In this interview with Viewpoint Nigeria, Mark Longyen, Senior Special Assistant to Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State, Nigeria, says his principal is bound to make history as the state’s best ever governor, given his achievements so far under just 20 months. Excerpts.
Q. Governor Simon Lalong has been on the hot seat steering the affairs of Plateau State for the past 20 months, could you oblige us an insight into his major achievements so far?
A. I think peace-building and security must come first whenever we’re talking about the scorecard of Governor Lalong, although the administration boasts an array of other unprecedented breathtaking achievements within its relatively short lifespan so far. The administration at inception about 20 months ago, deliberately laid the foundation for the achievement and sustenance of the current peace in a state that had hitherto become the hotspot for ethno-religious shindigs. For instance, In collaboration with international groups like the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue and local security agents, government embarked on some deliberate, painstaking peace-building efforts, in line with one of the Five Point Policy Thrusts of the administration, that is Peace and Security. This he did by reaching out to hitherto warring factions, religious leaders and preaching just one gospel, which is peace, like he did in Shendam recently where he went to further consolidate on the peace process. This magic wand has culminated in the current tranquility currently being witnessed among the state’s warring communities. The Governor further established a Bureau for Peace Building in order to sustain the peace achieved, which is the first of its kind in Nigeria and, perhaps, Africa. The wisdom behind this is predicated on the reality that you have to have a peaceful environment in order to embark on and achieve any policy objective. This implies that government can only achieve all the other four policy thrusts where there is peace and security in the state. Now this has even become a model which neighboring Kaduna State has adopted to address its current security challenges. It is noteworthy that since Governor Lalong assumed office, the last two Christmas and Sallah festivities were peacefully celebrated without a single incident of violence, a clear departure from what used to obtain in the preceding decade.
As a former Speaker of Plateau State House of Assembly for about seven years, the Governor knows the nitty-gritty and peculiarity of Plateau State, so he just brought that knowledge and experience to bear on the hitherto elusive security situation in Plateau State and right now, virtually everywhere in Plateau State, everybody, including the incurably pessimistic opposition, has come to realise that Peace is achievable in Plateau State, and, by God’s grace, has come to stay.
Q. Some critics of the Governor accuse him of concentrating on the completion of the projects he inherited from his predecessor instead of embarking on his own projects because he is clueless and has no developmental blueprint for the state, what is your response to that?
A. That must surely be coming from jobless opposition politicians, who have time to waste on wanton, baseless criticism, who go forth and back seeking to paint black everything good about the administration and its benevolent intentions. You see, right from day one of his assumption of office, the Governor declared that he was not going to commence new projects without first of all complete the ones which he inherited -something very uncommon among politicians who usually prefer to start theirs, while abandoning their predecessors’ projects to rot away at the people’s peril. His continuation with and completion of uncompleted or abandoned projects which he inherited is the best decision and the best thing to have happened to Plateau State, as far as projects execution is concerned. Inspite of the state’s harsh economic realities precipitated by recession, the Governor, out of uncommon wisdom, and in an unprecedented way, decided to spend billions of Naira to complete the multi-billion Naira uncompleted or abandoned projects of the past administration in the state. This bold decision was predicated on his unwavering stance that the projects were executed in the name of Plateau people and billions of public funds were channelled into the projects, and abandoning them would amount to public money invested in them being wasted. Don’t forget that the Governor inherited a staggering debt burden of about two hundred and twenty two billion Naira, part of which was tied to some of these uncompleted projects. Thus, projects like the Jos-Maza road, Zololo Junction road, Mangu-Gindiri, Plateau Geographical Information System, PLAGIS, Plateau Specialist Hospital Dialysis Centre, Riyom General Hospital, the Olympic Zaria Road Stadium, Secretariat Junction and Marraraba-British America Junction Road, House of Assembly Complex. The ICT Centre of College of Health Technology, Zawan, renovation of the State Secretariat Complex, among many others, were continued with many completed and commissioned.
Q. What is the Governor’s scorecard in the all-important education sector?
A. The sector was the worst sector that he inherited from his predecessor in terms of the rot occasioned by the unprecedented neglect it suffered under the last administration where public schools were sometimes closed for a whole academic session. Through the painstaking efforts of the governor, the Plateau State University, Bokkos, one of the worst affected, for instance, has gotten the accreditation for 17 courses, while new courses have been introduced and for the first time since it was established about ten years ago, the University will soon hold its first convocation. Right now, graduates of the institution have been mobilized for the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme. Government has also paid its counterpart fund obligations of the Tertiary Education Fund, TETFUND, culminating in the execution of most of the ongoing construction projects in virtually all the state’s tertiary institutions.
