Lalong: Knocks, kudos on road to 2019
• Achievements Speak Loudly, Say Backers
• He’s Done Too Little, Affirm Opposition
Call his name on the streets of Plateau State and you will realise the helmsman means different things to different people. To some civil servants happy to receive their salaries in good time, he is nicknamed ‘Governor Alert’. To other folks grieved at some of his policies, he is a leader without “any blueprint” for development. With the 2019 election around the corner, however, it appears Governor Simon Bako Lalong will soon discover whether his critics or admirers are in the majority.
Since stepping into office May 29, 2015, Lalong has earned commendations from several sections of society for boosting peace on the troubled plateau. He is no doubt in the good books of Second Republic politician in the state, Pa Gambo Ndam.
“Lalong has promoted peace and harmony among different ethnic nationalities and religious groups in the state by establishing the Department of Peace and Security. Another giant stride is that he worked towards the elimination of the so-called no-go-areas that came into existence after bloody ethno-religious crises forced people to live in segregation,” said Ndam.
The octogenarian pointed at projects like the Secretariat Flyover and others, stressing: “Before Lalong came, local governments were owed over seven months salary arrears. But he has been able to pay all councils up till April this year, except for the no-work-no-pay arrears initiated by the previous administration.”
According to him, government now has a cordial relationship with the organised labour in the state, and appointments into key offices are equitably spread. The governor has also revisited the issue of the creation of chiefdoms, districts and village areas and set up a committee to review the salaries of traditional rulers.
But not every one has a mouthful of praise for Lalong. Chieftain of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, Chief Ishaku Jasper Joshua, wondered what else the governor could have done but complete projects left unfinished by his predecessor. According to him, had Lalong done otherwise, he would have given the opposition an opportunity to discredit his administration.
“He (Lalong) believes that there is no money in the state. Yet, under the guise of looking for investors, he takes constant trips outside the country. And these are from the lean resources. Though these investors from China and other places came, indicating interest to invest in the state, we have not seen any sign of serious commitment,” said Joshua.
“He appointed caretaker committees for the local governments that are performing below expectation and has continued to extend their tenure every now and then, without anything to show in the area of rural development. You know, every time the caretakers’ tenure is extended, it has to be approved by the House, which must get its mandatory sitting allowances. Some people told me that the caretaker chairmen even lobby to ensure their tenure is extended.”
He accused Lalong of not steering the APC to the satisfaction of the many supporters who worked tirelessly for the party’s success. “He has not fulfilled the constitutional mandate of conducting local government elections in the state, because the constitution does not recognise this caretaker committee of a thing,” Joshua added.
Another PDP stalwart in the state, Chief Emmanuel Dong, noted: “The governor is only giving priority attention to golf clubs and the Rotary Club, rather than concentrating on human and infrastructural development. This confirms he did not have plans to develop the state before becoming governor. There is no blueprint. There are huge debts of salary arrears and gratuities at all levels.”
But a source at Government House, Little Rayfield, Jos, told The Guardian: “Speculations of any form of corruption against the Lalong government cannot be substantiated by the accusers. If there is any, let the person come out and say it in the public domain. He should not fear prosecution because this is a democracy.
“Rather, the governor is managing the scarce resources. This is a government that virtually met an empty treasury with a debt profile of over N200 billion. Yet, it has been able to carry out road rehabilitation within the Jos-Bukuru metropolis and completed the Secretariat Junction Flyover, which was abandoned at 60 per cent by the immediate past administration.”
He added: “This man (Lalong) came and completed it and put it to use, and it has eased traffic congestion. When he came in, he was able to consolidate on the peace of the state. Cases of unknown gunmen or assailants attacking one village or another have been drastically reduced. Again, he has shattered the myth of no-go areas in the state. All strata of the society now move about freely.”
For Mr. Dauda David, a political affairs analyst in the state, critics of Lalong must remain silent forever, having refused a golden opportunity to speak out. David was referring to the recent visit to the state by President Muhammadu Buhari. “You can see how the President poured encomiums on Lalong for a job well done. The citizens, including those in the opposition, were given access to ask Mr. President questions, but they boycotted the meeting.”
He noted: “Since they did not deem it fit to attend the Town Hall Meeting to ask what was agitating their minds or what the Lalong administration has done, whether good or bad, they should shut up.”
According to David, since Plateau State was created, no government has ever reached out the most to the people. “Which tribe will you not find in the administration of Lalong? For the first time, he recognised the political relevance of the Hausa-Fulani extraction, which past governments ignored. That was why there had been major crises between the past governments and the Hausa-Fulani. But when Lalong came on board, he brought them closer and incorporated them in government. And there has been peace and harmony in their areas.
Individuals and groups, meanwhile, have been urging the governor to run for a second term, based on what they described as his good performance.
Chief John Gobak, a former Secretary to the Plateau State Government, insisted Lalong deserves a second term. “If the President gives us more federal appointments, we will accept them. But so far so good, I think we have benefited to a great extent. We have quite a number of chairmen, quite a number of federal board members. He (Buhari) has done well and these things happened during the Lalong government. As governor, he recommended people. He put down the names of people who were party men and sent them down, saying, ‘these people who have worked for the APC deserve to be appointed’. And in the state, here, he has done massive appointments of board members.”
Also, the State APC Elders’ Advisory Council rose from a meeting, recently, calling on the governor to contest the 2019 election. Chairman of the Council, retired Captain Joseph Din, who made the disclosure at a press briefing, said: “Lalong has institutionalised peace-building and reconciliation through the establishment of the Peace Building Agency. Now that peace has been attained, he has continued with the uncompleted projects of his predecessors, carving a niche for himself. We, hereby, unanimously endorse Buhari as President of Nigeria in 2019 and Lalong as Governor of Plateau State in 2019.”
The Plateau State House of Assembly, dominated by the APC, also gave Lalong a nod for second term. The move, however, irked the minority opposition, which staged a walkout. The House also endorsed Lalong’s deputy, Prof. Sonni Tyoden, to run alongside his principal.
The House stressed that the endorsement became necessary because of the governor’s leadership style of including all the ethnic nationalities in the state in his cabinet. It also praised the execution of projects that impact on the people, especially rural dwellers. The Plateau Senatorial Central Zone of the APC also backed calls for Lalong’s re-election.
Expectedly, the release of the electoral timetable by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 2019 general elections, has revved up political activities in the state. Flyers and posters are already visible at strategic junctions in Jos and Bukuru. Besides other positions being sought by aspirants, the governor’s seat remains a hotbed of interest, especially as Lalong is believed to have indicated an “unquenchable” desire for a comeback.
As Shabul Mazadu, journalist and publisher, puts it: “With a group springing up and campaigning for him, flooding the state with his posters without anyone calling it to order, it shows that he (Lalong) has set the ball rolling for his second term ambition.”
Others jostling to take over from Lalong include Senator Victor Lar; George Daika, a former Speaker of the House of Assembly; Jonah Jang’s former Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Shedrack Best; Engineer Jimmy Cheto, a technocrat and current senator; and former Minister of Federal Capital Territory, retired General Jeremiah Useni.
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