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Abel Peter Diah is the speaker of Taraba State House of Assembly for the third consecutive time. In this interview with some journalists in Jalingo, shortly after the inauguration of the 9th Assembly, the vice chairman Nigeria state Houses of Assembly Speakers’ Conference spoke on the development of his constituency, Mbamnga, and the insecurity that has engulfed the state. NATHANIEL GBAORON brings the excerpts:
How were you able to sustain the assembly within a long period as a speaker without rancour or hitches?
I will first of all appreciate you, the members of the press; you are part of the magic in Taraba State because whatever you report here is a balanced reportage; you have given the House of Assembly fair hearing. Each time you want to report about the state assembly you must confirm from the authorities before publication. Now, coming back to the assembly, if you really want to succeed as a presiding officer, the first thing you must know is that you are leading people of your equal, you’re not their boss. When you know this you won’t have problem with them. But when you want to boss them that is where you will have problems. You count it a privilege when people that are elected along side with you say come and lead us; I think it is a very great honour. To me, I think the secret is me leading with the consciousness that we are all equal; we represent our various constituencies and to also know that Taraba State is bigger than all of us. I tried my best to operate an open door policy, have a listening ear to all my colleagues, relating very well with them even at official capacity and personal level above all, I am always there for my colleagues; that’s the most important thing.
You were appointed a member of the presidential committee on the reforms of the legislature; can you tell us what the committee is all about?
Well, the committee has five terms of reference. One is to monitor the implementation of the fourth alteration. We have done our retreat and very soon we will submit the report to Mr. President, that is when I will speak about the committee; but for now, our report is yet to be unveiled, but we have a very good report to present to Mr. President.
What are the terms of reference?
Like I said, the most important among all of them is to monitor the implementation of the fourth alteration that is the first line charge; also, to come out with a model that the entire country will adopt when it comes to the implementation of the fourth alteration. It is not as if they are separating the government, no! There is still going to be one government with one head. The governor is still the head just that the mode of operation is going to be different.
The Executive in Taraba has completely neglected sporting activities in the state; what is the Taraba State House of Assembly doing about this?
No; I will not indict the executive to say they are doing nothing about sports. I won’t be party to that. It can only come to my knowledge officially that they’re doing nothing about it but for now, the committee saddled with that responsibility has not reported to me that the Taraba State government or the executive arm is doing nothing about it.
There were outpour of praises both from the executive and your colleagues when you were returned as speaker; how do you feel?
Well, I feel humbled by their kind comments. My primary assignment is my constituency. If you go to my constituency now, to tell you that I was not working because I wanted votes, after the election work commenced; they are working seriously on the roads in Mbamnga and we are doing a lot of things there in my constituency; that’s my primary constituency. They pass a vote of confidence in me right from my constituency. So, coming to my re-election as speaker, I think I feel humbled that my colleagues after four years of my speakership made very kind comments about me. I know the assemblies where colleagues will use even the Mace to hit themselves in a session. There are some presiding officers that within two weeks to the end of the legislative tenure, they were removed by their colleagues. But I am highly honoured and I think it is a trust I should not betray. I hold their words with high regard and from my own side. As they have re-elected me, I will give them the best leadership I know I can exhibit. For now, I want to solicit cooperation from the press that Taraba is our own. To my colleagues, I will not betray the confidence reposed in me.
What are your major challenges in the last dispensation and how will you rate the media performance in the state?
I will start from the last question, I think the media in Taraba State are doing very well; majority of them are not from Taraba State but they love Taraba because each time they want to report about Taraba State they try to be very objective and that has sustained not only this government but all other governments before now. Because of your objectivity which my prayer is that you uphold that because without the press the society is in darkness; each time you supply the society with wrong information that is what they go with, though I know you’re in serious trouble because the social media has taken away your job; we have journalists all over the state, what they will even write today will be different from what the real journalists will write but that is something we all have to battle with, because I have told people that if there is something we have that is more dangerous, it is the social media; it is worst than Boko Haram because of fake news. What they will tell you about the society and individual is terrible. As far as am concerned, I can only deal with the professionals, people that are licensed to do that and that’s why anytime we have an occasion like this, we invite you.
What is the most challenging moment of the Assembly?
The most challenging moment of our responsibility here is insecurity. When we had insecurity in Taraba State was the challenging moment of the 8th Assembly because people made very provocative comments about your personality and if you want to join them in the media you tear the state apart. As a leader, you take responsibility and keep quiet. Is quite very painful when people are painting lies which are meant to dent your image but you know, ‘a clear conscience fears no accusation’. There is always a time of reckoning and he who has that must prove so for the fact that you go to the media and say what you want to say, sometime we leave you to say what you want. But the most challenging time for me was the period we went through and we are still into it. The security challenge we went through in this state. I want to use this moment to commend our security agencies; they are doing a very wonderful job and these two days I think we can sleep. Before now, none of us could off our phones; you dared not because you wouldn’t know who you would help next; somebody would just call and say they are about to pick or kidnap the person. Thank God the Army hierarchy was all here recently based on the briefing we had; they have done a very wonderful job and we are very grateful. I think that is the most challenging moment I had.
This time around, what are you going to do to change the thinking by some people that the primary responsibility of the state assembly members was to embark on construction of schools, sinking of boreholes, etc and not just to make laws for the state?
In view of the fact that our primary responsibility is to make laws; you cannot go to a school and see a dilapidated primary school for example and not willing to sacrifice. Our democracy is not yet mature to that level. We have said it time without number that ‘look our responsibility is to make laws’, but you know it requires a lot of talking which we have been doing. But my own constituency like I have said, they know the representation I am giving them and the representation is beyond the roads, hospitals, water, etc, but they know that speaking as somebody who is from that constituency, I am doing very well. For your information, the last election I only went to campaign in Gembu and Ngureje constituencies, I didn’t go to campaign in my own constituency Mbamnga, they delivered me. Is a bond that has been there for long. Am sure if your people see your total commitment, obviously they will vote for you and I want to encourage other constituencies too to emulate same because having somebody that is experienced will help you a lot.