• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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We’re bringing Plateau back to its state of pride – Bankat

We’re bringing Plateau back to its state of pride – Bankat

Hart Bankat, an architect and general manager, Jos Metropolitan Development Board (JMDB), in this interview with NATHANIEL GBAORON in Jos, spoke on the implementation of Executive Order 003 signed by Caleb Mutfwang, governor of Plateau State and its impact in restoring the beauty and order of the state, especially Jos town. Excerpts:

What did this government inherit in the Jos Metropolitan Development Board (JMDB)?

If you had an urban development board that was not in place for eight years, they were just acting general managers for the last eight years. The most senior civil servants would act, and they did their best, but they had limitations. There’s a difference between bringing somebody who was politically appointed and then somebody who grew up through the ranks. When it comes to patronage and access to the government, you cannot guarantee that you will always have access to be able to share your thoughts with the governor. But you see, the difference is we have a purposeful leadership that is willing and knows the direction in which it wants to take its people.

Governor Caleb Mutfwang has a leadership that has identified that we have been so exposed to the point that it’s a thing of shame for a house to be like this and then we need to fix it. Hence why we’re on board to come and fix these things and then that was what gave birth to Executive Order 003. Having looked at the laws that are available, the penalties available, and the strictness of what we need to enforce, we knew that we needed to do something that will make people understand how serious the government is, and that was how Executive Order 003 came on board.

Now, the complaints from certain parties are that people are not being carried along, especially when it comes to the executions, probably in the time of enlightenment or sensitization; what have you done in this regard?

In terms of enlightenment and sensitisation, I’m happy you’re here. You know the number of press conferences I’ve held. You know the number of announcements we’ve put out, both in print and other media outlets. We’ve been running adverts. We’ve had street adverts. We’ve gone ahead to say people might not be listening to the radio because they’re in the market. We went to all the markets and all the areas to announce to them the intentions of the government. You see, the truth is people are being deliberate and being mischievous. And we are not mincing words about that. So, we are not even trying to patronize anybody. And that’s why you see us going out to do our work straight. We have records and minutes of meetings we’ve held. We have attendants of people who attended the meeting. So even when we had called for those meetings, they had sent fake representatives. It’s their business. But we’ve disseminated the information over six months ago, even before the executive order came on board, informing people that we want to do this and want to take action on this. Even as of then, begging traders to take off their things from the road and give us the road in the first instance pending when we come for enforcement, but they remained adamant.

What alternative arrangements have been made for traders displaced by the enforcement of Executive Order 003?

Alternative arrangements have been made. Yes, for those who are trading on the streets, we have told them the old market in Terminus was opened up for them to go back into the market. For those in Gada Biu, we have told them to go back to the satellite market. For those in Farin Gada, we have told them the market is large enough, go back inside the market. We have a new market here. And we have other satellite markets that are scattered all over the place that people abandon but prefer to trade on the streets. And then when you go and you don’t get spaces and you come back to us, we are making allocations. Let me give you an instance. The lady selling fish in West of Mines on the road. You know that that has been a thriving business for a very long time. But we have told them, you have to move. It doesn’t speak well of our city. And we provide a space for them in Vandepoye here. We are the ones begging them to come and see for themselves. But tomorrow when we go to take action, people will say we didn’t inform them. If you notice, as of yesterday, when you go to Old Airport, you notice they are not on the streets. I mean the women that sell fish, because we spoke to them and we explained to them. We said we don’t like coming to chase you. We understand that times are hard. But can you listen to us? There are available spaces off the road where you can go and do your business. It mustn’t be on the road. But people are used to that market of convenience. No rent, no tax, nothing. So, just do what you want to do. Carry what you want to carry for the day. It’s not going to work like that.

We have lost millions of dollars in investments. These are things that will have come to better even the lives of the people that are causing problems for us. I want to take the state back to that. You are complaining about hardship, you are complaining about no industries. Do you remember when Jos used to mother a lot of industries? That people who run shifts, people who work in Grand Cereals in the morning, they move to ECWA Feeds in the afternoon, and before you know it, they go to Jos International Brewery (JIB) in the evening. We had a lot of young people coming up and making it. There was a middle class. But today, what do we have? A group of criminals and bandits are coming up every year because nobody has any opportunity for them. You cannot have a successful society if you don’t create a conducive environment. And part of creating a conducive environment is what we want to do. You can’t bring an investor from a foreign land to come to Nigeria and then come to Plateau State and then he’s seeing zincs and containers and bamboos on the road and you’re telling him to come and invest $100 million, $200 million, and you think he’ll take you seriously.

