- Jang left us with N305bn debts, liabilities
Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State had cut his teeth in politics in the legislature having served as member of the House of Assembly between 1999 and 2006 and was speaker between 2000 and 2006. He was chairman of the Conference of Speakers between 2005 and 2006. Lalong, who obtained his first degree in law from the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria and a masters in law from the University of Jos, was not just a soccer buff but also a player who played alongside Nduka Ugbade, captain of Nigeria’s 1985 Under-16 World Cup winning team, originally known as Baby Eagles. Governor Lalong, in this interview in Abuja, speaks on issues pertaining to governance, his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC and how his soccer career was truncated. Excerpts:
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
My peace and tourism agenda
If you don’t have peace, you can’t get tourism. Plateau was known as the home of Peace and Tourism. As part of our five Pillar Trusts when we came in, Peace and Security was number one. The first thing we did was to try to maintain peace in the region. We tried to engender peace between the Fulanis and the Beroms. We went as far as establishing a committee to handle their problem.
We proposed the Bureau for Conflict Management and the law necessary to put it in place is about to be signed. With the help of various organisations, and civil societies, we were able to contain the issue of insecurity in the state. Some former war torn areas are now free areas for the people. In the area of tourism, we are really working on increasing the tourist potentials of the state especially Wild life, the Pandam Wild Life Park which is untapped, the Wase Rock and others.
We just finished a one-week retreat and one of the areas of discussion was commerce and tourism. For example, we are planning on rebuilding the Main Market.
The campaign to revamp the solid mineral sector
Before, nobody was bothered about solid mineral resources, we left it to illegal miners, but now, this is the time to go outside the box. The state used to be the headquarters of the Nigerian Mining Corporation, and that will tell you the importance of mining to the people of the state. In the days of old when people were talking about groundnut and cocoa, we were beating our chests and talking about mining, that was why Jos became very important nationwide. With the fall in the price of oil, we decided to return to mining.
When the minister for solid minerals visited the state, he told me that the best input he got from contributions as to ways of improving the solid mineral industry was from Jos. Those contributions helped us at the National Economic Council, NEC, and formed the bedrock of the policies concerning solid minerals at both the federal and state levels.
Virtually every local government in the state has solid minerals. Unlike before, the president is very much interested in upholding the law and has stated that the states must participate in the exploration of solid minerals within their own territories.
We, on the plateau are also working on how to take advantage of the policies concerning revenue generation with respect to solid minerals.
My relationship with members of other political parties
First of all, I will say that Plateau is a very unique state in the sense that when they want to do something, they do it. It is also a very religious state, that is why you don’t find many cases of corruption in our state.
Prior to the election, due to the situation of things, many indigenes of the state had already decided that they needed a ‘Change’. I used to be Speaker under the PDP for seven years but due to the unsatisfactory state of things within the party, some of us had to join the opposition-APC.
We won the election due to the collective opinion of Plateau indigenes and the hard work of the APC. What we are planning to do is to join hands with everybody including members of other parties to handle the Plateau together as a project, thereby bringing in hope, equity and justice among people of the state.
Gains of anti-corruption war on the Plateau
I have said it severally. The fact that you are not hearing anything in that line does not mean that we are not fighting corruption on the Plateau. We have sent in several cases to the EFCC and ICPC.
The Accountant-General just came in today and he is from the EFCC. They were called to come and give evidences about some investigations that are going on. We have a lot of investigations going on and we have had a lot of arrests, many of them from the past administration are on bail. At the appropriate time, EFCC will prosecute.
We formed a transition committee which came out and told the plateau people about their findings. We have submitted some of our reports to the EFCC, and also commissioned a reputable accounting firm, KPMG to help in auditing the state. At the appropriate time when the results are out, you will see the outcome.
Recently, we recovered about 2.7 billion of the state money that was regarded as lost. We traced and recovered the money which was meant for teachers. Teachers, civil servants, the judiciary have gone on several months of strike, some nine, some 11 but now, since I came on board, we did our best. We now have arrears of salaries of only two months. For teachers, we paid all, they are back to work. The judiciary is also back to work.
Bailout funds and outstanding salaries
Before the issue of bailout, we had already started paying workers in the state and when the issue of bailout came, we applied for 10 billion which was supposed to be for the arrears of salaries for about eight to nine months and so far, we have only received five billion.