In addition, many secondary school buildings have been renovated or are being constructed or upgraded to modern standards. Also, the Plateau State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) has constructed and renovated over 300 schools across the state and more are ongoing. All the salary arrears and allowances of Teachers and supporting staff have been paid up to date.
Also, the Lalong Administration, in a clear demonstration of its resolute commitment to the state’s human resource potentials in line with its Human Capital Development as enshrined in its Five Point Policy Thrust, approved the payment of about two hundred million Naira as students’ scholarship allowances to Plateau State indigent students studying in higher institutions spread across the Country. Government also committed the sum of about ten billion Naira it received from the Federal Government being part of its refund of the Paris and London Clubs’ loan over-deductions to the payment of all arrears of civil servants’s salaries and pensions in December 2016.
Q. What about the equally crucial health sector?
A. One important sector that has also gotten a large chunk of government attention and attendant funding in the last 20 months of the Lalong administration is the health sector, which is deliberate, considering its immense benefits to the people. To this end, Government embarked on the aggressive renovation and construction of inherited General and Cottage Hospital projects, while the State Primary Health Care Development Agency fully took off. It also procured 5 ambulances and distributed same to the General Hospitals and has installed Modern Diagnostic Equipments in the New Government House Clinic.
Q. Having completed most of the projects he inherited, while some are still ongoing, is the Governor now thinking of embarking on his own projects?
A. As a matter of fact, the Governor has already awarded new road contracts totaling nearly four billion Naira and the contractors have gone very far in their efforts to ensure record time completion as directed by the Governor. They are the Rantya Road Network, the Kufang-Rafiki Road Project and the collapsed Kalong Road Bridge with additional work there, among others. There are also some metropolitan roads in the state capital, which were executed under Direct Labour. Besides, many multi-billion Naira road infrastructural projects have been earmarked in the 2017 budget and set for commencement as soon as it is passed and signed into Law. Let me assure you that with the exemplary leadership style and meticulous way the Governor is running the affairs of the state based on prudence, accountability, transparency, honesty, sincerity of purpose and uncommon wisdom and zeal, he will go down in history as the best ever governor in the history of Plateau State!
Q. Critics have also taken a swipe at the Governor over incessant foreign trips, ostensibly to attract foreign investment to the state, how have these trips actually benefitted the state?
A. Crass ignorance and political mischief are behind the criticisms. The Governor’s trips, especially to China, South Africa and the United States have been particularly beneficial to the state. For instance, Government has signed MoUs with some Chinese firms for the exploration of solid minerals, while Agriculture has received a boost with the re-acquition of the multi-billion naira BARC Farms having reached an advanced stage, to be done under Public-Private-Partnership. The hitherto abandoned Bokkos Fertilizer Blending Plant is now back in operation under PPP. The Jos Main Market, the Jos International Breweries and Highland Bottling Company are being revived under Public-Private Partnership to boost industrialisation in the state. The popular Panyam Fish Farm, once reputed to be West Africa’s largest fish farm, is being resuscitated through PPP with another foreign firm. Recently we traveled to South Africa and many South African firms have developed interest in partnering with the state government in sectors like Agriculture, Solid Minerals, Energy and Tourism, among others, where they have already carved a niche as global experts.
Government has also signed an MoU with a Chinese firm for the transformation of the Pandam Game Reserve into a major tourist attraction of global standard under a Private-Public-Partnership arrangement. To this end, the felling of some of the over-aged “Madobia” trees has begun, and this special species of trees are being harvested and logged to pave way for the planting of nurseries of the same species. Under the said arrangement, the money to be realized from the logging and selling of same is to be ploughed back to develop the dilapidated chalets, as well as the entire Game Reserve, to a state-of-the-art status that can give any Game Reserve globally a run for its money. Government has realized that tourism is the new oil that we have failed to discover and exploit. And because It is also capital-intensive and private-sector driven, hence government’s decision to massively transform the sector through PPP arrangement, while at the same time creating the necessary incentives and enabling environment.
The Chinese are also coming in to provide mass housing infrastructure in all the three senatorial zones of the state under a Public-Private-Partnership arrangement that will see to the construction of thousands of housing units. Besides the Chinese Housing Project, Government has, in conjunction with the Federal Government’s Mass Housing Scheme, the State Government has, in conjunction with the Federal Government’s Mass Housing Scheme, earmarked land to build about 22,500 housing units in order to achieve government’s objective of providing housing infrastructure for the people. So I’m sure you will agree with me that while opposition critics are wrong and busy doing a hatched job of trying to pull him down, the Governor is right on course and successfully soaring higher like the Eagle to the benefit of the people.
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