Cablegate: Taraba: Apathetic State

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

171054Z Feb 04




E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (U) Summary: Taraba State is a microcosm of Nigeria with
over 50 different ethnic groups, great economic potential
from agriculture, solid minerals, and tourism, but poor
administrative management, epileptic infrastructures and
age-long communal violence have militated against the
progress of the state. Governor Jolly Nyame, a Methodist
minister and the only civilian governor since the state was
created in 1991, has many economic and social development
dreams, but his administrations have done little but talk
about them. He owes his continued election successes to his
reputation as a peacemaker, and to more powerful political
forces in the state canceling each other out on communal
grounds. The longstanding armed conflict between Jukuns and
Tivs in the south has abated in the past few months, but
banditry and communal conflict still occur in many areas.
End Summary.


2. (SBU) On January 13-16 PolCouns traveled to Taraba State
in the northeast, one of the largest states in Nigeria and
one of the most underdeveloped. Electricity is haphazard,
and public water so scarce that residents rely on water
vendors carrying jerricans for their daily consumption, even
in the state capital Jalingo. An aide to Governor Nyame told
us that he and other residents in Jalingo buy water without
knowing its source, even though the nearby streams and wells
where the water is drawn may be contaminated. Landline
telephones are rare, and there are no mobile phone services.
There are very few banks. At first impression, Taraba
appears to be severed from the rest of Nigeria.

3. (SBU) Official business at the Government House was
lackadaisical. Most of the state officials appeared
incompetent in their jobs, and some did not even know the
state very well. Several planned a day trip to one far
corner of the state that the Governor wanted PolCouns to see,
for example, only for the PolCouns' party to point out,
comparing the plan to a map, that driving over 800 miles in
eight hours through the mountains was impossible. As it
turned out, none of the planners had ever been to those
places, and none had looked at where they were on a map.
Most Taraba state "experts" we met knew little about what was
going on in their portfolios, and the only member of the
Governor's cabinet who was reputed to be effective in any
way, a medical doctor who has been Commissioner of Health,
was recently booted upstairs from health to public relations.
At least the clinics he had built across the state are still


4. (SBU) Governor Nyame has a cabinet of 22 commissioners,
many of whom have overlapping portfolios. A Commissioner of
Works is supposed to build roads, but so is the Commissioner
of Roads. An aide to Governor Nyame told PolCouns that
Taraba has more political appointees than most states in
Nigeria, and complained, "Apart from receiving fat salaries
and wages, one wonders what they actually do." Apparently
not build or repair roads; PolCouns' party transversed most
of the state over three days, and the only road workers seen
were local children filling in potholes by hand and asking
passing motorists for handouts.

5. (U) Road maintenance is problematic across Nigeria, in
part because the responsibility is divided between national,
state and local governments that have very different planning
systems. Local Government Areas get essentially patronage
money from the states and have some revenues of their own,
and the few local government-built roads seen in Taraba were
in fair condition.

6. (U) State government gets most of its money in a form of
revenue sharing from the federal government, but is not sure
how much it will receive when from the feds. As a result,
only well-run state governments have the road contracts
planned and ready when the money reaches the state till to
pay for them. One aide to the Governor, Ibrahim Yarobo,
pointed out that Nyame has not constructed even one road
since the beginning of his second term in 1999. The state
roads we traveled were in appalling condition; they were hard
to drive at 40 mph, let alone the 100 mph the Taraba planners
would have wished.

7. (U) National roads are maintained on a scheduled basis,
with adjustments made to the schedule when there is major
damage to the road, major funding not released by the Central
Bank, or major influence is used in Abuja. Nyame's aide also
said the Governor has not lobbied the feds to rehabilitate
Taraba's one federal road, which spans the state. PolCouns'
party drove the length of it one day, often reaching 60-70
mph for kilometers at a time before slowing down for the next
few kilometers of potholes.


8. (SBU) It appears the administratively impaired Governor
Nyame was re-elected in a mostly free and fair election in
2003, rather the opposite of the Governor in neighboring
Gombe (reftel) who has done much better for his citizens but
was probably rigged in. There appear to be two answers, both
related to communal conflict that has wracked the state for
several years. Governor Nyame is a Methodist minister, and
has emphasized and succeeded at reducing those conflicts.
Also, the war and enmity between Taraba's largest two tribes,
the Tivs and Jukuns, in the more populous southern half of
the state have canceled out their two candidates for
governor, leaving the field to Nyame, a minority Mumuye from
the northern town of Zing.

