Mr. Simon Lalong, Plateau State Governor, has assured that Nigerians would surely reap the dividend of measures put in place by the President Muhammadu Buhari led administration to reposition the country.
Speaking with reporters in Abuja, Lalong, one of the All Progressives Congress’s (APC) governors urged Nigerians yearning for sustainable development to support the ongoing anti-graft campaign in the polity.
He acknowledged that there are a section of Nigerians not happy with some of the measures put in place by the government in the past eight months, saying that he would leave no stone unturned to harness the abundance of solid minerals and agricultural resources in Plateau State.
Assuring that he would not downsize the strength of the workforce on the payroll of the state, Lalong said he was doing all within the available means to not only pay workers as at when due but to also clear the backlog of salaries owed workers in the state by the immediate past People’s Democratic Party (PDP)-led government of Jonah Jang.
Lalong expressed worry over the dwindling resources available to the states and the Federal governments and the attendant complaints and the impatience of some Nigerians.
According to him, a socio-economic analysis of the state of the nation before and after the 2015 general elections indicated a pathetic situation and the enormity of the challenges faced by Mr. President and the governors.
“Before 2014, the cost per barrel of oil in this country was above $140, but today it is just about $28 with the same budget and responsibilities, including paying the same salaries. In the last seven or eight years, allocation to my state was between N5 to N8 billion, but today our monthly allocation hovers between N1.6 and N2 billion with a wage bill of about N 1.8 billion.
“We know people are expecting change but they should also understand the economic situation. I think we need to be patient. With the reform that’s going on, the expected change will come but it may not be immediate. Let us give ourselves at least one year and see what the President and states are doing. Some of us are already diversifying. We are moving into agriculture and other ways of diversifying.
He said the challenges of managing the states financially were tasking giving the difficulty in paying salaries and wages as well as the teeming unemployed youths on the streets in need of gainful employment.
This, he explained informed the plea by the state governors for assistance from the Federal government for some favourable measures which thankfully has elicited the decision on solid minerals, which he noted would help boost the internally generated revenue of the states.
“It will be very difficult to downsize in Plateau State; I don’t intend to and I will not. All I want to do is to maintain what I have and also improve on it. That’s why our focus is on improving on the revenue so that we can, if possible, employ additional workforce. Downsizing in this present administration is going to be very difficult. The president has advised state governments and even corporate organisations not to downsize,” he added.
Dalong also spoke on the fight against corruption saying that there were serious challenges as corruption was already fighting back thereby frustrating government’s good intentions, charging: “Fighting corruption is a sacrifice that everyone must make if we have to make this country work.”
He said that the state government was quietly waging a war against corruption claiming: “The fact that you are not hearing anything in that line does not mean that we are not fighting corruption on the Plateau. We have sent in several cases to the EFCC and ICPC. The accountant-general just came in. They were called to come and give evidence about some investigations that are going on.
“We have a lot of investigations going on and we have had a lot of arrests, many of them from the past administration are on bail. At the appropriate time, EFCC will prosecute. We formed a transition committee, which came out and told the Plateau people about their findings. We have submitted some of our reports to the EFCC, and also commissioned a reputable accounting firm, KPMG to help in auditing the state. At the appropriate time when the results are out, you will see the outcome.”
The governor disclosed that the state recently recovered about 2.7 billion hitherto regarded as lost and meant for teachers in the state. According to him, the state has through these measures and other deliberate policies reduce arrears of salaries to two months.
In particular, he said that the state government had already started paying workers in the state through internal mechanism and that when the issue of bailout arose, the state applied for N10 billion meant to sort out the arrears of salaries for about eight to nine months but disclosed that they received N5bn only.
According to him, Plateau was supposed to get N10bn for salaries and 10bn for infrastructure but all the state got so far from the CBN was 5billion naira.
His words: “We now have arrears of salaries of only two months. For teachers, we paid all and they are back to work. The judiciary is also back to work. So for the plateau, we are moving well but in the area of corruption, we are putting pressure on the EFCC to hasten their investigations so that they can begin prosecution and we can also gain recovery of looted funds.”
He said that if the state could receive the balance N5bn the payments of the outstanding salaries would be cleared within a short period.
On the tourism potentials, Lalong said that efforts were being focused on restoring peace to the state because Plateau was known as the home of Peace and Tourism.
“If there is no peace, you can not get tourism. Plateau was known as the home of Peace and Tourism. As part of our ‘five Pillar Trusts’ when we came in, Peace and Security was number one. The first thing we did was to try to maintain peace in the region. We tried to engender peace between the Fulanis and the Barons. We went as far as establishing a committee to handle their problem.
“We proposed the Bureau for Conflict Management and the law necessary to put it in place is about to be signed. With the help of various organisations and civil societies, we were able to contain the issue of insecurity in the state. Some former war torn areas are now free areas for the people,” he stated.
Besides, Lalong said they were working hard to on increase the tourism potentials of the state especially Wild life, the Pandam Wild Life Park, which is untapped, the Wase Rock and others.
“We are really working on increasing the tourism potentials of the state especially Wildlife, the Pandam wildlife park which is untapped, the Wase Rock and others. We just finished a one-week retreat and one of the areas of discussion was commerce and tourism. For example, we are planning on rebuilding the main market also. We have already started working on this project; calling on various organisations to come and help in its rebuilding.