Where you have abject poverty, stomach insecurity, there will be physical insecurity —Lalong

Plateau State governor, Mr Simon Bako Lalong is the chairman of Northern Governors Forum (NGF). He speaks with some journalists on a wide range of issues, including insecurity in the North, the RUGA controversy, delay in the appointment of commissioners, among other issues. ISAAC SHOBAYO was there.

 

SINCE you were sworn in for a second term, you are yet to constitute your cabinet and people are beginning to ask questions. What is responsible for the delay?

Indeed, it is over 100 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 have an arrangement where we have to properly prepare for the next four years. And in the preparation for the next four years, we have to come up with a development plan. Now, when people ask ‘why are you delaying?’ My response is that it is not about rushing and putting a cabinet in place. It is about the focus on 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 that has been done and the report was submitted this week. The report will form the focus and direction of the government for the next four years, especially in terms of economic empowerment. Now, it is on the basis of this direction that I would do my selection of commissioners. I would now decide what kind of ministry, what kind of arrangement and combination will best deliver for our people. I have already started with the appointment of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and the Chief of Staff (CoS) who are the engine room.

So, technically, as I said during the swearing-in of the SSG and CoS, 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 the list to him. Once they are screened and confirmed, we would now set the ball rolling and continue the implementation of the economic plan for the state.

 

The last time you nominated commissioners, concerns were raised by some people that portfolios were not attached to the names of nominees you presented to the House of Assembly. What should the people of Plateau State expect this time round?

I was speaker for about eight years. If you look at the laws, they didn’t say that you must attach portfolios to the list you submit to the House of Assembly. Usually, when you submit the 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 almost made up his mind on where to put them. But after following the screening, he changed his mind, because based on the interaction with the House of Assembly members, the governor came and said, ‘this nominee should be in this or that place,’ different from where he had thought.

So, when commissioner nominees appear before the House, let everyone be judged by his performance, because in my administration, anybody can be put everywhere, except, of course, certain professional departments like the attorney-general of the state. But then, let them appear before the House. Let them finish first step. At the end of it, you would come back and make your assessment.

 

In the recent past, Plateau State witnessed crises and violence in different dimensions. But in the past four years, relative peace has returned to all the troubled parts of the state. With this, what are you doing to consolidate on the prevailing peaceful atmosphere and change people’s perception back to the original Plateau as the ‘Home of Peace and Tourism?’

Yes, we have done a lot in terms of security, 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, stomach insecurity lead 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 mine is the only state that created the Peace Building Agency, the only state in the federation. 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 streets, but the moment you leave them roaming about, they become very vulnerable. At anytime, they can be used for a peanut. That is why you see youths engaging in many vices that will be detrimental to the society. As part of the scheme, we are also talking about industrialisation. We must make Plateau 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 claim to be driving people away from your state, you lose. If Lagos was like that, Lagos would 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, if we would 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 expanding our Operation Rainbow, in case we wake up one day and the Federal Government says we are withdrawing Operation Safe Haven. That is why I am preparing. 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.

 

What are you doing to tame merchants of conflicts who might want to frustrate or sabotage the security arrangements you have in place?

I know that several times the police, the army and other security agencies have been parading suspected people for various offences. Even recently, the commissioner of police told me that there were some notorious criminals that he caught and put in detention. As part of the efforts to facilitate prosecution, we have passed a law. We have amended our penal code and 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, it won’t take time for you 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 complained that they saw criminals here, caught them and then, say when they were taken to Abuja, they would never see them again. And they won’t know whether they were prosecuted or they were just released.

But today, they are in Plateau State. I know that they are here. They are undergoing prosecution. What I am thinking of doing next is to also enhance the capacity of the Ministry of Justice.

 

You are the chairman of Northern NGF and quite a lot is happening in the North. How are you tackling insecurity in the region?

That is another big challenge. When I was elected as chairman of NGF, I said wow, I have a headache here in Plateau State and another headache added. However, I said by the grace of God, I would do my best by applying the wisdom that He gave us to deal with the challenge here in Plateau State. We would extend it to the other parts of the North. And if you recall, from the very day I was appointed the chairman of NGF, 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 NGF which will be my first formal meeting 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 that, I have always been in touch with the Inspector General of Police (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 IGP 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 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 how 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 also 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 Almajiri which also goes with the issue of employment, we shall have some respite.

 

There is a misconception and misinformation on the position of the state on the management of livestock. What is the position of Plateau State government on this?

