Taraba state can’t ever have a religious crisis_ Sen.Bwacha
Sen. Emmanuel Bwacha is the senate committee chairman on agriculture and natural resources. He was recently invested with the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) award. In this interview, the senator who represent Taraba South senatorial zone spoke on his visit to Hannover Germany, where he went to visit the ailing Governor Danfulani Suntai. He equally commented on the recent Ibi crisis and concluded that it wasn’t religious. Excerpts.
You just returned from Hannover, Germany to visit Governor Danbaba Danfulani Suntai and his aides hospitalised there. Did you get to see them?
Yes I did. Everyone who went to see the governor saw him and his aides.
So how is he doing?
He is doing very well. And I can assure you he would soon be back to continue the good work he has been doing. And contrary to the rumours I heard on getting in here, the governor is doing very well. He didn’t sustain any life threatening injury. He doesn’t have any brain damage or spinal cord issue and he is recuperating by the day. In fact, for a plane crash, this is nothing short of a miracle. I know people are apprehensive, worried about him because he is a true leader, a good man. But they would have to be patient. He would return to continue to do what God has asked him to come and do. So people should just keep on praying. And the aides too are doing great. There was a day we went to see Dasat, the ADC, and he recognised all of us, calling us by name. He was even humorous about it and laughed when we expressed surprise.
We know you are not a doctor but can you honestly tell us if Suntai would be able to resume and continue as the governor of the state.
Of course he is coming back and very soon too. German doctors don’t lie and when they tell you a thing, better believe it and don’t argue. Like I said, the governor did not suffer any debilitating injury that could render him incapable of discharging his duties. If this were the case, the doctors would have just spilled out.
What was your encounter like with him?
It was fantastic. I saw God at work. You know, there was a day I sat by his bed and was just silently singing a certain gospel song I liked. He was silent all the while, and then he suddenly looked up and smiled at me. Then he said “Amen”. I just started shedding tears of joy. I’ve seen many things in my life but nothing compares to this.
In your absence, the House of Assembly mandated the Deputy Governor to act as governor.
That was the right thing to do, it is a constitutional thing. And the house exhibited great patriotism and political sagacity in doing what they did. I commend them really. That is the sort of thing Gov. suntai would have encouraged anyway. If you know him, he has always supported his deputy to act whenever he is not around. So it is not like this is something strange we are seeing in our state. So it is the right thing and from what I have seen, the Acting Governor is making the most of the situation, given the circumstance and continuing with the good works. In all his broadcast, he has been consisted with the fact that he would continue all the legacies on ground.
Also, while you were away, Ibi erupted in crisis. It was Christians fighting Muslims and vice versa.
I disagree. The Ibi crisis in regrettable and I’m sure we would soon unravel the causes of the skirmish. But I reject the theory that suggests it is wholly religious crisis. It is impossible to have religious crisis in that part of the state. of course i can relate to the sentiments that because Christians were attacked in churches, so it would be seen as religious. The truth though is that it is a few hoodlums who take advantage of religion to cause mayhem. All the religions do not teach that we should attack another faith. May be you don’t know but true Muslims would not burn down a church. True Christians would not burn down a mosque. So the crisis, is only religious to that extent but beyond that, it is some rascals hiding behind religion who normally unleash mayhem on helpless people. And Taraba has peculiar traits that make a religious crisis impossible. Like almost every home in Taraba has both faiths in the household. And I know Ibi quite well. They overwhelmingly supported me in my elections. They are peace loving folks who do a lot of fishing. It is also the centre of river based tourism drive because of the Nwonyo which is biggest fishing festival in Africa. So peace here is vital. In Taraba, we have come a long way for that sort of a crisis. No one can even divide the people along religious lines as everyone is wiser than that. The state is for everyone- Christians, Muslims, and traditionalists. And it is home to many ethnic groups. We all live together and have learnt to accept one another.
Now to other matters. It must feel great to be awarded the Commander of the Order of the Niger title. How has it change things for you?
Well yes, it is a great feeling especially when you know what this represents. It is not just the title that counts but its significance. It confers on you some higher measure of respectability and responsibilities. For me, I don’t feel any different though but it is humbling. I feel seriously humbled because I look at my background. I look at the early days growing up in the lowly plains of Mararaba in my state. Back in the day, one would not have imagined these dizzying heights. I like to tell the story of how all I wanted out of life at a time was a scooter! Funny thing but true. Then to own a scooter was a big deal. So I said to myself, if I can get a scooter, I would have “arrived”. But as life would have it, I got a scooter and all the other things I dreamt of. And I learnt a valuable lesson of human existence: we are never satisfied as humans. That is why I shun materialism or primitive acquisitions. I honestly don’t like the idea of amassing properties and worldly things. That is why I’m contented and view life a bit differently from others. You may say I’m just philosophising or being preachy but this is my outlook. So when I got the award, I easily align myself with my principles, my worldview and this mindset. I became even more humbled by it.
Don’t you feel you deserve it?
