By Emmanuel Ado
But for what most Plateau State indigenes perceived as David Jona Jang’s “Berom Supremacy Agenda”, Simon Bako Lalong,wouldn’t have been elected Governor of Plateau State in the 2015 General Elections.And this is a settled fact. He would have been playing golf, his passion at the IBB Golf Course. Lalong in some sense is like Sir Michael Otedola, another man who against all odds emerged Governor of Lagos State,in 1990. Otedola profited from the royal squabble between Dapo Sarumi,and Femi Agbalajobi,the governorship gladiators of the defunct Social Democratic Party(SDP),that fought themselves to a standstill.
Lalong owes his governorship to the ethnic and divisive politics of Jang, who was very determined to upstage the rotation of political offices, that to a very large extent has ensured some level of peace amongst the over forty(40) ethno- linguistic groups of the State. Zoning comforts the very fractured tribes of the State,even if it hasn’t really ensured equity and fair play.If David Jang,had respected the “Sacredness of Rotation”,the elites of Plateau wouldn’t have been forced to gang up against him and the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP),which since 1999 held sway in the State. A State that produced the very first National Chairman of the PDP Solomon Lar,and where the party also held its first National Convention.
Many interpret the 2015 Elections, as more of a referendum against Jang’s “Internal Colonialism”, as against competency and capacity. Anybody but a Berom or Jang’s candidate,was the song. Jang was variously accused of lopsided development and appointments in favour of his Berom ethnic group. His model is the Benue and Kogi States where the Tivs and the Igalas dominate the polity. But defeating Jang wasn’t that easy as the results of the Governorship Elections show. Lalong,the All Progressive Congress(APC) candidate, around whom the opposition to Jang coalesced scored 537,050 votes to 501,938 votes of Senator Gyang Pwajok, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP),a margin of 35,000 votes. This slim number and the fact that the “Sacredness of Rotation” was reconfirmed should worry Lalong,who was more or less used by the fragile alliance to fight Jang.That the elites agreed to use the APC platform, which in “normal times” would have been described as a Muslim/Northern party,showed the extent they were ready and willing to go,to defeat Jang.Backing Lalong,who doesn’t belong to the “right tendencies”- Middle Belt,anti – North group was another “sacrilegious concession” of the elites,because Lalong wines and dines with their perceived “Oppressors”,the Hausas. He is a key member of the Arewa Consultative Forum( ACF),the political and cultural association of all northerners,that seeks to protect the interest of the north.
In 2001, a delegation of the ACF,was snubbed at Jos,due to the subsisting anti – north feeling.For most northern minorities the fear of domination and anti – north feeling is real and that One North is a fraud. Plateau State sees itself as the conscience of Christian minorities,that is stiffly opposed to the Hausa/Fulani hegemony. The feeling of marginalization and domination has been there since the early 50’s,but was worsened by the killing of some prominent Plateau sons in the coup of 1975,a development that further strained the relationship with the core Muslim North.The key qualification to be a governor of Plateau State,is fiery rhetorics against the Hausa/Fulani invaders,which is enough to catapult the candidate to Governors Lodge. The invaders can also be herdsmen.
According to Jerry David, “Governance in the modern world has become anything but simple”. And Lalong,unfortunately is not any much different from the average Nigerian politician,who runs for public office without any well thought programme of action.Granted Lalong,ran on peaceful co-existence,which considering the crisis that has engulfed the State,was logical,but his strategy is built around sharing of offices,but eloquently silent on justice and equity,as the very foundation of Peace.Consequently he is not considered a friend by the either side.On assumption of office in May 29th 2015, Governor Simon Lalong was quoted to have said “I would carry all tribes along in governance” to ensure that peace reigns in the state.
Though Lalong makes all the right sound bites,the problem are the superficiality of his thoughts and strategy,which explains why for instance his Peace efforts,which he touts as one his achievements constantly blows up in his face. ” I want to assure plateau people that we will not sleep until peace is restored permanently in the state because if our people cannot sleep, then we will not sleep as a government,”.But how? Definitely not by spreading positions and appointments to all the tribes,nor by being the first Governor to appoint his Chief of Staff from outside his tribe? This obviously begs the issue.The fact that the Peace hasn’t held goes to show that the fundamentals are not being addressed and the threats that the Local Government Elections shouldn’t be held in Jos North confirms that contrary to the the Government position that Peace is still a mirage.
Political leadership requires focus on the long term good of the greatest number of people. It is about the willingness to stand up for what is right,even when it can cost the incumbent reelection. On the issue of recognition of the Hausas,as a reality of the composition of the state, Lalong has shown conviction,like Mahatma Gandhi whose vision was an India of religious pluralism,which many Indians,like Plateau people think too accommodating.I subscribe to affirmative action,for the sense of belonging it guarantees all,most especially minorities.
