“We stand by Gov. Simon Bako Lalong and we call on Lalong to contest the forthcoming Governorship election”. This is one popular sound bite that is propagated by the generality of Plateau citizens across the State preparatory to the upcoming 2019 elections.
It assumed a bold inscription on banners carried by women and youths in their hundreds from all 17 Local Government Areas in the many solidarity matches to the Government House at Little Rayfield.
The social media too is not left out of the frenzy. It is inundated with clamour for “VOLA 2019” (an acronym for ‘Vote Lalong Again 2019’) by Plateau youths on their handles and group forums.
Many that followed political trajectory in Plateau will not be surprised. It was amazing the way Governor Lalong brought the State together on assumption of office. Especially that the State was coming from an era of contagious acrimony among political elites and demonic mistrust between the senatorial tripods which culminated into divisive leadership.
Governor Simon Bako Lalong came with a vision and a clear cut agenda on how to reposition the State. He began with his 5-point policy thrust, which include peace and security; human capital development; infrastructural development; education; health and tourism; agriculture and rural development.
Ab’initio, skeptics did not give Lalong the chance to successfully weather the storm. He inherited what can best be described as a near failed State as virtually every sector had collapsed. Some concluded with finality that the implementation of the 5-point agenda was an effort that was dead on arrival. He proved critics wrong.
The government of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) bequeathed a State that had over the years been enmeshed in an open-ended ethno-religious crisis. And the worst of all is the unprecedented staggering debt burden of N223.3billion. The precarious situation awed Senator Ibrahim Mantu at the time which forced him to wonder aloud. He doubted if Governor Lalong was aware of the enormity of the problems facing the State before vying for the office of Governor.
Lalong had an unenviable task of turning around the fortunes of the State amidst insecurity and financial challenges which looks insurmountable from a distance. This is taking into consideration the dwindling federal government allocation and internally generated revenue accruing to the State. He was not deterred. The speed at which he was able to rekindle hope and restore plateau to its lost glory was unprecedented.
Within six months of his administration, Lalong succeeded in bringing about relative peace and unity in the State. That was the cardinal point of his 5-point policy thrusts given that peace and security were sine qua non for achieving the remaining four policy agendas.
Governor Bako Lalong demonstrated very honest leadership and height of integrity that is very uncommon in our contemporary times. In spite of the bitter rivalry and apparent opposing political disposition of his predecessor during the 2015 elections, he rise above petty sentiments to completing ongoing projects that were inherited.
The most conspicuous of the critical road infrastructures that were already commissioned include the Mararaban Jema’a/British America Junction; the State Secretariat Flyover Bridge; the Rantya/Rafiki Road network; the Rukuba Road; Agwan Rogo Road; Tudun Wada/Kabong Road; Domkat Bali/Rantya Road, and several others.
Lalong delivered a great performance on the area of welfare of Plateau citizens. The most remarkable is the regular payment of workers’ salaries and clearance of pension arrears. Investigation shows that workers in the State receive salaries on the 25th day of each month when many States in Nigeria today owe accumulative months in salaries.
It is interesting that while Plateau is amongst the States with low federal government allocation, Governor Lalong has managed the resources very well and maintained regular payment of salaries and pensions. An action that engendered the sobriquet of “Governor Alert” attached to him. The integrity of the alert is in its consistency. Try using the ATMs in Jos beginning from 25th day of every month and you will be greeted by long queues. That is the indication that ‘Governor Alert’ has performed.
In the area of commerce and industry, Lalong government entered into agreements and partnership with various firms to resuscitate the burnt Jos Main Market (largest in West Africa); the Jos International Breweries (JIB); Highland Bottling Company; and the Inland Container Depot. This is to stimulate job opportunities for the teeming youths and the unemployed in the state.
Lalong is doing excellently well in the education sector. He employed qualified teachers to teach in primary and secondary schools in the State. The State government renovated and constructed several block of classrooms across the 3 senatorial districts to create conducive environment for learning. Government also revamped the Plateau State University (PSU), Bokkos. The Governor engaged services of qualified lecturers and send over 200 academic staff overseas for postgraduate studies. The University successful held its maiden convocation as a result of Lalongs commitment to elevate the institution to higher heights.
President Muhammadu Buhari was in the State recently to inaugurate the Tractor Hiring Scheme, another initiative of Governor Simon Bako Lalong. It is a mechanized farming scheme aimed at massive food production food production across the State.
The government acquired about 400 brand new tractors for hiring to interested farmers and cooperative societies. The Governor further showcased his willingness by reviving the Fertilizer Blending Plant in Bokkos, to help farmers’ access fertilizer at affordable rate when needed. This was targeted at diversifing the state’s economy to agriculture as a sustainable source of revenue.
Insecurity was an issue which Governor Lalong considered as priority to be addressed with all seriousness. The shattered peace on the Plateau is a fundamental problem which requires methodical and sustainable solution and not a quick fix as palliatives.
The creation of the Plateau Peace Building Agency and the Peace Roadmap were another landmark initiative which is also unprecedented in the State. Lalong and his team identified the gaps in the post-conflict peace building process on the Plateau. The idea was to see how to develop and design a framework for engaging issues of conflict and way of resolving them to promote peace in the State. This is one model that other states are already replicating for harmonious coexistence.
Governor Simon Bako Lalong towers like an Iroko on the Plateau. His antecedents and performances littered with sincere and effective leadership. Lalong’s intimidating experience in public administration can best be imagined. He served as Speaker Plateau State House of Assembly for 8 consecutive years. It was a privilege only he has enjoyed on the Plateau because of his pragmatism and qualitative leadership. He was also the Chairman of Conference of Speakers for 2 years, and now a serving Governor.
Lalong, an erudite legal luminary with proven administrative skills and extensive managerial experiences recorded great strides on the Plateau. His modest achievement towers above many of his peers across Nigeria. His footprint in the State will be cast on stone in the annals of history.
That is why many groups in the State are insisting that Lalong second term bid is vital. They unanimously attested to the fact that he has performed creditably well and therefore is the best candidate for the 2019 governorship. The youths, and indeed Plateau citizens in general, were convinced that Lalong has done excellently well in providing quality leadership that has delivered democratic dividends to the people.
His predecessors in this dispensation enjoyed 2 terms in office in the State. Lalong should also be allowed to complete a 2nd term especially when he clearly distinguished himself in achievements high above his predecessors in the State. The Governor has been tested and trusted as his reputation goes before him. He should be allowed another mandate to complete, complement and coordinate the Plateau progress agenda which he initiated. The saying that ‘one good turn deserves another’ should apply to Governor Samuel Bako Lalong.
By Gabriel Ikese
Ikese is a Columnist and lives in Jos.