Of course, I must have earned it because many people were nominated, we were scrutinized and I was found worthy alongside the other great Nigerians who got the awards in various categories. But we must be humble enough to know that all that we get in this world is by the grace of God. So no chest beating; no gloating. I have listened to the great boasting of some people and i just laugh. We are what we are by God’s grace and God’s grace alone. You don’t even need to be too religious to appreciate this fact.
Do you agree with the president that those who are found wanting would be stripped of the awards?
I totally agree with him. In fact, they can start with me! If I’m ever found to be unworthy of this national honour, they should publicly take it away. I stress “publicly” because we got this award publicly. So if anyone does not justify this trust, he should be a candidate for public disgrace. Personally, I’m sick and tired of people who have hurt their people, smiling away with laurels whether it is in forms of traditional titles or such national awards. We are in a country were some funny people loot their people blind and still go and buy traditional titles. What are we teaching the younger generation by that? When we reward fraudsters in our mist, we are reinforcing the view that dishonesty pays. So I challenge award givers to critically examine the people they chose for awards. And when they are found wanting, they should be stripped of the title whether is in sports, politics, religious or social cycles.
You know, people would be more careful. They would not want to be embarrassed on the national stage. So if you know you are not qualified for instance, you would quietly turn down the offer rather than collect and you are scrutinized and found wanting. National award should be given only to men and women of integrity.
At the citation, your contribution to the agriculture sector was mentioned. What precisely are those?
I have always been fascinated by the agricultural sector of this great country. And I secretly look forward to the time when earnings from agriculture would dwarf what the oil sector is currently contributing. We can do this. Nigeria has unbelievable agricultural potentials. And it is even difficult to begin to even quantify the huge assets in agric. When I was the commissioner of agriculture in Taraba state, I worked hard with small farmers because I believe they are the fulcrum of any agrarian revolution. The big farmers are ok, but I see small time farmers in their little farms as the nucleus of the change coming. So we created better access to market; ensured that fertilizer got to the farmers on time and generally tried hard to mechanise the farming. Taraba, like most places in Nigeria is an agricultural haven. I used to challenge my friends from Benue state because they say Benue is the food basket of Nigeria. I disagree; Taraba is that food basket (laugh). But seriously whether it is Benue, Taraba or Lagos, agriculture is the way forward for this country. And thank God for Mr. President who has made the sector one of the cornerstones of his transformation agenda.
Right now, we are working with the federal ministry to see how we can end the importation of rice. In Taraba for instance the setting up of the biggest rice plantation in the sub region is geared toward this purpose. We just don’t have any business in Nigeria importing rice, among other crops. We should be major exporters. Also our stride in cassava production is one area again that we hope to drive up industrialisation.
Let’s discuss your constituency. Is there anything you are doing differently from your predecessor?
I’m very reluctant answering this type of question...
Because you expect me to start reeling off what I have done to people or for them but I have a different approach to this questions. Why not go to my constituency and carry out an unbiased assessment yourself. I honestly believe it is better you guys sneak into these constituencies and investigate what we are doing. I can sit here and tell you or sort of things.
Well, you can tell us and we would still go and cross check what you have said and people would read and attest to their veracity or otherwise.
I agree but it would pay you better to go and see for yourself. But let me say that we are doing things differently from the past. Our senatorial zone now has a serious minded person in place. We didn’t have quality representation in the past. What we have was a showmanship that did not address the critical issue of growth, development and the advancement of our people. But now, we hold periodic town hall meetings where I get first hand feedback from the constituency. This is very crucial. In the long run, you are only a representative of a people. We need to constantly go back there and show our report card. I see myself as an employee of the people, hired by them and could be fired by them. So I go back there from time to time to report myself and to open myself to critical evaluation.
I believe this is one area our people are very happy about. I have also expanded our scholarship schemes for young people. I’m discouraging frivolity among young people. So rather than encourage the riotous partying of the past, we find ways of developing them, imbuing them with skills they need for life. I really thank God for using me in this direction because we have been able to impact lives. One thing we do is search for areas of expansion at the federal level; and ensures our people get placements.
How would you rate the governor of your state? He’s seen as a bit taciturn.
Governor Danbaba Suntai is an astute worker and a silent achiever. If you say he’s taciturn, it is because he believes that his work ought to speak for itself. He detests every form of sycophancy, praise singing and showmanship. I think Nigerians are tired of loud mouthed leaders who talk the talk but don’t ever do the walk. Danbaba is a different breed of a politicians- serious-minded, direct, and Kingdom-conscious. Take the last five years. He has transformed Taraba state in a tremendous way. If you take his road expansions effort, you would score him more than a hundred percent. But it is not even his effort in roads, schools, agriculture, solid mineral, tourism and others that endears him to Tarabans. It is his style. The governor has restored faith in leadership. This is the biggest tribute that we can pay him. He took a state that was adrift and has practically restored decency, accountability and people-centred programs. His emphasis on kingdom politics has also helped us to live better lives. Many of us have really found our way back to God because we listened to him as he weaves the role of the Almighty in everything he does. That is why for some of us politicians from Taraba, we are more heavenly minded and strive to play this game by conscience.