By Chijioke Okoronkwo, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
In his inaugural speech as the Governor of Plateau, Simon Lalong vowed to manage his victory well, meet the electorate’s expectations and reposition the state for enhanced development.
One year after, the governor, while appearing on a News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum, X-rayed the journey so far and recounted his achievements within one year of running the state.
Lalong said that in recognition of the importance of functional education to the growth of any society, he decided to turn the fortunes of Plateau State University (PLASU) around, while giving basic education a new lease of life.
With a sense of fulfilment, the governor said that PLASU would graduate its first set of students before the end of 2016, adding, however, that the graduation was coming 10 years after the university’s establishment.
He said that the university could not graduate students for a long while because of the non-accreditation of its courses.
“There has been no accreditation; no graduation for over 10 years.
“Setting up a university as a speaker and now back as a governor, I have no reason not to work on ensuring that the university is duly accredited.
“To date, they have done accreditation for 17 courses and the university is ready for convocation.
“That will tell you the passion we have about education,’’ he added.
In the area of primary education, Lalong said that in order to boost the quality of education delivery in the sub-sector, his administration had recruited 2,000 teachers on ad hoc basis.
He also said that through counterpart funding of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), the schools had been renovated while their infrastructure were improved.
“We realised that we do not have the opportunity to employ teachers now; but what we did was to approve the employment of about 2,000 teachers for our primary schools.’’
Lalong said that at the inception of his administration, insecurity and protracted workers’ strike had plagued the quality of teaching and learning in schools in the state.
“On the chart, before then, Plateau used to be rated very high, but at the time we came in, our state was either last or second to the last in the federation.
“The worst part of it was that there was no relationship between labour and the government, to the point where the civil servants were no longer working.
“The strike was on for about five to six months, salaries were not paid for over nine months and then, teachers were owed over 11 months’ salaries.
“So, it was like we inherited a failed state.
“Therefore, the first thing I did was to pay workers their salaries,’’ he said.
On security, the governor emphasised that the restoration of peace to the volatile state had somewhat transformed it into an investment destination.
He said at present, old and new investors had been trooping into the state, following the restoration of peace among the various tribes and communities across the state.
“Once you have peace, people will certainly come to invest in your state. Recently I was in China and the Chinese are now flooding my state, we just signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with some investors recently.
“So, the peace we have restored has introduced new investments opportunities to a lot of investors and so many of them are coming in,’’ he said.
Lalong said that when he assumed office as the governor, many things had been destroyed; there was no peace, while crises bedevilled the state.
He claimed that development in the state was lopsided, as ethnicity and religious differences were taken to very strong levels.
In a nutshell, the governor said that he had to come up with a five-point policy to revive the state, with peace and security at the top of the agenda.
“Security was number one. If you do not have security, there will be difficulty in executing the rest of the policy thrusts.
“I worked seriously to bring back security to the people of Plateau State.
“What I did was to first start with community approach; to go back to areas that were in conflict; to pick out from them directly the reasons for the conflict.
“Within a very quick moment, the committees set up to settle the rift between the Fulanis and the Beroms started their work, we realised that peace was getting restored.”
Lalong said that he was working on how to consolidate on the peace being enjoyed in the once volatile Jos, the state’s capital.
He said that as part of efforts to address the crises in the state, his administration set up a Bureau for Conflict Management and Reconciliation.
He pledged that all the 53 ethnic groups in the state would benefit from appointments that would be made by his administration, so as to promote equity, fairness and justice.
Besides, the governor said that cattle rustling had become a thing of the past in Plateau because of his administration’s interventions and mediations.
He recalled that cattle rustling was rife because many people saw it as a lucrative business until it provoked incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
“You will see a Fulani man; you will see a Plateau man; you will see a Tarok man; you will see a Berom man; and you will see a Shendam man participating in cattle rustling.
“They organised themselves when they discovered that cattle rustling was a lucrative business.
“Now, when you go to steal cows, the repercussion is that Fulani herdsmen will come and destroy farmlands and properties; then, the next thing will be crisis.
“So what we did was to try to settle the issue of cattle rustling first and I think cattle rustling is almost a thing of the past now on the Plateau.’’
Beyond that, Lalong said that his administration had developed strategies to boost its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) via agriculture, mining and other investment opportunities in the state.
He said that the state government was determined to utilise the abundant natural resources in the state to overcome its sole reliance on funds from the Federation Account.
Lalong said that his administration had also evolved a process of harmonising all revenue laws to improve on its IGR after understudying the experience of Lagos and Ogun states, among others.
On agriculture, he said that the government had repositioned the state-owned Agricultural Services and Training Centres (ASTCs) for improved service delivery.
“To an average Plateau farmer, I think there is now greater hope for him in his vocation. First, we have FADAMA I; we have FADAMA II and when I came in, I introduced FADAMA III.
“The FADAMA I and FADAMA II, were previously neglected in terms of counterpart funding; the past government was just paying lip service to it.
“All you needed to do is to pay your counterpart funding and you see a lot of things happening,’’ he added.
Lalong disclosed that the state government would soon commence the distribution of fertiliser to farmers so as to enable them to start farming early.
On mining, the governor said that his administration would take advantage of the opportunities presented by the availability of mineral deposits in the state to create jobs for the youth.
He maintained that virtually every part of the state had mineral deposits, adding that the state would partner with the Federal Government to get mining licences for interested investors.
He said that if things were done properly, Plateau would benefit a lot from his administration’s economic policy, adding that the state would also be able to increase its revenue target from N500 million to about N2 billion.
“We are focusing on mining and we are working in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Environment to make mining environment-friendly.
“Mining is not seen like what we used to see before; we were seeing illegal miners here and there before.
“Today, mining is like petroleum resources to Nigeria and in essence, we are also guarding it jealously,’’ he added.
In the light of the foregoing, observers insist that Lalong has performed creditably, adding that the governor very much deserves a round of applause.