There are different assumptions as to how political parties stand ahead of the 2019 general election in Plateau State.
Gyang Bere, Jos
In Plateau State, the political atmosphere ahead of the general election appears pregnant with cloud of uncertainty. Political analysts and pundits are not certain as to where the pendulum will swing, due to latest political discoveries, alignment and realignment, especially as it relate to the governorship and presidential polls.
For the presidential contest in Plateau, the battle is between the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, who is the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who is flying the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
But the governorship election appears a sort of triangular contest. The race will be among three candidates out of the 20 political parties that have produced governorship candidates in the state. They include, the incumbent, Governor Simon Lalong, candidate of the APC; former Military Governor of old Bendel State, former Minister FCT and current Senator representing Plateau South, Lt-Gen. Jeremiah Useni (Rtd); and the first Commander of the Multi-National Joint Task Force in the North East, retired Army Brigadier-General, Jonathan Temlong of the Action Democratic Party (ADP).
It is clear that candidates of the other political parties will align with other strong and formidable candidate, to win the governorship election. As at the time of filing this report the All Blending Party (ABP) has adopted Temlong, candidate of ADP as its candidate, with a hope to pull surprises at the poll.
Daily Sun’s investigations reveal that the governorship election in the state might not be smooth for the ruling APC, the way it was in 2015, despite the fact that the party unanimously endorsed the incumbent governor, Simon Lalong as its standard bearer for the contest.
How the political parties stand
There are different assumptions as to how political parties stand ahead of the 2019 general election in Plateau State. A school of thought believed that the APC and Governor Lalong benefitted from protest votes by the Plateau people across different political parties to resist the imposition of late Senator Gyang Pwajok by the then PDP administration of Sen. Jonah David Jang, against the unwritten zoning arrangement in the state.
Jang’s decision in 2015 to have late Senator Pwajok succeed him did not go down well with most people in his political camp which triggered protest in the PDP family, thereby forcing many of Jang’s followers to defect to the APC while most of those who remained with him worked against his interest and that of the PDP.
The PDP broke into what was called “Plateau Projects” led by Prof. Dakum Shown and some commissioners that were sacked from the Jang’s administration. This group mobilised Plateau people across religious and ethnic lines to smoothen the way for Governor Lalong and the APC government in 2015.
Lalong was expected by many to run an all inclusive government where individuals across party lines will be brought on board to redesign how Plateau State would be taken to enviable heights, but rather than do that, pundits say, he ran a pure APC government.
For this year’s governorship contest, the situation might likely be different; due to the fact that Lalong may not get the sympathy and massive support he got during the 2015 general election. This is largely because he has dumped most of the political actors that shouldered his campaign in 2015, that led him to victory.
However, there are others who believe that despite the governor’s shortcomings, he still has the chances of pulling surprises during the election following the current unfolding political activities across party lines in the state.
Those who hold the above view hinged their position on the fact that most political gladiators who championed the PDP campaign in 2015 are equally divided today over the choice of the party’s candidate. Some of them have defected to the APC with their foot soldiers due to hunger and hardship which has further depleted the PDP base in its strongholds across the state.
Investigations revealed that things started working in favour of Lalong and the APC in the state shortly after the 2015 general election, where Senator Joshua Dariye, Senator representing Plateau Central who was elected on the platform of PDP defected to the APC.
This was followed by some PDP members of the state House of Assembly led by the former Deputy Speaker, Yusuf Gagdi, who deliberately defected to the APC in search of political destiny. They reduced the PDP which was the majority in the House after the 2015 election, to minority.
Also, the deputy governor, Ambassador Ignatius Longjan who served in the Jang’s administration, also defected in 2017 with hundreds of his supporters across the three senatorial districts to the APC. The defection of the member representing Jos South/Jos East, Edward Pwajok to the APC boosted the political immunity of Governor Lalong, particularly in the Northern Senatorial District.
