Cover Stories, Interviews

‘Taraba is the next tourism destination’ – Ag. Governor Garba Umar

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This is one authoritative statement that any debtor or creditor can either take to the bank or accept as a collateral.

For Alhaji Garba Umar, the acting Governor of state, whatever is important to the people and growth of the state should be well-planned and executed, monitored with undivided attention and implemented with precision. That is what Tarabans have always done and cannot depart from. 

The new face of Taraba appearing in the mirror comes with a variety of colourful images. There are the Taraba State University, Jalingo; College of Education, Zing; Jalingo Model Secondary School; the new NYSC camp; an updated and freshly-refurbished Taraba Airport, Jalingo, with its expanded and extended runway waiting to receive the newly-purchased 2 nos. Embryo 145 aircraft that will kick-start Taraba Airline before the end of the second quarter of 2014; a road network that runs hundreds of kilometres across several local government areas;  a FIFA – standard upgraded 45,000-seater Taraba Stadium, that has ensured the participation of FC Taraba in the Premier League after 22 years of relegation to the backwaters; rural electrification projects that has lightened up hitherto non-recognizable communities; a 500-bed Haruna Tsokwa Memorial Hospital, Takum; a college of nursing that by all international standards could pass for a University of Nursing and Allied Sciences; provision of several facilities and services under maternity, child and primary health Care; youth development and empowerment projects across the local government areas; and an effective security and peace initiative scheme.

These and many more form the magic wand of Alhaji Garba Umar, the quintessential gentleman on a mission. The Acting Governor of Taraba State, the man popularly called “UTC” by the good people of Taraba.

For many, Garba is a breath of fresh air. He is one of the few politicians that have demystified governance. Most of the projects executed by him have changed the lives of his people. From the magnificent ones to the developmental, Tarabans have gained confidence hitherto unknown to them. Majority of them agree that his singsong of infra-structural development is true.

According to UTCians i.e. his followers, UTC has re-created Jalingo as a mini city for discerning minds. And he has millions of admirers on account of his strides in many years of development. And when it comes to the new face of Taraba, critics have been silenced for good.

PATRICK OKON listened to him talk recently.

How do you rate the chances of PDP in 2015?

2The chances of PDP in my state are very bright and I think in the whole North this is the only state you can find Mr. President’s posters by now. That shows you that Taraba is for PDP and PDP is for Taraba. We are in a season where we have crises, particularly in the North, but in Taraba this is not the case.

What has been the driving force for the peace that prevails in Taraba State?

In actual fact, we were able to involve dialogue. Stakeholders were really involved, the emirs and chiefs. Recently, we had a little problem – the Tiv/Fulani conflict for about a week. Some of the Tivs were driven down to Taraba from Benue State by the Fulani but luckily enoughs we were able to sit with the Fulani and the Tiv and they were able to understand themselves.

That shows that in Taraba we need peace and we are living in peace and everyone is involved really.

What are you doing to attract more tourists to the state?

Just of recent, the Nigeria Economic Summit approved a project in Taraba, and that is the Mambila hydro which has a capacity for 10,000 megawatts of electricity. We intend to generate 350 megawatts for a start. It is a package that involves the hydro-project, a five-star hotel on Mambila plateau and an international airport and road leading to Mambila plateau.

What I did was ask them to allow me do the road before the other projects come on stream. I got the approval and, of course, right now, the road is 40 percent completed. I believe within the next one year if these projects are completed Taraba will be a different thing all together and I believe that people from within and outside Nigeria will be here because the attraction will be there for them to enjoy themselves.

Apart from that we have been making efforts to improve on this. While I was in Saudi Arabia, had a chat with the Saudi/German hospital and they assured me that as soon as the project is on stream, they are going to site a 200-bed hospital here. So, for Nigerians to go to Saudi Arabia for medical care will be a thing of the past by the time this hospital is on stream.

What do think the Adamu Muazu-led-exco needs to do to bring a lasting peace back to PDP? Also, are you contesting in 2015?

Ahmed Muazu is a young man and he is really moving. The PDP governors are solidly behind him. I believe that even those friends of ours that decided to defect he is making efforts to make sure they come back because this (PDP) is their home.

You cannot leave your home and go elsewhere because you are going to meet a new man there. What hope do they even have there? Even our neighbours there are now finding it difficult. At the end of the day, I believe Ahmed will do his best and I believe even if all of them do not come back to their home, some of them will come back.

On the issue of whether I am contesting I will leave that to the masses of Taraba. Taraba will have to tell me whether they want me to contest or not. I believe at the end of it all, you people will see it yourselves.

The Taraba Airport has been dormant for a long time. What efforts are you making to make viable and functional?

I don’t know whether you are aware that we have been able to procure two aircraft, each of them is a 50-seater and we are trying to put these aircraft to use. Very soon they will start operating. Our problem has been that we have a 2.4-kilometre runway and these are jets that require 3.5-kilometre runway.

So, what have you done to correct the airport’s runway?

I have stared extending the airport’s runway and we are making arrangements with Overland Airline that is operating in Bauchi and hopefully in the next few weeks, they will start operating from here. By the time we finish the runway, our own aircraft will be ready.

The PDP has a policy of involving more women in governance and this is one of the reasons President Jonathan gave women more than 30 percent of the slots in his government. What are you doing to involve more women in the administration of your state?

We have already involved more women. Let me tell you that even my chief judge is a woman. I have a woman chief judge and a police commissioner that is a woman and I am in the middle. Presently, I have three women advisers, so we are doing everything to see that women are part of this regime.

Can you throw light on the SURE-P programme in Taraba state?

Last year, I empowered 8,600 youths and women. This year, we have gone to the rural areas, we are doing the local governments and we intend to do 10,000 at  government level to empower them. Presently, we are doing 5,000 this month and in the next two months we will do another 5,000.

This is a continuous programme and I believe before the end of the year, we should be able to do 30,000 or even more to empower the youths and women and I think that will bring down the restiveness of the youths in the state.

The National Conference is some weeks old. What are your expectations ?

My expectation from them is to ensure that Nigeria remains one. People should ensure that we embrace ourselves; we should ensure that we remain one and, of course and allow Mr. President to continue with his laudable programmes so that at the end of the day we will see light at the end of the tunnel.

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