By Ibrahim Dasuki Nakande
It is sad that over two decades after the Jos Ultra-Modern Market was destroyed, in yet-to-be-explained circumstances, nothing concrete has been done towards rebuilding it.
The market was vaunted as both a top-class commercial and tourist haven on the West African coast.
While one had expected that the news of rebuilding the market to provide a base for commerce, industry and other economically enhancing activities in Plateau State would be met with glee, the protests that greeted news of the government’s plan to partner with Jaiz Bank on rebuilding the market has, to say the least, been embarrassing.
It is puzzling that a populace striving for better living standards through investments, tourism and commerce, would consider it apt to frown at the very initiative to achieve the drive for a better economy based mainly on unfounded suspicions occasioned by the background of the building partner, Jaiz Bank, which has roots in Islamic banking.
Jaiz, which introduced interest-free banking system in Nigeria, has been here for years and has been in partnerships with many governments, organisations and individuals for various projects and since its debut on the Nigerian financial market, has not been accused of either coaxing or coercing anyone into accepting Islam.
The fear of Islamisation as the basis for opposing Jaiz’s partnership with the Plateau State Government is therefore not only unfounded but ridiculous as there is no evidence for that suspicion in the first place.
Normally, when two parties enter into an agreement, both sides weigh the terms and conditions to negotiate for better deals and the state government, which has been talking with the bank, did its best to protect its interest to ensure that the project takes off for the benefit of the masses.
If Plateau State had N10 billion to plunge into the project, I believe it would have done so without approaching anyone to partner with, but at this time when the economy is harsh and the government is faced with other needs requiring urgent attention, it makes economic sense to enter into a partnership that eases off some of its burden.
For many who do not understand where the state government is coming from, it would be apt to remind them that this is not the first time an administration in the state would broach the idea of rebuilding the market as every administration since that of Joshua Dariye, under which the market was destroyed, had attempted doing that.
The short-lived Michael Botmang’s administration was the first to do so with a Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) initiative that died with that administration while the Jonah Jang’s administration was not averse to rebuilding the market but considered a different location.
The plan by the Lalong administration to reconstruct the market at its current site is therefore a continuation of the bid to retain a common structure to promote commerce and enterprise using the market as a springboard.
It is, therefore, surprising that the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and some groups in Plateau State would read other meanings to the plans by Governor Lalong to engage JAIZ Bank for the reconstruction of the market and reducing the idea as a “ploy to mortgage the future of the people of the state” and describing it as “economic enslavement.”
One also is at a loss over what the member representing Jos South/Jos East Federal Constituency of Plateau State, Hon. Dachung Musa Bagos, intends to achieve by trying to restrain the government from signing the MOU with Jaiz Bank.
Plateau State is currently building the British Junction Fly-Over Bridge under a similar agreement since the government is faced with financial challenges but it has not attracted much interest or generated protest probably because the firm building the bridge has no Islamic background.
What CAN and other people protesting the MoU with Jaiz Bank have failed to admit is that there are indigenous Muslims and citizens of other faiths on the Plateau and if every policy or action of government is going to be looked at purely with a religious lens then they also deserve to be taken into consideration.
Also worthy of consideration is the cost of not rebuilding the market. The site of this once beautiful and magnificent edifice has been turned into an eyesore with the burning down of the structure. Worse still, the vicinity is frequently becoming a dunghill due to heaps of rubbish dumped around it.
Regulatory authorities, environmental agencies and security agents are having a tough time trying to prevent the growth of illegal parks and informal markets around the vicinity.
The chaos it has created at the city centre has made Plateau to further lose its calm and serenity as the home of peace and tourism.
Besides, this is not the first time such an agreement would be reached by the government in Plateau.
Various administrations in the past have concessioned many things like the collection of taxes to other firms that are not indigenous to Plateau and no one has raised an eyebrow so one wonders why this one has become an issue.
There are many projects currently going on in many Christian populated states under the Sukuk (Islamic financing) initiative which is similar to the Jaiz MoU but none of them has complained that the agreement would mortgage the future of their people or enslave them.
It has been reported that since the commencement of the initiative in 2017, the DMO has issued three significant Sovereign Sukuk to the tune of N362.577 billion, within three years.
The South-East and South South regions equally benefit with the rehabilitation of Enugu-Port Harcourt dual carriageway Section Two, Onitsha to Enugu Expressway, Enugu to Port Harcourt dual carriageway sections One and Three and dualisation of Yenagoa-Kolo; Otuoke-Bayelsa Palm Road and rehabilitation of Enugu to Port Harcourt Road Section Four.
There is no term within the Jaiz agreement that implies mortgaging the future of Plateau or enslaving the people as is being alleged as at the end of the day, the ownership of the market would revert to the state government wholesale.
Gov Lalong is attempting to do something spectacular. Let us give him the benefit of doubt on this one.
Nakande is a former Minister of State for Information and Communication