Interview: Lalong speaks to ViewPointNigeria, bares his mind on several burning issues

  1. How have you found the challenge of governing Plateau in the past 2 years?

Governance has been a wonderful and wholesome experience. The sheer responsibility of being the chief custodian and servant for advancing development in a state like Plateau is truly a privilege.

It has called on every of my past experiences, from practicing as a lawyer at the early stages of my career, to becoming legislator (and rising to become head of the House – i.e., speaker) and then becoming Governor. Each of these experiences have shaped my “style of governance” –giving me the requisite skills and capacity to thrive and excel in my current governance role.

To illustrate this point, I have worked at the pinnacle of all three arms of government –in the legislative arm, I oversaw the making of laws (as speaker), in the judicial arm, I was the legal expert for some of Plateau’s foremost institutions; in the executive arm (I currently oversee the runnings of government).

These experiences have given me a 360 degree view of governance, which means all my policies and decisions are put forward with deep thought about all aspects of governance (judicial, legislative & executive).

So to summarily answer your question, my governance style is inclusive, consultative, democratic and collaborative and has been informed by my experiences in the three tiers of Government.

  1. Could you tell our readers what your proudest achievement is so far?

I am proud of several things, but what stands-out for me is the benevolence, goodwill, charity and understanding that Plateau people have shown me and my team since inception.

And to buttress this point, at the inception of my administration in 2015, there was a total shutdown of government. Worker’s morale was at its lowest because they were not paid for 9 months, contractors had abandoned their sites because of non-mobilisation, counterpart funds for numerous World Bank projects were outstanding and insecurity was rife –with killings almost on a daily.

My team and I assessed the situation and determined that we had to do things quickly and differently. And so we consulted, brainstormed and drafted a plan of action –which we then implemented rigorously. And I thank God that he enabled us to turn the situation around in a few months. Workers were paid, contractors mobilised to site, counterpart fund for World Bank Projects paid and the insecurity problem largely resolved (for approximately 2 years –except for the issues of late). These are my proudest achievements.

  1. In 2015, you made a promise that you will rejuvenate moribund industries –how far along are we?

Industrialisation is at the heart of our manifesto. And the reason for this is because industrialisation has a clear link to youth empowerment and peace. Generally, an industrialised state is both a progressive and prosperous one, but also a peaceful one because the youths –who are the main fulcrum of development, are engaged in productive labour and as such, it is difficult for them to be recruited and engineered for social ills.

And so to answer your question of what we are doing to industrialise Plateau, I’d give you the following points:

The Jos International Breweries (JIB): Let me first take you to memory lane. At some point in the history of Plateau, earnings from JIB alone were sustaining the state. Any time the state was in financial difficulty, loans would be received from JIB and that would be used for capital projects, pay salaries and generally run government. As such, my vision is to get JIB back to that functioning level. We intend to rejuvenate, revitalise and re-invigorate the company to become self-sustaining and contributory to the development of Plateau. Already modalities are in place to make this happen.

BARC Farms: Again, we have already reached an agreement with the past owner (Rear Admiral Murtala Nyako) for the buy-back and we are already in the process of finalising all relevant paperwork. This will be a massive source of employment to the youth

Jos Highland Bottling Company: From being totally comatose and moribund, we have been able to inject life into this industry. As it stands, many youths in Barkin Ladi have been employed in the factory line and production is ongoing.

Small and Medium Enterprise: To create a nucleating unit that allows start-ups and small companies to thrive and flourish, we set up the small and medium scale enterprise (headed by Haggai Gutap), which has the mandate to serve as a budding ground to assist small enterprises to go from small units to large corporations. And as you know, one of the things they did was to identify –the boy who built tractors and rice milling machines in Bokkos (Jerry Isaac Malo) and have been working closely with him to enhance his capacity. He will shortly be sent to China to consolidate his art and accelerate his learning.

Also as part of the activities of this agency, we have set up skills acquisition centres in various LGAs –with regional centres to be established in all three senatorial zones. Currently the Government craft school in Pankshin, the Bukuru Technical College (BUTECHs) and another in the Southern senatorial zone have been airmarked.

  1. Plateau is one of the states with the highest potential for internally generated revenue, but the lowest realised – what are the plans to change that?

Even though we came in at a time of deep recession, it has become a blessing in disguise –because that has ensured that we develop practical steps of increasing our IGR to advance plateau toward financial independence.

