One Plateau Senator has been rubbing minds with his constituents at town hall meetings, seeking to know their needs.
Jos communities in Plateau State have over the years suffered various losses from hundreds of years of mining activities in their lands, which have benefited the entire nation at their detriment.
Plateau State was the home of mining activities by the expatriates before the discovery of oil in Nigeria. Before the oil boom, mining was therefore one of the major sources of revenue generation in the country.But over 100 years after mining activities commenced in the state, many of the mining ponds in the state have been left uncovered thereby posing various risks to residents of the areas and threatening their well-being, particularly their health.
The excavation of these minerals which include Iron, Magnetite, Tin, Columbite, Lead, Zinc, Tantalite, among others has left the original land owners with nothing as they now find it difficult to cultivate because of the hazards left behind in the aftermath of the activities.
The ponds left behind by the mining activities have constituted a source of erosion that have repeatedly swept away people's houses and the little farmlands cultivated for agriculture, leaving them with nothing.
Also, the radioactive wastes from the mining have posed serious health hazards on residents, who live among the ponds, and have polluted their waters. The radioactive products, it was gathered, pose risks of cancer and respiratory diseases on the people who have no other homes.
Like in the Niger Delta region, this degradation has occurred at the detriment of the locals, who now cry to government to help reclaim their ravaged lands by covering the deep ponds since they were not paid corresponding compensation for the activities which benefitted the entire nation.
The local governments that fall under this danger include Jos North, Jos South, Barkin Ladi, Jos East, Bassa, Riyom, among others. Incidentally these local governments where about 60 per cent of productive farmlands have been destroyed as a result of mining activities, fall under the Plateau North Senatorial zone which Senator Jonah David Jang of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) represents.
This has given sleepless nights to the lawmaker, who recently embarked on tour of the local governments to listen to the constituents. He had held town hall meetings in all the local governments where constituents were given the opportunity to discuss with him on their challenges.
The Senator also used the avenue to empower the youths of the constituents as he donated tricycles to them in all the six local governments. He also donated classroom blocks to schools in the local governments and inaugurated at least 12 boreholes donated to the communities in the local governments.
For the farmers in his constituency, Jang donated Farmers' Markets where they are expected to take their farm produce for sale.
Jang also empowered some selected persons with tricycles in the six local government areas of his constituency, urging them to work with them and make a living for themselves and their families. He added that the process of selection was in consultation with the stakeholders in the constituency.
He had earlier, empowered 500 people from his constituency a few months back. The empowerment programme had women, youths, the aged and people living with disabilities as major beneficiaries.
Items donated in the earlier episode include sewing machines, grinding machines, wheel chairs, generators and barbing clippers, tricycles, set of computers and printers, block moulding machines, hair dryers among others.
Donating the items to the beneficiaries, Jang said the gesture was a way of fulfilling his campaign promises of salvaging the people from the shackles of poverty and hunger which have bedevilled them.
He added that the present hardship being experienced in the country also necessitated the empowerment scheme, in order to make the people economically independent.
"As governor of this state, I initiated programmes and policies aimed at alleviating the sufferings of the people. Today, as Senator, I have not changed. We all know the economic situation of the country; it is in a serious mess and our people are really suffering.
"So, I feel that this empowerment scheme is apt, because there is no better time for this kind of gesture than this very moment. We are committed to salvaging our people from the shackles of poverty and this is why we are doing this today.
"Other legislators may have pocketed the monies given to them for things like this, but on our part, we decided to use it judiciously to touch the lives of our people."
Jang charged legislators at the state and federal levels from Plateau to emulate his empowerment scheme and give their constituents a better living condition. He enjoined beneficiaries to put the items given to them into proper use and assured that more people would be empowered in the nearest future.
Speaking at the recent town hall meetings, the Senator also shared the constituents' burden of the devastating impacts of years of mining activities and called on the federal government to help the state in reclaiming its land from the numerous mining ponds.
Jang, who took three whole days to interact closely with the people also lamented that the problem was not just that of the ponds culminating into devastating erosion, but that of the people now exposed to serious health hazards resulting from chemicals exhumed from the soil during the mining.
Jang however elated the people, who heaved a sigh of relief, when he disclosed to them that he was already sponsoring two important and critical bills on the floor of the Senate; "bill for the re-reclamation of the mining sites that litter Plateau North and other parts of the state, and another bill for the National Emergency Management, seeking to re-settle the people that were displaced by the crises that rocked the state."
The Senator explained that protracted crises that bedeviled the state in recent times, and indeed the repeated Fulani attacks on the communities have witnessed the people deserting their ancestral homes and becoming destitutes and refugees in their own state having been chased away from their homes.
He said the second bill was meant to give them respite by re-settling them so that they can have their lives back, and go back to their normal businesses.