9. (SBU) The only practical zing Nyame has shown in office
has been in mediation and the construction or rehabilitation
of medical centers for most major towns of the State.
Impractically, Nyame is full of ideas. The Governor lectured
PolCouns on exploiting Taraba's mineral resources almost
literally while the police were arresting the only miners at
work in Taraba. They were illegals, in the sense that the
GON makes registration of land titles and mineral rights
(other than oil and gas) almost prohibitively difficult and
expensive. The other project Nyame pressed on PolCouns for
foreign investment was the construction of a huge dam and
hydroelectric plant on the Mambilla Plateau. Nyame said that
he needed 4 billion USD for the project, and that at 4,000
megawatts it would produce roughly as much electricity as
Nigeria consumes. Nyame lamented that American companies had
studied the project, but had not invested even after
receiving feasibility studies and other necessary

10. (SBU) Nyame travels frequently outside the state to Abuja
and abroad, supposedly in pursuit of foreign investment.
Most Tarabans, including his staff, said he spends more time
outside the state than inside. He reportedly was originally
a close ally of VP Atiku, but now prefers Babangida. In 2000
he narrowly survived an impeachment attempt by the State
Legislature during a bitter dispute over legislative finances
and allowances. Nyame was first elected governor 1991-93,
and worked for the Methodist Church before and after that.
He received a Bachelor of Divinity from the Theological
College, University of Jos, a Certificate in Administration
from Emory University, and a Higher Diploma in Theology from
University of Jos in 1980. Nyame was born in Zing on
Christmas Day, 1955.

--------------------------------------------- --
--------------------------------------------- --

11. (U) Nyame and leaders of various Taraba NGOs told
PolCouns that the age-long triangular conflict between Jukuns
and Tivs and between Jukuns and Kutebs has greatly subsided.
Nyame said his background as a clergyman coupled with his
childhood upbringing had helped him to broker a peace among
the warring factions. His father was a medical assistant who
welcomed and treated patients in villages from all segments
of the society, regardless of tribe or religion. He
mentioned that efforts were being made to address grievances,
especially on land disputes. He had given the Tivs, long
excluded from state government, one cabinet slot, and the
Tivs' traditional ruler (the Tor Tiv in Benue State) made
Nyame a chief in the tribe.

12. (U) The Taraba NGO leaders collectively agreed, in a
meeting with PolCouns, that security was still a major
concern in the State despite relative peace between Jukuns
and their rivals. Periodic fighting among communities over
land ownership, leadership tussles and ethnic domination was
common, and nomadic Fulani fought with farmers over land
control. Other nomads wandering seasonally down from Chad
added to both disputes and banditry, and they were the best
armed. Two days before PolCouns arrived in Jalingo, a senior
state official was attacked on the highway.


13. (U) There is much beauty in Taraba State, however, as
well as untapped development potential. One example was the
Highland Tea factory on the large and fertile Mambilla
Plateau, about 4000 feet above sea level in the mountains
about 6 hours from Jalingo by road. Present and past
Nigerian presidents reportedly have farmhouses there,
including Obasanjo and Babangida.

14. (U) With better marketing and distribution, Highland Tea
could become a serious tea exporter. It already ships bulk
tea through Chad and Niger to Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia,
but it only has a 5 percent market share in Nigeria for its
branded and packaged tea. The plantations and factory were
established in the 1970s, the factory maintains a consciously
chosen combination of old and new technology. They dropped
mechanical picking machines for local workers picking by
hand, to protect the tea bushes and to gain local favor.
They dropped their old diesel electricity generators in favor
of high-tech wood burning stoves for the critical
drying/fermentation process. Its tasters (a rather technical
skill in chemical balance as well as flavor, somewhat akin to
winemaking) are trained in the UK, although the company
believes training in the US would be better.

15. (SBU) Marketing is their weak point. Highland Tea staff
said Lipton and other foreign brands sold in Nigeria are
actually blended in Nigeria mostly or completely from
Nigerian teas. Highland Tea is the only producer in Nigeria
selling under its own brand. Governor Nyame hopes Nigerians
and foreigners will make the tea popular. His apathetic
state government does little to make that happen.

16. (SBU) Taraba State owns the two year-old Jalingo Motel,
the only hotel for foreigners or middle-class Nigerians in
the state. Its restaurants, however, do not serve the
state's Highland Tea. They also do not serve any of the
dishes on their menus, although Highland Tea is not
advertised there either. Electricity (generated by the
hotel) is turned on at 2:00am and turned off at 6:00 am. The
cooks have gas stoves, but said they do not buy the foods
necessary to make the dishes on their menu because nobody
comes to Taraba to eat them. The hotel desk cheerily said
management runs the generators on the schedule it does (when
people are asleep) to save electricity. Like Taraba State as
a whole, the Jalingo Motel could be appealing if it would
just try a little.

© Scoop Media

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