SPEECH BY H.E. RT. HON. (DR) SIMON BAKO LALONG, KSGG, EXECUTIVE GOVERNOR OF PLATEAU STATE AT AN INTERACTIVE SESSION WITH YOUTHS IN PLATEAU STATE HELD ON 30TH OCTOBER 2020 AT THE NEW GOVERNMENT HOUSE, LITTLE RAYFIELD – JOS.
- My dear Youth of Plateau State, we have gathered here in continuation of our consultations with stakeholders towards our journey to progress and development. You will recall that I have had engagements with traditional rulers, elders and community leaders in recent weeks.
- Sadly the engagement with the youths was obstructed because of the uncertainties that arose as a result of the #ENDSARS protests and subsequent disturbances that followed. It is therefore with a deep heart that I welcome you to this interaction as we review the events of the recent past and look at the way forward.
- Indeed, these are very challenging times for the nation and our State because of recent events which have left us counting our losses. Lives have been lost, properties destroyed and the voices of the youths clearly and loudly heard across the nation and beyond.
- Let me first express my deep commiseration to the families of those who have lost their lives and others who have suffered injuries or lost their properties during the unfortunate recent happenings in our State.
- You will recall that the #ENDSARS protests across the country started with the demand for an end to the scrapped Special Anti-Robbery Squad which was accused of carrying out horrific acts against the citizens particularly the youths.
- This demand was supported by many Nigerians and accepted by the government which led to the directives by President Muhammadu Buhari to the IGP to immediately disband SARS. This order was carried out without delay.
- In addition, Government agreed to implement other demands of the protesters such as the setting up of Judicial Panel of Inquiry to investigate complaints of police brutality and related extra-judicial killings which will lead to the punishment of culprits and compensation for victims.
- Here in Plateau State, I immediately inaugurated the Judicial Panel of Inquiry to investigate complaints of police brutality and related extra-judicial killings headed by Justice Philomena Lot, a retired judge of the Plateau State High Court on 19th October 2020.
- Despite various efforts to meet with the leadership of the #ENDSARS protests here in Plateau State, no one agreed to engage the government as the protesters claimed they had no leaders. This continued despite our appeal for the protests to end and the path of dialogue adopted.
- We also warned about the likelihood of hijack of the protests by hoodlums and criminals who will want to hide under the situation to cause havoc. Sadly this was exactly what happened on Tuesday 20th October 2020 when violence erupted which led to the destruction of lives and properties in Jos and Bukuru metropolis.
- Government was left with no option than to take the painful decision of imposing a curfew in Jos South and Jos North Local Government Areas in order to stop further loss of lives and properties.
- Shortly after relaxing the curfew on 23rd October 2020, some hoodlums broke into the warehouses that housed palliatives delivered to the State on 16th October 2020 by the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development which were awaiting distribution and carted them away.
- Despite restoring the curfew, the looters took their destruction to higher levels by attacking other public and private facilities and leaving a trail of arson, vandalism and total destruction behind them. Indeed, this is a sad development for our State.
- On Tuesday, I went round some of the affected areas together with Members of the National Assembly Caucus from Plateau State and the Minister of Women Affairs to assess the level of destruction. What we saw was horrific and despicable.
- The level of destruction and carnage is unbelievable and unacceptable. We are still trying to carry out a comprehensive evaluation of the total cost of the damage. However, the preliminary report by a team of experts I constituted has estimated the losses to be put at about 75 billion naira for now.
- This clearly takes us many years backwards as we do not have the resources to replace the structures vandalised and the items damaged or stolen. We are yet to recover from the devastating economic consequences of COVID-19 which has greatly affected our capacity to provide services.
- Indeed, this act of destruction has nothing to do with the initial #ENDSARS protests, but a clear act of criminality and unpatriotic behaviour. As at the last count, we have more than 32 public and private properties that were affected in the looting spree.
- My dear youth, as a father and your Governor, I feel your pain. My heart goes out to all our youths for the many challenges they face daily due to lack of opportunities for jobs and better conditions to achieve their dreams.
- This is a burden that has accumulated over time which our administration is working hard to address. However, it is always confusing when people demand justice by either violating laws or trampling on the rights of others. That can only breed chaos and anarchy leading to worse consequences than what they sought to address in the first place.
- You would agree with me that the enormity of the challenges we face cannot be resolved overnight or with a wave of the hand. It is a process which all of us must collectively work together to achieve.
- However, the question that begs for answer is, “can these problems be solved by the kind of destruction and carnage we witnessed recently?” When we destroy the few infrastructures we have, we can never build the better Plateau that we all yearn for.