Promising to follow up the bills to ensure that they scale through, Jang said the welfare of his constituent remains a priority to him, adding that he had to tenaciously pursue the inclusion of Plateau State to benefit from the re-building of the North-east which was devastated from Boko Haram insurgency.
Charging his people not to keep mum in the face of their challenges, the Senator urged them to channel their pains to the government, adding that it was their right to call government's attention to their needs.
He said, "The All Progressives Congress (APC) promised you a change during their campaigns, if you are not seeing or getting the change, it is your right to cry out and ask for it."
Jang was responding against the backdrop of the people of Jos East lamenting that it has not seen the impact of the change administration of the federal and state governments since the inception of the current administration. They had lamented that the road projects in the area that was ongoing during the past administration was abandoned by the current administration which they supported to ascend to power.
Speaking for his people of Jos East, a former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Bitrus Kaze said, "we have not seen the change promised us by the APC," adding that "any change that cannot put food on the table of the common man leaves much to be desired."
Citing the instance of the current security challenge in Southern Kaduna, Kaze also expressed worry about the safety of his people, noting that the prevailing peace on the Plateau should not deceive the people to go and fold up their arms. He therefore restated the need for state police to complement the efforts of the federal police, which he said was numerically inadequate to meet the security needs of the about 200 million Nigeria population. A position Jang corroborated.
The people had also expressed worries over the recovered funds which have not impacted the lives of Nigerians.
But Jang, who said the town hall meetings were meant "to create an avenue to tell us where you are happy with our efforts and where we have not done well enough so that we can improve," said "I am working very closely with my colleagues in the National Assembly to see that Nigeria does not only come out of the present economic recession which has impacted negatively on the people, but that the country becomes one of the strongest economies of the world."
He added that "though we contested on the platforms of different political parties, but once elected, we have become one government working collectively for the progress of the nation."
He admitted that the National Assembly was passing through a trying moment in its strained relationship with the executive, but expressed hope that it will be resolved, adding that "it was all politics."
Speaking on the recovered monies, Jang said, "In the spirit of the fight against corruption, Nigerians deserve to know the amount recovered so far, Nigerians should ask the All Progressives Congress government where the monies are being kept, the amount so far, and what it intends to do with them."
He said when the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, appeared before the Senate he could not give the correct account of the funds recovered so far. "If the money has been stolen again, they should let us know.
"Our government should stop treating us like illiterates. And it is unfortunate that people don't want to ask questions. Some of those who stole our monies are in this administration, nobody is talking about them but those in opposition are being harassed and treated anyhow."
Jang, who said his successor Governor Simon Lalong has destroyed most of the projects he handed over to him, advised the governor to be more focused, and desist from using payment of salary as a yardstick for achievement.
"Payment of salary is not an achievement; it is the responsibility of any government to pay the civil servants. I inherited over 12 months' unpaid salaries when I was elected as governor of this state; I cleared all the salaries along with pensions and other entitlements, and I never went over the radio to count it as an achievement. Whether you like it or not, payment of salaries is compulsory; you have to pay. It is never an achievement," he added.
The Senator, who implored the people of Jos East to ask the governor why the road leading to the local government is now in a terrible state, and while the ones that were ongoing during his administration are now abandoned. "If you will be fair to me, you will agree that I tried my best to open up this local government when I was the governor of the state. But since I left, nothing has been done."
Jang also alleged plot by operatives of EFCC to invade his house in search of looted funds, insisting that he has no looted fund in his house.
The Senator however, warned that anybody who breaks into his house would repair any damaged part of it.
Jang said, "Somebody came to my house and told me that there is plan to raid the houses of all former PDP governors. My house is very open for them to come and search, but I want to say this to the hearing of the public, if anybody breaks my house, they will hear us up to Supreme Court.
"You cannot break into my house and go free, you must come and repair it, if they think I hide money in the ceiling or anywhere, they should have equipment that can trace the money, but if they come to start breaking walls, they will repair my house because they will not find a kobo, I didn't steal money."
He added that his successor, Lalong has vowed to take him to jail for corruption but he will not find him guilty of any financial mess that will land him in prison.
"Lalong is investigating my government to make sure he jails me, they have investigated and did not find anything, they have gone to EFCC nothing, they have gone to ICPC nothing, they are still back to EFCC again.
"Former President Goodluck Jonathan had asked me where I got money to execute projects across the state but my pain is that the present government is not asking this question, they are only interested in soiling my name but what I did in eight years will vindicate me," Jang said.
The constituents in the six local governments, who eulogised the Senator for giving them the chance to rob minds with him, expressed satisfaction that he has not abandoned them to their fate. They pleaded with Jang to always make out time to come back to interact with them.
Some of the beneficiaries of the tricycle donation, Mr. Abok Sunday, Yohana Madaki, Salome Ezekiel, and Jummai Dabo, thanked the Senator for the gesture. They said the gifts of the tricycles have renewed their hope in government, adding that they are determined to make the most use of them to benefit their lives and those of their families.