The emergence of Governor Kefas Agbu of Taraba as the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2023 elections was met with mixed reactions. While a section of Tarabans saw his emergence as a ray of hope, several other people questioned his capacity to govern. Left with no viable option, the people pacified themselves, rallied behind, and voted for him overwhelmingly during the general elections. Fast Forward to the 29 of May 2023, Kefas Agbu was inaugurated and sworn in as the Governor of Taraba State. On the inauguration day, he wrote: “I am humbled to be sworn in as the Governor of Taraba, today. It’s a new dawn in our history as a State and People – I am privileged to be your Servant-Leader. I am committed to serving you all with tact, and dedication to the development of our Society.”
I do acknowledge that the Governor showed flickers of hope in his early days in office. He was seen visiting schools – primary, secondary, and tertiary schools, and hospitals. The hitherto dirty metropolitan roads were swept clean too. This was, for the people of Taraba, a show of presence and empathy; the presence of their governor in their midst who is empathetic with their problems – something the people of the state did not experience with his predecessor, Former Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku (DDI). He also organised a Youth, Economy, and Security Summit in those early days. This gave the people a ray of hope, an impression that they would be involved and carried along. But sadly, that is as far as the story of this newfound hope went.
What we have seen since the few days of what now seems to be a subterfuge is a downward spiral of everything in governance even if we were to use DDI’s abysmal standards as a criterion to gauge Agbu Kefas. Come with me….
Gov. Kefas Agbu promised there would be a paradigm shift in governance and he hoped to start with appointments. He told everyone who cared to listen that his government was the government of the youths. When he was ready to appoint commissioners, he sent a memo to the party office through the office of the Secretary to the Government of the State, to nominate candidates for appointment. The memo contained a number of criteria, one of which is ‘nominee must possess cognate experience’. Though Gov. Kefas did as promised, the youth demographic / the youths he selected to his cabinet, is a far cry from even the Governor’s criteria. Critics within the state have summed up the major activities of his cabinet members as mainly – photo-op sessions. Take the appointment of the Accountant General for example, the Governor delayed appointing the AG for two months, leaving such a sensitive position vacant only to appoint the Deputy Accountant General – which is ideal and commendable, except for the unexplainable delays. To further buttress this point, it is now over five months since inauguration, the Governor has continued to shy away from the appointments of his advisers, the heads of boards and parastatals and more. You just wonder how he intends to run the government efficiently. Well, as he will most likely retort, “he knows what he is doing.” We hope so . . . .
Lack of Managerial and Administrative skills
You’ll never see a more chaotic and directionless administration like that of Gov. Kefas. No one in the whole of Taraba State can distinguish between official communication and social media posts by ‘data boys’. Everyone seems to be a government or branch of government. The Governor sits in the comfort of his sitting room or office and makes policy statements to the press and expects civil servants to do a backward integration to carry out the “instructions”. Oftentimes, these statements are not immediately followed on with the official memos to back them up. Take the implementation of minimum wage for example. The Governor promised, on media, that minimum wage will be implemented by October. This was promised in August. However, no official memo was issued to the concerned and relevant authorities. When it was time for salary, and vouchers were raised with the old salaries, Gov. Kefas asked that it be returned to ensure that the minimum wage is implemented or “heads will roll’’. Any discerning observer will understand that administrative procedures are not being followed. Another instance is the Governor’s policy statement on free primary and secondary education, and the 50% slash of tuition fees for Taraba State University and the School of Nursing, Jalingo. Though commendable, you would see that not much thought has been given to these policies and relevant authorities are not being carried along for proper analysis. For example, at the time of declaring free primary and secondary education, there were no verifiable data on the accurate numbers of primary and secondary schools in the State, and that was further exacerbated by the influx of out-of-school pupils that should have been anticipated and prepared for.
When confronted about making spurious promises in a media chat, the Governor retorted that he was making declarations. For goodness sake, why the semantics? As predictable, the Governor retorted “I know what I am doing.” Dr Kefas Agbu needs to know or at least be told that governance is not just about an individual’s thoughts. He cannot know everything.
