Dealing with stomach insecurity will avert physical insecurity
Says Plateau ready for state police with Operation Rainbow
Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, in this interview spoke on what is delaying his second term cabinet, the controversies trailing livestock production programme of his administration and the readiness of Plateau for state police among others
By Marie-Therese Nanlong
On why he is yet to constitute his cabinet more than 100 days into his second term and how he has been functioning.
We are almost concluding on the constitution of the cabinet. People say there is a lot of delay but to me, we had an arrangement where we had to properly prepare for the next four years. And in the preparation for the next four years, we had to come up with a development plan. Now, when people ask why we you delaying, my response is that it is not about rushing and putting a cabinet, it is about the focus on 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, to develop a development plan for the people of Plateau State. They just concluded it in the last two weeks. I was waiting for them to come up with their report so that I can see from their recommendations what will be the focus and direction of Government this time around, especially in terms of economic empowerment.
It is on the basis of this direction that I would do my selection of commissioners, decide the kind of ministry, arrangement and combination that will best deliver for our people.
Immediately I got the preliminary report, I set the ball rolling and appointed the Secretary to the Government and the Chief of Staff who are the engine room.
So, 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 of the country. As soon as he is back, I will submit it to him.
Once the Assembly screen and confirm the nominees, we will continue the implementation of the economic plan of the state. These are some of the things that delayed the appointment of the 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 can we 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.
In the recent past, Plateau State witnessed crises and violence, which have subsided. What are your plans to return the state to the original Plateau known as 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 when there is abject poverty. 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 I am the only State that created the Peace Building Agency. So, we are developing that to sustain the peace and conflict management in the state.
You must always find ways of empowering people. When you empower people, you get them off the street. The moment you leave them roaming about, they become very vulnerable, and for peanuts they can be used to foment trouble.
As part of the scheme, we are also talking about industrialization. We must make Plateau become an industrial state by creating the enabling environment for people to come and invest in the state. It is the responsibility of Government to 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 also expanding our Operation Rainbow in case we wake up one day and the Federal Government says we are withdrawing Operation Safe Haven.
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 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 informants 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 LGA, and I am already preparing to finish the establishment of another Mobile Police Squadron in Gashish, Barkin Ladi Local Government Area.
On controversies trailing the issue of livestock management in Plateau State
I am a member of the National Livestock Transformation Plan, NLTP, which is headed by the Vice President. I am representing North-Central, I cannot go and start doing something that is not in favour of Plateau State or Benue or Nasarawa or Kogi or any part of North-Central. No part of the document was brought by President Buhari. It was initiated during President Goodluck Jonathan. So its that same document that was represented to the NEC (National Economic Council) because we were looking for solution to farmers-herdsmen crisis. A budget of N100bn was approved for that same scheme.
When I came on board, I saw open grazing, I said the choice was either open grazing or ranching. I said, no we cannot go for open grazing because when you are talking of open grazing you will also be concerned with the problem of cattle routes and the tendency for clashes with farmers.
On my own, I came back and set up a 12-man committee headed by Prof. Ochapa Onazi. Traditional rulers and religious leaders were involved. The CAN and JNI, the Civil Society were involved as well as representatives of youths. They were the ones who developed the scheme. The recommendation was that Plateau should adopt ranching. When we finished the ranching we went to the local governments for sensitization apart from the various stakeholders in Plateau State.
At the end, the conclusion was for us to go with ranching. Now the first issue was to get the land. Because Federal Government is going to sponsor the pilot scheme, it does not mean that the Federal Government is the one carrying it out.
A budget for Pilot Scheme was announced for those states that wanted to do the entire livestock business according to their own peculiarities as a voluntary initiative. No coercion. So, we also said any local government that wants should provide land. Some local governments agreed and provided land and that was when political manipulation started. Some said we are grabbing land. At the end of the day, we suspended land from the local government but we have grazing reserves in Wase, and Kanam; and from the archive they brought out to us, the number of grazing reserves that we have in Plateau, are eight. Out of the eight grazing reserves, six were taken over.
If I embark on recovering them it will create another problem because past leaders especially military shared all the land within themselves and the ones that are left are just Wase and Kanam. If we leave it today, another regime will come and we will not see it again and I said nobody should go to these areas, they are grazing reserves owned by Plateau State Government.
If this is the case, we would make sure we use those grazing reserves not for real grazing reserves now but for investors to come and invest in ranching and diary. While we were doing that we started hearing the issue of Ruga, and people said Plateau is doing Ruga. I said no, we are not doing Ruga on the Plateau. Here we stand on livestock production through ranching. I have continuously explained to people and said, ‘look, don’t put religion or ethnic sentiments into investment because it will scare away investors who want to bring in their money. My plea to people is if you here a concept, listen to it and understand it.
As for Ruga, whatever it is, those who want it in their states, let them do it but for us, we are talking of livestock production which is not restricted to cows. It includes sheep, piggery, poultry and everything. So if there are incentives or palliatives or subsidies for these items from Federal Government, I have keyed into it and we are waiting for the subsidies and will use them to empower our people.
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 ‘wow, 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 challenge here in Plateau State. We would extend it to the other parts of the North.
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 formally 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 IGP. 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 always you respond 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 North-Central. the North-East is already established and is taken care of by the Federal Government. One of the areas that we saw 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 also in the nation at large.