THE two-day visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to Plateau State last Thursday and Friday was not a routine state visit. It was long expected and had to be rescheduled twice to make it more meaningful. Projects were commissioned and other state functions were also carried out during the two days visit.
The president, no doubt, had a swell time moving from part of the state capital to the other. Some of the projects he commissioned were Mararaban Jarma roundabout, state secretariat flyover, Rantiya-Rafiki Road and over 400 tractors, among others.The climax of the state visit was the Town Hall meeting and launching of Plateau State Road Map to Peace held at the banquet hall of the Government House.
At the Town Hall meeting, it was a gathering of who is who in the state with traditional rulers, clerics, top government officials, National Assembly members, professional groups and many senior citizens of the state in attendance. A lot of thought-provoking issues were raised by the representatives of various interest groups that were called upon to speak. But virtually all the speakers spoke on the need to give peace a chance.
Based on the insecurity in some parts of Plateau State and what it had passed through in the past years, it was expected that insecurity would form the fulcrum of the discussion.
In his contribution, chairman, Plateau State Youth Council, Dr Fabong Jemchang, who did not hide the feeling of youths in the state, stated that the younger generation in the state and Nigeria as a whole was being neglected in the scheme of things by the federal government, hence the youth have become vulnerable and willing tools in the hands of some unscrupulous politicians.
He stated further that years of crises in the state had wreaked untold havoc and displaced quite a lot of people from their traditional homes, adding that no fewer than 50 communities or settlements have been sacked and that this has further forced quite a lot of young, agile men, who have been displaced, to lose their natural source of livelihood.
The controversial bill recently signed by President Buhari, the North East Development Commission (Establishment) Bill, 2017 with the mandate to receive and manage funds allocated by the Federal Government and international donor agencies for the resettlement, rehabilitation, integration and reconstruction of roads, houses and business premises of victims of insurgency resurfaced at the town hall meeting.
The development commission is expected to among other things: coordinate projects and programmes within the master plan for the rehabilitation, resettlement, reconciliation, reconstruction and sustainable development of the North-East Zone in the fields of infrastructure, human and social services, including health and nutrition, education and water supply, agriculture, wealth creation and employment opportunities, urban and rural development and poverty alleviation.
The president was reminded that both Plateau and Kano states were included among the beneficiary states, but were later removed from the list to the dismay of their people despite Plateau State’s harrowing experience.
The Plateau State Youth Council chairman reignited the issue, asking that by way of special intervention the federal government should resettle displaced residents of the state and rehabilitate them. He explained that terrorism which is now virulent some parts of Nigeria and Northern states, in particular, started from Plateau State, saying that the scars of years of terrorism are still visible.
The chairman, Plateau State wing of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Reverend Soja Bewarang, echoed the position of Jemchang, saying insecurity in the country needed to be tackled head-on. He, thereafter, tasked the federal government to give Plateau State priority in the fight against an insurgency.
The CAN chairman, who lamented incessant attacks in Bokkos, Riyom and Barakin-Ladi local government areas of the state, called on President Buhari to establish a special military base around the local government areas to nip in the bud any unforeseen attack and to provide security for the people who are often prone to attacks.
From all indications, the number of internally displaced persons in Plateau State has continued to be on the increase. Apart from those displaced from their settlements within the state, there are those displaced in other states like Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba and Adamawa states who are taking refuge in local governments sharing borders with these states.
Reverend Bewarang implored the president to come to the aid of Plateau State, adding that both the state government and religious organisations are constantly under pressure to take care of the IDPs’ needs.
“We are all brothers. There is no way we would fold our arms and watch them suffer; we just have to cater for them. I am appealing to you sir, to complement our efforts in this regard,” he said.
The state governor, Mr Solomon Lalong, in his address also corroborated the cleric’s view when he declared: “we are among the first generation states that witnessed series of crises and with a high number of displaced people coupled with those from the neighbouring states in recent times. We are appealing to you sir to complement our efforts in sustaining this gesture of being our brother’s keepers.”
A representative of the Jamatu Nasir Islam, Sheik Abdulazeez Yusuf, also harped on peaceful coexistence and commended Governor Lalong for sustaining the prevailing peace in the state.
Other issues raised at the town hall meeting include a deplorable condition of federal roads, especially the ones linking Plateau with other states.
Chairman of Plateau State All Progressives Congress Elders Forum, Chief Jethro Akum, though lauded the anti-corruption crusade of the Buhari-led administration called on the president to give the federal roads in the state adequate priority.
The elder statesman, a former deputy governor in the state, said there is the need for a special commission for solid minerals development in the state to tackle the problems associated with mining, especially those associated with long years of mining in the state.
Responding to the issues raised especially the issues of insecurity and need for peace in the country, President Buhari promised to tackle the menace and called on Plateau people to embrace the spirit of love, tolerance and kindness to all, urging them to accommodate each other as one of the first step of arresting the ugly trend.
The president warned local leaders against abusing the trust and confidence of the people and urged those in authority to always keep it in mind that they would give an account of their actions before their creator. Buhari lamented the incessant attacks on rural communities in some states and promised to address the issue with utmost zeal.
He commended Governor Lalong for paying salaries and entitlements of workers and pensioners promptly and attributed the return of peace in the state to such kindness by the governor. He also challenged other governors to emulate such a gesture, describing governors not paying salaries as leaders without conscience.
“Honestly, I wonder how governors who do not pay salaries are able to sleep, knowing very well that the workers are helpless, hungry and angry,” he said.
He promised to consider Plateau leaders’ request for more slots in political appointments and pledged to be fair to all Nigerians in the allocation of resources, adding that the principle of continuity of projects inherited by his predecessor contributed to the prevailing peace in the state.
Lalong had earlier thanked Buhari for the visit, and urged him to consider more Plateau indigenes for political appointments to enable his people to feel the impact of his administration.
The president also launched a working document for peace tagged “Plateau State Road Map to Peace” produced by the Peace Building Agency set up by the Lalong-led administration.
The director-general of the agency, Mr. Joseph Lengman, said all interest groups in the state were carried along, adding that if the roadmap is implemented judiciously, it would arrest insecurity and sustain the prevailing peace in the state.
As President Buhari departed Plateau State on Friday the issues arising from the visit continued to cause ripples across the state. Apart from commissioning the projects allegedly abandoned by the past administration, analysts posited that the visit was used as a popularity test in Plateau ahead of 2019 elections, while others perceived it as an opportunity for the president to have first-hand information about the security situation in the state.
Even the president’s assurance of security was immediately tested just as he was leaving, as herdsmen reportedly attacked Bassa and Bokkos local governments killing 11 people. This obviously is a big test and a pointer to the big task at hand if security must endure in Plateau State.
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