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Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku stood tall at the popular Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja as Comrade Ibrahim Khaleel, National Chairman of the National Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE, spoke of his attributes before a huge crowd of people made up of representatives of local government workers from all the 774 Local Government Council Areas in the country, members of the National Assembly from Taraba State, legislators from the Taraba State House of Assembly, chairmen and councillors from the 16 Local Government Areas of Taraba State and thousands of his supporters from in and outside Taraba State.

Then came the highpoint of the event of that day. Hon Gambo Tanko Kagara, National President of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, ALGON, emerged with the insignia of the prestigious ]award of Excellence and Best Performing Governor in Grassroots Development in Nigeria and handed over to Governor Ishaku to the admiration of the First Lady of Taraba State and Wife of the Governor, Barrister Anna Darius Ishaku and their son Gibuiya.

The crowd exploded into a thunderous applause that almost sent the roof caving in. It was indeed a day that hard work, diligence and patriotism, all of them attributes that have defined the character of the administration of Governor Ishaku in the past two and a half years in Taraba State were acknowledged and rewarded from the least expected but highly respected workers’ umbrella constituency – the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE and the Association of Local Government Chairmen in Nigeria, ALGON.

The coming of the award was no surprise to people who have followed the giant strides in the development of the state by the administration. The surprise, really, was the source from which the award came – ALGON, and NULGE, both of them acting jointly and in one accord on this occasion.

The two unions are the ultimate umbrellas organisations for all workers and administrators at the grassroots level. The grassroots of the country is for them a familiar terrain and they have good and up to date knowledge of developments at that level of administration in the country. NULGE, as a pressure group whose mission always is to fight for workers’ welfare, is hardly ever impressed by the efforts of political leaders to make life better for the populace. In the case of Governor Ishaku, it was different. They were impressed and they came out not only to say so publicly but to reward him publicly for it. The decision was a product of painstaking independent assessment of the 36 states governors in service delivery at the grassroots level through the promotion of projects and services with direct bearing on the welfare of people at the grassroots level. Governor Ishaku came out as the most outstanding performer.

Comrade Khaleel told the audience that Governor Ishaku had excelled in his determination to take the local government system in Taraba State out of an unfortunate system that was characterised by monumental corruption, a system that was rotting and dying. “We have subjected Governor Ishaku to a process of long and painstaking investigation and I wish to say with all sense of honesty that he has passed our test. He has distinguished himself as the best friend of workers through regular payment of salaries and pensions and in promoting the welfare of workers generally.” Khaleel also said Governor Ishaku has done more than any other Governor in the country in promoting grassroots development and described him as a “Grassroots Champion”, the most committed promoter of quality education, a dedicated and an incorruptible friend of the people at the grassroots level.

It was also from this perspective that Governor Ishaku saw the significance of the award. He said in his acceptance speech that it was significant that the award was coming from those who were, by their calling as trade unionists, not very easy to impress by the people in government. The award came from the source he least expected and he said so. “If a labour union is giving you an award, it means that award is indeed a worthy reward because it is coming from those who keep you on your toes every day through their agitations and demands for improved services.”

The event was for Ishaku an opportunity to recount his long and victorious battle with ghost workers in the state. He told his audience that his administration adopted several strategies which outwitted the perpetrators of salary scams in the state. That victory is the reason that salaries are being paid regularly to workers at all level of governance in the state today. It is also the reason government is able to implement projects that have tremendously changed social and economic lives in the state.

One remarkable way the administration has positively touched lives at the grassroots level is the 100 boreholes in 100 communities in the state. The successful implementation of that project has changed the water supply situation in the state dramatically, particularly in the rural communities. Those rural communities where people hitherto shared water from ponds with their domestic animals now have regular source of good water. They now have boreholes drilled for them by the government. Additional 150 similar boreholes in 150 more communities are now being drilled to further extend these facilities to more people. It is not unlikely that this rare gesture of the administration is one of the factors that have influenced the award in favour of Governor Ishaku.

There is also the administration’s skills acquisition programme that has taken thousands of women and youths off the poverty bracket. They were those who benefitted from training organised for them in various areas of vocation that have turned them not only into self-employed entrepreneurs but employers of labour. They were all given financial assistants and start-up equipment that helped them in setting up their own business outfits. Every electoral award in the state is a beneficiary from the scheme. The beneficiaries are rigorously monitored by government’s rescue watch officers to ensure that the beneficiaries do not derail from the objectives of the project. This scheme has greatly and positively touched lives at the grassroots.

The Ishaku administration’s employment policy has changed lives way down into the rural communities too. The government had lifted the embargo on employment placed by previous administrations in the state. This has led to the employment of nearly 10,000 hitherto unemployed youths in two years, among them the 3000 teachers who were recently presented letters of appointment. The impact of these employments in the socio-economic lives of these employees and their dependants has been tremendous.

The re-activation of six previously dead government-owned companies has also had tremendous impact on lives. It has opened more job opportunities and stimulated economic activities. The Highland Tea factory in Mambilla is one outstanding example of how the rural populace in the state have benefitted from the revival of the companies. The return of the company to business has also revived tea farming which is the main preoccupation of the people on the Mambilla Plateau. They now make good money from their tea farms by supplying the factory. Governor Ishaku has not only revived the tea company but has also helped tremendously in promoting the product in local and international markets. Today the product is in high demand, far more than the company can cope with. The overall impact of these efforts in positively transforming lives at the grassroots is certainly part of what swung the award in favour of Governor Ishaku.

The award is an appreciation of the impact of projects and programmes under the government’s rescue mission which is being felt down to the grassroots level. The roads that the administration has built, hospital, clinics, schools and colleges that have been renovated or completely rebuilt, the provision of stable electricity through the supply of transformers, all have achieved one vital objective which is the stimulation of business activities that have also directly improved the economic lives of people in the benefitting grassroots communities.

The Excellence Award on Grassroots Development is a fitting honour for Ishaku, a man who has fought the battle against payroll scammers and won, rescued education from the abyss of decay and reduced poverty in the state through his multi-faceted skills acquisition programmes that have touched lives positively down to the grassroots. True, “the Grassroots Champion” has joined several of Governor Ishaku’s other middle names.

Hon. Bala Dan Abu is the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor of Taraba State on Media and Publicity.