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Wednesday, November 22, 2017.

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Nigerian News » Politics

Lalong’s campaign promises and the journey far

Since he took over the reins of leadership on May 29, 2015, Governor Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau State has been enmeshed with multiple challenges, including unpaid workers salaries, uncompleted projects left by his predecessor and a huge debt profile in the face of dwindling revenue in the state. Daily Trust looks into some of Lalong’s major achievements and setbacks in the last one and half years.

Backlog of salaries and wages

It is a known fact that Governor Lalong assumed office at a time the state was hugely indebted and faced with over six months’ salary arrears owed to civil servants and about 11 months pensioners’ arrears. 

However, Lalong impressed civil servants and pensioners as well as earned their confidence when he cleared the backlog of salaries and pensions owed them by December 2016 in line with a promise he made when he came to office.  

Lalong has also renegotiated the commercial bank loans left by the previous administration and settled some unpaid contractual liabilities despite the dwindling income of the state.  

The Executive Director of Jos Business School, Mr Ezekiel Gomos, described 2016 as a successful year for the economy of Plateau State. He said Lalong has been able to block loopholes to revenue generation adding that, “Any economy starting the year on a clean slate in terms of backlog of salaries and wages is poised for growth.”

Acrimonious tones over foreign trips 

There are those who accused Lalong of “constant and fruitless investment journeys” which they claimed were yet to translate into any fruitful venture. At the last count, the governor had jetted out of the country about 16 times since assumption of office.

This has earned him a backlash from his immediate predecessor, Sen. Jonah Jang, who boasted that while a governor, he never travelled outside the country during his first year in office. 

Jang, therefore, touted Lalong for “going on fruitless trips since no meaningful investment has been brought to the state.”

The Director of Civil Liberties Organisation, Comrade Steve Aluko, hammered on the same point when he told Daily Trust that though several MoU’s have been signed following Lalong’s trips, they were yet to translate into economic prosperity which Plateau citizens are yearning for.  

“Lalong’s constant journeys have gulped huge public funds which have not translated into practical opportunities. It is not too early to judge him; if we have a governor that travels a lot, then we should by now begin to see things put in place that could be practically measured,” he said. 

But Gomos, who is also the chairman, Technical Board of Plateau Investment and Property Development Company (PIPC),  noted that economic investments are not like light switches, saying they take time to actualise.

“The first steps which are the signing of MoU’s have taken place and the responses from investors have been positive. The first Chinese companies are already in Jos; they have incorporated a mining company and they are already mining; they have already created 45 jobs and the target is to create about 3,000 jobs in the state,” Gomos said. 

Mixed reactions on support for agriculture, tourism 

Unarguably, Plateau State has comparative advantage in agriculture and tourism but many say not much has been done in that area despite the fact that Lalong has activated the Panyam Fish Farm which was abandoned for years, as well as the Bokkos fertilizer project which has started test production. In the hospitality and tourism area, the state government has signed MoU’s in respect of Plateau Hotel, Jos, Solomon Lar Amusement Park, Hill Station Hotel and Roc Hotel. Gomos says some of the investors have done their technical audits while others have already submitted their proposals on what they intend to do.  

However, Aluko says Lalong cannot be scored high in tourism, agriculture and youths on the grounds that “he has not taken advantage of tourism given the atmospheric advantage and the peaceful disposition of the people at the moment.”

According to him, “We cannot score him too high in the area of youths, too, because whether in sports or entertainment, he has not been able to galvanise the youths into productive engagement. We have heard so much about his concern for the youths but in terms of policy and practical programmes, he has not gotten it right.”  

He explained that Lalong is also yet to take advantage of the agricultural opportunities such as the way Kebbi State embraced rice production in commercial quantity, a development that gives opportunities to thousands of people.

A plus on continuity of projects 

In spite of the numerous uncompleted projects inherited by the Lalong administration, the governor has been able to complete the long awaited flyover at the state secretariat junction, which had at the time of his assumption of office was at 46% completion stage. The governor also completed the N12 billion new Government House at Little Rayfield, the construction of the House of Assembly complex and many other road projects left by his predecessor.     

On this, Aluko, who is also a development consultant said: “One credit that most also be given to Lalong is that he didn’t abandon the projects initiated by his immediate predecessor. Ordinarily, another governor would have abandoned them to start new ones but Lalong has been able to take some of the projects to the point of conclusion and is still working on others.”

A different approach to security challenges 

Burning security challenges, especially the predominant Berom/Fulani crisis, in the northern senatorial zone, Wase/Tarok clashed in the southern senatorial district as well as cattle rustling were some of the troubles inherited by the Lalong administration. However, one and half years into his government, Lalong has to his credit the return of peace to the state as a “showcase achievement.”

Daily Trust gathered that in 2016, Plateau State recorded least killings, attacks and counter attacks as well as cattle rustlings when compared to what happened five years earlier.

“Kudos for him in that area,” Aluko said.

A minus on LG election  

Lalong was criticised for dissolving the democratically elected local government   council in July, 2015 not long after he promised to maintain the status quo.

Besides, what continued to irk pundits is his continued request to the State House of Assembly to extend the tenure of the caretaker management committees he instituted, instead of setting a new date for the local government council elections. 

However, the deputy speaker of the state House of Assembly, Yusuf Gagdi, said the extension became necessary in order for the House to harmonise two conflicting local government laws that have been used interchangeably by the past government.

He said the delay will also culminate in strengthening the law establishing the Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission (PLASIEC).
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