Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong

Seriki Adinoyi examines the strategies employed by the Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong in tackling security and other challenges he inherited from the previous administration in the state

The initial fear among the people of Plateau State when Simon Lalong, elected on the platform of the All Progressive Congress (APC), mounted the saddle as governor was whether or not he was capable of addressing the challenges confronting the state, especially that of security. There was also the urgent need to improve the living standard of the people through effective policies.

This initial apprehension was more so because the bar of governance was seen to have been raised by his predecessor, Senator Jonah Jang, who was generally believed to have done well in his eight years in office, particularly in terms of infrastructural development.

Armed with experience as a former military administrator of two states before his election as governor of Plateau State, Jang had garnered requisite experiences that helped him excel, especially in the areas of developmental projects and managing the economy. The people’s apprehension was not without basis since Lalong was only assuming such position for the first time. Besides, he came at a time that the nation was confronted with severe economic hardship.

But within two years in office, Lalong had proven himself to be an excellent administrator. In return, the people have come to build confidence in him as a leader with strong and reliable economic strategies that withstood the challenges posed by the economic downturn bedevilling the entire nation. His remarkable developmental projects have also strengthened the hope of the people in the rescue mission of his administration.

Perhaps, the people have more reasons to believe in Lalong’s strategies having witnessed the miraculous way he restored peace to the hitherto restive state. Plateau, for over a decade – before the advent of Lalong’s administration, knew no peace. It was either ethno-religious crises, Boko Haram attacks, cattle rustling or herdsmen attacks. Each left the state desolate – with harvest of deaths and loss of property. The state had more to lose as investors were scared away by the crises with devastating effect on the economy.

Fact is that without peace and security, nothing tangible could be achieved. Lalong’s first assignment was to restore peace to the state. Working with all arms of security agencies, the governor initiated series of town hall meetings and consultations with all stakeholders. He specifically held consultative meetings with the Berom and Fulani communities amongst others.

These significant steps resolved some of the crises that had bedeviled the state by entrenching peace, unity and security of lives and property. He institutionalised peace building by creating a proactive agency known as the Plateau Peace Building Agency – a significant shift from the reactionary pattern he inherited. Today, Plateau is in peace.

Testifying to the lasting peace institutionalized by Lalong, a,former Commissioner of Information in the state, Honourable Yakubu Dati said, “The enduring peace in the state in which there has been about twenty (20) consecutive months without any serious crisis has restored confidence to the business community in the state, and this has in no small measure, improved businesses and economy of Plateau.”

Of all Lalong’s achievements, perhaps the one that elated the civil servants in the state the most was the recent clearing of the entire backlog of salaries owed them and the payment of pensioners. Some of these salaries were actually inherited from the previous administration.

While civil servants are excited that they now have hopes of being paid their wages as at when due, the real implication of the salary payment economically is that with the injection of about N5 billion into the state economy by the governor in the first instant, after such a long period of lack of money in circulation, the economy was lubricated in several ways.

With such money in circulation, landlords that were owed by civil servants got paid their rents, school fees were paid by parents, market women had their goods sold and so on. This, by no small measure improved the economy and quality of life in the state.

Going forward, the governor also paid debts of some contracts liabilities and by so doing contractors went back to sites. Some contracts that have direct bearing on the lives of the people which were started by the last administration such as road projects, renovation of schools and hospitals, amongst others, were resumed.

With the recent Paris Club refunds, many of such contractors were remobilised to go back to sites. This singular act has a multiplier effect on the economy; labourers were engaged, supplies of materials were made by those selling materials and all these in turn boosted the economy.

The recent passage of the Consolidated Revenue Harmonisation Bills into law by the state House of Assembly is seen as another laudable policy by the Lalong administration. The bills were about six in number. Each of them has the potential of improving the state revenue generation drive.

