In this interview with select journalists in Jos, Mark Longyen, Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, says the Governor’s three years scorecard speaks for itself and has automatically placed him head and shoulders above other contenders for his seat in next year’s elections. Excerpts:
Q. 2019 being the election year is around the corner and many contenders are jostling to replace Governor Lalong. Doesn’t he feel threatened by these opponents?
A. You see, Governor Lalong is no political Lilliputian but rather a political Demagogue in Plateau State and even nationally. He is very much aware of the caliber of opponents who are scrambling for his position, some old enough to be his father, but he is never one to be intimidated by anyone.
He is experienced enough, and his tremendous scorecard over the last three years already speaks for itself. This is something that even his harshest critics, especially among the opposition in the state, cannot deny.
Despite the fact that the Governor took over power at a most difficult time when the opposition PDP government bequeathed to him the state in a state of coma with the state treasury completely looted; a suffocating debt burden of over N200 billion; arrears of workers’ salaries, pensions and gratuities running into billions of Naira, etc, he has appreciably weathered the storm in that direction like someone with a magic wand.
The Governor also inherited a deluge of ongoing, abandoned and decaying projects worth billions of naira. He also inherited a plethora of moribund state-owned industries, some of which are as old as the state itself. It’s now an open secret that most of them have been turned around by the Governor through Public Private Partnership arrangement.
For instance, the hitherto abandoned Plateau Fertilizer Blending Company in Bokkos is now in full operation having been resuscitated in partnership with a private firm, Bejafta Ltd. The Plateau Bottling Company in Barkin Ladi has similarly been resuscitated. The Panyam Fish Farm is now fully operational after its resuscitation in collaboration with a private firm, Solbec Ltd. Also, efforts have reached an advanced stage towards the rebuilding of the Jos Ultramodern Market, which was burnt down many years ago, while Plateau Hotel has been rehabilitated, among others.
Q. Critics say the Governor has no projects initiated by him…
A. (Cuts in). That’s opposition balderdash! Anybody living in the state knows that this is not true. Last year alone, the Governor awarded contracts for the construction of massive rural roads infrastructure cutting across the entire 17 Local Governments in the state at the cost of almost forty billion naira (N40bn). While some have almost been completed, others are at various stages of completion. Right now, funds are being processed to be released to the few whose jobs are stalled due to the paucity of funds to enable them to complete their jobs before 2019. Let the opposition continue to spread their arrant falsehood, while we continue to dish out the dividends of democracy to the electorate who are savoring all the goodies.
Q. Oil wealth is drying up. What is the way out of this monetary quandary by the Lalong administration?
A. Economic Diversification is it! And we have since embraced Agriculture as the driver and future mainstay of Plateau State’s economy. With the measures so far put in place by the Governor, the agricultural revolution has taken off. If implemented to the letter, all things being equal, I am sure by the end of 2019, Plateau State should commence the exportation of Irish Potatoes and Rice! For instance, with the recent approval of the Irish Potatoes Value Chain Loan of N3.38 billion for the state by the African Development Bank (AfDB), especially given our comparative advantage as the largest Irish Potatoes producing state in West Africa, its exportation from the state alongside its chain products by 2019 is within sight.
You see, Governor Lalong, as a visionary leader, when he realized the enormity of the economic challenges on assumption of office, had to quickly think outside the box to resort to economic diversification to agriculture as the way. He organizes an EXCO Retreat at NiPSS, Kuru in which I was a participant and far-reaching decisions were arrived at and are now being implemented.
Also, the state has fully keyed into the Federal Government’s farmers’ Anchor Borrowers’ Scheme and I guess, with these efforts, very soon, we will overtake Kebbi State as Nigeria’s leading state in the production of not only rice but many other agricultural produce. These giant strides in our agricultural drive have not gone unnoticed as the Governor was nominated into the FG’s Food Security Committee and just last week he bagged the Media Governor of The Year Award in Agriculture in Abuja.
Q. Why do you think that among the motley of aspirants for the race to Little Rayfield next year, Governor Lalong is the man to beat?
A. First and foremost, he is the incumbent governor and no incumbent is a pushover in any election. Given the series of endorsements of his candidacy, his picking the APC ticket is already a fait accompli, with which to face any opposition party candidate.
Besides, the PDP main opposition, as usual, is already in disarray. Just watch and see, as it happened after their tumultuous 2014 primaries, it will happen again when they hold the primary election to pick their governorship flag-bearer. An expectedly weak opposition candidate being the product of an expectedly controversial primary election will definitely be a walk over for Governor Lalong.
Next, the Governor has lived up to his campaign promises and has performed even far beyond the expectations of many who did not give him a chance because of the seemingly insurmountable initial challenges.
Look at the Education Sector, for instance, which he has accorded topmost priority. Governor Lalong has, for instance, funded and resuscitated the hitherto abandoned Plateau State University, which had failed to graduate students after over 10 years of its establishment!
Go to the institution now and see the state-of-art e-library, science laboratory, road network, students’ hostels, etc, with myriads of courses now accredited and many lecturers sponsored to pursue their Doctorates abroad.
Also, massive Infrastructures are being put in place in state-owned primary and secondary schools at the moment under the Lalong leadership.
Human Capital Development has never had it so good. Civil Service reforms, settlement of promotion arrears, prompt payment of salaries and pensions, etc, have helped to boost workers’ morales for good.
The money-spinning Tourism Sector is also being revamped and revitalized under Public Private Partnership with some foreign interests.
Q. The security challenges in the state have refused to abate despite genuine government efforts to stem the tide. What is your take on this?
A. Thank you for noting that government put in genuine measures to arrest insecurity. You will appreciate the Governor’s efforts better if you understand that there is no impregnable security anywhere in the world, including the developed countries. That’s why we still hear of shootings in US schools and concerts, killings and bombings in the UK, France, Belgium, Israel, etc which boast some of the best security architectures globally. The creation of the model Plateau Peace Building Agency and its Roadmap To Peace is about the most ambitious and genuine effort towards a proactive, enduring and sustainable peace in the state.
Q. Immediate past Governor Jonah Jang is accused by the EFCC of stealing N6.3 billion belonging to the state, but his supporters are pointing accusing fingers at Governor Lalong as being behind Jang’s ordeal.
A. I cannot comment on the substance of the EFCC allegation against Jang because it is subjudice. But it is very nauseating, most irritating and mischievous that people will resort to chasing shadows by accusing the Governor of involvement in a serious issue like this. I’ve seen some funny posts and placards of the said supporters in the social media. They should count the Governor out of this. The Lalong I have known for about thirty years and worked closely with for three years is by no means vindictive.
The law must take its full course, nobody’s above the law, and since an allegation is not a conviction, let them await the outcome of Jang’s trial.