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By Bala Dan Abu
Political opponents may shout themselves hoarse if they wish, but they will never succeed in giving Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku the bad name of a religious bigot. That name is certainly not for him, he does not deserve it and it is alien to the temperament of this great statesman who is today the Governor of Taraba State. That name is certainly not for a man who has sacrificed so much to restore peace in a state he had inherited in religious and communal crises and who has built bridges across religious, social and cultural diversities that have helped in achieving enduring peace. For me, this is the most callous way to treat the patriot that is our governor today and this is the reason for my intervention through this article.

A few days ago, some unpatriotic elements whose identities are suspect, took advantage of the largely misused and abused social media platform to demonise the rare act of patriotism demonstrated by Governor Ishaku through the employment of 3,000 teachers in one fell swoop. The massive recruitment is an act seen as one of the most courageous, given the precarious nature of the state economy. But rather than praise the courage of Governor Ishaku for taking this very bold step to rescue education at the primary level, these unpatriotic elements, writing under the obviously fictitious names and under the non-existing group of Taraba Citizens for Peace, Unity and Development, went to town with their wicked act of injecting the virus of religious sentiments into the exercise.

The intention of the group, who are indeed the real religious bigots, was to label the recruitment exercise as biased in favour of Christians but they carefully avoided the provision of statistics to support their allegations because it will expose them as liars that they are. The recruitment exercise has been very thorough and the main intention was to get people with the best qualifications into the education sector that has already been rescued by Governor Ishaku, to get better. Religion was never a factor because it is not a qualification and therefore, nobody with the required qualification could have been rejected on the basis of religious belief.

What was paramount to the exercise was equal representation on the basis of Local Government Council Areas which the handlers of the exercise achieved. Those on a mission to demonise the exercise with the allegations of religious bias should better return to the drawing table because this present attempt is dead on arrival.

The group’s attempt to paint the picture of Taraba as a state in various kinds of crises is wicked and unfair to the government that has done so much for the people. Taraba is one of the few states in the country where workers are not owed salaries. Government has paid its workers regularly despite the poor state of the economy of the state. What the administration has insisted on doing and which some unpatriotic elements in the garb of political opponents have turned into a weapon of political blackmail is the screening of the payrolls to eliminate ghost workers. The success of that exercise is the reason salaries are now regular. Even pensioners who had been denied their entitlements for several years before the coming of Ishaku have been accommodated and are now being paid regularly.

All the other sundry and petty issues of discrimination raised by the group in its reckless determination to sustain its allegation of religious bias against Governor Ishaku belong to the same place – the trash can. The Governor has never withheld anything due to any worker in the state, serving or retired on religious ground. He has only insisted that those who are not or were never bona fide workers in the service of the state be weeded off from the government’s pay register. There is no way such an exercise can be manipulated in favour or against any religious group. In fact, religion has no place in such an exercise.

The religious bigots behind these hideous allegations are advised to look for something better to do and to leave the government to pursue its agenda of peace and development in the interest of the state. They also need to be reminded of the dangers of promoting religious sentiments to a level that it rules the minds of our people and determines their perception of one another and the religious group to which they belong. It is dangerous to take our state down that valley of self destruction.

Religious differences are part of the reality of our society. Our people have lived together peacefully with this reality for centuries without conflict until the political elite discovered it as a potent weapon of political power. Those who fail in their bid for political power easily take to the megaphone to rouse up dangerous religious sentiments against the winners of the race for power. In the process unnecessary conflicts are generated which most of the times, lead to deaths and destruction. The present campaign by this group belongs here. It is an unfair, unpatriotic and selfish to attempt to raise dust over nothing riding on the wings of religion. They deserve the condemnation of all patriotic people.

What Taraba State requires now is peace and development. Both are already being achieved by the present administration but it is clear that those who are unhappy with the political power equation in the state are uncomfortable that the state is getting better under its present leadership. They would rather prefer that it remains in turmoil for them to find it easy to exploit the situation to gain political advantage. The people are now wiser and will never lift a finger against one another anymore no matter how much these self-seeking and desperate politicians try. That should remain the permanent attitude of our people. Such desperate politicians are the real religious bigots and should never again be allowed to take advantage of our people.

The frightening images of deaths and destruction caused by past religious and communal crises in the state have not been completely wiped off from our memories yet. The social and emotional trauma they left in their trail have not completely gone away either. The state government is battling to provide care and succour to victims of past crises in the state at huge financial costs. It is callous for a group of politically desperate people to attempt to return the state into such unfortunate abyss of inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts. The people must take an unequivocal stand against these satanic agents in our midst by saying “never again.”

Abu is the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Taraba State on Media and Publicity