‘We’re Determined to Change Plateau from a Civil Service State’

Simon Bako Lalong

Seriki Adinoyi holds a conversation with Governor Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau State who also doubles as Chairman, Northern Governors Forum on measures being taken to restore the much needed peace to the region

Why is it taking so long to constitute your cabinet?

We had an arrangement to properly prepare for the next four years. In the preparation for the next four years, we had to come up with a development plan. When people ask why we are delaying, my response is that it’s not about rushing and putting a cabinet, it is about the focus for what we want to do in the next four years. When I came in for my second tenure, I had to engage Boston Consulting Group (BCG) for a development plan for the people of Plateau State and they have done that.

They just concluded and submitted the report; we are now studying their recommendations on what will be the focus and direction of government this time around, especially in terms of economic empowerment. It’s on the basis of this direction that I am selecting my commissioners. I will now decide what kind of ministry, what kind of arrangement and combination will best deliver for our people. I have already started because immediately I got the preliminary report, I set the ball rolling and I quickly appointed the Secretary to the Government and the Chief of Staff who are the engine room. Technically, like I said during the swearing in of the Secretary to the Government and Chief of Staff, I have finished my cabinet. I am only waiting for Mr. Speaker who travelled out the country. As soon as he is back, I will submit it to him, you know the house of assembly is a powerful place, you don’t submit to any one, you submit it to Mr. Speaker. Very soon, you will hear the announcement and screening of commissioners.

Once they are screened and confirmed, we would now set the ball rolling and continue the implementation of the economic plan of the state. These are some of the things that delayed the appointment of commissioners. You know for politicians, some will say, I want to be there, I want to be here, this is not the issue of where you want to be. It is the issue of what we can do for the people of Plateau State in the next four years. We have finished the first phase of our Rescue Agenda. In the next four years, we are moving to the last part of consolidating and leaving lasting legacies as we take the state to the next level.

During your first tenure, you strategized on Five-Point Agenda. Now, you’ve pruned it down to three. Why?

You should understand that the first tenure was also part of taking over from another administration, and so we created partly to look at what we inherited and then examine some of the challenges that were on ground. Therefore, the Five-Point Policy Thrust was to help us carry a holistic approach of what we promised the people. You know when you are doing campaign, you will promise the people many things and by the time you get into the office, you see a different picture which you were not privy to. In that scenario, we had to come up with the Five Pillar Thrust to help us settle down for governance.

Now after staying in office for four years and we are coming back for another tenure, we realized that we have taken care of some of the challenges we inherited.  Having taken care of such things, you now have to remain focused for the remaining four years as you cannot do everything, but at least you must do about 60% to 70%. I always don’t want to say I am perfect but I must strive to do my best within the level of a ‘B’, or an ‘A’. If I get a ‘B’, fine but if I get an ‘A’, that is excellent, and so that is what I am trying to do. Now, we have reduced the Five Pillar Thrust to Three namely: Peace, Security and Good Governance; Physical Infrastructural Development; and Sustainable Economic Rebirth.

What is that strategy that has brought about economic growth and increased revenue generation in the state?

We have put in a lot of strategies. First, I told you that we engaged the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to prepare a development plan which they have finished now. After the development plan, we are also planning an Economic Summit which I think is going to be the first of its kind in Plateau State. Secondly, in terms of revenue, I have also engaged a consultant, the woman who did the magic for Kaduna State, Mrs. Ofueko Omoigui Okauru who was one time Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service. She is already in Plateau State to prepare and put in facilities for the improvement of our revenue and that will take another four years so we are not joking when we say, we are determined to take away Plateau from being a civil service state and that is why when we mention economic rebirth, we are talking about infrastructure and enabling environment. When you create this kind of environment for people, the private sector will invest. If you continue to say we are a civil service state and you go and sit down in your office and wait for 4 O’clock and then you leave after eating lunch that does not make the state productive. We are thinking out of the box. As a civil servant you must be able to get something doing outside that office that is why we are emphasizing on skill acquisition and a lot of other empowerment programmes.

The Plateau State Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency (PLASMEDA) is doing very well, engaging people and we have done a lot of sensitization saying to our people, don’t just be a civil servant. Be a civil servant with something extra that you are doing, we are emphasizing on agriculture. We are saying, even as a civil servant, it doesn’t stop you from farming, it doesn’t stop you from getting a loan to do something outside the civil service and so a lot of it is coming through empowerment which we doing.

