Plateau State used to be the hotbed of communal clashes in the north-central zone. But not any more. Mark Longyen, the Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity to the state governor, Simon Lalong, spoke to Tobi Soniyi on how the governor was able to persuade the warring communities to embrace peace. Excerpts:
Governor Simon Lalong appeared to have found a solution to the crises that had hitherto bedevilled Plateau State for over a decade. How did he achieve this feat?
The governor merely brought his political goodwill, sincerity of purpose, as well as his experience, knowledge and understanding of the state’s configuration to bare on the ethno-religious crisis in the state. And that was it! For instance, he declared zero tolerance for discrimination and marginalisation against any group within the state and embarked on an all-inclusive government by appointing people into his government from virtually all ethnic and religious divides. The governor has also succeeded in halting the orgy of bloodbath through collaboration with international expert groups that specialize in conflict management, such as the Humanitarian Dialogue. He is also co-operating with security agencies and providing them with the logistics to do their work. The governor is supporting security agencies like the state-owned security outfit tagged “Operation Rainbow,” and the federal government’s “Operation Safe Heaven.” The multiplier effect of this is that all interest groups and security agencies are carried along in the governance and peace processes. As a result of this, agitations based on certain sentiments have been effectively arrested and the people are happy. This explains the peace and security that we have today. This is clearly a departure from the approach adopted by past administration.
How sustainable is this approach?
It is very much sustainable because, apart from the aforementioned approach, the governor has put in place an institutional framework capable of detecting early warming signs of crises and how to nip them in the bud. This was done through the establishment of the Plateau State Peace Building Agency after the bill establishing the agency was passed into law by the state’s house of assembly early in the life of the administration. It is headed by a Director-General, Joseph Lengmang. It is noteworthy that this is the first of its kind in Nigeria and has become a model approach to peace, such that even some crisis-ridden states are already considering replicating same in their states.
Critics argue that apart from the peace and security that you flaunt as your principal’s major achievement, he has nothing else to show in infrastructural development, despite taken N42 billion loans?
The governor can be likened to the Biblical King Solomon, who decided to seek God’s wisdom and not only was divine wisdom given to him, but wealth, fame and other things he did not ask for were added to it. The governor first decided to seek for peace and not only has he got the peace which he sought but all other things were added. Having recognised that peace is the bedrock for any development to take place, he has in the last twenty-six months recorded unprecedented achievements that are visible to the blind and even audible to the deaf and dumb.
Yes, it is true that government has taken some loans worth about N40 billion since inception. The loans were necessitated by his resolve to complete most of the projects he inherited from his predecessor. Those accusing the governor of taking loans have deliberately refused to tell the world that he inherited a suffocating debt burden of over N220 billion. The Lalong administration took the said loans basically for the completion of infrastructural projects for which the immediate past administration had already committed or even mortgaged the state. The criticism can be likened to someone who inflicts injuries on you and turns round to blame you for spending money to treat yourself!
For instance, shortly after losing the governorship election to the APC, the immediate past government hurriedly took a bond of about N30 billion from the capital market. That alone attracts a monthly debt repayment of over N600 million! The PDP government also left a debt of over N20 billion for its intervention projects on federal roads within the state capital, and part of the loan they are blabbing about was channelled to complete these projects since government is a continuum. The last administration also committed itself to a water loan which was later varied to about N12 billion, but it left us with dry taps and bursting pipelines, but we have to service that too with the loans. Most importantly, we inherited arrears of workers’ salaries, pensions and gratuities running into almost one year. The governor had no option but to clear this with loans. In a nutshell, the loans were judiciously used to augment the Paris Club refunds and pay workers’ salary arrears to date, pay pension and arrears of gratuity, as well as to complete the following projects: secretariat flyover, Plateau Hospital roundabout-Dogon Karfe Link Road, Plateau Geographical Information System (PLAGIS), Jos Metropolitan Roads project, Plateau State University (PLASU) Bokkos campus road network project and ultra-modern e-library. Other projects include College of Health Technology Zawan’s e-library, General Hospital Riyom, Kanke General Hospital, General Hospital Mabudi, Olympic size Zaria Road stadium, the governor’s lodge, Asokoro, Abuja, among numerous other projects at various stages of completion.
