Gyang Bere, Jos
Barrister Festus Fuanter is the Deputy Director, Media and Publicity of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Campaign Organisation, Plateau State and Commissioner for Lands and Survey. In this interview, talks about the very cordial relationship between the Federal and Plateau State governments, which he said has produced peace and attracted development to the state.
People of the state, especially the opposition, are accusing the governor of always being away from the state, engaging in national politics at the detriment of state matters. What is your view on this?
In the political history of Plateau State, Governor Simon Lalong ranks only second to the late former Governor Solomon Lar in terms of exposure in national politics. He has been a Chairman of the Nigerian Speakers Forum, Chairman of Former Nigerian Speakers Forum, member of almost all committees on topical national issues and today, is one of the governor that enjoy the confidence and friendship of not only his colleagues but the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Governor Lalong has no doubt built a political asset at the centre stage for himself and through that removed Plateau State from the pariah and isolationist status it was known for.
Has this translated into any benefit for Plateau State?
Yes! Through the governor’s friendships and contacts at the national level, several projects have been attracted to Plateau State. Some of the benefits which this emerging national team player has attracted through his shuttle diplomacy and involvement in national politics include the road project running from Babban Lamba through Garam to Sharam; the road that links Bauchi State with Plateau through Kanke; the completion of the moribund Mangu Dam, the proposed Akwanga-Jos-Bauchi-Gombe Road, multiple ETF projects in the Plateau State University and Plateau State Polytechnic; the road from Bokkos to Wamba (in Nasarawa State) to be completed soon, the Federal Ministry of Transport intervention in the ongoing inland container depot in Hiepang.
The administration recently began to relocate the IDPs to their various ancestral communities but there is this allegation that the exercise regarding the first batch of the IDPs was not meticulously planned to provide conducive atmosphere for the returnees. What is the government doing in this regard?
At several for a, the governor made it clear that Plateau would not concede an inch of its land to any invader or attacker. But he also had made it very clear that he was not going to be in a hurry to relocate the IDPs back to their ancestral homes without first mitigating the dangers involved therewith. He said he would rather provide the necessary security architecture to support their relocation so as not to put them in harm’s way. That was why he visited the President who approved the siting of the mobile police barracks. He also liaised with the Inspector General of Police to ensure the deployment and mobilization of the personnel to the area before the first batch of IDPs were relocated. This might not have been done under the most ideal situation but the anxiety among the IDPs and the possibility of further vandalisation of what was left of their homes by the enemies informed the quick decision to relocate them. Under normal circumstances, some kind of shelter would have been provided for them but for lack of funds. This was further complicated by the inability of our representatives in the National Assembly to include Plateau State in the Commission that was to provide funding to the North Eastern States that have been ravaged by Boko Haram. Plateau State was not different but that was not to be.
What is the government about the Jos terminus market, which was razed by fired?
The Jos Main Market was one of the pet projects of the Lalong Government. He had made a commitment to ensure to the resuscitation of the Market but for lack of funds and an appropriate and capable private investor that would partner with government to rebuild the edifice. In spite of the circumstances the government found itself, it has been able to engage a consultant who conducted integrity test on the structure and ascertained which part of the market was most affected by the bomb blast. Having completed the test, the company will commence the technical systematic demolition of the aspect that failed the integrity test. It is after the demolition that the few investors who have shown interest in the market would be considered.
What is your reaction to the allegation that this administration tactically sidelined Plateau North especially the Berom in the scheme of things in the past four years?
This notion is totally wrong. At the inception of this administration in the state, positions were equitably distributed based on zones. The Northern Zone was to have the Speaker of the Assembly as well as the Secretary to the State Government. Hon. Peter Azi from Jos North became the Speaker and Hon. Rufus Bature who is a Berom and also Governor Lalong’s Director General of Campaign, was made the Secretary to the State Government. The seat of the government is in Jos (Northern Zone) and the last administration sited adequate projects in the Northern Zone, most of which were abandoned and completed by Governor Lalong at the detriment of the rural areas. In spite of all that Governor Lalong equitably distributed the 22 ongoing rural roads among the 17 LGAs including the Northern Zone. Also, the 17 Lalong Legacy Projects were shared to each of the LGAs across the State. The Director General of the Lalong/Tyoden Campaign Organization, Pam Dung Gyang, an architect, is a Berom. So it’s totally wrong and quite mischievous to insinuate that the Northern Zone and the Berom as a tribe would have been neglected by Governor Lalong who praises himself as a Rescue Apostle.
The people of Plateau State will go to the polls and the governor is seeking for the renewal of the mandate given to him in 2015. What is the selling point of Governor Simon Lalong against the opposition parties?
To appreciate the selling point of Governor Simon Bako Lalong, it is essential to first and foremost understand where Plateau State was and where it is today. When Governor Lalong was aspiring to be governor, he shied away from making bogus campaign promises but waited for the outcome of his town hall meetings with the over 53 ethnic nationalities on the Plateau where their aspirations became the basis of his pledge for Plateau State. The average desire of the people then ranged from infrastructural development to the provision of social amenities. But on assumption of office, the realities on ground ranging from the state of insecurity, the over N222 billion state debts, myriad of abandoned projects and the over seven months salary arrears owed the civil servants forced the new administration to realign its priorities into a five-point agenda, which peace, security and good governance, the topmost priorities.
The governor was able to pay off the backlog of civil servants salaries, which cost the state over N30 billion. Governor Lalong was also able to complete almost all the abandoned projects started by several of his predecessors and has in addition started new projects ranging from the 22 rural roads to the 19 Lalong Legacy Projects, which are equitably spread around the 17 LGAs. In the area of education, over 300 primary and secondary schools were renovated and more than 2500 teachers employed. He reopened and ensured the accreditation of all existing courses in the Plateau State University, the Plateau State Polytechnic, College of Education and the School of Agriculture. He has completed the renovation of the Government Secondary School in Shendam and will soon be through with the renovation of GSS Pankshin with a view to converting the two into technical colleges with bias in Information Technology. These will be in addition to the upgrading of the existing technical college in Kuru. Agriculture received a major boost with the resuscitation of the fertilizer blending plant In Bokkos; provision of over 400 tractors and the agricultural services training centre was refocused to provide the necessary consultancy to farmers. He has also laid the foundation for the building of a state of the art laboratory for research to support the potato value chain in Mangu. Governor Lalong has proved to be a humble governor who finished projects abandoned by his predecessors and so if given a second chance he can complete his own. He has proved to be a dispassionate governor who understands the plight of the civil servants and the need to pay them their wages and if given a second chance he will continue to pay salaries consistently. Because Governor Lalong is a beneficiary of public schools, he has pledged to revolutionize the education sector and may well consider the return of some of the mission schools to their owners for efficiency. Governor Lalong has proved that the youth constituency is an area of priority. This is why he has been able to, through partnership with federal government, provide 10,000 youths with gainful engagement through the N-Power and the Small and Medium Scale Enterprise. This will no doubt receive a centre stage if he gets a second chance.