BY CHRIS GYANG
At last, Mr. Lalong has come full circle. The bubble has burst. The chicken’s rump is finally exposed.
Signs that this governor would ultimately do himself in and drag the hard-earned pedigree of Plateau down the cesspit of ignominy emerged very early in the life of his administration.
In a fit of misguided exuberance, Governor Lalong had gleefully berated his fellow Samuel Ortom of Benue State before Aso Rock correspondents for implementing its anti-open grazing legislation. On New Year’s Day of 2018, herdsmen had killed about 72 people in retaliation.
The mass burial for the victims was held on January 11 – the same day Lalong openly unleashed that criticism before the entire country. Among other things, he had said: “I told the Governor of Benue when he was doing the law; I said, look, why don’t you tread softly, take other steps before you start implementation….”
Needless to say, Ortom, Benue citizens and indeed Nigerians were in a state of shock at the time. The entire country was aghast at Lalong’s obvious insensitivity, immaturity and lack of compassion for the dead and their loved ones.
But the reasons for the governor’s bold and contrived ambivalence towards such horrendous acts of violence and their consequences would soon become very clear.
Ortom had told CNN, “They had threatened to wipe out the whole state if we did not repeal the law, and allow their cattle graze wherever they like. They say cattle are more precious than human beings” (THIS DAY, January 11, 2018).
In 2021, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State and Chairman of the South-West Governors’ Forum was confronted with the same situation when the state was poised to implement its own anti-open grazing law. The secretary of one of the umbrella bodies of Nigeria’s Fulani herdsmen, Saleh AlHassan, issued a press statement calling on the Federal Government to stop southern states from carrying out the law.
A determined and resolute Governor Akeredolu had declared, inter alia: “Our contemporary history is replete with events of brazen treachery as recompense for the warmth and hospitality extended to the undeserving. Various communities live with painful memories and indelible scars. We refuse to become slaves in our land…. Saleh and his sponsors should be content with the resources within his local environment if he is indeed indigenous to Nigeria.”
“No part of our land,” he warned, “will be given to foreigners who cling to a dubious regional protocol as an instrument validating dispossession. Let him practice his cultural practices on his father’s land. His likes will not be permitted to operate with impunity in Ondo State. We will defend our land. Ondo State has a law that prohibits open grazing.”
That is the stuff leaders are made of. They confront the enemies of their people with courage, integrity and self-abnegation, even at the risk of making the supreme sacrifice.
But not our own Governor Lalong. He dithers, gauges his personal interests and those of his overlords and turns his back on his people. He has abandoned Plateau people to the evil designs of their enemies.
Ordinarily, you would think that the Aso Rock gaffe would be a one-off misstep. But no, Lalong would maintain that ignoble path throughout his tenure. His verbal diarhoeah became his trademark, attracting national flak and causing Plateau citizens immense embarrassment.
On January 5, 2019, SAHARA REPORTERS quoted the governor as happily saying: “People asked why was I dying for Buhari and I told them that I will die for Buhari because he is my helper. He has helped in addressing insecurity in Plateau and gave us bail-out to clear workers’ salaries, there is nothing more than that; he will win Plateau far better than 2015.”
At the time, one of the most glaring failures of President Buhari was his inability to curb the rising waves of bloody violence in the entire country. Not only had Islamist insurgency spiked, Fulani herdsmen were becoming more and more daring while kidnapping for ransom and other forms of banditry were spiralling.
Security experts said that one of the reasons for these was the concentration of the leadership of the country’s security apparatus in the hands of Northern Muslims. Ironically, Lalong’s Plateau State was one of the hardest hit in the country.
But it was obvious that, once again, he was merely playing politics with such matters of life and death mainly to secure his own personal survival. Journalists would approach him whenever they wanted to have a hefty dose of laugher or get ridiculously sensational headlines. Such was the negative popularity of his puerile fascination with self-glorification, which almost always turned out to be self-destructive.
His apparent sophistry about the attacks in Plateau and other parts of the country would once again come to the fore when he justified the use of assault rifles.
DAILY TRUST ( February 24, 2021) quoted him as declaring during a Channels Tv programme, Sunrise Daily: “I am not justifying anybody to carry AK-47, but don’t forget that in the course of our deliberations and investigations, it was not only Fulani herdsmen that were carrying AK-47, but even farmers were also carrying AK-47.”
