By NICK DUGBA, Jalingo
With the government having to grapple with the burden of 25 moribund companies and a liability of hundreds of redundant and unpaid workers, the Authority’s Nick Yashi, looks into the situation and its impact on the fragile economy of Taraba state.
The present administration in Taraba state is in for a raw deal with a myriad of liabilities steering it in the face. Like the federal government and its counterparts in other states, Taraba has had to grapple with the short fall in federal allocation as a result of the fall in price of crude oil in the international market. The state, mainly an agricultural and rural state has the civil service as its biggest source of employment. Despite the huge agricultural potentials, farming plays a peripheral role in the scheme of things as civil servants and politicians merely use it to augment their income.
The current administration of Darius Ishaku, happen to meet the state at the most challenging period of its existence. The boom of the 90’s when the state was created, the extravagance of governments in the new millennium when democracy was restored and the recklessness of the immediate past governments, plunged the state into debts, a marked infrastructural deficit and projects that have either been abandoned or completed but not utilized.
Besides that, the state has a low revenue profile and is among those states that is unsustainable outside the federal allocation. According to a National Bureau of Statistics estimate, Taraba is among the states that generates less than 10 per cent of all that it gets from the federation in a year. This implies that, should the flow of allocation from Abuja stops, the state would be unable to meet salary obligations and running of government. The only leeway could be corporate borrowing from banks which it often does to pay workers. It also has a debt burden of $23.01m, according to latest figures of the Debt Management Office, (DMO).
The current situation has indeed posed as the biggest challenge of the Darius Ishaku administration whose slogan is ‘the Rescue Mission’. The governor often laments the financial position of his government and likens previous administrations as ‘horse riders’ while his is just a ‘donkey rider’, alluding to the difficulties he is facing due to lack of resources. It seems like the burden of moribund state owned companies is what is causing the government sleepless nights the most and the governor is not pretending over the challenge.
When the opportunity arose, Gov. Ishaku never relent in lamenting the fact that his government had inherited up to 25 moribund companies of which the government has tried its best in reviving some of them that are economically viable. However, some of those that were revived include: Mambilla Beverages Production Company (producers of Highland tea) and Viva Feed Mills. Taraba Gas Ltd, was established in 2001 and supplies domestic gas to residents of Jalingo and beyond. Investigations show that it is rendering skeletal service and in no wise operating at full capacity.
Gov. Ishaku, an architect, a former minister of State for Power and also Niger Delta, coupled with his experience in the organized private sector should be in a vantage position to handle this liability and exit the state from this conundrum. But it looks like the administration is lacking the political will and could not muster the courage and confidence to face the unfortunate situation as it looks forward to completing its tenure. Granted that the administration has mustered more political will compared to previous administrations as far as reviving moribund companies is concerned, some cases in the state are so pathetic and might be a source of serious embarrassment to government. Some of these companies in question include Taraba Motels, Taraba Produce Marketing Agency (TAPMA), Taraba Asphalt and Stone Crushing Company, Taraba Road Construction and Maintenance Agency (TARCMA), Taraba Printing Press and Taraba Publishing Company Ltd. The state-run football club, Taraba FC and Taraba Queens, although not organisations in their own rights, are also part of the liabilities that are causing ripples in the state.
Investigations by The Authority show that these companies do not have Boards to run them and are run badly by those employed to manage them. Also, there is little supervision and control by ministries and the state legislature hardly does any oversight save during the customary yearly budget defence.
For instance, the Taraba Asphalt and Stone Crushing Company, located along the Jalingo-Wukari road, was established to serve the state construction firm with raw materials for road construction. Even though it is located close to a large deposit of granite rock, it has since ceased to render services. All that can be seen within the vicinity are abandoned worn out heavy duty machines and gravels ready for supplies. The State Road Construction Agency (TARCMA), which is supposed to play complimentary role with the Asphalt Plant, is at best at the mercies of management staff who hire some of the serviceable machines to private individuals and small businesses. Services like grading of access roads to private homes, clearing of private sites and so on are being carried out in transactions that are non-official but based on understanding between the parties. Monies realized from such activities hardly even get to government coffers. Amazingly, such companies usually go to the House of Assembly with demand for running cost during budget defence. When they are probed on what they used the monies they get during the year, they are simply short of cogent explanations.
