CHUKS OYEMA-AZIKEN reports that the two-year old administration of Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State has brought security stability and notable socio-economic development against all odds in his two years in office
When Simon Bako Lalong emerged governor of Plateau State after a keenly contested election in 2015, there was skepticism on the part of people of the state who were getting used to frequent ethnic clashes. Between 2001 and 2015, over 5000 persons lost their lives, while properties worth billions have been destroyed in intermittent attacks and killings in the state. Both Muslim and Christian sects in the state have been blamed for the re-occurring violence that brought the once vibrant economy of the people to a standstill.
Therefore the election of Lalong on the platform of the All Progressive Congress, APC was viewed as a long standing desire by the people to search for the much elusive peace, even if it means giving opportunity to another political party.
Lalong, born on May 5th, 1963 is a native of Ajikamai in Shendam Local Government Area, where he won with a landslide victory under the platform of the PDP to represent his people in the State House of Assembly.
Emerging as the Speaker of the State House of Assembly in October 2000, Lalong’s rare leadership qualities earned him the record of the longest serving Speaker in the history of Plateau state legislature (2000 – 2006 i.e. seven years of unbroken quality leadership).
Lalong, who emerged victorious in APC gubernatorial primaries, scored 2,222 votes, with Prof. Emmanuel Garba and Barrister Solomon Dalung scoring 304 and 293 respectively.
In the main election, Lalong polled 564, 913 votes to beat the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Gyang Pwajok, a serving senator representing Plateau north in the National Assembly, who polled 520,627 votes.
The outcome of the April 11 polls indicated faith in the ability of Lalong to rescue the beleaguered state.
After his victory in the polls, Lalong promised to carry all segments of the state along. He said: “The great roles, support and contributions the Plateau people played and ensure our victory during the just concluded state governorship election would forever be remember,”
He added: “We would ensure that all the 53 tribes in the state make their imput in our government. This is a government for all. The APC government in Plateau State would heal the wounds of hates and dis-unity.”
“I want to assure all Plateau people that we would also work with an Elders Advisory Council from Abuja for good governance of our people,” Many in the state believe that Governor Lalong has performed creditably, to the consternation of some doubting Thomases
One area that has continued to be applauded by the people is the return of peace to the state. This is as night life that was dead under the last dispensation has now come alive in Jos Tin City and other parts of the state. Speaking on the state of affairs in the state, Dan Majang, the Media Adviser to Governor Lalong opined that the Rescue government has succeeded in bringing peace to parts of the state. According to him, “there is no week in recent months that people have not come from outside Plateau to hold conferences, seminars and workshops in Jos, the Plateau State capital”
This is corroborated by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, who lauded Gov. Lalong over the prevailing peace in Plateau. The Sultan, at the opening of a four-day retreat for members of Sokoto State Executive Council, Permanent Secretaries and Directors-General in National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru said: “All of us are happy to see how peaceful Plateau has become after many years of hostilities. I want to commend the governor for his tireless efforts at restoring peace in the state.”
Commenting also on the development, a former Commissioner of Information in the state, Honourable Yakubu Dati said, “The enduring peace in the state in which there has been about twenty (20) consecutive months without any serious crisis has restored confidence to the business community in the state, and this has in no small measure, improved businesses and economy of Plateau.”
Lalong, himself is aware of the importance of peace to the people of the state: “What we are doing now is to consolidate on the peace that we have on the Plateau because areas that were seen as no-go areas no longer exists on the Plateau. People now move in anywhere. It is the same Plateau that we are trying to bring back again; so, we take advantage of the nature that God has given us: the weather.
“Once you have peace, certainly, people will come to invest in your state. A lot of people are beginning to come back to Plateau. Before now, when I came in, I was busy looking for investors and each time I go they will ask me, is there peace in your state.
With the return of peace, infrastructural and economic development has now become a common feature of the state with some observers holding out that the two years old administration has lived up to its billings.
With the recent approval given by President Muhammadu Buhari to release Paris Club refunds to the state, it is expected that tempo of economic activities will increase with expected road projects, renovation of schools and hospitals, amongst others, were resumed. Recently, the state government approved N3 billion to reacquire Barc farms, a subsidiary of the state-owned Jos International Breweries, earlier sold to a private farmer 24 years ago.