I have not been a civil servant in the past, I will say like my friend El-Rufai that I am also an accidental public servant because I have been in the private sector all the time. When I came in, I realised that even if you are doing something, you must prepare for the rainy day or a bad day so that you know that either way, if there is no salary or something unusual happens, you have something to fall back on rather than always sitting down saying that we are not going to do this because we are civil servants. I have done my best in terms of salaries, compared to what is happening in most of the states.

Do you think the mindset of people is changing in this regard?

I must say I am very happy because without the cooperation of the people, we would not achieve what we are doing. I thank them for the level of cooperation particularly in ensuring that there is peace in the state, but I am emphasizing that we should do more just as I am also doing my best.

Peace has substantially returned to Plateau after about one decade of crisis. How do you intend to maintain the image of the original Plateau as the Home of Peace and Tourism?

We have done a lot in terms of addressing the causes of the problem and sustaining the peace. Sustaining peace goes along with dealing with poverty. I have noticed that there is abject poverty. You see, stomach insecurity leads to physical insecurity and we have a lot of youths out there who are not working. So we have a special package, you can see that we are the only state that created a Peace Building Agency. We are developing that to sustain the peace and conflict management in the state. I have mentioned that you must always find ways of empowering people. When you empower people, you get them off the street, but the moment you leave them roaming about, they become very vulnerable. They can be used for a peanut. That is why you see youths engaging in several vices that are detrimental to the society.

As part of the scheme, we are also talking about industrialization. We must make Plateau an industrial state by creating the enabling environment and then people will come and invest in the state. I have always said that each time you sit down and you claim to be driving people away from your state, you lose. If Lagos was like that, Lagos will not be the way it is today. We should not drive people away from our state. We are Plateau people but we need investors to come to the state, why are we calling investors to come, if we then turn around to create an unviable environment? It is the responsibility of government to sit down and fish out criminals within us whether they are indigenes or not.

We are doing very well with the security apparatus and we are also empowering and expanding our Operation Rainbow in case we wake up one day and the Federal Government says we are withdrawing Operation Safe Haven. That’s why I am preparing. Already, I have an advantage, when people talk about State Police, I say I have Operation Rainbow which functions in a similar fashion. All I need is to enhance the capacity of the Operation Rainbow which we are doing right now. I am very happy the Federal Government is already talking about community policing, which has been an idea I support all along. We are engaging and employing people from each local government or each community to serve as informant and that way we will help in sustaining the peace we have in the state.

We are also addressing volatile areas. You can see that we have already established a Mobile Police Squadron in Shendam, we have established Air Force Search and Rescue Unit at Kerang, Mangu local government area, and I am already preparing to finish the establishment of another Mobile Police Squadron in Gashish, Barkin Ladi Local Government Area.

You are also the Chairman of Northern Governors Forum and quite a lot is happening in the North. How are you tackling insecurity in the region?

That is another big challenge. When I was elected as the Chairman of Northern Governors Forum, I said, I have a headache here in Plateau State and another headache added. However, I said by the grace of God, I would do my best by applying the wisdom that he gave us to deal with the security challenge here in Plateau state. Through dialogue, consultation, reconciliation and application of effective early warning system to deploy preventive security measures, peace has substantially returned to plateau state. We are determined to sustain this and ensure that it becomes a model for other states in the country particularly in the north to copy. Many of them are already coming to us to understudy how we have restored peace and engendered confidence for investors to return to the state. If you recall, from the very day I was appointed the Chairman of Northern Governors Forum, I set up a committee on security chaired by Governor of Katsina State, Aminu Bello Masari. Since then, he has also had to contend with insecurity in his state. However, that committee is working very well. We will soon have a meeting of the Northern Governors Forum which will be my first formal meeting to receive the report of the committee and decide the way forward.

Right now, we have the challenges of banditry, cattle rustling and kidnapping which are very prevalent in the North. So we shall be receiving the report of the committee and also preparing for a Northern Security Summit. Aside from that I have always been in touch with the Inspector General of Police. He is doing well because part of the recommendations we made so far, they are implementing it. I attended the meeting of the North West Security Council and it was very wonderful. In some cases you need dialogue to succeed, because it is not about always responding with confrontation. I will ensure that the success of such engagement is extended to the North Central.

The IG has gone to the South West where he did the same thing. We are preparing to have our own in the North Central just like the North East is already established even as it is taken care of by the Federal Government. One of the areas too that we saw that is a problem and needs to be tackled is the Almajiri system. We have set up a committee that will bring out how to address the Almajiri system because in a society where you leave a large population that is doing nothing but roaming the streets, that is another cause of insecurity not only in the North but in the nation at large. We have also set up a committee to look at it, and once we conclude on the issue of the Almajiri which also goes with the issue of unemployment, we shall have some respite.