Penultimate week, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State who is also the Chairman of Northern Governors’ Forum speaks to journalists in Jos on sundry issues to mark 100 days of second term in office. ACHOR ABIMAJE was there for LEADERSHIP Sunday.
It is over 100 days now that you were sworn in for a second term, yet you are yet to constitute your cabinet, how are you able to function without commissioners and advisers?
Well, let me say that indeed, its over a hundred days into our second tenure and we are almost concluding on the constitution of the Cabinet. People say there is a lot of delay but to me, we had an arrangement where we had to prepare for the next four years. We had to come up with a development plan. Now when people ask why I am delaying, my response is that it’s not about rushing and putting a cabinet, it is about the focus for what we want to do in the next four years. Now when I came in for my second tenure, I had to engage Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to develop a development Plan for the people of Plateau State and they have done that. They just concluded in the last two weeks and so I was waiting for them to come up with their report so that I can see from their recommendations what will be the focus and direction of Government this time around, especially in terms of economic empowerment.
Now it is on the basis of this direction that I will do my selection of Commissioners, I will now decide what kind of Ministry, what kind of arrangement and combination will best deliver for our people. I have already started because immediately I got the preliminary report, I set the ball rolling and I quickly appointed the Secretary to the Government and the Chief of Staff who are the engine room. So technically, like I said during the swearing in of the Secretary to the Government and Chief of Staff, I have finished my cabinet. I am only waiting for Mr. Speaker who travelled out of the Country, as soon as he is back, I will submit it to him, you know the Assembly is a powerful place, you don’t submit to any one, you submit it to Mr. Speaker. So very soon, you will hear the announcement and screening of Commissioners. Once they are screened and confirmed, we would now set the ball rolling and continue the implementation of the economic plan of the State. So these are some of the things that delayed the appointment of the Commissioners. You know for Politicians, some will say, I want to be there, I want to be here, this is not the issue of where you want to be, it is abaut what can we do for the people of Plateau State in the next four years. We have finished the first phase of our Rescue Agenda. In the next four years, we are moving to the last part of consolidating and leaving lasting legacies as we take the State to the next level.
Last time you nominated commissioners, concerns were raised that portfolios were not attached to the names of nominees sent to the House of Assembly. What should people expect this time around?
Well, I was a Speaker for about eight years. If you look at the laws, they didn’t say that you must put portfolios before you submit list to the House of Assembly, sometimes we look at it also on performance. As a former Speaker, I know some instances where we screened Commissioners with the Governor having made up his mind on where to put them, but after the screening, he may have changed his mind because based on the interaction with the House of Assembly members, the Governor may said, this nominee should be in this or that place different from where he had thought. So when nominees for Commissioner appear before the house, let everyone be judged by his performance because in my administration, anybody can be put anywhere except of course certain professional departments like the Attorney General of the State which has exceptions. But then let them appear before the House, let them finish first step. At the end of it, you will come back and now make your assessment. Although I would have also thought about portfolios but while they are doing the screening, I am always watching. One thing I like doing a lot is to listen to the people in places you will lest expect. That is the opportunity for me to gauge the opinion the opinion of people outside and know exactly how they feel and what they want. This kind of scenario will at the end of the day help me decide who to put into what ministry.
In your first tenure you came out with Five (5) pillar policy thrust or Five Point Agenda; Security and good governance, physical infrastructural Development and sustainable economic rebirth, now why are you pruning them down from 5 to 3?
Yes. From the beginning, you will understand that the first tenure was also part of taking over from another administration and so the reason we created five was partly to look at what we inherited and then examine some of the challenges that were on ground. Therefore, the 5 point Policy Thrust was to help us carry a wholistic approach of what we promised the people. You know when you are doing campaign, you will promise the people many things and by the time you get into the office, you see a different picture which you were not privy to. In that scenario, we had to come up with the five Pillar Thrust to help us settle down for governance. Now, after staying in office for four years and we are coming back for another tenure, we realized that we have taken care of some of the challenges we inherited. Having taken care of such things, you now have to remain focused for the remaining four years as you cannot do everything, but at least you must do about 60 percent to 70 percent. I always don’t want to say I am perfect but I must strive to do my best to hit within the level of B, or an A. If I get a B, fine but if I get an A, that is excellent, and so that is what I am trying to do. Now we have reduced the 5 Pillar Thrust to 3 namely: Peace, security and good governance; Physical infrastructural development; and Sustainable economic rebirth.