Wasteful and Reckless Spending
Governor Agbu Kefas has been in office for barely 5 months and 2 weeks today. It is disheartening to state that he has not spent one whole week at a stretch in any part of Taraba State and has not spent more than 1 month combined in the state within this period. The worst part is that he travels on a chartered plane. The cost of flying a chartered plane is online for everyone to see. Kefas is so reckless that he can fly into Jalingo on Friday evening, do nothing – worthwhile or perform a function as useless as inaugurating a committee, which even his Chief of Staff can do, and fly out on Saturday morning. More than 50 per cent of these travels are done with more than half the cabinet members – heads of ministries and key government offices, notably the Commissioner of Information and Finance, thereby crippling the administration of these offices. This is not to scrutinise how frequently this government conducts its cabinet meetings and or go about the administration of the State. To think of it, you would prefer the monies were embezzled, maybe some business ventures would spring out from it, compared to this monumental expense on most of these unnecessary journeys at the cost to the state.
Credit to Governor Kefas. He organized a retreat in Abuja for the newly appointed commissioners, Permanent Secretaries and Directors, and other government functionaries, to get them up to speed. But as I write this, the people of Taraba State have lost count of the number of retreats that the commissioners and legislators have had. As a matter of fact, the commissioners have spent more time on retreat than they have done in their respective offices since they were sworn in in July. What is baffling is that we do not see the benefits of these retreats as they are hardly in their office to do any work anyway – whatsoever. One would expect that they are at least learning the ropes of administering ministries and understanding bureaucratic processes so as to avoid the unpardonable blunders perpetrated by some of them. But then, this is where we are, after all, it is still a young government with enough time to adjust. Nonetheless, these endless retreats are another area where Governor Agbu has shown how wasteful he can be.
Failure to Expose Taraba to the Outside World
This point is somewhat tied to the preceding one. Now, here is a Governor who wants to boost tourism within the state, but he prefers to take major events outside the state. An example was the first retreat for the commissioners which was hosted in Abuja and the current one going on in Lagos. One will assume that hosting events within the state will help boost tourism, and encourage more visitors to visit the state, thereby creating patronage for businesses within the state but, the governor prefers to host events outside the state. How then will outsiders know about Taraba and boost the confidence of intending tourists? Though the Governor has a personal life and is free to make choices, one would expect that the event where he celebrated his daughter’s call to the bar should have taken place in Taraba and have all the visitors invited over. Well, it is not up for debate, however, the state was nearly empty because every government official was in Abuja to attend that event. Did they sponsor themselves to be there? That’s a question for another day. As stated before, this was a personal event. We can do better.
Unrealistic Policies – Education
At the time all the schools in the universe were increasing school fees, Governor Kefas Agbu was declaring free education in Taraba State. Of course, education from primary school to JSS 3 has always been free. Reduction in school fees too is not a bad thing. But where is the money to fund it? Aside from that, the Governor wants to sew uniforms for school children. How sustainable is this practice? At what cost, especially when you think about other competing needs? Where on earth is this done in 2023? Of what use would uniforms be to a policy that intends to provide ‘quality education for all Taraban’? As we write this, most schools, especially those in urban areas, are filled to the brim. A class that, according to UNESCO standards, should not have more than 35 students per class, is accommodating 200-300 students. Do we need more educational fractures and well-motivated human resources or uniforms?
In the past 4 months, commissioners and other government functionaries have travelled to Kenya, Rwanda, Netherlands, and Finland to “study” their free education model for implementation. The same free education that Obafemi Awolowo implemented here in South-West, Nigeria, more than 60 years ago. Waste. Waste. Waste. Everywhere!
Unrealistic Policies – Agriculture
The only agricultural policy Agbu has is buying power tillers like machines he constantly referred to as tractors. If there is any other policy or even a direction for developing the agricultural sector, we have not seen or heard of it, and that is besides his speeches focusing on the agricultural sector to boost IGR. We are talking about Taraba, the third largest State in Nigeria with enormous agricultural potential that can feed the nation, create jobs and economic opportunities, and boost foreign exchange inflows (from the crops that can be exported) yet, without a well-thought-out plan to harness this sector. Sadly, “I know what I am doing” (although this last sentence is recurring and sounds like a personal beef.
