In this piece, Inuwa Sahihu examines the merits of the town hall meetings held by Taraba State Governor Darius Ishaku in Jalingo, the state capital, and how the governor intends to sustain the dialogue for the purpose of getting a feedback on the perception of his programmes.
It was a rare gathering of distinguished personalities and critical stakeholders in the rescue agenda of the government. Darius Dickson Ishaku, governor of Taraba State, was there as the chief host. His deputy, Haruna Manu, an engineer, was also there. And so was Mr Anthony Jellason, Secretary to the Government and other members of the State Executive Council, some members of the National and the state assemblies, some foreign partners in the various on-going development projects in the state as well as other men and women of the moment.
They all came in respect of a no less important subject – water – how it can be made good enough and available in sufficient quantity for the people of the state. And the occasion was a Town Hall meeting organised by the Taraba State Ministry of Water Resources recently in Jalingo, capital of Taraba State to review what has been achieved so far by the Ishaku administration and also search for a new way forward in the quest for effective and efficient management of water in the state.
Water problem in Taraba State is a profound tale of perplexing contradiction. It is akin to the global irony where rivers and seas occupy three-quarters of the surface of the earth and yet there is no water good enough for domestic consumption. That was the situation which the administration of Ishaku inherited on assumption of office in May 2015. Taraba State has many big rivers and streams. There is no local government council area in the state that is not blessed with rivers and big streams, all of them helping to sustain dry season farming and the thriving fishing industry that are also part of the success story of food production in the state. In fact, it is the reason most people felt that Taraba by which the state was called from the time of its creation is the most fitting name for the state. It is the name of one of the major rivers in the state. Yet the state never had sufficient treated water for domestic use. The provision of water has never really been a critical area of intervention by previous administrations in the state.
That explains why the coming of Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku has been hailed as a defining moment in the effort to make water available in the state. He had vowed from the onset not only to radically address the problem of water scarcity in the towns and villages in Taraba State but to ensure that water that is produced is effectively and efficient managed. Today, the provision of good drinking water is a priority on the rescue agenda of the administration. The Ishaku administration has invested more money in the provision of water in its 22 months in the saddle than any other previous administration since the creation of the state. For the government, the attitude which has already produced remarkable impact on the water situation in the state is that every major town and village in the state must have a sustainable source of good water. This attitude informed the provision of 100 boreholes in major towns and villages in the state. It is also the reason provision has been made in the 2017 budget for the sinking of additional 150 boreholes in other areas of the state. Jalingo is already a gigantic construction site, all in the drive to develop a sustainable source of water for the people of the town. The projection for Jalingo is that by the time on-going projects are completed, the city will have water that can last up to year 2035.
The commitment of the administration to radically address the water problem in the state was also the reason a Town Hall meeting was convened recently in Jalingo where Governor Ishaku and various stakeholders from in and outside the state shared ideas on the new way forward for achieving government’s dream of self-sufficiency in water. It was, as the governor had openly admitted in his speech at the occasion, an milestone event for drawing the attention of the public to what has been achieved so far in the provision of water and what new strategies were being adopted for faster and more fruitful results from the government’s approach to the problem.
In less than two years, the administration has taken several remarkable steps that have taken the state closer to the actualisation of its dream for water sufficiency in the state. For example, all broken down plants, pumps and equipment in all water supply stations in the state have been repaired and put to use. Jalingo has experienced a positive reversal of the ugly tale of water scarcity of the past. Water has been restored to the city and 39 other towns and villages in the state through consistent release of funds to the state water agency for the operation and maintenance of water supply machinery. A new contract has been awarded for the development of the Jalingo primary water source. This is likely to be completed by the end of the year. That new source of water is to augment exisiting water supply infrastructure that are already serving the people.
A lot more was achieved within this period of 22 months of the administration. The government paid counterpart funds for the JICA drilling rig which has been lying dormant for more than two years and purchased cutting-edge and modern laboratory equipment for water quality control. A government delegation led by Governor Ishaku also made a study and benchmarking visit to Nairobi City and Sewerage Corporation. A team of experts from that water giant has been here in Taraba and submitted a diagnostic investigation on how water can provided on a sustainable basis and managed effectively and profitably. Government also purchased 500 water pumps to support irrigation and dry season farming in the state in addition to the construction of two boreholes dedicated to the three-kilometre water transmission pipeline to the Greenhouse site at the College of Agriculture.
The Town Hall meeting was also an occasion for Ishaku to share the vision of the government on water resources development and management with the people. In the months and years ahead, according to the governor, government will be engaged in capacity building towards the operation and maintenance of water system in Taraba State. To achieve this, 50 staff members of the Taraba State Water Supply Agency are to be sent to Nairobi, Kenya for a “Hands-on-training” programme. Water supply in the state is to be developed into a huge source of revenue generation with a new and modern system of payment for water by consumers to be developed. This may lead to the development of scratch cards that will be similar to what the telecommunication service providers are doing at the moment.
The event also provided ample opportunities for the audience to ask questions on how the new dispensation of regular water supply and new payment system will work. Governor Ishaku took time out to explain the system in English and Hausa to the audience. The event was an eye-opener in various ways. It ended as a vote of confidence for what the government in doing to ensure the supply of quality water regularly. The Nairobi model of water development, distribution and billing system which government plans to adopt was widely acclaimed as the right step by participants at the meeting. Governor Ishaku also had the opportunity to listen to suggestions and complaints of the people on water and the people went away happy with his assurances that the new way of doing things being developed by his administration in all areas of utility services, including water supply and management will turn things around for the better soon.