Meanwhile, those worst hit are the Taraba Motels and the Taraba Publishing Company Ltd. The Taraba Motels Ltd., is a 94-room three star hotel, established in May 1999. It has been a subject of industrial actions by staff and presently remains the shadow of itself. It has a conference hall, two huge dome tents, and standard indoor and outdoor bars among other facilities.
Our reporter was at the motel to see things for himself and the encounter was really worrying and calls for concern considering the huge investment that went into it. It was discovered that due to the non-payment of staff in 2013 which resulted in several strikes, the private firm running it had to hand over the place to its original owner in 2014. It is now run by the State Tourism Corporation. A visit to the motel on a Monday morning revealed the absence of customers at the reception and rooms except just the receptionist, the manager and one other individual. The manager complained of lack of customers and that those who patronized the motel were persons who exploited their positions as state officials to use the rooms with their guests free of charge. In fact, the ugly situation prompted a state lawmaker and majority leader of the state legislature, Joseph Albasu Kunini, to raise a motion on the floor of the House recently, asking it to act on the poor state of the motel. The House considered it and has set-up a committee to look into the matter.
The same thing goes for the Jolly Nyame Sports Complex, unarguably the best of its kind in the entire north-east region. The complex has a 15,000 football main bowl, basketball, volleyball, handball, lawn tennis and badminton courts, all with stands for spectators, mini pitches, indoor sports hall, a gymnasium, a swimming pool and standard lodges. The unfortunate thing is that apart from the gym hall which is used occasionally for social events, none of these facilities is put to good use. The sports council which oversees the sports stadium has not been able to plough back what it generates from those social events into stadium maintenance.
The government is also faced with liability of unpaid salaries and sign on fees of both Taraba FC, (which was relegated from the elite league to the lower division) and Taraba Queens, the female football club. At a point, a hotel where the team lodged in Abuja during one of their away games recently, had to seize the club bus for the club’s inability to pay for services enjoyed. That embarrassment resulted to the firing of the club chairman, Hon. Ishaya Gani. The whole drama climaxed with protests by the players in Jalingo recently, where the state secretariat was locked and the greater of the state’s civil servants held to ransom for a whole week.
In essence, another case that remains most disturbing and which has attracted the sympathy of most Tarabans is the issue of the Taraba Publishing Company Ltd. Established in 2010 by Late Danbaba Suntai, TPCL is the publisher of the once vibrant Nigeria Sunrise newspaper- a grassroots based and regional newspaper which has helped in closing the information gap in the state. The company has ceased publication since 2013 and the staff are being owed about 40 months’ salary arrears. Most unfortunately, some of the staff, 46 indigenes only were dubiously sneaked into the civil service to work in the state information ministry, TV and radio, while the non-indigenes and a few indigenes who were not ‘connected’, were left in the cold with nothing said about their status. The Managing Consultant, who helped in establishing the company on behalf of the Suntai administration is being owed over N40million contract fees. The company now only has less than 10 staff who only spend time in the premises doing nothing. Lying waste is about four Toyota Camry 2000 model, two Toyota Hilux vans and official cars of the editor, company secretary and the Managing Consultant who do not know their fate as it were.
Recently, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Anthony Jellason, paid a visit to the company to see things for himself and he was visibly shocked to learn of the company’s situation. He only left with the promise to brief the governor on the issue.
Meanwhile, these instances are but a true reflection of the rot in the public service, lack of continuity in our political system and bad governance that serve the interests of incumbent governments. This is so because some of these liabilities date back to the Jolly Nyame administration, through to the Suntai administration, then to the Danladi and Umar UTC’s administrations and down to the present administration. The unfortunate thing is that none of these governments was ready to solve a problem that it was not a party to, forgetting that government is a continuum. This then raises the question, in whose interest is these companies?
The Authority made effort to contact the Secretary to the State Government (SSG,) Anthony Jellason, but to no avail. What the present government is doing to offset the liabilities of moribund companies in the state, was among a set of questions that were before his office for response. But a week after, no response came from his office.
Quite interestingly and ironical too is that, with this situation plaguing the state, so many Bills establishing agencies and parastatals were being sponsored by the executive and legislature arms. The fear therefore is that, should those agencies come to being, they could eventually become like the moribund companies that remain a liability to the state.