By Gabriel Ikese
Governor Simon Bako Lalong is unarguably among the most experienced of practicing politicians on the Plateau today. He was twice elected as member representing Shendam constituency at the State Assembly.
And on each occasion, Lalong served as Honourable Speaker for seven consecutive years. That was a feat that was never achieved by anybody in the annals of Plateau history. While serving as a Speaker, Lalong leadership qualities endeared him to all his fellow Speakers across the 36 states in Nigeria and he was chosen twice as first among equals in the Conference of Speakers and served for 2 years as Chairman.
Haven endured aggressive oppression to the stupor in his Party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) where he hitherto sojourned, Lalong migrated from that sheer purgatory to a humane serenity of the All Progressive Congress Party (APC) for very good altruistic reason.
Lalong was determined to right all the wrong doings of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in its maladministration and political rascality. He grabbed the bull by the horn and joined the gubernatorial race for the 2015 elections on the platform of the All Progressive Party (APC).
Governor Lalong ran at the micro level with great party compatriots but his real contest would be at the macro level where he took on the almighty emperor at the time, Governor Jonah David Jang, who insisted he must install his protégé.
It therefore became the clash of the titans and Lalong’s dexterity as a grassroots politician came to fore. He penetrated the seeming formidable structure of the Peoples Democratic Party with superior ideologies and converted the ranks and files. Lalong thereafter delivered a devastating punch to retire the merchants of “do-or-die” politicians in the State into oblivion.
After a tortuous journey and rigorous campaigns to a well deserved victory, Lalong assumed office and went straight to work in appreciation of the enormous support the people gave to him. In his first 3 months in office, lalong was able to rekindle hope in our unlimited possibilities if we get our structures right and have leaders with a caring heart.
Governor Simon Bako Lalong inherited a state that was enmeshed in a dangerous ethno-religious quagmire. The state was consumed in acrimonious relationship between senatorial districts and political elites. It was even recessed into a financial coma with debt liabilities in excess of N200 billion.
Lalong could not be perturbed by these challenges. He began by creating a harmonious cohabitation where peace and tranquility reigns. He run an all inclusive government and gave all segments of the state a sense of belonging. Not indigenes, non-indigenes and the disabled were left behind. It was a deliberate strategy to promote trust, love and peace in the state.
Put Lalong’s first 3 years in government side by side with other thirty five states, there are very few that can boast of being better run than Plateau State on Governor Lalong’s watch. Some of us admired him chiefly on account of the work he has done for Plateau people.
Lalong was bequeathed a state that was almost crippled by insecurity of lives and properties. He had an unenviable task of turning around the fortunes of the State amidst insecurity and financial challenges which looks insurmountable from a distance. Take into context also the dwindling federal government allocation and internally generated revenue accruing to the State. The task was daunting but he was not deterred. The speed at which he was able to rekindle hope and restore plateau to its lost glory was impressive.
Lalong started with his 5-point agenda which include peace and security; human capital development; infrastructural development; education; health and tourism; agriculture and rural development. Within six months of his administration, Lalong succeeded in bringing about relative peace and unity in the State which is the sine qua non for achieving the remaining four policy agendas.
Governor Bako Lalong rose above petty sentiments to completing ongoing projects that were inherited. Most conspicuous are road infrastructures that were already commissioned including 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.
The creation of the Plateau Peace Building Agency and the Peace Roadmap were landmark initiatives aimed at restoring peace to the State. Lalong identified gaps in the post-conflict peace building process in the state and quickly accelerate efforts at closing it. The idea behind this initiative was to see how to develop and design a framework for engaging issues of conflict and way of resolving them to promote peace. This model of Lalong’s ingenuity is being replicated by other states governments.
Another area of achievement that cannot be wished away is in the regular payment of workers’ salaries and clearance of pension arrears. Workers in the State receive salaries on the 25th day of every month when many States in Nigeria today are unable to pay their workers.
While Plateau is amongst the States with low federal government allocation, Governor Lalong has managed to maintain regular payment of salaries and pensions. An action that brought about the sobriquet of “Governor Bank Alert” attached to his name. Long queues are consistent features on ATM locations in Jos beginning from 25th day of every month. It is an indication that ‘Governor Alert’ has performed.
In agriculture, Governor Lalong introduced the mechanized farming scheme aimed at massive food production across the State. He bought well over 400 brand new tractors for hiring to interested farmers and cooperative societies. He also revived the Fertilizer Blending Plant in Bokkos, to help farmers’ access fertilizer at affordable rate when needed. Lalong is determined to diversify the state’s economy to agriculture as a sustainable source of revenue.
Lalong’s commitment to education is legendary as it gave it topmost priority it deserves. The State government renovated and constructed several block of classrooms across the 3 senatorial districts to create conducive environment for learning. Lalong also revamped the Plateau State University (PSU), Bokkos and engaged services of qualified lecturers and sent over 200 academic staff for postgraduate studies in foreign countries. The University successful held its maiden convocation as a result of Lalong’s commitment to elevate the institution to higher heights.
In the health sector, the administration completed inherited General Hospital projects and also set off the Primary Health Care Development Agency. Lalong commissioned the multi-million Naira Dialysis Centre of the Plateau State Specialist Hospital, Jos. Plateau Specialist Hospital is currently undergoing complete turnaround maintenance.
In commerce & industry, Lalong 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 unemployed in the state.
As a matter of fact, the governor’s achievements are so many and cut across all the key sectors of the state’s economy. Governor Simon Bako Lalong towers like an Iroko on the Plateau. His antecedents and performances littered with sincere and effective leadership.
Stakeholders eulogized his managerial and administrative capacities. They believed his cumulative experiences exposed him to the balance of diverse group interests in the state. They said his courageous application of the spirit of give and take is indeed paying off positively.
Little wonder therefore that many groups in the State are insisting that Lalong second term bid is vital. They insisted that he has performed creditably well and therefore is the best candidate for the 2019 governorship. The youths, and indeed Plateau citizens in general, are convinced that Lalong has done well in providing quality leadership that has delivered democratic dividends to the people.
Ikese is a Columnist and Political Analyst