From Gyang Bere, Jos
Chairman of Northern Governors Forum, Simon Bako Lalong has said Northern governors are collaborating with the new Security Chiefs to initiate new tactics to fight banditry and end kidnapping of school children in the region. He noted that Northern Governors have also keyed into Federal Government Livestock Transformation Plan to address unnecessary farmers/herders clashes in the region with Plateau carrying out the pilot scheme.
The Northern region is under attack by bandits on a daily basis, where school children are kidnapped and killed; as chairman of the Northern Governor’s Forum, what are you doing to halt the trend?
Well, some of the issues about security are not what I will voice out here, but within the period in which Service Chiefs were changed, I think a lot has been done. A lot has been put on ground because it is only a fool, that will continue to do the same thing and expect a different result. We told them that the previous Service Chiefs did their best but you cannot continue to do the same thing and have a different result; you must come up with something different to have a better result. I am happy that they have come up with different strategies in collaboration with the Northern Governors Forum and we are already seeing what they are doing. We have given them like the President did, three months and their deadline is three months; we are also working within the deadline of three months to end the security problems. All they need is our collaboration and cooperation and we also need the cooperation of Journalists to bring out reports that will help the security; sometimes some reports are damaging. Damaging in the sense that I will be sitting here and some people will bring a video from Kenya and say this thing is happening in Shendam local government in Plateau; it will make some people in Kanke or Jos East to start fighting each other and that is not helping the system. When the security is doing well, you should help us report what is true. Very soon, you will see what the security Chiefs are doing; they have brought in drones and very soon you will see positive changes. We will continue to tell you our efforts in addressing the issue of kidnapping, banditry and tackling other security challenges in the whole North and Plateau State. When we have peace, that will attract investors to the North and Plateau State has laid the foundation. I just came back from Denmark and very soon you will see investors coming to develop the tourism sector. We will ask people to come and build more hotels in Jos; even the Jos Main Market, some of you saw when I met the President and I told him the importance of building the Jos Main Market and the effort is on. The President is passionate about rebuilding the burnt Jos Main Market because he stayed in Jos and he said it used to be one of the biggest markets in West Africa and he quickly put a process and that is the process that we are pursuing. By God’s grace and if things work out well, we will start reconstructing the burnt Jos Main Market and that will add value to Plateau and the North.
In view of the persistent kidnapping of students in schools in the North, what is the state government doing to secure students in boarding schools?
Although that has not happened in Plateau but we have to take precaution, because if it is happening in other states, we have to protect our schools. We know that this is real; people are moving towards schools, so we have to protect our own schools. When we saw it happening in Zamfara, Katsina, we quickly set up machinery to stem the situation. We are also developing what to do in our schools to protect the students; some of you are in the know of what we are doing because security is not what you will tell people. I want to assure you that for now, it will be very difficult for anybody to come in, because sometimes when you say it you find people making attempts to disprove what you are saying. We are tightening security around our schools, so that we will not have any school that will be touched. Some people came to me and said I should close down our schools because of the fear of those who will want to come and kidnap students and I said no, the schools are about closing, they have about one week or so to vacate and the intention of those who are always going out to kidnap students is to interrupt the school system in the North; so by the time we start closing, they will be very happy even without attempting to kidnap people. What we are doing is to tighten security in our schools and as they move for holidays before they come back, more will be done to effect security in all the schools.
We are trying to create security awareness in our schools and I was telling my commissioner for education that we are abandoning certain things which were of help in the past. In those days, there were clubs such as the Boys Scout, the Man’o War, the Cadet and in some schools, there were student Police. I recall, I was one of them, I was in the Boys scout, Man’o War and student Police. They will select students, train them and they were the people who were protecting the school overnight and as we were doing, some were lucky and went to NDA straight. By the time people are coming for kidnapping and if you have a very good Man’o War and Cadets before they leave out, they would have done something based on training. During that period, some of us got prizes in whistle calling; I thought I was going to NDA but I don’t know what happened along the way. That time we didn’t have handset, you could write a letter with a whistle, you could communicate with somebody with whistle, you could tell him how and where the criminals are moving to, we must go back and reintroduce it again. We would bring security people to come and train the students; security is no longer the business of security personnel alone; it’s everybody’s business. That can help protect us in our houses; if the kidnappers come and your son is well trained in school, he can use the whistle to communicate with security people that are nearby and give them information. We should not sit down and depend on security.