The Supreme Court has held that allowing caretaker committees to run council is illegal. Why is the governor afraid of conducting council polls?
The opposition is already in court challenging the governor’s decision in court and the cases are still pending before the courts, so it is subjudice. Suffice to say that the governor is a lawyer with a masters degree in law and was once a lawmaker who rose to be speaker of the state’s house of assembly for seven years before. He follows rules of law in whatever he does.
However, it is very ridiculous for anybody to say that the governor is afraid of conducting council elections for fear of losing. The opposition is trying to stampede the governor into holding the election so that they can turn round to accuse him of conducting a sham election or rigging the polls. The governor knows better and will not fall into that trap.
In what other areas has the governor excelled?
The achievements are so many and cut across all the key sectors of the state’s economy, which include agriculture, mining, tourism, education, commerce and industry, but we don’t have the luxury of time and space to contain them. In education, the governo the Plateau State University, Bokkos, which was established over 10 years ago without graduating a single set of students, a lifeline. This culminated in the building of physical infrastructures on campus, accreditation of about 17 courses, while for the first time, convocation was held for its first two sets of students.
In industry and commence, the administration revived state-owned moribund industries, as a means to diversify the state’s economy and bolster internally Generated Revenue (IGR). Thus, the Plateau State Fertilizer Blending Company, Bokkos has been fully revived and is now operating at optimal capacity.
The Plateau Bottling company, established in the 1980s but which became moribund about 25 years ago has been revived. The Panyam Fish, established in the 1950s and once West Africa’s largest fish farm, owned by the state government, but became moribund many decades ago, is being revived in partnership with a private foreign firm, Solbec, for large scale commercial fish production. Plateau Hotel, Jos, is being renovated. The popular Jos Main Market, once West Africa’s commerce destination but burnt down during one of the Jos crises, is right now being repaired.
To boost agriculture, government is trying to repurchase Baric Famrs in order to embark on large scale commercial farming based on the Australian model, while the Jos International Breweries, is fast coming back to life. Some Chinese firms are also partnering with the the state government with a view to reviving the popular Pandam Game Reserve, mining ventures, and the building of housing estates, among others.
Government recently awarded contracts for roads construction across the state’s three Senatorial districts. Work is at advanced stage for others like the Kalong Road Bridge in Shendam, the Rantya-Rafiki Road, the Angwan-Rogo Road network, the Tudun Wada-Kabong Road, Miango Junction-State Low-Cost road, among many others that have been captured already in 2017 budget awaiting take-off. Recently, government awarded new road contracts for Jos metropolis alone worth about N5 billion.
Under healthcare, the state Primary Health Care Development Agency has fully taken off, the inherited new General Hospital projects in Riyom and Kanke have been completed, while that of Mabudi in Langtang South LG is awaiting completion.
The governor has also tackled the challenge of youth employment and entrepreneurship. Right now, the Plateau United Football Club is topping the Nigerian Premier League table and is set to lift the trophy for the first time in nearly two decades since it last won it. The governor has also addressed the challenge of the rising number of unemployed youth and women by establishing the Small, Micro Finance and Medium Enterprises Agency, SMEDA. Within one year of its existence, no fewer than 4000 women and youths have been trained on entrepreneurship, financial literacy and skills acquisition.
The electorate cannot be fooled by opposition propaganda.
Above all, the Rescue Mission was a divine agenda to free the people from eight years of unprecedented impunity and nepotism in Plateau State politics, if the governor can achieve all these in two years, notwithstanding the challenging posed by chronic cash crunch, his achievements in four years will be unsurpassed.
The loans were necessitated by the governor’s resolve to complete most of the projects he inherited from his predecessor.