The race to power in 2019 has got underway in Plateau, with the different parties in consultation and consolidation efforts, and the prospective contenders in neighbour-to-neighbour leg walk, with groups and political associates networking to pre-empt what will shape parties primaries. CHAMBERLAIN ODEY captures the unfolding scenario, with analyses of the lows and highs of some of the contenders so far.
Continuation of the Governor Simon Bako Lalong Rescue government in Plateau State is being threatened as several aspirants are apparently out on different platforms to bid for the state number one job, and put the incumbent out of contention. With the preponderant consensus that Plateau South should still produce the number one citizen till 2023, all the parties have conceded to the Plateau South zone to produce a candidate for the gubernatorial race.
The PDP’s Game
In the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), having lost control of the state in the last general elections, all hope is not lost, as the cream of its members stayed back to take stock and audit inventory. Putting successful congresses behind it and pledging unalloyed loyalty to the Ahmed Makarfi faction of the national leadership of the party, the party embraced reconciliation, peace building, and resuscitation of internal democracy and party supremacy principles, and started the build up to 2019 ahead of others.
To impress that in spite of the electoral misfortune of 2015 the party is still an awesome platform for actualisation of political vision, the roll call of early bids for the ticket of the party in the 2015 gubernatorial elections is extensive, but restricted to the Plateau South zone.
Roll Call Of Contenders
It was gathered at news time that the list for now includes former Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly and immediate past House of Representives member for Qua’an Pan/Shendam/Mikang federal constituency, Hon George Daika, immediate past executive chairman of Shendam Local Government Council, Hon Kemi Nshe, the senator representing Plateau South in the National Assembly, Senator Jeremiah Useni, and member, House of Reps for Langtang North/Langtang South federal constituency, Hon Beni Lar.
Insider sources in the party indicated further that the list of contenders also includes practised contender and several-time comer, Victor Lar, a former senator, and Godfrey Miri, as well as Danjuma Siman, who is said to be a serving officer of the Nigeria Customs Service. Some casual sources at the party state secretariat along Yakubu Gowon Way, Jos, also mentioned such names as Sunday
Hassan said to be currently on the staff of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Ibrahim Ponyak and Nanzing Nden, both of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), presently, and Gregory Dakyep, currently the Director of Finance and Supplies in the National Assembly, Abuja.
Perhaps due to the factor of incumbency, the gubernatorial bid on the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), platform is less competitive. Not even last year’s grand slam event when it received defectors mostly from the PDP in a well advertised state event appears to have changed the situation.
Lalong’s Incumbency Factor
Expectedly however, entitled to two terms by constitutional averment, Governor Simon Lalong is in the race. Although he has tried to keep his second term ambition modest and proceed with studied calculation and political intelligence, he is said to have gauged the ground sufficiently and has convinced himself that he can make it. He has pocketed the state civil service and the retired group as salaries and pensions have been cleared and paid up to date. Luckily for him, he worked and improved his relationship with the Presidency before the death of Musa Azi, a retired divisional officer in the old North Eastern State. And later, elections in Edo and Ondo curiously shore him up as the President’s Man Friday, although he has not as much as proposed to the Progressive Governors’ Forum to organise prayer sessions, or go on health/clinic visit to London to empathise with an indisposed President Buhari.
The determination and surge of the opposition are likely to force Lalong to begin to shape and position other structures to enable him actualise his plan. He is tactically delaying local government elections, citing legislative encumbrances, to a time that will leave the councils in office at the time of the general elections. Apart from that, he has not shown he is dutifully assessing his appointees, evaluating their electoral value and their ability to deliver at the critical time, and whether there is need for him to make changes to strengthen governance and negotiate the future.
Shine or rain, Lalong has Youth and Sports minister, Solomon Dalung to contend with.
This will be back to back, as the two fought it out in the 2014 maiden APC gubernatorial primaries that eventually saw Lalong emerging victorious, leaving Dalung as runner-up. Not to worry, Dalung is approaching the project with a god-damn-it carriage and mentality. Lalong and the APC kingmakers in Plateau failed woefully in their bid to block his nomination and eventual appointment as minister in the Buhari cabinet- and Dalung believes the God of a turbulent night is also the God of a glorious morning. He enjoys the confidence and trust of President Buhari, irrespective of the poor media profiling his tenure as Sports minister has been suffering. Between him and Lalong, it’s like two fighting in the dark – darkness abounds and anything can happen while it subsists pervasively. Their foot soldiers clashed in a test of muscles in Shendam early last year when they accused Dalung of fowling protocol and proceedings during a Goemai cultural event. As it is, not even the presence of the commissioner for special duties, Hitler Dadi, from Langtang South as Dalung, would neutralise and foreground what promises to be an epic and tidal contest between the governor and a minister.
Engineer Jimmy Cheto is also mentioned as oiling his obsolete campaign machine for the gubernatorial race on the APC platform. He has been in it since 2007 when he retired from the service of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), to contest on the PDP platform. He did but was eventually humbled in the primaries as Jonah Jang emerged. Cheto was at it again in 2011, this time on the Labour Party platform, but made only less-than-superficial impact. Exasperated but not exactly expired, he navigated platform again in 2015, but quite late in the proceedings, and could only lend nominal support to Lalong from the fringes. This time around, authoritative sources within the APC say Cheto’s bid for 2019 is a mere gallery show, or at best a bargaining chip to earn him recognition and patronage if the APC wins and forms government again in 2019. He is said not to have any structures that can help him mobilise delegates and support during the gubernatorial congress. Secondly but most critically, ten years or more after his first powerful outing in the PDP, he appears to be financially weak, thus apparently not very capable to push the bid far on his own.
