The Holy Bible in the book of Ecclesiastes Chapter 7 verse 8 says “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride” (New Living Translation). This verse does not only convey divine truth that has stood the test of time, but aptly captures the life trajectory of Simon Bako Lalong, KSGG, CON, Executive Governor of Plateau State and Chairman, Northern Governors Forum who turns 60 on 5th May 2023. Incidentally, his 60th birthday is coming as he prepares to handover to the next Governor of Plateau State at the end of his 8 year tenure.
For the man Simon Bako Lalong, fate, fortune and the grace of God are visible all over him having come from an obscure background from his little-known village of Ajikamai, Nyak, in Shendam Local Government of Plateau State. His story is one of grass to grace built on virtues of humility, love, service, tolerance, broad-mindedness and teamwork which have guided him all through life.
Trained as a lawyer, Lalong started his political journey through youth activism within the socio-cultural organisation of the Gamai people, Gamai Youth Movement as well as the Plateau Youth Council which threw some spotlight on him that later blossom and took him to limelight which he enjoys today.
Right from his childhood, Lalong had the innate feeling that he was called to serve and needed to develop himself particularly through education that will give him the capacity to stand among the high and low and effectively add value to humanity. His passion was to become a lawyer. This perhaps explains why despite so many opportunities for a career in football up to the national stage, he chose rather to pursue academics and fulfill his dream of wearing the wig and gown.
Although he had an offer to be a civil servant at the FCDA Abuja after his youth service, he declined and chose to practice his most cherished ambition of law. This brought him back to Jos where he began practice and later delved into politics.
From his election into the Plateau House of Assembly to represent Shendam Constituency in 1999, Lalong jettisoned his early childhood values that were engraved in his heart by his family and the Catholic Church. Those who know him testify of his loyalty, love, respect, humility and compassion which have grown over the years and opened doors for him across the length and breadth of Nigeria and the world at large.
Many recall his sojourn as the Speaker of the Plateau House of Assembly and his travails over refusal to superintend over the illegal impeachment of Governor Joshua Dariye. Because he would not subvert the constitution and tore the path of impunity, dictatorship and criminality, he spent 40 days and 40 nights in EFCC detention. His loyalty to the constitution, the people of Plateau State and Governor Dariye whom he felt should have fair hearing as provided by law was tested and he passed.
This singular act cost him so much and threw him in the cold as his seat was vacated even after he won the election for his recall which was induced by the powers that be in collaboration with Federal Might. However, his good heart and his principled stance to do the right thing coupled with his contentment, trust in God, and love for others was to restore him to limelight again in 2015 when the people of Plateau State remembered his good works as Speaker and chose him to become Governor.
On coming into office, he inherited a myriad of challenges which included insecurity, a despondent and demoralized civil service, uncompleted and abandoned projects, lack of inclusivity in governance, as well as a State that was in dire need of healing, reconciliation and forgiveness. He did not waste time in bringing the people of Plateau State together and addressing the challenges.
He immediately paid 5 months withheld wages under no-work-no-pay policy and cleared inherited salary arrears of 8 months from the past administration. The same story applied to pension arrears of about 10 months which he equally cleared. This earned him the nickname “Governor Alert” bestowed upon by the civil servants.
Rather than embark on ego trip of commencing new projects while the State littered with abandoned projects, Lalong chose to complete those inherited even though from a government of PDP. These include the Mararaban Jama’a road which was just about one lane done as well as the Secretariat Junction flyover; old-airport to Rayfield; Rayfield to Bukuru etc. Same applied to abandoned general hospitals such as Riyom, Langtang South, Kanke which he completed. Sadly, this was to be used against him by his opponents who despite enjoying these infrastructures claimed he never did a “single” project in 8 years – a propagandist lie that unfortunately sank into the gullible.