However, the situation is different today as many of those who had defected to the APC felt disenchanted and short changed during the recent party primaries. The governor had summoned all those who contested and lost the primaries to a meeting, with the aim of pleading with them, but Dame Pauline Tallen among others who stood by Lalong in the build up to the 2015 election, boycotted the meeting.
To some analysts, it is a sign that all is not well in the APC family.
But two of those who defected to the APC to contest election, Gagdi and Longjan were given tickets.
All other defectors were said to have been denied ticket, particularly former Deputy Governor, Tallen and member representing Jos South/ Jos East in the House of Representatives, Edward Pwajok on the ground that they were not initially “core APC” card carrying members.
There are strong indications that most of those who contested the party primaries in APC and lost might work against Lalong during the governorship election. Some of them believed that the governor worked against their aspirations by declaring support for their opponents.
This notion is generating controversy in the party ahead of the poll. But the APC Chairman, Latep Dabang, told Daily Sun that the issues have been resolved and that the party is ready to receive more defectors from the opposition PDP who felt disenchanted with the choice of a 75-year-old General Jeremiah Useni as the party’s candidate.
It took the PDP more than three years to recover from the defeat of the 2015 governorship election where it had three Senators, six members of the House of Representatives and the majority in the state House of Assembly, yet, lost the governorship seat to the APC.
For long, the party was left without a direction as most of the members were demoralised and some defected to the APC in search of greener pasture.
However, hope began to return to the party when General Useni, after due consultation with key political actors within and outside Plateau State, indicated interest to run for the governorship election to “restore the dignity of Plateau people and secure the state.”
Useni, who is 75-year-old was not given a chance by the 12 younger contenders who were also eyeing the plump seat. A faction of the PDP believed that Useni was mentally unstable due to age and had expected him to support a younger person to fly the ticket of the party.
But Useni did not listen to anyone, he summoned courage and went into the field to canvass for votes from the delegates and in the end, he won the party primaries landslide, a thing many believed helped the PDP in the state to bounce back to life again ahead of the March governorship poll.
Political activities picked up in the party when 12 other governorship contestants that lost to him took a resolution to support the candidature of Useni to restore the dignity of the state and fix the insecurity that was consuming innocent villagers.
The political tempo in the PDP was high and the song in every quarter was for PDP to come back until Useni picked Dr. James Dalok, a director at the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) as his running mate against the wishes of the majority members of the party.
His action ignited fresh controversy that almost consumed the party. Members were disenchanted. And suddenly, it began paving way for the smooth return of Governor Lalong until recently when the party inaugurated its 2019 Campaign Council, with former Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu, former governors of the state, Senator Jonah Jang and Ambassador Fidelis Tapgun among others, leading the battle against the APC government in the state.
Useni had sought for pardon over the choice of his running mate which was creating ripples in the party and said he believed in his credibility and willingness to work for the victory of the party in 2019.
However, some key members of the party are still not satisfied with Useni being the governorship candidate of the party and Dr. James Dalok as running mate. Some claimed that the Jang faction in the PDP was schemed out in the entire arrangement and have decided to fold their arms and watch the unfolding political happenings.
But it was observed that close political associates of Jang form the bulk and are even the brain box of the General Useni campaign team. All the 12 governorship aspirants who contested and lost made the list of those expected to woe the electorate for victory.
Meanwhile, the concept of third force has been introduced into the politics of the state ahead of the March governorship election. Some individuals, who felt dissatisfaction with Governor Lalong and Useni, have decided to bring on board, Brigadier General John Temlong (Rtd) to contest the governorship election.
Political pundits described Gen. Temlong as credible and experienced in the security management, a thing Useni has as an edge over Lalong. But his party affiliation appears to be completely strange to Plateau people.
Temlong has launched his campaign and he is moving round the 17 Local Government Areas to canvass for votes from the electorate.
Many believed that Temlong who is a close political associate of Useni would likely break the support of aggrieved members of PDP and APC during the poll.
