Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State has officially opens his bid for re-election in 2019 on the platform of the All Progressive Congress. Associate Editor, CHAMBERLAIN ODEY, reports that pre-elections circumstances have altered remarkably for Lalong as compared to his first term bid, with his internal troubles making a bed of thorns for his ambition.
Many say he was waiting for President Buhari – his new-found but oppressor political model and godfather – before he determines his direction in 2019. However, at the recent Plateau state APC stakeholders meeting at the old fashioned Yelwa Club, Bukuru, Jos, the choreography was staged when Hon Edward Pwajok SAN, recited a preconceived and premeditated script, by moving a motion calling on Governor Simon Bako Lalong to declare his bid for re-election in 2019.
By a massive voice vote, the dress rehearsal was completed, as stakeholders present at the occasion, seconded the motion, and Lalong obliged, and subsequently declared for a second tenure bid based on “popular demand”. Although the All Progressive Congress (APC), has made it known that there is no automatic ticket, meaning other contenders are welcome and that candidates will emerge from primaries, the Lalong declaration has only stirred and bolstered activities of the Lalong support groups, and, perhaps, sent the opposition parties into more serious internalization and internal scrutiny of their plans, knowing what it means going into the contest especially with an incumbent as opponent.
At the APC secretariat along Yakubu Gowon Way, opposite Nasco Pack, Jos, the lull in the environment is still unambiguous and discernible from afar, and there are no posters around indicating possible challengers from within the party who are interested in replacing Lalong at the Government House, Little Rayfield, come May 2019.
With nothing on ground to suggest that he is actually on his way, not even an indication that he is in control of some forces within the party organogram in the state, some sources in and outside the party say the minister of Youths and Sports, Solomon Dalung will be out for a rematch with Lalong in the party gubernatorial primary at the scheduled time. Whether that is true, and how far he will go are still in the realm of speculation, especially that the state APC literally disowned him when he publicised a ‘minority report’ of the state government’s emasculation and simulation of the preparations and
eventual reception of the President on February 9, in which he boldly dismissed the state’s town hall meeting with the President as so-called, make-belief, and balderdash.
Anyhow, Lalong, with his incumbency advantage and all its corollaries and fringes, is the aspirant to beat during the party’s gubernatorial primaries. His hurdle, chiefly and mainly, is in the secondary elections where he will come face to face with the beauty or appeal of the other opposition parties, and stand before electorates for whom the circumstances and sentiments that fashioned the beauty of a Lalong candidacy in the last election have altered significantly, and make things tougher than they were in the last bid.
For those who see Lalong’s declaration and second term bid as the road to Golgotha, it is obvious that the problems of his bid emerged before the candidate himself. As an incumbent, his critics observe that Lalong may have the means but does not have a team to help him articulate and prosecute the daunting challenge of convincing the people to trust him again and vote for him a second time. Most of the functionaries in his administration are ambitious people full of their own plans and parallel programmes for 2019. For instance, both his Chief of Staff and the Secretary to the State Government are said to be nursing senatorial ambitions in their respective zones, meaning none has the time to think and work for the ‘rescue agenda’ to win and form government for a second term in 2019.
Having dissolved and reconstituted his cabinet last January, not many see the new cabinet as made up of persons of immense electoral value, or with the carriage to deploy effectively in their constituencies, and mobilise for their principal to win in the next gubernatorial elections. Some of the commissioners are said not to be in touch with the grassroots in their constituencies, a situation which critics think and believe cannot be remedied by an ad hoc and or emergency initiatives given the growing and improved political awareness of the electorates who appear determined to get real value for their votes.
It was also gathered that there is much anger and musings among political appointees. Many are said to be dissatisfied with the byzantine operations of the government which favours an uncanny arrangement in which ‘many are working but few are eating’. The aggrieved in this group allege that a strong Goemai cabal has quarantined Lalong, and so effectively cornered the process of governance that approvals, payments and disbursal for routines as overheads are hardly made to certain ministries, parastatals and departments.
This group point out that this practice has been there even before the dissolution of the old cabinet. They complain that the situation is so bad that it is difficult to tell how much Lalong is in control, or whether it is in connivance with him that where approval for payment
of certain costs to some departments of government are secured, payment is never effected by the appropriate authority. It is feared that this anger may boil over if it subsists, and become a grating factor that may force appointees divert resources meant for the re-election project and allow apathy have its way.
Not even the Goemai factor is hundred per cent in favour of Lalong. In a recent development, the State APC leadership has been at daggers drawn with the oldest and influential Goemai elder who worked hard in the last dispensation to realise a Lalong victory in the gubernatorial election. The elder is being insulted and maligned by a Lalong-disposed party leadership because the elder expressed opinion unfavourable to Buhari’s second term ambition.
Besides, the Goemai vote may be bitterly split – and to that extent weakened, if other opposition parties decide to make another Goemai person their gubernatorial candidate as all the parties seem ready to abide by the zoning of the position to the Plateau south senatorial district for now. This prospect is menacing in the threatening PDP opposition where Nicholas Kemi Nshe, a Goemai, and George Daika, whose mother is also Goemai, are gubernatorial contenders with huge prospects.
Besides, during this period that Lalong is governor, he has garnered some high profile and colourful enemies who are ready to pitch tent with some forces to commit mischief and do Lalong second term project in. Prominent in this group are some socio-economic heavyweights who contributed handsomely to Lalong’s campaign in the last dispensation, but who have been scorned, spited, neglected, ignored, or dumped in one way or the other since the inauguration of the Lalong
But the real river to cross for Lalong, Forefront learnt, is the generality of the Plateau people who feel and fear that the Lalong leadership of the state has increasingly betrayed and compromised the Plateau heritage, and made it more vulnerable to the oldest enemy of the state, the Hausa/Fulani predator and oligarchy.
After a less-than-decisive handling of the controversial policy of cattle ranching or grazing reserves, a poor response and lackluster handling of resumed Fulani herders attacks and killing of the natives and sacking them from their farmlands, his unstatesmanly comments in respect of the massacre of innocent people in Benue State, official simulation of the President’s visit which most of the critical stakeholders in the Plateau Project feel was an insult on the people’s sensibilities and bungling of collective aspirations, to his unnecessary hobnobbing of the person of President Buhari, a lot of
Plateau people are not feeling comfortable with him to continue as the Chief Security Officer of the state.
As at press time, political sands and quality aggregates were still shifting, making it too early for definite and final surmises and summations on the Lalong second term bid to be reached. As it is, however, ‘war’ has begun and the story is developing. But it is certain that the governor has more work and more crises of confidence to resolve now than was cut out for him the first time.