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Two years of Gov. Simon Lalong 'all promises kept' – By Yakubu Dati

Governor Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau State is clearly approaching the act of governance with a sense of responsibility and the seriousness it deserves. Even though the two-year anniversary coincided with his birthday, Lalong gave an advance warning against any fanfare but rather rededicated himself to a solemn appraisal of the rescue administration.
This is a far cry from his predecessor who elevated his birthdays to a state affair. Prior to his election, Lalong had transversed the nooks and crannies of the state connecting with individuals and groups. He took notes in every of the 67 town hall meetings he conducted, encouraging and promoting participation in the act of governance. The key findings became a burden he carried with dignity. These evidenced based findings, which are the voices of 54 ethnic groups in the state, form the basic conceptual framework that drives his administration. For a fair assessment of the Simon Lalong’s government, the key Performance Indicator is therefore situated within the identified areas of needs expected to impact on the growth of the communities in the state.
It is well known fact that Gov. Simon Lalong inherited a state in crisis caused by a self-serving regime. He knew that without peace and security, nothing tangible would be achieved in the state. Working in tandem with all arms of security apparatus, he applied his brinkmanship by initiating series of town hall meetings with all stakeholders on issue based policies sensitization and held consultative fora with the Berom and Fulani communities amongst others.  

These significant steps resolved some of the crises that bedeviled the state by entrenching peace, unity and security of lives and property. He institutionalized peace building by creating a proactive agency known as the Plateau Peace Building Agency - a significant shift from the reactionary pattern.  Today, Plateau is in peace. Following the restoration of peace, the urgent need to address the demoralized civil servants became so apparent. With an inherited debt toll of over 220 billion naira, and a civil service in dire straits, Lalong assembled a whiz team of financial gurus with a clear mandate to think outside the box. 

This first reward was the first and second tranches of the salary bailout, which Lalong used to offset the backlog of Civil Servants unpaid salaries, pension/gratuity. This courageously deployment of about 20 billion naira ignited the local economy and the reverberations were felt all over the state. This set the stage for a highly motivated civil service to keyed into the administration’s 5-point Policy Thrust formulated to turn around the state. The journey for an endearing legacy of service gained traction. The consistent payments of salaries thereafter, and the general welfare of the workforce, which in itself stimulated the local economy has continued to endeared him to the average Plateau man.  
Simon Lalong rolled up his sleeves to face the education sector, despite the stench oozing from years of neglect. The performance of Plateau State at the WAEC examination was a disaster – 36th out of 37 States in the federation.  Never known to shy away from the frontlines, Governor Lalong took the bull by the horns and changed the landscape through employment and training of teachers, construction of new classrooms, and massive injection of funds. Recently over 4000 teaching personnel were recruited on adhoc basis, while infrastructural deficit is being tackled through construction and renovation of more classrooms. More than 500 classrooms have been built and renovated in the past 2 years alone!  

The Plateau State University, Bokkos has been given a new lease of life with the reconstitution of the Governing Council under the leadership of the respected Prof. Attahiru Jega as Pro-Chancellor. So far, all its 17 programmes are being accredited which in turn facilitated the mobilization of 2 sets of graduands for the NYSC scheme earlier this year, the first since its establishment. Other state tertiary institutions are also receiving the desired attention. The regular intervention in the sector has made it to run smoothly without any interruption on grounds of non-payment of salaries, which usually give rise to industrial dispute. Today, Plateau students, especially those living with disability are being supported with scholarships and grants from the rescue administration
Lalong is also paying attention to agriculture, which is the mainstay of most of the Plateau people. About 800 trailers laden with 24 thousand metric tones of fertilizer are being offloaded to farmers at subsidized rate. The resuscitation of the Panyam Fish Farm, Bokkos Fertilizer Blending Plant, accreditation of Garkawa College of Education and the provision of soft loans to farmers have restored Plateau to its pride of place in agriculture. 
In line with the yearnings for community leadership, vacant stools of Traditional institutions in the State are being filled based on laid down law and gazettes. So far, more than fifty communities cutting across all the local government areas have benefit ranging from the 1st class status Chiefs to district heads. The creation Districts and Development Areas are at its final stage of implementation, to bring development to the grassroots.
 The state is also reviving and revamping its moribund industries including the Jos International breweries (JIB), Highland Bottling Company and the Jos Main Market. The reacquisition of the BARC Farms is being pursued vigorously.
In recognition of its multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature, Lalong has also entrenched equity and fairness in appointments to political offices and government patronage. In the same vein, cultural festivals and carnivals have boldly restored the state on the tourism map of the country. 
To open a new vista in economic empowerment, the Lalong administration has unveiled the process to harness and develop the tourism sector. This is a sector that sustains many countries in the world and research by this administration has shown that there is tourism potential that are yet to be exploited. The state government has stepped up the process to harness these opportunities to boost the state’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
In the critical area of effective health care delivery, the Lalong administration has given it a boost with the creation of the state Primary Health Care Board now in operation. The Health institutions are also receiving serious government attention.
Another area the state government is looking at to boost IGR is the mineral sector, which the state has in abundance. Lalong visited mining sites across the state, which gave birth to The Mining Blueprint Committee to articulate synergy between the state and the Organised Private Sector (OPS). The state has commenced a deliberate process of opening up its frontiers to attract both local and foreign investors. Today series of MOUs have been signed for the exploration and exploitation of mineral deposits along the value chain to boost the state economy and in line with the stipulated federal government policies.
Critical infrastructures like roads inherited from the last administration have been completed as new ones are being unveiled.
The land administration has been revolutionized through the relaunched of the abandoned PLAGIS. The lifting of the embargo placed on the issuance of Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) and the reduction of its cost by 50 percent has engendered inclusiveness. As a result of the speedy processing of title documents, more than 800 Certificate of Occupancy have been issued with the concurrent increase in revenue generation from 96 million naira in 2014 to 500 million in 2016.
In order to address the rising number of unemployed and unengaged youths and women, the administration established the Micro Finance and Small Medium Enterprises Agency. About 4000 women and youths have been trained on entrepreneurship, financial literacy and skills acquisition where 48 people living with disabilities benefited. Starter-packs have been distributed to participants to begin their businesses as each are linked to financial institutions in order to achieve appreciable level of financial inclusion.
The dominance of the Plateau United Football Club on top of the premier league table is as a result of deliberate and conscious strategies deployed to boost sports and youth development. The participation of Plateau athletes in virtually all sporting events in and outside the state has resulted in bountiful laurels for the state. At the end of the 2016 sporting year alone, a total of 143 medals were won for the state.  There are great expectations that the Plateau United Football team will present the Champions Cup to Governor Simon Bako Lalong. 
Midway into the first quarter of the Lalong administration, there is no doubt that his experience a Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly has exposed him to the balance of diverse group interests in the state. His courageous application of the spirit of give and take is indeed paying off.

 POST BY - Yakubu Dati, 
former Commissioner in Plateau

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