But how has Lalong fared in other areas? Lalong hasn’t been able to set Plateau State on the path of growth and economic development,precisely because he doesn’t have fire in his stomach. Or is it the ideas that are lacking? Acknowledged as “cool headed” and humble but those are certainly not the quality needed to reposition Plateau State for the 21st Century. Lalong needs to take some very difficult decisions. To be satisfied being popularly known and addressed as “Bank Alert” for prompt payment of salaries by less than 0.9% of the population,is a sign of a low and routine governance. Agreed that Plateau State is a civil service state, thus paying salary can be counted as a big achievement, but the question is what happens after the receipt of the final trench of the Paris Club refund. And the federal government is not in a position to bail out the states again? How will Plateau State fare? From its unaudited accounts Plateau State will definitely fall apart and the alerts will cease.
What are the options for Plateau State? What you read and hear is that Simon Lalong is working to ensure that development comes to the state,but what you don’t hear or read is the how he intends to attract investors to plateau State. Two years down the line why hasn’t the Government resuscitated the Jos International Brewery? Or rebuilt the Jos International Market? The obvious way are critical reforms – from rationalization of public expenditure to sustainable debt management. In 2016, the states and the federal government actually signed off on the 22-point fiscal sustainability plan,with the strategic objective of enhancing fiscal prudence and transparency in public expenditure. State governments were expected to abide by the strategic objectives of the FSP’s, built around accountability and transparency, increase in public revenue, rationalisation of public expenditure, public financial management reforms, and sustainable debt management. The ultimate objective is to assist the states travel the narrow path that will lead to fiscal sustainability.Plateau is definitely off the radar,a basket case. .
Plateau State must like other states must “device measures to run on their own steam” as eloquently argued by Dele Sobowale. Many countries are presently not buying crude from Nigeria,due to the global economic downturn and the politics of being “correct” in the eyes of Donald Trump, the American President,with his America First policy. But the killer punch,that will worsen an already terrible situation for Nigeria, are the technological innovations that will lead to more cars running on electric power,than crude. And the campaign against emissions which has continued to gather steam.Can Simon Lalong up his game,beyond payment of salaries?
Funding is a problem or a deterrent in the conception of projects, when leaders are short on ideas. The economic crisis calls for creativity in sourcing for the much needed funds to execute projects.For instance,a negotiated retainer ship programme with some contractors,which entails continuous work on an agreed monthly installment ,can assist the state maintain momentum in the construction of roads and other projects. And it will be a win-win for everyone.
But what is Infrastructure,and why is it so important? According to Richard Mudges a development expert, infrastructure is very critical,because “the deterioration of existing facilities and their insufficient capacity to accommodate future future growth will eventually constrain economic development”.Consequently a state or a community with run down facilities,that lacks water,good roads etc will obviously be the last choice for new business.Infrastructural projects are not ends in themselves. Their importance to the economy and society as a whole derives from the services they offer,most especially the opportunity to improve productivity or reduce cost”.So the real output of infrastructure is service.
Of what use is it “seeking” for investors,when your facilities are thrash? Plateau State no doubt has great tourism potentials that is capable of driving the economy of the State.The problem is the failure to walk the talk. Tourists have several destinations and won’t compromise on standards,which is lacking in Nigeria. The Jos Carnival will remain some huge joke,unless the critical issues of security and infrastructure,etc are addressed. But how will Plateau State get it right when Peter Mwankon, the Commissioner for Tourism,Culture and Hospitality, is still living in the past?”The carnival is also targeted at drawing investors’ attention to the need to establish and patronise Plateau”. The tourists and investors are very much aware of the beauty of Plateau State,the rich cultural heritage,beautiful weather, mountains that will attract them and confirm the State as the leading tourists destination in the country. But they also are aware of the infrastructural challenges – poorly maintained hotels, lack of potable water. And that is what is keeping them away.
The three key issues that are hanging around his neck – the albatrosses that might work against his second term ambition are; the perception that he panders to the Hausas of Jos, his lukewarm attitude to the anti – open grazing movement and the cold war with his backers.His failure to industrialize will most likely be the least of the issues that will be used against him. When recently the news broke that the State Government listed Fulanis as one of major tribes on the State Website, all hell broke out, a sign of what Lalong will be up against in the coming weeks and months.How he navigates these crucial issues will determine his Political future.Plateau State has no doubt been the worst hit by the attacks carried out by the herdsmen,which many Plateau people interpret to mean a systematic and strategic plan to decimate and displace “indigenous communities” like Bassa, Riyom, Barkin Ladi, Bokkos, Mangu, Wase, Langtang North/South, Shendam and some other parts of Plateau State.Lalong needs to address these concerns.
There are four basic models of leadership: the patron, the strongman, the caregiver, and the manager. In the final analysis the people decide,like they decided in 2015 that Lalong was it.Politics being an emotional issue,the people can’t be wrong but they must live with the choices they make. So moving forward Plateau people must decide on what future they want – a normal guy or a guy that will shake up things and wake up Plateau from slumber?
For Lalong,the political storm of 2006,that swept him off his position as Speaker of the State House of Assembly, is a lesson that moving forward he must constantly play back.Its a valuable lesson that will serve him well in the days ahead.