins. It would make all the difference between the president’s hopes and the reality on ground. But, no matter how it is viewed, this is the APC’s chance if any was ever presented to it. The race is between my former boss, the incumbent, Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku and APC’s fire eating candidate, Alhaji Sani Abubakar Danladi aka Contact. No two personalities can possibly be more diametrically opposed to each other.
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While Ishaku is seen as the Kaduna state based outsider child-of-circumstances character who got to where he’s by imposition and “federal might” in 2015, Danladi is seen as the wheeling-dealing homeboy who knows the intricate ropes of realpolitik! In fact, Contact, as acting governor, midwifed and birthed the Ishaku regime. If Ishaku wins on Saturday, he would prove to the world that he’s indeed the favourite of the people and that, contrary to what many believe, he wasn’t rigged into office in 2015 after all.
It is a charge the APC has continued to make : that the APC legitimately won the election in 2015 but was forcefully taken and given to Ishaku since the PDP then had the instruments of coersion. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole believes and often says that without the role of the Federal Government, PDP will never have won Taraba. A win for Contact therefore would confirm this theory: that Ishaku had clay feet all along!
But whatever happens, the political landscape of the state will change forever for the citizenry as the outcome would greatly redefine them. And for the president, a win may also mean actualising some of his biggest dreams here. In retrospect, it would be the first time also that a Muslim is elected in a place that has always been viewed (some have said errorneously) as a predominantly Christian state.
With this win (if it happens), the texture and myths of the state would undergo a tectonic historic shift never seen before since its creation over two decades ago. But then again, it bears repeating that if Ishaku retains his job this weekend, it would put a lie on Oshiomhole’s claim and would help establish him (Ishaku ) as the Real Deal of Taraba politics. Either way, a historic moment is afoot!
* Bello, a former Commissioner for Information, Taraba state, contributed this piece from Jalingo.