Almost all 36 states bought into FG’s livestock project —Gov Lalong
Plateau State governor, Simon Bako Lalong, at an interactive session with journalists, including ISAAC SHOBAYO, sheds light on a wide range of issues affecting the country and his state.
What are you doing towards completing the ongoing legacy projects in all the 17 local government areas of the state?
I have seen a situation where a governor put up high structures, when another government came, it said that was not its priority and those projects were abandoned and they began other projects that they won’t even finish before another administration would come. I see that as complete waste of resources. In our own case, we don’t care about who started the projects. As long as the projects are viable and very useful, we would complete them and that is what we are doing now. When you see abandoned projects, try and complete them. We have completed a lot of such projects and others yet to be touched will be given attention when resources are available.
Initially, our legacy project was about N50 billion, but along the line I realised that it was not going the way we wanted and I said I would not start a project and leave huge abandoned projects again, when my plan was to complete abandoned projects. It will not make sense. So, we went back to the drawing board and reviewed the projects. We were able to review the project from N50 billion to about N30 billion. Again, in order to ensure that we finish the projects, we went to the capital market for funds and the money is there. As a result of this, we told the contractors that the projects must be finished on time. We have since discovered that the contractor was slow. To cut the matter short, we have given him a letter of termination. I want to assure the people of Plateau State that we will finish all the legacy projects before the end of our administration. The legacy projects are about education and health. If we can finish these projects, we would also touch other areas before the end of our administration. If you are building schools, without manpower, you are wasting your time. We would soon start pivotal training to get more qualified teachers into our schools. Many people want to teach but they don’t have the skills and methods of teaching are very important.
Since the Service Chiefs were changed nothing much has been achieved in terms of security. The security situation seems to be getting worse. What do you think can be done about insecurity?
Let me say within the period that the service chiefs were changed, I think a lot of things have been put on the ground because it is only a fool that will continue to do the same thing and expect different results. In collaboration with the Northern Governors Forum, the president gave them a deadline of three months. We are also working within the deadline. They also need the support of journalists by writing reports that would encourage them. So, if we are doing well, please help us report the truth.
What is the state government doing to fortify its schools against kidnappers?
We are trying to ensure adequate security around our schools. Some people told us to close down our schools, but we said ‘no.’ The intention of these kidnappers is to interrupt the system and by the time we start closing the schools they would be happy. As students proceed on holiday, more will be done before they come back. We are trying to create school security awareness. It is now that we have abandoned certain security tips. Before there were Boy Scouts, Cadet, Man O War etc, and in some of the schools, there were students police. I recall I was one of them. They were the students protecting the school overnight; it even helped many to join the military and the police; it is better to start them again. If we have this kind of arrangement in place and functional, they would be able to protect the schools and alert the entire school when kidnappers are approaching. During our time, military would come around to train us and take us to the bush for training or camping. With a whistle, you can communicate and inform that the enemies are moving this way. We must reintroduce this into our schools again. Security is no longer security agencies’ business alone; it is everybody’s business. We are getting into a situation whereby before anyone finished secondary school, he/she must have security knowledge. We didn’t know that banditry, kidnapping will come like this.
Plateau is known as the Home of Peace and Tourism and also for its abundant mineral resources. What is the government doing to uplift the sector to boost its internally generated revenue?
I think we have gone very far. Plateau is back to real mining; we are talking of how to acquire our mining sites. Investors are already coming in to take part in this sector. Tourism is one of our areas of comparative advantage; by now we would have done Plateau Economy Summit, but because of COVID-19 pandemic we could not do it last year. If we had done it, a lot would have happened in this sector, including agriculture. Agriculture and mining are areas of our comparative advantages. So, we are not relenting in these aspects. Tourism also requires that there must be peace, if there’s insecurity, there would be no tourism. If you want to promote tourism, you must also invest in security. Most of the sites and hotels owned by the state government will be put in shape. Don’t forget that we hosted NIFEST even when other states were running away from it and there was no report that anyone contracted COVID-19 from the festival. In terms of rating, they said it was one of the best festivals so far.
You have been on the front of those championing the implementation of National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP). What does your state stand to gain from this?
We carried a lot of sensitisation exercises on National Livestock Transformation Plan to ensure that people know what it entails and the benefits. Plateau State was selected by the Federal Government as one of the three pilot states. We are only waiting for the Federal Government to provide the funds and we provide the counterpart funds. Even now as it is, all eyes are on Plateau for the implementation of NLTP. We have already earmarked a portion of our land, a portion of land at the Wase grazing reserve and Kanam for the pilot scheme. Initially, some states were saying they don’t want to key into it, but I want to tell you now that almost all the 36 states have keyed into it. The difference is that some of them do not have the land; nobody is forcing you if don’t have the land. But if you have the land, you can release it for the benefit of your people; government will fund the project.
