Plateau State Commissioner for Information and Communication Yakubu Dati spoke with YUSUFU IDEGU in Jos, the state capital, on why the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) failed to bounce back during the last governorship election.
It was a two-man contest between Governor Simon Lalong of All Progressives Congress (APC) and Jeremiah Useni of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Why was it so?
It was simply because the two parties are the ones that have elected representatives at various levels; I mean both of them have members in the state House of Assembly, they have members at the Senate and the House of Representatives. So, the two parties are the major contenders in the contest. Remember before the advent of the APC, the PDP was the only party known in this state. So, it was like a battle between the party that was in power, lost the power and is battling to return to power versus the APC that is in power at the moment. While the PDP was trying to come back to power in the state, the APC wanted to consolidate. At the end of the battle, the people decided to give power to the person they preferred, which is Governor Lalong of the APC. There are other governorship candidates representing other political parties, but their parties are not as popular as the APC and the PDP. Again, it might be the preference of the voters to reduce their choice for governorship to two, hence they had the APC and the PDP candidates to chose from and between the two, the people has demonstrated their preference for the APC. This boils down to the people’s choice; that is the beauty of democracy, the people’s choice must prevail. In other parts of the country, voters don’t even look at the parties, they looked at the personalities and so you see people making their choice of candidate outside the APC and the PDP. At the end of the day, it’s people choice. In Plateau State Lalong was the people’s choice.
What do you think are Governor Lalong’s attributes that endeared him to voters?
In the first place, Governor Lalong is humane, humble and he is a God-fearing man. His kind of humility is unparalleled, his nature is such that does not want to hurt a fly, not to talk of a human being. He came with a mindset to be fair to all residents of the state, irrespective of political leaning, ethnic, political or religious background. He is at home with everyone and that personal attributes reflected positively in his style of administration in the last four years. The administration that ruled the state before him was the type that did a lot to elevate one tribe above others in their policies and programmes and such ethnic politics caused major divisions among the multi-ethnic population of the state. But, when Lalong took over, he made it a deliberate policy to eradicate ethnic divisions and tried to bring the people together as equals. He made everyone equal stakeholder in the state and that alone endeared him to the people.
Secondly, Governor Lalong has kept his electioneering promises to the people. As soon as he took over the mantle of leadership in 2015, he made wide consultations with the people to find out their areas of priorities and at the end he came up with what we called the “5-Pillar Policy” of the administration. It is a kind of developmental blueprint that guides the government in addition to the promises he made to the people. That was why, if you take the issue of welfare of the people, for example, Lalong is second to none. He did not only make salary payments regular, he also made sure that he cleared backlog of salary arrears. In fact, he came into office when workers were on strike and he promptly promised that he was going to pay the backlog and he has not disappointed them. The payment of salaries alone made the entire state happy, because even those that are not civil servants were happy because those who collect salaries patronize them and money is always in circulation. You can imagine a government that releases at least N2.5 billion into the state every month through salary payments. Definitely, it will impact on the economy of the state and petty traders, artisans, farmers usually feel the impact of the money in circulation. If you realise the economic impact of one month salary no government can afford to delay salary payments because that salary touches on every aspects of the economy. The local economy has picked up and everybody is pleased with the government.
Thirdly, Governor Lalong recalled all civil servants that were sacked by previous administration and those placed on indefinite suspension. He reinstated them and they were paid their arrears. The unemployed youths also like Governor Lalong, because they have also benefited from the administration through entrepreneurship trainings. As I’m talking to you, more than 100,000 Plateau youths benefited from the entrepreneurship programme organised by the Plateau State Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency (PLASMEDA), an agency created by the governor himself. The beneficiaries of this entrepreneurship programme cut across all the 17 local governments. It was another means of job creation, because most of these trained youths were equipped with relevant tools for them to start their own businesses. Most of them did well and thereby also employed others on their businesses. So, everywhere in the state the youths are just singing praises of Lalong.
His achievements in the areas of peace and security have also endeared the governor to the people. I can say Governor Lalong brought peace to people. You can only appreciate Lalong’s peace initiatives when you think of a period that the state was completely polarized along ethnic and religious lines. Then, there were no-go areas in Jos; where you go depends on your religion or the ethnic group you belong to. But Lalong did well to eradicate that within the first year of his administration. Why will people not like him? More so, he run an all-inclusive government. So, all these and many more really endeared him to the people and eventually made him the number one choice of the people during the election.
But, there was gang up against his re-election bid. What do you have to say about that?
Yes, there was that gang up against Lalong in the election; the gang up was made up of some elites who felt he did well to deny them access to public funds, as it used to be in previous PDP administrations. You know in the past, these elites lived big on state resources and they don’t care if civil servants are paid salaries or not. Such elites never cared if there are provisions of social infrastructure for the benefit of the entire populace.