By May 5th, Plateau State governor, Simon Bako Lalong, will turn 58. In this report, ACHOR ABIMAJE provides a snippet of the enduring strides of the state’s apostle of peace and good governance
On 5th May, 1963, in the sleepy community of Ajikamai present day Shendam council area of Plateau State, an astute leader was born to the family of Bako Lalong.
Exactly 52 years after, the child, christened Simon, assumed office as the 5th democratically elected governor of Plateau State. Indeed, the story of Governor Lalong, as he is popularly called, epitomizes humility, resilience, sagacity and tact.
Young Lalong was enrolled into the R.C.M. Primary School Shendam and obtained his First School Leaving Certificate in 1977, proceeded to G.S.S. Shendam for O’ Level Certificate and graduated in 1982.
The unquenchable thirst for knowledge in Governor Lalong propelled him to enroll at the defunct School of Preliminary Studies (S.P.S) Keffi before proceeding to the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, to study Law. He earned ABU’s law degree in 1990, attended the Lagos campus of the Nigerian Law School and was eventually called to the Bar.
Lalong ultimately returned to the classroom, in 1996, where he later obtained a Master’s degree in Law from the University of Jos.
Of course, these educational attainments are part of what prepared the ebullient Governor Lalong for the challenges of life and leadership which was eventually entrusted on him when he presented himself for election as member of the Plateau State House of Assembly representing Shendam constituency, his eventual emergence as Speaker of the Assembly where he served seven years making him the longest serving Speaker before eventually emerging as the Plateau State governor.
His work Life
Between 1992 and 1998, Governor Lalong worked with a few law firms, one of which he co-owned and had served as the deputy scribe of the Plateau State chapter of Nigerian Bar Association.
Lalong temporarily left the legal practice to join politics in 1998 when he was elected member of the Plateau State House of Assembly representing his native Shendam Constituency. In October 2000, he became the speaker of the assembly, occupying that position till 2006.
The Seven years he served as the Speaker of that assembly made him the longest serving speaker of the House in the history of Plateau State. During that period, he was twice elected as the Chairman of the Conference of Speakers of the 36 states of Nigeria.
He was the Principal Partner of Simon B Lalong and Co where he returned for active legal practice after serving in the state assembly, until 2015 where he contested and was elected as governor of Plateaus State on the platform of the now ruling All Progressives Congress-APC.
Governor Lalong has carved a niche for himself having successfully served in the three arms of government: judiciary, legislature and the executive with great distinction.
As a testament to his political sagacity, Lalong holds the record of winning all the elections he has ever contested in all his political journey.
Walking the Talk
Indeed, prior to the election of Governor Lalong in 2015 under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Plateau State was bedeviled with all manners of crises, a situation that forced many residents living especially in the Jos and Bukuru metropolis to relocate to other States in the country.
Similarly, many business owners who felt their investments were no longer safe were not left out in the exodus from the State that has the appellation: Home of Peace and Tourism.
The expectation was therefore very high that the wind of change that brought in Governor Lalong will blow so deep so as to restore the lost glory of Plateau State and make it truly earn its pride of place as the Home of Peace and Tourism.
Aware of the enormity of the task ahead of him and determined to justify the confidence reposed on him, Governor Lalong set out with what he termed the Rescue Agenda.
Six years after, the Rescue Agenda though a work in progress, has continued to change the narrative of governance on the Plateau. Indeed, the dutiful implementation of the Rescue Agenda has culminated in the expansion of existing structures in the critical sectors of education, transportation and the health, aside from ensuring the enthronement of enduring peace and peaceful co-existence among the disparate ethnic and religious nationalities that currently tenant the state.
Arguably, among Governor Lalong’s major achievement which is indeed a no mean feat, is the enthronement of peace on the Plateau as his emergence has witnessed a de-escalation of the ethno-religious tensions that has been the defining features of the state.
One major deficit in the Plateau equation is the absence of peace occasioned by persistent ethno-religious conflicts which gained conflagration in 2001.
Upon assumption of office, Governor, Lalong has been up and about to ensure primarily, the restoration of peace on the Plateau. He knew quite well that peace begets progress and development.
His concerted efforts ultimately culminated in the creation of sustainable peace initiatives, engagement of regular and robust dialogue sessions with the establishment of the Plateau Peace Building Agency (PPBA).
Armed with the presence of relative peace and stability, the Lalong administration embarked on full implementation of the Rescue Agenda by prioritizing the provision of critical infrastructures.
Consequently, different inherited infrastructural projects were completed while new ones including no fewer than 270 road projects across the state were embarked upon, renovation of hundreds of schools, creation of Plateau Small and Medium Scale Agency (PLASMIDA) that has trained thousands of youths on variety of entrepreneurial skills.
Other plausible efforts of the Lalong administration included the revival of the moribund state-owned fertilizer blending plant located in Bokkos, which has made fertilizer readily available to farmers.
Plausibly, Governor Lalong also rolled out different people-oriented programmes and projects after painstaking consultations with the State’s Economic Advisary Team and other. These focused and well-thought-out projects have been christened “The Governor Lalong’s Legacy Projects”.
The Governor started his first term in office by hitting the ground running by setting out a strategic plan of development for his four-year tenure. His burning desire was to ensure peace, security and good governance; human capital development and social welfare, agriculture and rural development, entrepreneurship and industrialization; as well as physical infrastructure and environment.
These formed the fulcrum of his policy and successes recorded during the first term could be aptly attributed to the governor’s proactive approach to governance.
Knowing fully well the imports of a well-articulated policy focus, and following his overwhelming successes recorded during the first tenure, Lalong had unfolded a new five-year development plan which will serve as a guide for the next four years.
The plan is being rolled out in phases after in-depth study by both the members of cabinet and key government officials.
Good enough, the roadmap is hinged on peace, security and good governance; infrastructural development; and, sustainable economic rebirth, all of which formed part of the basic and indeed, immediate development needs of Plateau State.
As a demonstration of his leadership acumen, Lalong aims to ensure sustainable agriculture, improved revenue generation, better human capital development, well-articulated tourism development and utilization of solid mineral endowments of the State.
Already, Governor Lalong has been breathing life into the roadmap as symbolized by the execution of his administration’s ‘Legacy Project’. These projects include comprehensive hospitals, comprehensive secondary and primary schools, being constructed in areas across the three senatorial districts of the state.
It is believed that when completed, these legacy projects which are at advanced stages of completion, will bolster education, health, human and infrastructural development.
Interestingly, the State is already reaping the benefits of restoration of peace which culminated in Plateau State, in 2020, hosting three national events: NAFEST, the Jos International trade Fair and the 61st Annual Scientific Conference and Delegates Meeting of the Nigeria Medical Association in Jos the Plateau State capital in 2021.
To Governor Lalong’s credit, investors from China, Switzerland, Hungary, Germany, United States, Denmark and the United Kingdom, some of whom have indicated interest in investing in agriculture, tourism and solid minerals development, have visited Plateau State in recent times.