Penultimate week, there was palpable tension in Jos and its environs following the news on the social media alleging that the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government in Plateau State under Governor Simon Lalong, has conceded the ownership of the Jos Main Market that got burnt in 2002 to Jaiz Bank, an Islamic and Sharia compliant bank to be rebuilt at the cost of over N10 billion.
LEADERSHIP Weekend recalled that in 2019, the Lalong administration spent a whopping sum of N1 billion to demolish the structure and the government was recorded to have celebrated this regarding it as victory over the most difficult phase in the rebuilding efforts of the market.
Besides, previous administrations in the state have made efforts to see the rise of the fallen glory but till now the beautiful bride, known as Terminus Market and the largest indoor market in West Africa, has remained in the ashes of desolation.
In his efforts to rebuild the ultra-modern market, Governor Lalong last week reportedly approached the management of Jaiz Bank, seeking a partnership for the rebuilding of the Jos Main Market. At a stakeholders’ meeting preparatory to signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, the state government was represented by the commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Idris Gambo and his Information counterpart, Dan Manjang; the permanent secretary, Ministry of Commerce and Industry as well as directors and staff of the ministry.
Lalong’s proxies agreed with representatives of Jaiz Bank that the reconstruction cost of the project is N10 billion and conceded the ownership and control of the market at a ratio of 60:40 percent in favour of Jaiz Bank.
With the design of the project for reconstruction showing that it will contain 4,321 shops, only 1,700, representing its 40 per cent holding, will be owned by Plateau State during the 40 years covered by the agreement.
According to details of the stakeholders’ meeting obtained by LEADERSHIP Weekend, the reconstruction of the market, which will be done in three phases, is to be funded by Jaiz Bank, while the Plateau State Government will provide land, security, and an enabling operational environment, as the reconstruction work is billed to be completed within 12 months.
With Lalong’s representatives at the meeting dispatched to proceed to engage the leadership of the church in Plateau State and convince it to accept the emerging arrangement, the two partners (the Plateau State Government and Jaiz Bank) are expected to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), at a later date.
However, this development did not go down well with critical stakeholders as condemnations and backlash trailed the action of the state government.
First to express disgust over what it titled “Lalong, APC must explain the secret transaction with Jaiz Bank” was the opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Plateau State chapter.
According to a statement by the state publicity secretary, Mr John Akans, “the PDP is alerting the people on the unexplained and secret business transaction going on between Governor Lalong and Jaiz Bank over plans to hand over the Jos Terminus Main Market to the bank.
He said the party has it on good authority that the state government has reached an advanced stage in its plan to sign an MoU with Jaiz Bank (a commercial bank) with the view to handing over the entire market to the said bank to run for forty years at the cost of N10 billion.
Akans said this is coming just shortly after the governor informed Plateau citizens that over N4 billion has been spent by his administration on the same main market without giving an account of how it was expended.
“We dare ask why Lalong is rushing to sign an MOU of N10 billion at the expiration of his tenure and what happens to the N4 billion already spent on the same project?” the party querried.
The opposition party also said Lalong should “explain to Plateau people the logic in mortgaging a market with a fiscal multiplier effect in the state income that will benefit the citizens for a N10 billion-lease for 40 years, while founding flyover at the cost of N18 billion. What is the ratio?”
Similarly, in their reaction, the Youth Wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria (YOWICAN), Plateau State chapter, said that giving Jaiz Bank over 60 per cent control of the market when completed is perceived to be an enslavement and a destiny-mortgaging agenda.
Plateau State YOWICAN chairman, Pharmacist Markus Kanda and the secretary, Nehemiah Michael made their views known while addressing newsmen at the CAN Secretariat in Jos.
According to the duo, Governor Lalong should have first embarked on a wider consultation and mobilisation to engage the people at community levels with the view to sensitising them and seeking their consent before embarking on the project.
YOWICAN also noted that the terms and conditions of the engagement had been unknown until the revelation that made its way to the public on the social media which has generated the most heated criticism and condemnation.
They argued that Jaiz Bank engaged for the reconstruction of the modern market is an Islamic Bank and with the happenings around the globe and in Nigeria with particular attention to Plateau State, suggest that every reasonable man will seek some explanation to assuage the fears that engaging the bank to grant loan to the Plateau State Government in this manner and magnitude should require more than simply circulating information on the social media space.
“It may be a coincidence that this is happening at a time when a Muslim-Muslim ticket of the ruling APC has been established amidst a nation-wide clamour for justice and equity. This is also coming in the midst of suspicion of an Islamisation agenda in Nigeria and the obvious fear of economic control on the Plateau,” the group said.
In the same vein, the Coalition of Plateau Indigenous Youths and other related organisations have expressed concerns over what they described as “the unacceptable piling up of debts by the state government, the award of bogus unrealistic so-called legacy projects, inflated contract of Over-head Bridge at British/America Junction and now, a very unfavourable, poorly negotiated Jaiz Bank/Government MOU on the Jos Ultramodern Main Market contracts.
The coalition pointed out that they are being pursued belatedly only to serve as conduit pipes to drain scarce public funds of the state as well as selfish desire to commandeer shops and allocate the same to so-call party’s stakeholders and other cronies.
According to a statement issued in Jos and signed by Barr. Zachariah Awang,
Chairman and Amb. Duwam Bosco, Secretary General stressed that the tenure of Lalong administration shall expire come May 29, 2023 and therefore, lacks the legitimacy to mortgage the financial viability of Plateau State and indeed, the future of the youths in a dubious contract/MOU lasting for 40 years.
The coalition further argued that they reliably gathered that the House of Assembly is complicit on this matter as it remains quiet with “no open condemnation of this strange development.”