Before now Plateau is referred to as a Civil Service State. Since 2015 a lot of attention was on economic growth and internally generated revenue to record 100 percent increase. What are the strategies put in place that will make you achieve this?
Thank you very much. We have put in a lot of strategies. First, I told you that we engaged the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to prepare a development plan which they have finished now. After the development plan, we are also planning an Economic Summit which I think it is going to be the first of its kind in Plateau State. Secondly in terms of Revenue, I have also engaged a consultant, the woman who did the magic for Kaduna State, Mrs. Ofueko Omoigui Okauru who was one time Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service. She is already in Plateau State to prepare and put in facilities for the improvement of our Revenue and that will take another 4 years so we are not joking when we say look, we are determined to take away Plateau from being a Civil Service State and that is why when we mention economic rebirth, we are talking about infrastructure and enabling environment. When you create this kind of environment for people, the private sector will invest. If you continue to say we are a civil service state and you go and sit down in your office and wait for 4 o clock and then you leave after eating lunch that does not make the state productive. We are thinking out of the Box.
As a civil servant you must be able to get something doing outside office work, that is why we are emphasizing on skill acquisition and a lot of other empowerment programmes. The Plateau State Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency (PLASMEDA) is doing very well, engaging people and we have done a lot of sensitization saying to our people, don’t just be a civil servant. Be a civil servant with something extra that you are doing, we are emphasizing on Agriculture, we are saying, look even as a civil servant, it doesn’t stop you from farming, it doesn’t stop you from getting a loan to do something outside the civil service work and so a lot of it is coming through empowerment which we doing. I will say like my friend El-Rufai that I am also an accidental public servant because I have been in the private sector all the time. But when I came in, I realised that even if you are doing something, you must prepare for the rainy days, for either a rainy day or a bad day so that you know that either way, if there is no salary or something unusual happens, you have something to fall back on and embrace rather than always sitting down saying that we are not going to do this because we are civil servants. I have done my best in terms of salaries, compared to what is happening in most of the states. Like I told some people, even if you don’t say I have done my best, at least a lizard that fails from a high Iroko tree praise himself lf even no one did.
Do you think the mindset of people is changing in that regards?
I must say that I am very happy because without the cooperation of the people, we would not achieve what we are doing. So, I thank them for the level of cooperation particularly in ensuring that there is peace in the State but I am emphasizing that we should do more just as I am also doing my best.
In the past, Plateau State witnessed sectarian crisis and violence, how do you intend to rebrand Plateau, to change people’s perception to the original Plateau as the Home of Peace and Tourism?
Yes, we have done a lot in terms of addressing the causes of the problem and sustaining the peace. Sustaining peace goes along with dealing with poverty. I have noticed that when there is abject poverty. You see, stomach insecurity leads to physical insecurity and we have a lot of youths out there who are not working. So we have a special package, you can see that I am the only State that created the Peace Building Agency, the only state in the Federation. So we are developing that to sustain the peace and conflict management in the State. I have mentioned that you must always find ways of empowering people. Now when you empower people, you get them off the street, but the moment you leave them roaming about, they become very vulnerable, every time they can be used for a peanut. That is why you see youths engaging in several vices that will be detrimental to the society. We are also talking about industrialization. We must place Plateau to become an industrial State by creating the enabling environment and then people will come and invest in the State. I have always said that each time you sit down and you claim to be driving people away from your state, you lose.
