Gov. Simon Lalong, Plateau State Upon assumption of office in 2015, Lalong immediately sought to address the mindless perennial bloodletting that dotted the landscape of a society which hitherto prides itself as the Home of Peace and Tourism.
More than a decade-long horrific experience of violence has exacted a massive toll on the development of the state. The very social fabric of the society was broken leaving behind a deeply entrenched feeling of mutual distrust, suspicion and consternation of an overstaying power. In many ways, Lalong did not only inherit a near-chaotic security environment, but came into office in the midst of a financial downturn that posed both systemic risks to his administration and the state.
In the face of these obstacles, he survived. There were some false starts and some mistakes during his first term-which is normal by the way yet, he avoided scandals, paid salaries promptly; cleared backlog of allowances and pensions; completed his predecessor projects-an odd thing to do going by the history of governance in Nigeria.
In addition, he initiated an inclusive governance framework as both a conflict prevention and conflict resolution strategy; designed and completed some new projects of his own and largely steered the state towards a whole new governance paradigm which many people are yet to recognise or even appreciate. Early in the life of his administration, Lalong settled for what I would describe as the pragmatic, middle-path in driving through his agenda.
His inclusive and community-driven approach to conflict settlement for example signifies a fundamental departure from the traditional top-bottom approach that characterised government’s response to peace and security challenges in the past. The strategy paid-off as evident by the decline in the spate of nocturnal attacks in some remote and hitherto, sleepy communities in Riyom, Bakin Ladi and Jos South LGA’s respectively.
Through his systematic, sincere and passionate drive to break the cycle of violence that had been the persistent plight of our people for more than a decade, the governor sought to reconcile communities by repairing broken relationships and enhancing resilience. Using a carefully crafted community-based framework, he negotiated a conflict settlement in the first six months of his administration which enjoyed the support and buy-in of conflict parties.
The success of his effort led to the cessation of open hostilities, attacks and counter-attacks between erstwhile fighting communities especially in the first three years of his first term. We did not witness the outbreak of any high intensity violence until the last one year of his first term; a situation that is not unconnected to the ignoble roles and activities of peace spoilers-the sophisticated shadow actors who orchestrate chaos only to serve their political and economic high ends. In the face of this renewed peace and security challenges the governor remained undaunted as he continues to advocate for the pursuit of peace through justice, forgiveness and reconciliation.
In a sense, the significance of Lalong’s emergence as governor of Plateau state with no support from the so-called god-fathers should also not be dismissed. Though social and elite animus persists, his success signals longer-term normative and generational shifts favourable to displacing the historical precedence of elite politics in Plateau state. Indeed, even the son of a “mai ciminti” can against all the odds be a governor and a successful one at that. His story is not only inspiring but opens up a new chapter in our democratic experience.
In terms of legislation, the governor achieved some big things in his first term which include inter-alia: creation of the Plateau Peace Building Agency (PPBA) which happens to be the first attempt by a subnational government in Nigeria to institutionalize conflict prevention and peace building’; Plateau State Microfinance and Development Agency (PLASMIDA); Plateau State Information Technology and Development Agency (PICTDA) and Plateau State Bureau for Procurement (PSBP).
Those are big changes in what government does and the kinds of activities it undertakes. Clearly, his approach was to expand the social contract by focusing on specialised agencies to deliver the public goods to many citizens. Within the last three years for example, PLASMIDA has been working to empower young people through skills acquisition as well as the establishment of new businesses — typically startups. The agency offers important services ranging from training, provision of business advice and networking support through to the development of financial and non-financial incentives.
Similarly, the relatively newly established Plateau information technology development agency has been working to help stimulate economic growth and development through the use of technological innovation, networking and knowledge-based information. Reasonable investments in agriculture, health, education, water, energy and tourism sectors have also been made. Although their impact may not be felt instantaneously, and perhaps, might have even produced a mixed result in some cases, notwithstanding, those investments are a clear demonstration of the governor’s commitment to translating his vision to ensure that the benefit of good governance trickles down to a vast majority of citizens.
While no one can deny the fact that our state is still far from a perfect and peaceful society, what is never in doubt however, is that the governor is gradually transcending socio-economic and political boundaries to turn the state into an idea that stands for something unique and powerful – an oasis of peace, stability and prosperity for all. His inclusive approach to governance opened the space for those ethno-religious groups that were hitherto marginalized to thrive. Moreover, the dignity, humility and grace that he brought into the governance process will no doubt constitute one of his most enduring legacies.
And talking about legacies, truth of the matter is, legacies can be complicated and nuanced, yet simple when it comes to the basics: win two terms in office and get big things done on your policy agenda. After all, the mark of a leader is the impact he has on the people he leads.
On 29th May 2019, Governor Lalong took the oath of office for his second term on 29th May 2019 in a colourful and electrifying atmosphere. Dignitaries and supporters defied the early morning rains to be witnesses to an historic moment. Yet, the importance of that moment goes far beyond the excitement that greeted the air on that faithful day. It means a lot, and speaks essentially on the hopes, fears and aspirations of our people and how he would probably be remembered.
..to be cont…
Joseph Lengmang is the Director General , Plateau State Peace Building Agency, PPBA, Jos.