But Simon Lalong whose heart is like that of a child refused to be intimidated or harassed by frivolities and kept carrying out inherited and new projects. Today, the brand new British American Flyover and Dualisation to Lamingo Junction Roundabout has been completed and will be commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari soon. Same goes for the High Court Complex Headquarters, the Multi-door Courthouse and ADR Centre; NUJ Secretariat, Kalong-Angwan Dadi bridge (longest in Plateau); Shendam bye-pass and internal roads; of Longvel-Yelwa-Mato Junction-Taraba border road among; Legacy projects among others across the State.
When you talk about peace and security, Lalong gave it his best shot by not only dressing the surface, but going down to the root to tackle the causes. His style has been to remove fear and mutual suspicion from the hearts of citizens who had enjoyed peaceful coexistence for decades until crises merchants succeeded in dividing them along ethno-religious lines. While he strengthened the instrument of law enforcement to deal with criminals, he also came up with the Peace Building Agency which is the first of its kind in the country and backed by law. He ensured that crucial laws were enacted and signed such as the Anti-Land Grabbing and Anti-Kidnapping and Violence against persons.
Although there is no absolute security yet, citizens of Plateau State, Nigerians and members of the international community who earlier felt unsafe in Plateau have confessed that Lalong scored a goal in security and peace with abundant evidence to show. Nightlife is back to Jos while “no-go-areas” have drastically faded. Public and privates institutions across Nigeria have once more made Plateau State their conference and events capital as they jostle to host one national conference or the other. Hotel and hospitality businesses are booming while many investors who earlier left Plateau have returned. Even property owners have enjoyed a boom under Lalong as Plateau is once more the true Home of Peace and Tourism.
The footprints of Governor Lalong on the Plateau are very visible across all sectors and all Local Governments of the State. Whether it is the education sectors where he took over a moribund Plateau State University Bokkos and turned it into a 7-Faculty institution with 7 convocations in its kitty and a PG School; or the revamping of the Plateau Specialists Hospital with the acquisition of Ultra-modern medical equipment such as Superstar MRI Machine, 64 slices CT Scanner, 4D-Ultrasound Scanner and Digital X-Ray Machine among others; or the deepening of systems for transparency, accountability and good governance in the State which has earned the State national and international recognition, the man Lalong is leaving large footprints in the political landscape of Plateau, albeit quietly as the silent achiever he is.
While some could have disagreed with him over some of his policies and actions, Lalong has never claimed to be a saint or infallible. Indeed those who know him testify that he is one of the meekest persons on the face of the earth who is not afraid to admit any shortcoming just as he can stick to his convictions even when everyone disagrees with him.
His 60th birthday which comes just weeks before he bows out as Governor makes it a day to pause and thank God for sending someone with his temperament, capacity, intellect, humility, courage and love to the people of Plateau and Nigeria at times such as this. Having done his best to serve and with the best intentions, he is eager to go and have some deserved rest and also spend some quality time with his family.
But whether this will be a reality for him is in doubt because having produced the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the DG of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, many expect that he will again play a prominent role in actualizing the Renewed Hope Mandate of Tinubu/Shettima. Also, Lalong who was the leader of the Northern Governors who insisted that power should go back to the south in the interest of fairness and justice remains a strong figure in the ruling APC.
If history is anything to go by, Lalong who is not known to lobby for positions will once again have his past records speaking for him just as they did when he was chosen by his colleagues to serve as the Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, a position he has used to further demonstrate his capacity on the national stage and also ensure that Plateau remains in national relevance rather than obscurity.
The prayer for this man of peace and love is that God will continue to order his steps and give him more opportunities and make his paths shine brighter to serve humanity which has been his ambition from childhood. As this chapter of his life closes, there is no doubt that God is opening a new phase for him to once again demonstrate that love is the greatest according to Matthew 22: 37-40 which happens to be one of his most favourite scriptures in the Holy Bible.
Happy 60th birthday Your Excellency!
Makut Simon Macham, PhD, mnipr, is the Director of Press & Public Affairs to the Governor of Plateau State.