How are you regulating or controlling the influx of tricycles?

For tricycles, already the government has introduced new initiatives. We’ve already started introducing QR codes. The day before yesterday, I was speaking with them. The union came because I told them for the parks they operate on the road. We don’t want them to do so. So, we told them to come. We’ll go around with them. Because the ones that came were just from Jos North. I told them to get their counterparts from Jos South so that we would discuss together, so that we know that we’re on one page before tomorrow somebody says he was not carried along. When they come, we’re going to discuss with them. We’re going to identify setbacks. And part of what I will suggest to them is that they should have e-tickets in such a way that you know yourselves, you know your PT numbers, you know the station you operate. We already know who and who are operating in that park. And then if you are going to transport passengers, it’s just like a train system. You can transfer passengers without stress. So, if you are going to state Low cost, for instance, you don’t need to carry Keke from Terminals to State Low cost. Why? Because there’s little or no security control. But if you are carrying a charter, it means that you should have a communication line that you’ll be able to inform those in Ahmadu Bello Way that this bike has taken a passenger from Terminals. He’s heading to Low Cost on charter and he has to pass through that park in Ahmadu Bello Way for them to see him. And then pass through the Hill Station Park, pass through the Terminus Park, pass through the Domkat Bali park before he gets to the State Low cost. So that at any point that he doesn’t register in any of those parks, you know that there’s a problem. And we are trying to see that in such a way that even when you are going to move them, if you are moving a passenger for 500, if you are moving from point A to point B, you don’t need to exceed. We should know that this is your limit. So that when we see your PT number passing this point, we already know that you are going to pass through that park. We already know that you are going to pass through that park. And we believe that with those systems coming up and those regulations coming up for them, it will make things better.

What is the long run of the government in this context?

We are bringing Plateau back to its state of pride. We are bringing it to the center of attention. You can’t be claiming to be the home of peace and tourism and then you don’t have a semblance of it. What we have is cosmetic peace. You have people living in segregated areas in line with ethnicity and religion. We want to see where people live freely in well-planned layouts, well-executed places that they will live and coexist irrespective of faith or ethnicity. So that you will know that there is actually peace. We want to see communities whereby you don’t have to see a competition of loudspeakers because this one wants to say there are more Christians here or more Muslims. No. This one wants to say more of my tribe people are here. No, no, no. We want to see a Plateau where it will be well-planned. We want to see a place where you are welcome to everybody irrespective of your religion or tribe. You should be able to come and enjoy the atmosphere of Plateau State. And by the special grace of God we shall achieve this.

How have you sensitised religious leaders about the recent order against roadblocks by religious organisations?

We conducted stakeholder engagements and issued letters to religious leaders, as requested during these meetings, to inform their members. We are focused on building confidence by removing unnecessary barricades, which do not align with a peaceful society. Instead, we aim to open up spaces and create a more inclusive and secure environment for all residents. The engagement with stakeholders helped convey the importance of this initiative and build support for it.

What happened during the incident in Bukuru, and what was the government action?

The incident in Bukuru was unfortunate. While we were there, we took control of it. It’s unfortunate that many people were not enlightened, and their stories were changed. Responsible citizens were there when they started stoning us simply because we asked traders to take off the road. When we tell you we don’t want you on the road, what has that got to do with religion? It’s illiteracy. The task force has over 140 armed men. We were stoned with stones and broken glasses, and then they started firing at us with guns. If we had decided to be illiterates like them, what do you think would have been the repercussion? With 140 armed men, the story would have been different. But we decided to restrain ourselves and pulled back. Unfortunately, the miscreants went around and started burning people’s cars and chanting religious slogans. It doesn’t work. Not with this government. I assure you, every illegal structure on the street will be taken off. We don’t care what area you live in or stay. As long as you’re under the laws of Plateau State, we will work.

We’ve started building control. Anybody that does not have approval should come and get approval. Don’t think that you’re staying in an area where, when I come, you chant and start shouting religious chants. It won’t work. I will help you pray. When we finish praying, then you pay government dues. Those things will not work. We’re not in a banana republic. We’re here to work for Plateau people and all Plateau people. A lot of people want roads. They want water. They want every form of facility that government can provide. They don’t want to pay the taxes they owe the government. People build houses without regulations. They don’t want to pay the taxes they owe the government.

