In Plateau State, the last four years administration of Governor Simon Lalong and now Chairman of Northern Governors’ Forum (NGF) came with overwhelming security challenges that are gradually eroding.
Lalong, who was first elected in 2015 and had the mandate renewed in 2019 inherited the security challenges from his predecessors, Senator Joshua Dariye and Senator Jonah David Jang. The security challenges consumed several lives and properties.
Since then, the path has not been without these challenges as there have been sporadic attacks on some communities in Barkin-Ladi, Bassa, Jos South and Riyom local government areas of the state.
These attacks have led to deaths and displacements of people, destruction of houses, crops and livestock. The situation is compounded by mutual distrust among residents of various communities.
Prominent among the attacks was the 2016 violence attack in Gashish District of Barkin-Ladi Local Government Area where several lives perished and over 200 women and children saved by an Imam in the area.
The attack came after two and half years of relative peace restored by the Lalong’s administration. He responded swiftly to the security challenge by boosting security in the troubled areas.
The governor also took the pains of setting up a committee between the Berom and Fulani where there was heated debate on how the violence could be resolved and recommendations and resolutions made which gave birth to Plateau Peace Building Agency.
At the moment, the state is enjoying relative peace with the establishment of Mobile Police Barracks in Shendam, Plateau South; Mangu, Plateau Central and Gashish in Plateau North Senatorial District to respond swiftly to banditry, kidnapping, herdsmen conflicts and other social vices.
Governor Lalong who was underrated during the 2015 and 2019 elections by some political elite like Jang, ex-Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu, former governor and ex-Nigeria Ambassador to Kenya, Fidelis Tapgun and PDP Governorship candidate, Retired General Jeremiah Useni among others, pulled the string and had his way for the first and second time.
It was gathered that the elite gang up against Lalong in 2015 failed due to the imposition of the then PDP candidate, late Senator Gyang Pwajok. The same political miscalculation, it was gathered, was repeated during the 2019 elections where a 75 year old Senator Useni, emerged the PDP candidate but lost the election. These events provided Lalong with another opportunity which he judiciously utilised to clip the political wings of the elite. In the last four years, they had no say in the politics of the state and same may happen again for the next four years.
On assumption in office in 2015, Lalong stuck to the manifesto of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the national level where abandoned and inherited projects were given priority.
He embarked on assessment of abandoned projects by the Dariye and Jang administrations and concentrated on their completion. The major abandoned projects in the state were the Secretariat Junction flyover bridge, the dualisation of Maraban-Jama’a road to Secretariat Junction and the trauma healing hospital abandoned by the Dariye administration in Barkin-Ladi. These and other prioritised projects which were inherited have been completed and commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari. Others are still ongoing. The governor also initiated the “Lalong Legacy Projects” sited in the 17 local government areas, in the area of education and health.
The emergence of criminal activities such as armed robbery, commercial kidnapping, and banditry also informed the introduction of “Plateau light project” where security lights were mounted in all major streets within the state capital to checkmate evil activities and beautify the state.
Lalong had during the period, walked himself into national politics which endeared President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC government at the federal level to Plateau State.
His ability to utilise the bail-out funds and Paris Club fund released to states by the Federal Government to settle the 7 months inherited salaries of public servants and pensions was what endeared him to President Buhari. Lalong did not owe civil servants in the last four years even for one day, one of the workers said.
“The state is up-to-date in the payment of salaries and pension; apart from the over N15 billion gratuities the state owes retired civil servants since 1980s,”another party chieftain said.
It was gathered that it was on this account that Lalong was made member of Committee on Review of Minimum Wage, Presidential Food Security Council and was recently elected Chairman of Northern States Governors Forum.
The people’s cry
A close associates of President Muhammadu Buhari in the Army and Chairman of Plateau APC Elders Advisory Committee, Captain Joseph Din (Rtd), has advised Lalong to focus more on providing security of lives and property even as he has set in motion machinery towards dousing tension in the state.
He believes that Lalong’s closer relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari has yielded dividends to Plateau, but added that more efforts should be made to uplift the standard of living and protection of lives and properties.
“It was because of the good relationship between Mr. President and Governor Lalong that we were able to get Police Barracks in Gashish in Plateau North, which will lessen our own security challenges, we have one in Shendam and Mangu.
“The governor is a very intelligent young man, for him to have gotten close to the president; and why the president like him was because he pays salaries of civil servants, that endeared him to the president.
“I want him to focus on road projects that former governor, Jang didn’t finish, and he has initiated new ones, some are called ‘Lalong Legacy Projects’, he should continue with them and do more in the area of agriculture and tourism, it is very important. He should do things that will make people to come to Plateau and we should continue with the peace that we are enjoying,” Din said.
Former Nigeria Ambassador to Ukraine, Ibrahim Kasai, on his part, said, Lalong should focus more on creating industries such as tourism, agriculture and mining to create employment opportunities for the youths.
In the next four years, the governor should consolidate on creating industries and agriculture should be taken seriously. Plateau State is known for agriculture, mining and tourism. Tourism should be the main focus due to our favourable climate and we should not waste it because it makes Plateau unique.
“More effort should also be on road construction, he is constructing roads in the 17 local government areas and I believe this, combine with tourism will create employment for our youths,” Ambassador Kasai added.
This is even as he believes that stimulating strong and cordial relationship among communities in the state will put to rest the criminality, kidnapping, consumption of illicit drugs that motivate youths to indulge in violence.
Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), in Northern Nigeria, Reverend Yakubu Pam, challenged Lalong to focus on good governance, build mutual relationship among the divergent ethnic and religious groups and collaborate with other governors to stem insecurity in Plateau and Northern Nigeria in the next four years.
Also, a northern elder and Director-General of Lalong Campaign Organisation, Pam Dung Gyang, is of the view that the re-election of Lalong was well deserved and that the governor was prepared to take Plateau to good destination.
“I have always said it that God, Lalong deserves re-election, I have told you his passion for peace and I share that feelings with him that peace must be restored on the Plateau.
“He has gone out of his way to attract so many dividends of democracy to Plateau State to ensure there is peace, I want him to consolidate on the search for lasting and durable peace in the state”, Gyang said.
Re-echoing the position of Gyang, Gad Shamaki, a human rights activist who believes that peace is the necessary ingredient that every society depends solidly on for survival, wants Lalong to concentrate more on the peace building process in Plateau and create employment opportunities for young persons.
“Apart from peace, infrastructure development of the state is equally important, if you look at the road at NNPC Mega Station to British American Junction in the state capital, the road is totally in a mess. I hope he will look at it because it will boost tourism potentials in the state and create employment,” Shamaki added.
Speaking in the same vein, former chairman of Plateau Peace Practitioners Network, Godwin Okoko, said peace development, quality education and human capital development was what Plateau people needed most in the next four years.
“Plateau is not lacking in peace, education and human capital development but the state is weak in those areas. His administration did well in the area of peace in the first tenure but there is need for consolidation.
“We need more improvement on peace looking at the pockets of killings and attacks in the state like what happened in Riyom, Rikkos and Bassa local government areas recently.
“The state is experiencing the issue of commercial kidnapping within communities where children, orphans and the adult are kidnapped for ransom. There is need to deal with substance abuse which is growing within communities as a result of lack of employment,” Okoko said.