Whichever way it goes, any challenge Lalong is going to face in the party primaries will come most likely from the Taroh, another majority ethnic stock besides Lalong’s Goemai tribe in the Plateau South senatorial zone whose eight-year or two-term rotational tenure will come full circle in 2023. If Lalong survives – or whoever emerges from the APC gubernatorial primary, it promises to be a decisive contest between the PDP and the ruling APC, going by the prevailing scenario in the state’s political space. The APC is savouring incumbency privileges and all their attendant accoutrements. On the other hand, the PDP went to bed early; and has since been evincing such buoy and activism that indicate it has rested enough and is sufficiently refreshed. The party held a retreat late last month in Pankshin, Plateau Central zone, which success was basically derived from the manner the people responded resoundingly to the outing by abandoning their businesses and turned out in quantum to fraternize with the party architects.
Besides, the PDP is making professional use of the weak points of the APC government such as inflation, hunger, family squalor, and skyrocketing exchange rates much to the appreciation of the populace who are co-ordinated in their chorus and echo of shouts of rejection of hardship and hopelessness, as they cheer and yell: “we are behind
you”. The much anticipated local councils’ polls will be a foretaste of the balance of power and acceptability between the two parties.
In the PDP, the calculus differs as does the calculations and factorization. Nicholas Kemi Nshe, immediate past executive chairman of Shendam Local Government Council, celebrated by his peers and supporters as ‘political bulldozer’, is Goemai by tribe, and he believes that confers a critical advantage on him to neutralize whatever wholesome advantages a possible Lalong emergence as the APC candidate will draw from the Goemai impressive voter population.
Again, as former chairman who also participated in the December 8, 2014 PDP gubernatorial primary and was overwhelmed and defeated, he has some existing structures to refurbish and service to prosper his bid. Given that the primary is a collegiate election, anything can happen. But the ambition and expressed interest of Nshe will be tidal in the PDP primary, with prospect to impact on the aftermath and how the party goes into the secondary or general elections.
There is also a movement and consensus among some elements in the PDP to give the opportunity to an ethnic minority from the Plateau South zone whose tenure promises to empathise more with other minority interests in the state than what looks like winner-takes-all whenever anyone from the majority ethnic groups is in power. This is the sentiment and template predicating and propelling the candidature of former House of Reps member, Hon George Daika, from a tiny and obscure minority tribe in Mikang local government area of Plateau South zone.
However, Daika’s bid is already popular and well received by other disparate tribes and splinter demographic groupings spread across the state. His pedigree as former Speaker of the state House of Assembly who was replaced as speaker by the present Governor Simon Lalong is counting in his favour; and his sales men also argue vigorously that his tenure as House of Reps member was a phenomenal era in the political and socio-economic growth of the constituency. His acceptability could prove catalytic during the primary, especially as his party structures appear to have been effectively located across the state; and they have been dutiful in terms of consultations and dialogue by adopting neighbour-to-neighbour political leg work since last year.
Such pervasive feeling and partisan electoral warmth are not discernible in talks surrounding the expression of interest in the party gubernatorial ticket of Senator Victor Lar, who has however been busy exploring religious and social frontiers to revamp his electoral value ahead of the critical period. Apart from Kemi Nshe and George Daika, Lar has a tribal opponent for foretaste before that of the party where his popularity waned precipitately after the last general elections because he was famously accused of anti-party connivance culminating in the defeat of the PDP in the gubernatorial election.
Although he is used to failing gubernatorial bids, he is said to be very determined and holding back-up plans close to his chest.
The General Emeritus
Many are taken aback by the expression of interest by Senator Jeremiah Useni basically because of his age; although his allies and party big wigs as former governor, Senator Jonah Jang believes age and experience are what put him ahead of other contenders. Useni has been very active in party affairs since joining the party and got elected on its platform as senator representing Plateau South in the 8th National Assembly. But he may not get the gubernatorial ticket because there is a strong conspiracy against him by a reactionary clique in the party made up mostly of younger elements angling to seize political control and be in charge. Late last month at the retreat in Pankshin, a progressive group that arranged the retreat and known popularly within the party as PDP Patriots, through its chairman, Hon Titus Alams, stated its position that it is not supporting or presenting any candidate for the party’s gubernatorial ticket.
New Party To The Rescue?
As at press time, the state’s political sphere was expanded and further enervated with the arrival of a yet-to-be registered political association known as the Action Democratic Party (ADP). Its state chairman, Chief Andrew Nanyak, while announcing the coming of the new political association to Plateau, said the ADP will offer Nigeria and Nigerians genuine democracy in which the people will truly decide and determine who leads them. According to Nanyak, “the ADP may even have to adopt the old Option-A4 to ensure transparency and enthrone the supremacy of majority opinion”.
On the governorship race in Plateau state, Nanyak told this magazine that “we are still awaiting our registration as a formal political party. Once we get that, which we hope to very soon, you will hear from us”. He reported further that “some of the candidates you are hearing of in the other parties are already talking with us as part of their plan B; some of them especially those still in service have really confided in us”.
Of concern to all the parties are the denominators of the aspirations. For all the parties, the candidate’s financial muscle, verifiable competence and ability to hold the office of governor without compromising its esteem, general acceptability of the candidate beyond party walls, network of support and sponsors, antecedents of character, candour and trust, constitute the divisor in the equation of who wins the party ticket. For Lalong, Dalung, Lar, Cheto, and Nshe, who have walked the road before, this may be as the French will put it: de je vous; just as the people wish whoever will put them on the road to paradise on earth.