You are constructing legacy projects across the 17 Local Government Areas in Plateau and some of the projects are not moving fast, are you sure you will complete those projects within record time and what plan do you have for sustainability?
The legacy projects were initially at N50 billion but when we started, we realized from the contractor that that was not the intention, because it was an investor who said he was going to invest N50 billion in the projects and we will pay within N25 years. I jumped at that and I realized later that it was not going to work. I said I will not start projects in Plateau with the intention of completing them and then leave huge abandoned projects again; it would not make sense. We went into reviewing the projects again from N50billion to N30 billion. We said we may not have the funds to do it and we went into the capital market and we got money and the money is there. We told the contractor that now that the money is there, we must finish these projects within time because the money is there but we realized that the contractor is going too slow. I decided that I cannot have money and leave these projects. We have reached a stage where we have issued him a notice of termination; by the time the process is over, you will see what will happen within the next three months.The legacy projects and its sustainability, this is not something that you can guarantee but you can only pray for it. I am not campaigning now because they have not opened time for campaign. When a political party and a governor has a vision, you would want to continue with the vision and the principles of that administration. But if we have another political party and a governor, there is no way I can guarantee the sustainability of the legacy projects; it is not time to campaign now. I have also seen in other places where some of my friends constructed big structures but when a new governor came, they say that is not our business; the structures were abandoned and new projects were started which they will not even finish and another government will come again. I see that as a complete waste. In our own vision, we said no, we don’t care who started the projects but if those projects are viable and going to be useful for the people, we will continue with those projects.
Are you worried as the Chairman, Northern Governors Forum that one of your members, the governor of Kogi State doesn’t believe in the COVID-19 pandemic?
They said EndSars destroyed their COVID-19 equipment but NCDC said they are going to replace those equipment and then start vaccination; that is why Kogi is about the last state doing vaccination. But for the governor, like we said, it is voluntary; we cannot force him to take it. He said he doesn’t believe in it; he said he is not going to take but he is making arrangement for his people to be vaccinated; that is the picture in Kogi State. No state will be left out, Kogi will have their vaccine.
You have passed into law the anti-land grabbing law and about 55 villages in the state have been forcefully occupied illegally by some people, will your government take back those villages and hand them over to the natives?
Well for us, when you say 55 settlements, I don’t know if they are 55. We know that many of those settlements, it’s not as if somebody is claiming those settlements. Nobody has come out to say it is their land; some of these places had conflicts where people ran away but they are free to go back and settle. But until we provide security, it will be difficult for them to go back and in some of these places we have said that we will ensure they have adequate security, we don’t want to push people back and they say they are being attacked again.
Plateau State seems to have keyed into the implementation of the National Livestock Transformation Plan of the Federal Government, do you have the land for the programme in the state?
Yes, in terms of the implementation of the programme in the state, we did a lot of awareness and the media was involved. Based on that, the Federal Government selected Plateau and three other states for the pilot scheme. We are now waiting for the Federal Government to provide the counterpart funds for us to go and develop the dams and what is needed for us to kick start. Even now, all eyes are on Plateau to start the implementation of the National Livestock Transformation Plan; the good thing about Plateau is that, we are not taking anybody’s land. We have in Wase a small portion of land at Wase grazing reserve and at Kanam grazing reserve as pilot scheme. Initially, there was lack of sensitization and some states were saying they don’t want but as we speak now, almost the 36 states have keyed into it and the difference is that, some of them do not have the land. But nobody will fault anybody who doesn’t have the land but if you have, provide a portion and the Federal Government will give you counterpart funds for you to do it for your people in the state. Not for any particular tribe, not for any particular religion, it is for you to take it as an investment.