Plateau was supposed to get 10 billion for salaries and 10 billion for infrastructure but all we have got so far from the CBN is five billion.
Even with that, we have been able to clear most of the arrears of salaries. We only have an outstanding of two months salaries not paid, that is for the state.
We have paid all the outstanding salaries for all our local governments. If I am able to get my balance of five billion, within a week, all the remaining salaries outstanding would have been cleared.
Concerning roads, when I came in, I inherited a debt of about 200 billion and also outstanding contract liabilities of over 105 billion naira and all we met was just about 95 million Naira. Uncompleted projects were all littered everywhere including the main entrance to Jos City itself.
The contract was given but it was abandoned. What I did was to start completing those projects. There was an uncompleted flyover bridge in Jos which we have now completed to the amazement of many; the main roads are all under construction.
If I am able to get my bailout, I will be able to complete most of the projects and even engage in new ones.
Advantages of Treasury Single Accounts
Well, in Plateau, we are already implementing TSA. Immediately I heard the president mentioning TSA, I called my Accountant-General and told him to immediately implement TSA in my state. I am not an accountant but immediately I became aware of both the advantages and disadvantages of TSA, I gave the instruction that it should be implemented.
I organised a committee immediately and today, TSA is being implemented. I don’t know why some governors are finding it difficult to implement TSA in their states but out of the TSA implementation in our state, we have gained some dividends. We are now tracing some accounts that were not known to us before and we are seeing some excesses in those accounts, especially in some of the ministries. So, I will advise other states that have not yet implemented TSA to start doing so.
Declining popularity of the APC among Nigerians due to slow implementation of policies in the past eight months
Well, I will say I am worried because of the kinds of complaints that are coming and also because of the impatience of Nigerians. If you begin to compare the state of the nation before the election, you will understand what the president is facing.
Before 2014, the cost per barrel of oil in this country was above 140 dollars, but today it is just about 28 dollars with the same budget and responsibilities, and in my state, the same salaries.
In the last seven or eight years, allocation to my state was about five to eight billion, but today, with a salary cost of about 1.8 billion, our monthly allocation is just between 1.6 to two billion. We know people are expecting change but they should also understand the economic situation. I think we need to be patient. With the reform that’s going on the expected change will come but it may not be immediate. Let us give ourselves at least one year and see what the president and states are doing.
If you are fighting corruption, it will also fight you. The people of Plateau know what I am going through. There are frustrations here and there. Sometimes, people, when called upon by the EFCC , refuse to come and give evidence when it is very glaring. They refuse and run away and this makes it difficult to prosecute. Fighting corruption is a sacrifice that everyone must do if we have to make this country work.
On his soccer career
I used to be a footballer. I played alongside Nduka Ugbade but I could not further due to my education. When I came in, within two to three weeks, I was able to take Plateau United to the premiership division. Concerning other sports, we are trying our best to support based on our present capability. When I came on board, I inherited a big, uncompleted stadium but I decided to go ahead and complete it and by the time we are done, even the Super Eagles will be able to use it for training, considering the weather and accommodation. Last year, we had a golf tournament, ‘The Governor’s Cup’. The turnout was more than expected.
Presidential foreign trips and benefit to Nigerian economy
I don’t see anything wrong with it. Presently, I am granting an interview in Abuja and not in Jos. If I didn’t travel to Abuja from Jos, who will fight for my bailout? For example, foreigners have stopped coming to Jos due to insecurity.
If you want private investors, you have to travel all the way to Abuja because that’s where the foreigners are. That is also exactly what Mr. President is doing. He is trying to attract private investors into the country to do business.
He has been invited to several workshops and seminars. It is not because he travelled that a problem occurred with the budget.
On the judiciary impeding anti-corruption war
If there are allegations against a profession like that it is good to be specific. Each profession has a way of disciplining their members. This means that there are members who are recalcitrant.
So, it is better to name those lawyers, arrest, investigate and prosecute them. I also have been detained by EFCC in 2005/2006 for more than 40 days before I was later prosecuted, discharged and acquitted by the Supreme Court. All because I wanted to follow due process with regards to illegal impeachment. I was speaker then.
What is the place of women in your government?
In the APC manifesto, which we also imbibed in our state, we have something called the three Es- Empowerment, Engagement and Employment for youths and women.
We have two female commissioners and seven female permanent secretaries, who are doing excellently well. So, we are taking good care of women affairs in the state.