By VICTOR GAI
AS Gov. Simon Lalong completes the last lap of his “Rescue” administration, there is the need to examine his first tenure in terms of the challenges faced and achievements. This must be done in the context of the success story of Plateau State. By the phrase success story, we mean the natural and human potentials of the state as well as legacies laid by successive administrations which need to be consolidated upon.
Indeed, Plateau is a success story. It’s weather, topography, people and economic potentials are quite unique and a tremendous asset. With a friendly weather all year round, Plateau State is endowed with agricultural potentials, mineral resources and a picturesque landscape, unrivaled by any other state in the federation. Only Obudu in Cross River and Mambilla in Taraba State can compare with it.
But Plateau State can’t compete with its neighbors in staple food production like yam, rice, cassava, palm kernel, groundnut, maize etc. These are some of the most consumed foods in Nigeria and Plateau is below par in the pecking order.
However, the state produces some unique exotic crops which its neighbors don’t produce. Crops like Irish potatoes, cucumber, acha (hungry rice), chilly and hot pepper, apples, strawberries, grapes, millet, are some crops that are unique to Plateau State. The weather and topography favour the production of these crops and they have a tourism-value than mere agricultural value. By this we mean, tourists are attracted to them than business people who may wish to trade with them. It is almost a custom that tourists and visitors to Plateau purchase these products as gifts to friends and family. It is also symbolic of the uniqueness of Plateau State.
It is safe then to say, Plateau State is comparatively a tourist state than an agricultural state. Meaning the state stands to benefit more from tourism than agriculture. Previous administrations have noticed this reality and keyed into it and the impact has been relatively good.
For instance, the colonial administrations and missionaries were attracted to Plateau State, partly due to the weather. As a result, they established mission stations, schools, factories and other infrastructure. The hydro power stations in Kwall, Bassa LGA and Kurra Falls in Barkin Ladi are good examples.
The first governor of old Benue Plateau State, JD Gomwalk, established a huge edifice that houses the Plateau Publishing Corporation and also accommodates other corporate bodies, thus generating revenue for the state.
The late Solomon Lar built the ultra modern Jos Main Market-one of the best in West Africa and a huge revenue booster for the state.
Successive military governments built the new Jos stadium. Several assets like state owned factories, hotels, markets and so on abound.
Unfortunately, these assets have either been neglected or under-utilised. Plateau has no business complaining of funds if these assets are harnessed.
Among the past leaders, one that has demonstrated the zeal to transform Plateau State, is Jonah Jang. His strategy was hinged on capital projects and capacity building. This can be seen in road construction which opened up the state capital, rural roads and bridges which ameliorated the suffering of rural dwellers. Above all, the construction of an ultra modern office for the state revenue service and its modernization, really set the foundation for economic prosperity. Even though his administration was eventually consumed by the murky waters of politics, he stood out in terms of infrastructural development.
Meanwhile, the coming of Barr. Simon Lalong in 2015, promises to consolidate on the achievements of the past governments and contribute to the Plateau success story. And without doubt, he has demonstrated that desire so far.
Lalong came in on a high as an experienced politician, lawyer and one time Speaker of the State House of Assembly. Having recognized the impact of his predecessor, Lalong jettisoned political considerations as is always the norm in Nigerian politics and vowed to complete all the projects he inherited before initiating his own.
Despite economic recession and security threats, Gov. Lalong was able to achieve some successes in education, health, roads and workers welfare, in fulfillment of his promise.
To be fair to Gov. Lalong, he has been able to complete some of the Jang projects and promised to complete others before his administration winds up. His ability to stand by his word without compromising would be the biggest challenge before 2023. Already, he has his “Legacy projects”, which might compete for attention with the Jang projects.
Meanwhile, one of the areas that Lalong has consolidated upon, is in the area of internally-generated revenue. IGR is the economic base of states and if a state must guarantee its future, then it must not joke with its IGR.
Former Gov. David Jang has laid a solid foundation by constructing a befitting edifice for the internal revenue service and created the enabling environment for success in the sector.
Gov. Lalong therefore, leveraged on that achievement and the state is benefiting tremendously today. The state is almost self-sufficient economically, says Dashe Arlat of the state Internally Revenue Service.
Recently, while addressing journalists, Arlat said over N10 billion was generated between January to July 2019. According to him, the agency generated N11.8 billion, out of its annual budget of N18billion and that 80% of the expenditure was from internal sources. Promising that by next year, it shall be 100% internal revenue base.
He further disclosed that 15 vehicles were purchased and zonal offices were created in order to boost the revenue profile of the state.
However, as progressive as Gov. Lalong may be due to his desire for sustainability and continuity, there is a grim reality that must be recognized if Plateau must move forward. This reality is a challenge that must be surmounted for Plateau to see the light of the day.
This challenge is the burden of moribund assets and uncompleted projects, which if completed and put to good use, can be a huge revenue booster and serve as economic base for the state.
Among these assets are: Jos new Stadium, Roc International Hotel, Luka Bentu Indoor Theatre, Jos International Brewery, BARC Farms, Jos Main Market, Plateau Publishing Corporation complex, Kwall and Kurra Falls Hydro Power Stations.
The above projects which have either been abandoned or neglected since the creation of the state, form the economic base of the state. Whichever government makes it their only agenda to fix the above mentioned projects, might have gotten it right.
This is so because tourism seem to be the only sector that Plateau State has absolute advantage in the comity of Nigerian states and these projects are hinged on tourism and economic development.
The Plateau State Commissioner of Information and Communication, Dan Manjang revealed government’s agenda on tourism and economic development. According to him, “There is a five year development plan that is being developed for the state. The commissioners are on a retreat and tourism is on the front burner. We want to see how we can inject the requisite funds. By the time we take a deliberate policy, the situation would change. Tourism is a money spinner. We are looking at the hotels, encouraging people to build. But we can’t do this without peace”.
Ultimately, for any meaningful development to take place, there must be peace. Therefore, it behooves on government and the people to partner to ensure that peace and development are guaranteed.