If Lagos was like that, Lagos will not be the way it is today. We should not drive people from our state. We are Plateau people but we need investors to come to the State, why are we calling investors to come, if we then turn around to create unviable environment? It is the responsibility of Government to sit down and fish out criminals within us whether they are indigenes or not, we must fish out criminals from within us. We are doing very well with the security apparatus and we are also empowering and also expanding our Operation Rainbow in case we wake up one day and the Federal Government says we are withdrawing Operation Safe Haven. Already, I have an advantage, when people talk about State Police, I say I have Operation Rainbow which functions in a similar fashion. All I need is to enhance the capacity of the Operation Rainbow which we are doing right now. I am very happy the federal Government is already talking about community policing, which has been an idea I support all along. We are engaging and employing people from each local government or each community to serve as informants and that way we will help in sustaining the peace we have in the State. We ere also addressing volatile areas. You can see that we have already established a Mobile Police Squadron in Shendam, we have established Air Force Search and Rescue Unit at Kerang, Mangu LGA, and I am already preparing to finish the establishment of another Mobile Police Squadron in Gashish, Barkin Ladi Local Government Area.
There is no doubt that we have conflict Merchants. No matter what you do, they try as much as possible to sabotage the peace process because culprits have not been arrested with the view to face the full wrath of the law. What are you doing in this regard?
Well, it will be unfortunate if they say that because I know that several times the police, the army and other security agencies have been parading suspects for various offences. Even recently, the Commissioner of Police told me that there are some notorious criminals that he caught and are in detention. As part of facilitating prosecution, we have passed the Law, we have amended our Penal Code and also amended our other relevant laws to facilitate quick and easy prosecution in the State. Our Administration of Criminal Justice Law is one of the best in the North now and because of that people have come to Plateau State to copy what we have amended so that it won’t take time to prosecute. Police are doing their best in Plateau State, so you don’t need to carry a criminal to Abuja again. You know in the past people complain that they see criminals here and when they are caught they say when they take them to Abuja, they will never see them again and they won’t know whether they are prosecuted or they are just released. But today they are in Plateau State, I know that they are here, they are undergoing prosecution. I am thinking also to enhance the capacity of Ministry of Justice. You can see in the last few months, I have dwelled seriously on the Ministry of Justice, some of the things they wanted, they were complaining about, we have enhanced it and also the judiciary, I am building the High Court to make them comfortable. I am a lawyer, I cannot leave this place without a good judiciary, so together with the Chief Judge, we are collaborating, we are trying to enhance the capacity of the judiciary and also the Ministry of Justice in terms of prosecution and also about Operation Rainbow and of course the police. Recently, I bought four (4) Hilux Vans and I gave it to the Police apart from the 53 vehicles that we bought and gave to the security in the last two years. The vehicles we gave them just two weeks ago were specifically to tackle the problems of kidnapping. There has been influx of kidnappers into the state and we decided to ask the IGP to send us the Special IRT Group from Abuja led by DCP Abba Kyari. They are here and when they came and said, look, we need vehicles, I said take vehicles and you can see every day, they are picking kidnappers from their hideouts. So if we address the issue of kidnappers, the issue of cattle rustling, armed robbery and the issue of banditry, our people will be safer than ever before.
Excellency, you are also the Chairman of Northern Governors Forum. A lot is happening in the North, How are you tackling insecurity in the region?
Well, thank you very much, that is another big challenge. When I was elected as the Chairman of Northern Governors Forum, I said wow! I have a headache here in Plateau State and another headache added. However, I said by the grace of God, I will do my best by applying the wisdom that he gave us to deal with the challenges here in Plateau State. We would extend to the other parts of the North. And if you recall, from the very day I was appointed the Chairman of Northern Governors Forum, I set up a Committee on Security chaired by Governor of Katsina State, Aminu Bello Masari. Since then, he has also had to contend with insecurity in his State. However, that committee is working very well, I have also prepared that we will soon have a meeting of the Northern Governors Forum which will be my first formal meeting formally to receive the report of the committee and decide the way forward. Right now we have the challenges of banditry, cattle rustling, and kidnapping which are very prevalent in the North. So we shall be receiving the report of the committee and also preparing for a Northern Security Summit. Aside from that, I have always been in touch with the IGP. He is doing well because part of the recommendations we made so far, they are implementing it. I attended the meeting of the North West Security Council and it was very wonderful. In some cases you need dialogue to succeed, because it is not always responding with confrontation. I will ensure that the success of such engagement is extended to the North Central. The IG has gone to the South West where he did the same thing. We are preparing to have our own in the North Central just like the North East is already established even as it is taken care of by the Federal Government. One of the area too that we saw that is a problem and needs to be tackled is the Almajiri System. So we have set up a committee that will bring out way to address the Almajiri System because in a society where you leave a large population that is doing nothing but roaming the streets, that is another cause of insecurity not only in the North but in the nation at large. So we have also set up a committee to look at it, and once we conclude on the issue of the Almajiri which also goes with the issue of employment, we shall have some respite.