If you go back over past IGR declarations by the Plateau State Internal Revenue Service (PSIRS), you will see that it has been on an upwards trajectory. We have consistently beaten previous quarters in terms of the amount of money we have realised. So for instance last month, the Chairman Mr. Dashe Arlat reported internally generated revenue of N7.7 billion for the first 9 months of the year –which means our monthly takings is approximately N900 million. Which is very substantial if you compare to past reports of what was realised.

We achieved this through very commendable efforts of launching a new Tax collecting system known as “un-structured supplementary data” (USSD) –where we worked with some experts to implement.

  1. The security situation in Plateau has degenerated significantly in the past 3 months –give us your perspective on this.

 Security challenges on the Plateau have been prevalent for over a decade and a half. Every so often people are attacked or killed under really gruesome and shocking circumstances –and that is truly unfortunate. However, permit me to remind your readers of the progress we made in the last 2 years.

When we came in, attacks were occurring almost daily in the Northern and Southern senatorial zones. Large swathes of lands were virtually “no-go” areas because of the potent threats.

At inception, we set up consultative forums with all relevant parties. This enabled us to create an avenue for genuine dialogue –which ultimately led to deeper cohesion, understanding and trade-offs. And as most people in Plateau can attest, it led to a cessation of the hostilities.

After the lull however, we then realised that the relative peace could only be sustained if we make the business of peace-building a “living exercise” (i.e., a proactive venture as opposed to a reactive one –and so we set up the Peace Building Bureau (headed by Joseph Lengmang). And I gave them the clear mandate of working with the various stakeholders to understand their positions, grouses and issues.

This single decision to constitute the peace building bureau proved very wise, because it contributed to the un-interrupted peace that we enjoyed for 2 years (i.e., before the disruption of the last few weeks). And let me state, that the events that happened in the various villages in Bassa, Barkin Ladi and Riyom were truly unfortunate. But as a responsible government, we have learnt from these unfortunate events and are doing everything possible to avert further occurences.

As well as the consultation through the Peace Building Bureau, we also courted FG to assist us in solving the “perpetual attacks puzzle” and I am glad to report that president gracious approved a new military unit for Plateau. This is termed the “search and rescue unit” (to be sited in Kerang) and it will have the clear mandate to fend off guerrilla attacks as have been the case.

In addition to the “search and rescue unit”, the President has also approved a new mobile police unit for Plateau state. The unit for this will be sited in the Southern Senatorial Zone –again with a similar mandate of ensuring that attacks and conflicts are curbed.

And of course, in order for us to assist the Special Task Force and police in the work they are doing, we have procured 53 high specification vehicles for them.

  1. Plateau used to be known as the premiere tourism destination in Nigeria, unfortunately not anymore –tell us about your plans to restore it back to its rightful place?

Plateau has long depended on its natural endowment as its edge in the tourism sector. And you are absolutely right, that unfortunately –these days it takes more than simply being naturally endowed. Particularly if you think of the years of neglect and decay that the sector has seen.

So what am I doing to reverse the trend? Well, the first step is realising that we cannot just rest on our laurels in Jos and expect that investment will pour in simply because we are blessed with Tourism potentials. We have to proactively go to the market place and compete for investment with other countries. And so as you are aware, I mobilised my team of 8 (comprising the Hon Commissioner of Tourism, the SA Tourism, the Chief of Staff, the Director of Press Affairs and a host others) to attend the World Travel Market Conference in London, in order to engage with investors and get them to come and invest on the Plateau.

Very productive meetings were had with various international agencies and we have narrowed down a few “critical leads” which we shall be assessing as a matter of urgency.

With regards the many tourist attractions in Jos –the Jos Wild Life Park, Solomon Lar amusement park etc. My view is that having these as wholly government owned agencies is a huge mistake. I assess that injecting private sector participation will be key to reviving them. As such, with the economic team, we are currently fashioning out ways of divesting some of the equities in order to bring private sector efficiency and drive.

 

This is the first of a series of interviews planned with the governor, the next interview will focus on the “Plateau Grazing conundrum”, challenges of containing attacks in Barkin Ladi, Riyom, Bassa etc, and elections.

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview: Lalong speaks to ViewPointNigeria, bares his mind on several burning issues

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