Out-Sourcing of Patrimony
Taraba state is one of the states in northern Nigeria and Nigeria at large, that boast of the best brains in almost every facet of life. But what Gov. Agbu has achieved in the past 5 months is to relegate Tarabans to the background. Ministries are now run by consultants (and not the commissioners) shipped in from all over Nigeria. Contracts, which none has followed due process, are awarded indiscriminately to non-indigenes when there are capable indigenes. All the retreats bar one that he has organised, were held outside the state, thereby enriching outsiders with Taraba meagre resources. Tarabans did not vote for Governor Agbu so he could push them into poverty. The Governor should know that there are capable hands in our ministries and they should not be demeaned or overlooked in functions they are to perform. Should the Governor feel they are not up-to-date, they should be trained and carried along rather than completely outsourcing their function. The Governor should also know that for every consultant he brings to the state, there are 3 or 4 Tarabans who are capable or even far better than those consultants engaged.
Too many Committees
Most of Governor Agbu’s commissioners rarely stay at their duty post to work for the majority of Tarabans, they are seen travelling along with the governor wherever he goes. This has further helped in crippling government activities within the state and further encouraging staff truancy and redundancy within the ministries. The Governor seems to prefer the concept of governance using committees and then having the commissioners as members of those committees. Could it be that he doubts the capacity of these commissioners – or that he needs to compensate the older stakeholders who are angry with the Governor for changing the landscape of political appointments in Taraba State? Needless to say, these committees need to understand their tasks, the policies guiding their fields and what needs to be done to be better positioned for growth.
Crippling the state legislative arm
The Speaker of the Taraba State House of Assembly has been turned into a member of the executive arm of Governor Agbu’s government. He has almost become a part and parcel of the Governor’s travelling entourage. He is constantly in Abuja with the Governor or seen travelling to other countries as part of the Governor’s entourage. In sane societies, the speaker will be busy shaping the laws of the land, working to domicile certain laws to the benefit of the state and helping to cut the excesses of the executive arm. Well, not here, not now. This has left the legislative arm of government redundant and inactive with little or no activity besides approving loans that are not well thought out or scrutinised. The other members of the State Assembly have been spending days attending a series of retreats outside the state than they have done sitting in the chambers and legislating for the people of the state.
No Economic Plan
Taraba state has all the wrong economic indices; high unemployment rate, high multidimensional poverty, abysmal Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) thus being a highly unviable state etc. One will assume that on assumption of office, the governor will assemble an economic team that will fashion out a workable economic blueprint for the state and ensure its implementation, but nothing of such is in place at the moment. The Governor only talks about it but does nothing to show Tarabans that we are on course. On Internally Generated Revenue, Taraba is also lagging behind as we still can’t raise as little as 10% of our yearly budget as IGR. There are still issues of payroll racketeering going on, where some very few people are feeding fat on state resources and using the wealth to build hotels within the state capital. The governor hasn’t acted on these nor has he attempted to deploy technology in addressing the leakages in the revenue and payroll problems.
It is getting to the sixth month of this administration, and Tarabans still cannot state in clear terms what the policy directions of the Agbu’s government are all about. Months after the inauguration of the state cabinet, the commissioners have not been able to articulate and communicate in clear terms what their focus is or any new reform that will kick-start the Taraba economy. The new ministries have not been able to come out and educate the citizens on what to expect or what reforms they intend to carry out. This has left us to wonder if at all, the governor has any plans for the state outside travelling all over the place. If these travels are for this very purpose, then there should be a clear picture of what will happen and how it will happen, and quickly too.
There are a lot of reasons that suggest to us that Governor Agbu does not consult or seek the opinions of either his aides or relevant stakeholders before arriving at critical decisions.
There are enough reasons to believe that he rarely consults Tarabans or seeks their opinions in deciding policies that affect the state. The idea of going around meeting consultants or embassies without first discussing or critically examining such issues as education, economy, security, or even projects is not a good path to take. It will only mean that Taraba goes for those meetings without the right data for engagement and with a shallow understanding of the situation. This has also led to a lot of rumours that the Governor trusts outsiders for decisions affecting the state rather than relying on the abundant human resources in the state.
Are we stopping him from consulting outsiders? No! But he should not ignore the people within, and if he is consulting them, it should be clearly seen.