By Ralph Madugu
The most worrisome point here is that despite this situation, most citizens appear to be careless and reluctant to observe the COVID-19 protocols. In fact, many have abandoned and refused to observe simple protocols of wearing face masks, maintaining social distance and washing hands regularly.
Those were the words of Governor Simon Bako Lalong at a stakeholders meeting convened to address issues bordering on security and the resurgence COVID-19 cases in the nation and Plateau State in particular.
Addressing the stakeholders in Jos, Governor Lalong expressed worry that the state is recording more daily cases of the second wave of the corona virus in the state than previously, adding that the state is also recording increasing number of deaths.
Said he: “The most worrisome point here is that despite this situation, most citizens appear to be careless and reluctant to observe the COVID-19 protocols. In fact, many have abandoned and refused to observe simple protocols of wearing face masks, maintaining social distance and washing hands regularly.
“This worries me a lot because this recklessness is further exposing more people to the virus and then increasing the casualty figures. While we have no intention of imposing another lockdown to avoid further damage to the economy, some members of the public are not helping us.”
The governor announced that government has decided to criminalize further denial of the disease in the State. “If you deny the existence of the disease, keep your denial to yourself because if you are caught propagating it or instigating others to follow you, you will be arrested and prosecuted no matter how highly placed you might be.
On the issue of vaccine, the governor said amidst the conspiracy theories being peddled by some people, he assured that he will be the first to take the vaccine whenever it is available in Plateau State and cautioned against promoting unsubstantiated rumors.
Lalong stated that the state is still hopeful that the drugs being developed by the Plateau State Medical Research Team which are currently undergoing clinical examination will pass the necessary approvals. This, according to him, will also provide another option for prevention and treatment.
The governor, who also addressed the stakeholders on the issue of security which remains the first priority of his administration, reassured the stakeholders that government is paying attention to the security of lives and property by adopting various measures to foster peaceful coexistence and also deal with crime and criminality.
Lalong acknowledged that the government is aware of the incidences of kidnapping, cultism and other violent crimes in some parts of Plateau State and reassured that government is working hard with the security agencies and stakeholders to ensure that the ugly incidences are tackled.
He said: “Last month, I signed the Anti-kidnapping, Land grabbing, Cultism and Violence-related matters bill passed by the State House of Assembly into law. By that law, anyone convicted of kidnapping in Plateau State will be sentenced to death while cultism and other violent crimes attract various terms of imprisonment.
“Also in December last year, we inaugurated 595 Community Police constables who were trained and deployed to the 17 Local Government Areas to assist law enforcement agencies, particularly the police in intelligence gathering and other security operations. Now that it has taken off, I expect to hear from you how best we can domesticate and own the initiative at the grassroots.”
The governor reiterated that security is a collective responsibility, he charged the stakeholders to assist the Government in sensitizing and mobilizing all citizens to be security conscious and take measures to protect their vicinity against criminals by not only exposing them but advised on the need for members of the public to also embrace techniques to provide the first line of alarm and defence before security agencies respond.
“I have repeatedly said that I do not want to hear of any incidence of “unknown gunmen” terrorizing our people. We have to collaborate with the security agencies to ensure that we achieve this. They cannot do it alone. Now that we have community policing constables, we expect better security as we all support them to work.”
On the recent alert by the Department of State Services of a threat to cause inter-religious violence by some criminal elements, he called on the people to take the alert seriously and ensure that they report any suspicious activity to the security agencies. He advised members of the public not to succumb to the divisive antics of “such elements who exploit the fault lines of religion, ethnicity, politics and other sectional interests to create chaos.”
Governor Lalong, during the stakeholders meeting, also spoke on the issue of the implementation of the new minimum wage for Local Government Employees stating that though negotiations on modalities for implementation have been concluded, there was still need for him to make a few clarifications on what he described as “misinterpretation and misinformation” out there.
The governor said he was shocked that despite his intervention to ensure that the matter was quickly resolved through a Technical Committee, the workers embarked on protests which caused hardship to other citizens adding that they have also called him unprintable names forgetting that he has a soft spot for workers.
“Those who want to be objective and say the truth know that I will be the last person to frustrate the implementation of the new minimum wage to Local Government employees having been one of the first and few Governors to agree on its implementation. Besides, I was part of the negotiation at the Federal level after which other tiers of Government were advised to go and negotiate with their employees.”
Governor Lalong explained that the matter was finally resolved and as a result, he approved that Local Government autonomy in Plateau State should be implemented immediately, adding that all funds belonging to the tier of Government go straight to them hence it is the duty of the Local Governments to negotiate the new minimum wage with their employees based on their capacity to pay. This according to him, is the same thing that happened at the Federal and State levels.
“I do not need to repeat what I inherited as their salary arrears for 8 months, unpaid “no-work-no pay”, promotions of over 20 years, among others when I took over. All these they seem to have forgotten because of politics. Let me again put it on record that I am not holding local government salaries and no one should therefore call me names.”