Many challenges have confronted Taraba State Acting Governor Garba Umar in the last 100 days. Taraba State Deputy Governor Garba Umar did not anticipate the responsibilities now enthrusted on his shoulders.
But when his boss, Governor Danbaba Suntai, was hit by the blow of fate, the mantle of leadership fell on him. One hundred days after be became the acting governor, the challenges are still undaunting. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. From being a spare tyre, Umar started to exercise executive powers.
Commissioners and special advisers who had snubbed him as a powerless deputy had to fall in line. Powerful elements who had by-passed him in the past had to curry his favours. As he inherited fame, his political troubles also multiplied. The man of the moment came to power by sheer providence. He had little hurdles to cross on the way to the pre-eminent position.
He was selected by the ailing Governor Suntai to replace the impeached deputy governor, Alhaji Sani Danladi. Umar was sworn in as deputy governor on October 5, last year, at a ceremony witnessed by many stakeholders. His boss described his appointment as the number two citizen as an act of God, adding that he would be a dependable ally. Barely 20 days after, on October 25, Suntai was involved in a helicopher crash.
He was the pilot. The governor was flown to Hannover, Germany, where he is recuperating. Consequently, the House of Assembly invoked Section 190 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, which empowered Umar to hold forte for his boss. As he inherited power, he also inherited many challenges. These challenges had taxed his boss to the brim. Umar became the administrator of a polarised state. Civil servants are fractioned into camps. The division within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also stares him in the face.
The acting governor’s challenge has been how to choose between two devil’s alternatives. He wanted to impress many. He did mot want to offend any. Umar is still at crossroads. Should he extend the olive branch to his boss’ perceived foes or continue to antagonise them? This is a big puzzle. When he was sworn-in, he promised not to betray the trust reposed in him by his boss, adding that he was a “child of circumstance”. As the governor, he is also the acting party leader. But the ruling PDP has witnessed a lull in party activities.
Party chieftains are protesting the legitimacy of the election that brought the state chairman, Mr. Victor Bala, to office. The 67 year-old acting governor is also under stress as he tries to resolve the division in the troubled chapter. It is a hard nut for himto crack. Many think that he has chosen to be on the fence. Umar has promised to continue with Suntai’s programmes. This means that he will not change or appoint any commissioner or adviser. He also said that Suntai’s projects would not be abandoned.
That also means that Umar has not really taken up the gauntlet to be his own man .The acting governor is afraid that, if he attempts a novel programme, he would be accused by Suntai’s men of disloyalty. Umar has consistently submitted that “it is one and the same government”. But his supporters are mounting pressures on him to vie for the governorship in 2015.
This is distracting him from concentrating on the his current assignment. In the last 100 days, the state has witnessed religious and ethnic crises that led to the killing of over 310 persons and destruction of property worth billions of naira. It started in Ibi Local Government Area where a clash between Muslims and Christians left over 10 people dead, and churches, mosques, commercial and residential buildings torched. In Wukari, what started as a mere football pitch argument between two amateur players, sparked an orgy of violence.
The acting governor was sad and infuriated. “I am shock. I am saddened. Everybody is saddened with what has happened”, he said,` after inspecting the scenes of destruction. Umar acknowledged that “the crisis has taken Taraba State several steps backward”. He blamed the hostilities on unemployment and promised to create “thousands of jobs this year to engage the youths, to curb youth restiveness”.
He put traditional rulers and council chairmen on their toes, saying that they would responsible for any violent act in their domain. Local governments in the state depends on the federal allocations to survive. The rural state is poor and internally generated revenue is small. The acting governor said he will pursue an aggressive revenue-generating plan to ensure adequate funds for project funding. Although, he has not put in place for the machineries to generate the internal revenue, he had succeeded in bridging the financial loopholes.
His supporters have applauded his decision to cut down this year’s budget by N436.5 million, when compared with his boss’ appropriation bill of last year. Suntai’s budget for this year was N73.8 billion and Umar’s is N73.4 billion. “I want to avoid a deficit budget, which would give me problems”, he said. Many have alleged that Suntai had starved some ministries of funds and other ministries get more than what is usually appropriated for them in the annual budgets.
Following the allegation of skewed budget implementation, Umar, who described himself a different manager, said that “funds will be released to implement programmes and projects that are only built in the budget”. He also promised to provide monthly running cost for the ministries, which Suntai did not provide for many years. If he does that, he would be putting smiles on the faces of the commissioners. But at the same time, he would have offended his boss. Another challenge is the pressure mounted on him by his allies to dissolve the cabinet and appoint new commissioners and special advisers. But Umar is treading softly.
He has publicly said: “I will continue with everything Suntai”. This means he will not temper with any of Suntai’s appointees, even, if they are not loyal to him. The acting governor has established a cordial relationship with the legislature and the ruling party. The House of Assembly and the party is also supporting him. After he was empowered to act, the lawmakers approved for him a supplementary budget of N10 billion for last year. The Assembly also passed a vote of confidence on the acting governor, describing his leadership approach as legendary.
The PDP national secretariat also applauded him for effective service delivery. Umar has tried to be more frugal with the state resources. He is said to have saved about 30 percent of the state’s wealth. “If he was a profligate, he would not have paid the debts, which the state hitherto owed some banks via less than-transparent processes that resulted into over N3.5 billion overdraft”, said a source. Tackling corruption is a big challenge for Umar. He owes the state vivid explanations on how the flood relief funds were expended.
Before the crash, Governor Suntai had put in place a committee chaired by Umar to ensure that the N400 million given to Taraba by the federal government impacts positively on the flood victims. Unfortunately, the funds were allegedly misappropriated. The affected persons are reportedly crying foul. It has not been easy governing a religious-conscious state where Christians and Muslims fight over the soul of Taraba. Initially, Umar was perceived as a religious chauvinist, when his Muslim brothers jubilated Suntai’s crash with the rumour that the governor had died.
Umar changed the perception when he stopped Muslim-led pressure groups from protesting the prolonged absence of the governor, although the protests would have been to his favour. In his response to those urging him to instigate a process that could make him become the substantive governor, Umar said: “An acting governor is the governor. When you are acting, like in my case, you are the governor. I have all the powers that the constitution gives a governor. I prepared the 2013 budget and I am paying workers’ salaries.
So, what power again? And it is the same government. The only difference is that the people are feeling the absence of my boss.” Umar is uncomfortable with the surging population of aides. His personal aides and those working with his boss often clash over who should do what. He has applied the brakes effectively to prevent both groups from nursing hostile grudges against one another. The acting governor has friends and foes. His friends want him to become the governor.
His foes are aggrieved about the prospect. If he acts well in the absence of Suntai, Umar would silently turn the people’s worry into hope. He has an opportunity to shine; to correct Suntai’s wrongs, complete the projects initiated by his boss and defend his programmes. But, if he fails, he will incur the public anger and make the people feel the absence of the governor.