“It’s on this note that citizens cannot trust the lame duck House of Assembly which has been a rubber stamp parliament failing to carry out proper oversight functions on the super-powerful executive,” the group said.
According to the coalition, “they are all aware that government has openly demonstrated its sectional and nepotistic patronage in the award of contracts which lacks equity and fairness” noting that “this is why the indigenous youths strongly believe that the Jaiz MOU is inimical to its interest now and in the future.
“Further concerned that the choice of Jaiz Bank continues to heighten the suspicion of many Plateau citizens that given its religious credentials and biases, it’s waging a holy war (jihad) through buying and mopping of the assets of infidels who according to them, need to be financially and economically subdued.”
The statement further said “We have resolved to speak out, reject and mobilise for the liberation of our dear state from the claws of corruption and maladministration as well as dubious contracts.”
They warned Jaiz Bank to withdraw and completely “reverse all commitments made with regard to the Jos Ultramodern Market as the youths of the state will be forced to take necessary actions to protect their interest should the bank persistently remains adamant.
“The Lalong administration should desist from the ill-conceived last minutes decisions that would jeopardise the collective interest of the Plateau people particularly, the youths.”
But the Plateau State Government, in its efforts to douse the tension the development has generated, in a statement issued by the commissioner of information and Communication, Hon Dan Manjang titled “Jos Main Market: Plateau State is not ceding market to Jaiz Bank,” the government allayed the fears of citizens adding that “it is a common knowledge that the Jos Main Market is one of the iconic landmarks of Plateau State and a source of pride to the citizens who hold it dear to their hearts.”
According to the commissioner, the destruction of the market in 2002 has therefore remained one of the most tragic incidents to ever befall the state which caused unquantifiable economic loses, emotional trauma and denied the state tourist and business opportunities which prevailed before its destruction and vowed to rebuild the edifice.
The commissioner stressed that the governors’ determination yielded positive results when he, upon learning of other huge market projects in various Northern, Eastern and South South States funded by Jaiz Bank Plc, decided to engage them on the idea of rebuilding the burnt Jos Main Market.
“Having gone through the offer by Jaiz Bank, the State Executive Council further subjected the proposal to extensive deliberations and scrutiny and came to the conclusion that the deal was good for the state and the investor, hence its approval.
“Besides, government carried out its due diligence to study the track record of Jaiz Bank in delivering such projects. It found that the bank in partnership with Kano State Government and private investors, is constructing a multi-million world-class drug-only wholesale market, the first of its type in Nigeria, at the Kano Economic City.”
He added that in a similar arrangement, the bank in partnership with the Niger State Government, “is developing three hectares in the Minna City Centre to provide for a shopping complex, modern underground parks, modern filling station, warehouses, corner shops, restaurants and a recreational centre. It is also doing so in Kaduna and Enugu states, among others.
“But regrettably, the outcome of this engagement has been twisted, politicised and reported under the caption ‘Governor Lalong cedes Jos Main Market to Islamic Bank.’ This has unnecessarily invoked passions and emotions portraying a false narrative that the state was parting with its cherished heritage to an ‘Islamic Bank’.”
He disclosed that the success of this partnership will boost the confidence of other investors to come into the state and establish their presence and partner with the government in other projects and programmes.
Mangjang therefore appealed to all citizens to carefully peruse the project and avoid being deceived by politicians who he claimed are bent on ensuring that the market is not reconstructed so as to score cheap political point against Governor Lalong and the APC particularly at the eve of the general elections.
“There is no need for anxiety, sentiments, misgivings, misconceptions and misrepresentation as is being pushed out by political forces which has resulted in name-calling, insults and hatred of both government and individuals on the social media and otherwise,” he said.
Above all, the proposed memorandum of understanding MoU between Plateau State Government and Jaiz Bank had further received further resistance from the Christian Association Nigeria (CAN), Plateau State Chapter and a coalition of indigenous ethnic youth leaders of the state.
Speaking with journalists shortly after the end of a stakeholders’ meeting held at the Banquet Hall of the Government House, Little Rayfield, Plateau State, CAN Chairman, Rev Fr Polycarp Lubo said they have advised the government to put the deal on hold until proper consultations were made.
He pointed out that the major fears of the stakeholders as discussed was the partnership with Jaiz Bank, an interest-free bank which is 100 per cent Sharia compliant, considering Plateau as a Christian dominated state.
The second issue he highlighted was the duration of the proposed deal which spans 40 years, describing it as mortgaging the lives and property of Plateau citizens.
He further stated that as stakeholders, they have advised the government to put on hold the proposed deal with a view to addressing the concerns and fears of the citizens before any implementation.
“The resolution of everyone at the meeting is that the deal should be put on hold. Though the government has not responded, it has promised to look into it and if they find any issue, they will call our attention and also get back to us.
“These people that convened here are the real stakeholders and the government did not consult any of them, I wasn’t consulted too. However, we have confidence in the government. They are there for the people, so they will definitely listen to the people but our resolve is that they should put it on hold first,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the government, the Managing Director, Plateau Investment and Property Company (PIPC), Mr Chrysogonus Yilzak, said the meeting was to make clarifications regarding the proposed deal, reiterating that the proposed MOU will serve the best interest of Plateau State and been bona fide indigenes of Plateau State, they will never contemplate selling the heritage of the state.
Also, the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of the state, Barr Chrysantus Ahmadu, emphasized that no one was ceding any property to Jaiz Bank as portrayed on various social media. Rather, Jaiz Bank is providing funding which will be paid back after 40 years in a ratio of 60:40 to government ownership of the shops.
However, observers of the happening on the Plateau warned that the state government should as a matter of urgency respect the wishes of the people so as not to plunge the state into another round of crises. Be that as it may, whether the state government will hearken to the voice of the people or go ahead with the signing of the MoU, only time will tell.