But others believed that Temlong would only succeed in breaking the support of Useni to pave way for the smooth return of Governor Lalong as he does not possess the political clout to win the election, this is coupled with the fact that he joined the race three months to the election.
Plateau people have been willing and eager to know and identify prominent political actors behind Temlong but none has come out publicly to declare support for him.
Factors that will shape the governorship election
Plateau State has three political zones, with Plateau North having six Local Government Areas, which include: Jos North, Jos South, Jos East, Barkin-Ladi, Riyom and Bassa. Plateau Central has five Local Government Areas. They include: Mangu, Bokkos, Pankshin, Kanke and Kanam while Plateau South has six Local Government Areas: Shendam, Mikang, Quan’Pan, Langtang North, Langtang South and Wase.
All the three governorship candidates are favoured by the zoning of the governorship seat in the state; they are all from Plateau South Senatorial District where the governorship seat was zoned to.
This arrangement started in 1979 with late Chief Solomon Lar, the first civilian governor of the state. He was re-elected in 1983 but was removed during the military coup. In1992, Ambassador Fidelis Tapgun was elected governor to enable Plateau South, complete their tenure.
Also, Senator Joshua Dariye was elected in 1999, as governor from Plateau Central when democracy was returned to the country. He completed two tenures of eight years for the zone and the baton was passed on to Senator Jonah Jang in 2007, from Plateau North.
Jang also completed two terms of eight years but wanted the zoning to begin from Plateau North in 2015 with late Senator Gyang Pwajok. But Plateau people resisted him and dumped the PDP for APC which was why Lalong became the governor in 2015.
Lalong, who was former Speaker of the House of Assembly, hails from Shendam Local Government Area. Analysts say his stronghold would be in Mangu, Kanam, and Bokkos in Plateau Central; Shendam, Quan’pan, Wase in Plateau South and Jos North, Jos East, while he will get more votes in the three Berom Local Government Areas than he got in 2015.
For Useni (Rtd), he hails from Langtang North Local Government Area. Political pundits believed that he is in control of his Langtang South, Langtang North, Kanke, Pankshin, Jos South, Riyom, Barkin-Ladi and Bassa Local Government Areas in the three senatorial zones. It is believed that he will also get votes in some areas that APC won 2015.
Meanwhile, Temlong (Rtd), who was the first Commander of the Multi-National Joint Task Force in the North East and served in several capacities while in the military, also hails from Langtang South Local Government Area.
Political analysts say his party which is relatively new in the state will likely spring surprises if the people are convinced that APC and PDP are no better alternatives. He may likely break the support base of PDP and APC during the poll.
Insecurity is one of the driving forces for the 2019 governorship election in Plateau. Useni said it was the insecurity that propelled him after wide consultations to declare for the seat and that he would serve just for one term if elected. He promised to bring to bear his rich security experience to halt the killings of innocent persons in the state.
Similarly, Temlong said he is more energetic and understands the modern trends of tackling security challenges in the world. He also claimed that it was the security problem in the state that pushed him into the contest with a view to bringing on board the experiences he gathered during peace keeping operations in other countries of the world to restore and secure Plateau.
Some political analysts said Lalong has done well to some extent in terms of security management in the state where he was able to halt the killings he inherited from the PDP administration. His government has relocated IDPs who were displaced since 2001 to their ancestral homes while others whose houses were destroyed are still languishing in the 17 IDPs camps in the state. But there are other state actors who believe that when fresh killings resurfaced on the Plateau, the APC-led Federal Government looked the other way while natives were killed daily by suspected herdsmen.
It appears only time will tell who will win the 2019 governorship election in the state, largely because of the confusion and internally wrangling in the major political parties: PDP and APC. And because residents of the state appear to be more politically conscious than they were before, they may end up voting based on conscience and not money and material things that will be distributed during the electioneering and on the day of voting.