Recently, you were in Japan and we know a lot of people were full of praises when you talked about accessing 300 billion dollars from Afri-Japan to finance some projects especially in the rural areas, can you expanciate on that?
Well, we went to Japan to attend the TICAD 7 Summit, which is an investment summit for Africa spear headed by Japan. For me that was the first time I was attending. I realized that the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari attended the summit in Kenya in 2016. We are talking about the fact that Japan is putting 50 billion dollars for investments in Africa especially in rural development and so Plateau will also want to go in and see what we can get out of the 50 billion dollars. During the course of our attendance, we were able to interact with a lot of investors both African and Japanese Investors. I realize that instead of sitting here and talking through emails inviting people to come and invest, it is batter to go and meet them to discuss properly. Some people say you can sit down in one place and talk to investors. It is far different than when you meet them.
Recently I had cause to address the Zumunta Association which is the body of Sons and daughters of Northern origin in the Americas, and they were asking questions that clearly showed that they are not in touch with the things we have been able to achieve in the last four years and the kind of opportunities that exist in the state. In fact when I heard some of their questions, I said look, it’s like you are out of this world because all these things you are talking about, we’ve gone pass them. They said but they don’t get such information as what they read on social media and the internet is different. This is the kind of problem we have and so when you go there and you explain to them direct, you give them complete facts and they look at it . When I went there, I had cause to address some Japanese investors and I told them that Plateau is now the best in terms of SMEs in Nigeria, they said Ah!, how comes that Plateau is best on SMEs, technology, and skills acquisition. My young people are doing excellently well, every year we go to Abuja we are taking home all the prices, the best person in 2018 was from Plateau and second best in 2019 is still from Plateau. We will continue to produce the kinds of Jerry Mallo just like the Japanese. Why I have this passion for skills acquisition is to create a skilled generation that can solve problems. That is why I am reviving the Technical Schools in Kuru.
I am going to expand and equipped that school just as I am also putting the same in all the zones, there is going to be one in Shendam and the other one in Pankshin which will create opportunities not only for the Youth but even the Civil Servants because you can go there and do 2, 3 or 6 months course, sometime, if your go there and do 6 months course in tailoring, that is an advantage to you, you come back and establish a tailoring shop, when you get out of work after 4pm, you are in your tailoring workshop. So this is what we are doing. We drew a lot of attention in Japan and I did not go alone I went with the MD Plateau Investment Chrysogunos Yilzak and the DG PLASMEDA, Haggai Gutap, who are now linking up with several companies that are likely to come and invest in Plateau State. This also applies to agriculture. We have a lot of potentials in agriculture and we are already working towards exporting potatoes as we improve our food value chain. We have already started working with the African Development Bank. If you go to Riyom, you will see one of the processing zones we have already built. We have done the tissue culture in Mangu which is almost completed and the next process is building dams which will start in the next few weeks. With these in place, people who want to engage in potato cultivation will not be doing potatoes once in a year but twice because. Each time Mr. President sees me, he will say look, you know I like potatoes very well and I don’t want to eat imported potatoes. I want to eat Plateau Potato and I have assured him that all year round, he will eat fresh potatoes from the Plateau because of what we are doing.
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