The people of Jos North have been very welcoming to the government. Most of the complaints we receive in this office are from Jos North, begging us to come into their community. They will even protect us if we have doubts. That is the healing we are talking about. We started excavating the drainages in Delimi. By the special grace of God, once we get approval from his excellency, we will start constructing the drainages and the roads.

What is the government plan for beautifying the Jos Terminus area?

As an architect, I promised the people of Plateau State that the city would be beautiful. We have plans to enhance the aesthetics of the Jos Terminus area, turning it into a well-planned and attractive city center. This includes improving infrastructure, creating green spaces, and ensuring the area is organized and welcoming. We encourage the public to watch as we transform the city into a more appealing and organised urban space. You cannot build confidence when you put barricades everywhere and keep telling people that we are fine. You can’t be fine with barricades. Looking at the only incident on the plateau in the state in the past, we discovered that this valley came up as a result of insecurity.

You have barricades longer than the period in which you had crisis. So, it’s not all about that. It’s about a new face. I keep telling people, Plateau people have not killed up to one million people, but we have not yet healed, and we have not moved forward. Rwanda killed more than a million people from genocide, but today Rwanda is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. They are moving. So, we need to heal. We take trauma for granted in this country. A lot of people are suffering from trauma. And if we don’t start opening up these spaces, we will keep confining people to trauma. That is the idea: open up these spaces, create building confidence, create client confidence, create a citizen confidence platform. People should know that if I stay in Bauchi road, I can go to Refi or Bukuru at 1:00 am without being scared that somebody is going to kill me on the road.

Now we are opening up areas. I keep telling people, unfortunately, a lot of people were not enlightened when we went to Bukuru and they tried to shoot us and stone us. But come and look at Jos North. We would be very selfish if we don’t commend the people of Jos North because they have realized how much they have suffered from a state of dilapidation and flooding. They are the ones even welcoming the government. Most of the complaints we receive in this office are from Jos North, begging you and elders telling you, “Please come into our community. We will even protect you.” That is the healing we are talking about. Now, look at the limit. We started excavating the drainage. By the special grace of God, the moment we get the approval from His Excellency, we are going to start constructing the drainages and the roads. Those are the kinds of developments we’re talking about. His Excellency will tell you he doesn’t care where you’re from; as long as you live on the plateau, you’re his brother or his sister. And that’s the kind of city we want to see, where people will feel comfortable and not be scared, where people can cross over bridges, cross over areas, and go wherever they want whenever they want and do whatever they want. And mind you, if we don’t get our economy back to start working 24 hours, we are only kidding in this country.

What is the aftermath of the Bukuru incident?

Aftermath? Yes, There’s no aftermath. I heard different stories about the incident that happened in Bukuru because while we were there, we took control of it. It’s quite unfortunate that a lot of people were not enlightened, and their stories were tried to be changed. But I thank God for responsible citizens who were there when they started stoning us. Simply because we asked traders to take off the road. When we tell you we don’t want you on the road, what has that got to do with religion? That’s why I said it’s illiteracy. We had every sense of provocation. The task force has over 140 armed men who were stoned with stones and broken glasses, and then they started firing at us with guns. If we had decided to be illiterates like them, what do you think would have been the repercussion? With 140 armed men, the story would have been different. But we decided to restrain ourselves and pull back. Unfortunately, the miscreants went around and started burning people’s cars and chanting all forms of religiousness. It doesn’t work, not with this government.

I assure you, every illegal structure on the street will be taken off. We don’t care what area you live or stay; as long as you’re under the laws of Plateau State, we will walk. Let this go out. We’ve started building control. I’m speaking to you now. Tomorrow, they will tell you I didn’t say it. We’ve started building control. Anybody that does not have approval should come and get approval. Don’t think that you’re staying in an area that when I come, you start shouting religious chants. It won’t work. I will help you pray. When we finish praying, then you pay government its due. Those things will not work. We’re not in a banana republic. We’re here to work for Plateau people and all Plateau people. It is to the benefit of each and every one of them. A lot of people want roads. They want water. They want every form of facility that government can provide. They don’t want to pay the taxes to the government. People build houses without regulations. They don’t want to pay the taxes to the government.

What is the government doing concerning the aesthetics of the Jos town ?

When I came into office, I made one promise to the people that, not because I’m an architect, but I had promised them that Plateau was going to be beautiful. So I want you to sit back, relax, and watch what we are going to do with the city center of Plateau and what we’re going to do with the city.