Farmers in Plateau State and other parts of the country who had been at the receiving end of that terrorism rose up in strong condemnation of the governor. Other Nigerians who were once again shocked by his utter insincerity and refusal to squarely place blame where it really belonged lent their voices in denouncing the governor’s wild and diversionary claims.
His reputation for well nuanced and deliberate equivocation had assumed unbearable proportions, to Plateau citizens and Nigerians as a whole.
But it was in one of his most recent outings, which may well be his last as governor, that he once again showcased his incurable capacity to shame himself and hold our state up to ridicule.
Speaking on January 17, 2023, at a presidential campaign rally in Ilorin, Kwara State, an enthusiastic Governor Lalong had told party faithful: “If you do me good, I’ll do you good. If you do good on the other side, we’ll do good on the other side, we’ll do good on this side. That is Emi Lokan…. Asiwaju [Tinubu] has done good. It is his turn, it is your turn, it is our turn. If you chop alone, you will die alone. He didn’t chop alone; so it is his turn to chop. And that is why Emi Lokan is very important.”
Recourse to such obscene, disgusting and gutter verbiage suggesting pillaging, thievery and gluttony said a lot about the way Lalong has perceived and carried on governance in the last eight years. Also, and most significantly, it points to the way the Tinubu presidency, if it survives the opposition’s legal fireworks challenging its ‘victory’, may most likely go.
In a short commentary titled, ‘Lalong’s turn for Blunders at APC Rally’, THIS DAY (January 22, 2023) noted: “Not many Nigerians were shocked at the comments by Lalong at a campaign rally. The Plateau State governor’s comments were not only a blunder, but complete embarrassment.”
The newspaper reported that the vice presidential candidate of the APC was so scandalised by Lalong’s grovelling at the Ilorin rally that he drew the attention of their host, Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, “and muttered something to him.”
“Rather than telling Nigerians how they will fix the non-existent power, tackle insecurity, the country’s rising debt profile…” the tabloid complained, “all some of the party’s leaders are concerned about are bizarre and mundane things.”
Mr. Lalong has just lost his bid for the Senate. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors – Joshua Dariye and Jonah Jang. But this has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster because he has not conducted himself and led the state as a true and committed leader.
Yes, Ortom also failed his race for Senate. But he will for a long time to come hold his head high for standing with his people and offering selfless, sacrificial and inspirational leadership.
But the same can never be said of Mr. Lalong. He sacrificed the destiny of his own people on the altar of personal gains. So shall he be remembered in the annals of Nigeria.
Any semblance of credibility he possessed was progressively frittered away in the eight years he was governor. His own people resoundingly rejected him at the polls because he put the interests of his family and a few close friends above the overall good of his wider community and state as a whole. Thus, he became a pariah.
Unfortunately, this deep stain rubbed off on most other All Progressives Congress (APC) candidates in the February 25 presidential and national assembly elections in the state. That is why he failed to deliver Tinubu, to whom he was national campaign Director General, even in his own polling unit!
But will Mr. Lalong also drag the remaining APC candidates in the March 11 gubernatorial and state legislature elections down with him? Absolutely.
It is widely believed that the deep rot associated with Lalong and his administration will definitely rub off on the gubernatorial candidate of the APC and its house of assembly hopefuls.
Analysts say that Plateau people are now warming up to complete the task they began on February 25. The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have clinched two senatorial seats (a re-run has been scheduled for the third one) and swept five of the eight House of Representatives positions.
Citizens are determined to remove the remaining vestiges of the APC dispensation from the space of governance on March 11. That will clear the atmosphere for that much-needed gust of fresh air to once again blow across this land.
This land that has in the last eight years been reeling from the noxious stench issuing from a governor’s indolence, hypocrisy, pandering to the whims and caprices of extraneous forces, nepotism, cronyism and reducing serious matters of state into frivolous ceremonials.
Surely, the die is irrevocably cast.
(GYANG is the Chairman of the N.G.O, Journalists Coalition for Citizens’ Rights Initiative – JCCRI. Emails: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org)