I am a member of the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) which is headed by the vice-president. I am representing North-Central. I cannot start doing something that is not in favour of Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa or Kogi states or any part of Central zone. Now, part of the document was not brought by President Muhammadu Buhari. It was initiated during President Goodluck Jonathan’s era.

So, it is that same document that was represented to the National Economic Council (NEC), because we were looking for solution to farmers-herdsmen crisis. A budget of N100 billion was approved for that same scheme. So, when I came on board, I saw open grazing. I said the choice was either open grazing or ranching. I said ‘no, we cannot go for open grazing,’ because when you are talking of open grazing, you will also be concerned with the problem of cattle routes and the tendency for clashes with farmers.

So, on my own, I came back and set up a 12-man committee, headed by Professor Ochapa Onazi. Traditional rulers and religious leaders were involved. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), JNI and the civil society were involved. There were as well representatives of youths. They were the ones who developed the scheme. They went to Abuja, came back and the recommendation was that Plateau should adopt ranching. When we finished the ranching, we went to the local governments for sensitization, regardless of all the various stakeholders in Plateau State.

At the end, the conclusion was for us to go with ranching. Now, the first issue was to go and get the land, because Federal Government is going to sponsor the pilot scheme. It does not mean that Federal Government is the one carrying it out. Now, a budget for pilot scheme was announced for those states that wanted to do the entire livestock business according to their own peculiarities as a voluntary initiative. No coercion. So, we also said any local government that wants to establish within its area should provide land. Some local governments agreed and provided land and that was when political manipulation started. Some said we were grabbing land. At the end of the day, we suspended land from the local government, but we have a grazing reserve in Wase. We have a grazing reserve in Kanam and from the archive they brought out to us, the number of grazing reserves that we have in Plateau are eight. Out of the eight grazing reserves we have in Plateau, six were taken over. If I embark on recovering them, it will create another problem, because past leaders, especially military, shared all the land within themselves and the ones that are left are just Wase and Kanam. If we leave it today, another government will come and we will not see it again and I said nobody should go to these areas. They are grazing reserves owned by Plateau State government. If this is the case, we would make sure we use those grazing reserves not like real grazing reserves now, but for investors to come and invest in ranching and dairy. While we were doing this, we started hearing the issue of RUGA, and people said Plateau is doing RUGA. I said ‘no, we are not doing RUGA in the Plateau.’ Here, we stand on livestock production through ranching. I have continuously explained to people and told them not to put religion or ethnic sentiments into investment. Don’t, because it will scare away investors who want to bring in their money. My plea to people is if you have a concept, listen to it and understand it. As for RUGA, whatever it is, those who want it in their states, let them do it, but for us, we are talking of livestock production which is not restricted to cows. There is also sheep, piggery, poultry and every other aspect. So, if there are incentives or palliatives or subsidies for these items from Federal Government, I have keyed into it and we are waiting for these subsidies. And it will help our people to empower them. So, people should not take it to the mosque and start preaching with it or take it to the church and start preaching. It is business. Understand what you going through and don’t throw the baby with the bath water.

 

You mentioned quite a number of things you are going to do. Do you have enough money? Is your pocket deep?

First of all, what you need to achieve anything is confidence and will. When I was campaigning for my first tenure, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Plateau Chapter came to me and said we had challenges about the arrears of salaries. I told them, I said ‘look, if I am elected governor, I will pay you all.’ Somebody drew me aside and said ‘no, you don’t say that, because it is when you get there that you will know, because if you make this kind of commitment and you can’t do it, then, they will hold you for it.’ I said with God on my side, I would do it as I said. I still stand by it. Today, it is history. Now, some of these things, once you activate it, you keep the determination to realise it. I have said yes, I have put projects everywhere. People ask me ‘how do you intend to finish these projects?’ That is why I have engaged a consultant to ensure we boost our revenue base.

So, we have a target and by God’s grace, in the next one year, you will see a difference, because we have a N30,000 minimum wage to pay. I have told the labour that I am going to pay. I am waiting for the final decision from the Governors’ Forum. I am a law-abiding citizen and as a principal officer in the Governors’ Forum. I will not default. We have put in place machinery to even prepare, we are always ahead to prepare that we would continue to pay salaries as and when due, even with the N30,000 minimum wage. The civil servants will also help us to be able to pay. I don’t want a lazy civil service, because as I am going to prepare to start paying, they too should be willing to do their part. Remember that I did advertise to employ some new workers, but when the minimum wage issue arose, I said ‘let us wait for the minimum wage so as to know the capacity we are going to engage.’ I cannot come here and spend eight years and say I didn’t give opportunity for employment of people. I will definitely employ people and will definitely engage some people.

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