In the North, maybe from next year there would be no open grazing. So if you don’t want open grazing and you want to eat meat, you must key into NLTP. The scheme is all comprehensive. Plateau is number one in its implementation. If we are able to implement, it will go a long way in addressing the farmers and herders’ clashes. The programme will protect the farmers and the herdsmen as well. The final stage is always the implementation of the law, because without the law you cannot implement the NLTP perfectly. Some states enacted anti-grazing law, but implementation was very difficult for them. In our own case, we have sent the law to the state House of Assembly. They will soon start public hearing on this so that when they pass the law, we will go into full implementation without any hindrance. It would be good investment for everyone including the journalists.
One of your colleagues, the governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, posited that he doesn’t believe in the existence of COVID-19. Don’t you think his position negates the fight against the pandemic?
That some of our colleagues said they don’t believe in the existence of COVID-19 is personal. I am a member of PTF. In Kogi State, they said the hospital earmarked for COVID-19 was burnt along with equipment by the EndSARS protesters, but NCDC said they were ready and were going to replace the equipment and start the vaccination. That is why Kogi is relaxed. But for the governor, like we said, it is voluntary. Nobody can force him to take it. He said he doesn’t believe in it. He said he is not going to take it but for his people he is making arrangements for them to be vaccinated. That is the real picture there. So Kogi State is not left out the vaccination exercise.
According to Berom Educational and Cultural Organisation, a socio-cultural group in Plateau State, no fewer than 55 communities have been sacked and illegally occupied by Fulani herdsmen. What is the state government doing to address this land grabbing issue?
I don’t think those living in these places are claiming the land. Your fact might not be correct. Nobody has come out to claim any land. In some places, people are afraid to go back; until we provide security, they may not go back. In most of these places, we are trying to ensure there is adequate security. We don’t want people to go back and hear that they are being attacked. Like in Gashishi, we agreed that the Federal Government should set up a mobile barracks. So, we are in the process of setting up the barracks. The figure you gave might not be correct. I am not sure that it is up to that, because we have relocated many to their communities. Let such people [Fulani herdsmen] come out and say the land belongs to them, we would take action and openly tell them that the land does not belong to them. So, we have the law against land grabbing in place to take of care of such situation, if there’s any.
The city centre is littered with refuse and indiscriminate display of wares by traders. What is the government doing to inject sanity into this area and other parts of the state?
I have already given the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) instructions on this. We have a special committee for implementation, but along the line, it appears the committee went into comatose. Now motorcycles are beginning to resurface within the city centre. I have asked the SSG to review the work of that committee. If they are not ready to do the work, I will establish another committee. I also learnt that even the almajiri that had been sent packing have returned to the city centre. I am not happy because we are trying to build Jos Main Market; we cannot be happy with this kind of thing. Some people brought almajiri from other places; we are planning to train and put them in one place. We have law against beggars; we are not doing open begging in Plateau State. The committee in charge should swing into action and clear them from the city centre.
There is a clamour by the people of Plateau North that local government election should be conducted into four council areas namely, Riyom, Barakin Ladi, Jos South and Jos North. The position is that if state and federal elections can be held in these councils without crisis, nothing stops your government from conducting council polls in these areas.
It may interest you to know that some states have not conducted local government elections in last couple of years; they don’t have any reason for that. Some conducted election about eight years ago. In our own case, we are not saying we don’t want to conduct election. We conducted state elections, we didn’t have crisis, but when you conducted local government elections you had crisis. The major crises we have in Plateau State today were all about local government elections; it was not about federal election. If I risked it now and conduct local government election and crisis breaks out, people will start blaming the government. For God sake, we want peace in Plateau State. In most of the states they don’t conduct elections, they announce results. We conducted election here and the opposition won and we gave it to them. In many states, they conducted elections, the opposition did not win even a councillor [seat]. Is that what they want me to do in Plateau so that fight can break out? As a politician, I know people kill themselves over local government election more than national elections. When it comes to state election, people don’t care, but go and try anything funny with councillorship election, you will see what will happen. The security report available to us depicts that there is no guarantee for local government election in these four councils.Even international community came to us to say be careful. We are looking for investment and because of local government election, I cannot scare investors away. Some people compare and say if you conducted federal elections and there was no fight, why are you stopping local government election? With local government elections that we conducted in 13 councils, I know what we went through. If not that security agencies were at alert, it would have been killing and burning in some places. So I will not allow anybody to bring the state back to where we were coming from in the guise of local government election. So when it is convenient and peace returns fully, we will conduct the election.
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