For instance, the harmonisation of tax collection bill has enhanced tax compliance. Previously, the complaint was that there were duplication of tax collections; state government collected, local government councils collected while revenue agencies also collected. But it is now harmonised such that it becomes centrally collected.

This, of course has the benefit of improving compliance. When tax payment is user-friendly, there is likely going to be more compliance. So, it is expected that more compliance will be seen with the harmonisation, and that will translate into higher revenue generation for the state to augment the declining revenue from the federation account.

In the 2017 budget, 48 percent was dedicated to capital expenditure and 52 percent to recurrent. In the past, recurrent got as much as 70 percent while 30 per cent was left for capital. But the Lalong administration is trying to ensure that more money goes into capital projects. This has a far reaching implication. For instance, 20 percent of the budget which is about N16 billion, goes into Ministry of Works and Transport. If government can truly spend that on infrastructure it will accelerate development and generate employment. The government will be able to construct roads into the interior thereby enabling farmers to bring their harvests to the markets.

About 14 new roads are lined up in the budget for construction and they are in addition to the 16 ongoing roads by the previous administration. Health and social sectors also got good attention in the budget. By this, the ongoing referral hospital projects in the three senatorial zones will receive attention.

In addition, the recent decision by the state government to extend business development strategies to the rural communities, where 70 percent of the population live, is one that has also received accolades from policy observers in the state.

With such a high population in the rural area, business development should not be restricted to urban settlements to the disadvantage of the 70 percent of the population in the local areas, as witnessed in the past. The consequence is critical economic development imbalance that could had affected the state in no small measure.

Government therefore realised that it should not only be concerned with building of roads, bridges, clinics in the rural areas without attention to their economic development; it should also be concerned about how their small and medium scale businesses are performing.

This eye opener informed a recent partnership between the state Ministry of Local Government and Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale (GIZ). The partnership, through a consultant, assessed the business environment in each of the local government areas with a view to understanding their challenges, and to draw the attention of the leadership of the council to the quality of business in their local government environments, so that they will begin to develop their businesses too, and to generate revenue for the councils.

In the past, the local government councils simply collected tax from shop owners and other businesses, not bothering whether or not they survived. Whenever the councils feel like increasing their revenues they simply descend on those shops and market places which they never bothered to know how they survived. They never sat down with their business community to ask them what their problems were. With this development, the era when councils only collect tax from businesses in their areas without recourse to how the businesses thrive was over.

There was therefore recent official launch of the state’s local government business environment scorecard, titled ‘Deepening Economic Development for Peace and Stability in Plateau State’. It was funded by the European Union (EU), and implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale (GIZ).

At the event, the lead consultant of the state’s local government Business Environment Scorecard, Chief Ezekiel Gomos, said the project was a novel one, which was crafted along the World Bank Annual Doing Business reports, aimed at examining the quality of business environment by measuring the ease of doing business in about 200 countries of the world.

Gomos said, “The goal is to enhance business enabling environment through self-awareness of local regulatory and economic governance”, adding that “we were able to sensitize and create awareness among stakeholders in the LGA.” He added that Plateau was the first state in the country to embark on such strategy of raising business awareness of the rural communities.

The Plateau Investment and Property-development Company limited (PIPC), which was revived by the Lalong’s government, on its part has contributed in no small measure to the laudable economic achievements of the government, especially in terms of generating revenue.

The company, has in the last one year, given out over land to assist people in building their houses. It even went further to provide electricity and water. It has also played critical roles in reviving moribund companies like the Highland Bottling Company which was abandoned for about 21 years, and the Jos International Breweries (JIB) which is now being audited in order to hold meetings with private investors.

These various strides of the governor have earned him commendation from the state’s Economic Advisory Council (EAC), which in a recent statement, extoled his prudent management of the state’s financial resources in the face of declining revenues, and his ability to successfully pay the salaries of the state’s public servants and pension arrears at a time when most states in Nigeria are finding it difficult to meet such basic obligations.