- Since coming into power, my administration has remained committed to pursuing the economic development of the State through youth empowerment and job creation. That is why we continue to prioritize peace and security which encourages private investors to create jobs and boost the economy.
- We established PLASMIDA to be the driving force for empowering our youths with skills and knowledge that will enable them create jobs and be self-reliant. As at today, the agency has trained about 40,000 youths in different areas and supported over 15,000 Micro, Small and Medium business start-ups. Today, Plateau State is the face of MSMEs in Nigeria as we have consistently won awards since 2018.
- We have also taken advantage of our strategic partnership with the ITF, GIZ and other development partners to create opportunities for our youths in agriculture, entrepreneurship and skills development. This is in addition to providing incentives for young people to go into farming which our state is known for.
- We have also done our best to ensure that our youths benefit from all social investment programmes of the Federal Government. Since the N-Power started, 11,364 youths have benefited from Plateau State. Over 2,000 beneficiaries are under the skill acquisition component of N-Power.
- Under the conditional cash transfer, out of the over 26,000 households receiving the bimonthly stipend of 10 thousand naira, 24,070 have youths as caregivers and alternate who receive the stipend on behalf of the households. In 90% of the households, there are youths who are beneficiaries.
- I have brought the heads of these agencies here for you to also hear from them and ask them questions to get further clarifications during the interactive session.
- Let me use this opportunity to correct a number of misconceptions that have been erroneously purveyed particularly through fake news in the social media with the aim of discrediting the government for political and other selfish gains.
- First is about the scrapping of SARS. Those spreading fake and malicious news try to create the impression that I am not in support of the disbandment of SARS. That is far from the truth. My support goes even beyond ending SARS, to a deeper reform of the policing architecture in the country.
- Those who want to be objective can testify that I am the Governor at the forefront of the advocacy for police reforms that will lead towards the rapid implementation of community policing which I believe will better address our peculiar security challenges as a State and nation.
- What I have cautioned against is the blanket condemnation of the entire police due to the atrocities of few bad eggs. There are many among them that perform their duties diligently who must be encouraged. You can see the kind of lawlessness that we witnessed in the last few days because of demoralization of the police.
- Secondly, I want to again reiterate that the Plateau State Government did not hoard any palliatives as some political interests are desperately trying to deceive the public. We shall continue to explain that we received the items from the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs just shortly before the #ENDSARS protests began. This delayed the process for distribution.
- Before then, every palliative we acquired or had received was distributed transparently by the Committee led by the Deputy Governor to vulnerable individuals and groups within the 17 Local Government Areas. Do not be deceived by those who are consumed by desperation for power and can condescend so low to exploit people’s misfortune for political gains. We are a people-centred government that can never inflict pain on our citizens.
- Let me appeal to our youths to always put the interest of our State at heart and learn to build, not to destroy. Be very careful of the negative use of the social media which has the capacity for inciting gullible people towards violence, hatred and destruction.
- Let us take advantage of the Peace Building Agency which has contributed significantly to arresting the vicious cycle of violence through a wide range of conflict prevention and peace building mechanisms including, systematic dialogue, advocacy, peace education and preventive diplomacy.
- I give you our commitment to addressing your challenges in an inclusive, deliberate and rapid manner subject to the resources available to us. We shall continue to engage you in a more robust and proactive manner to close all communication gaps for better results.
- In this regard, I have directed the Commissioner of Youths and Sports Development to ensure that the process of electing a new leadership for the Plateau Youth Council commences immediately now that COVID-19 has subsided. I urge you all to cooperate and ensure that you elect credible leaders that will represent your interests.
- Above all, take advantage and philosophy of the “not too young to rule” by striving to be mentored, which is the hallmark for patience and leadership by example. We have many role models to learn from.
- Shortly before the commencement of this programme, I inaugurated the new Government House Auditorium which we inherited and completed in honour of Her Excellency, Mrs. Victoria Hansatu Gowon, former First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
- She remains a shining example for the younger generation because of the support she gave her husband Gen, Yakubu Gowon who at a very young age took the mantle of leadership of Nigeria. If they could carry this responsibility with dignity, passion and sincerity, then today’s youths also have the capacity to do even more than them.
- Therefore, my appeal to all our youths is to always avoid any action that can threaten our unity and peace. Plateau belongs to all of us and we must build it together. I look forward to hearing from you as you freely and honestly make your submissions during this interaction.
- God bless Plateau State and the Federal Republic of Nigeria,
- Thank you.
Rt. Hon. (Dr.) Simon Bako Lalong, KSGG.
Chairman, Northern Governors Forum
& Executive Governor, Plateau State
30th October 2020.