From Gyang Bere, Jos
Former Chairman of APC in Plateau State and Chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Latep Dabang has said no candidate will outshine the PDP candidate, Caleb Mutfwang for the 2023 election as the Plateau people have resolved to return the party to power. He said the people have lost hope in the APC under Governor Simon Lalong because he has nothing to show for the last 7 years. He noted that the PDP is better prepared to take over governance in the state and Nigeria.
How can you assess the governorship candidates of various political parties in Plateau ahead of the 2023 election?
It is normal for political parties to present candidates for the people to decide on who can hold their trust but for me, out of the candidates presented, I have not seen anyone that can outshine Caleb Mutfwang of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He seems to stand tall among all the candidates and based on the series of political events that have taken place so far, the people are tilting towards the PDP as a political party. The people seem to have lost faith and hope in the ruling APC and as it is now, PDP is taking the lead while APC is struggling with Labour Party from behind, that is the situation now on the Plateau.
You were APC state chairman that bought in Governor Simon Lalong in 2015 and now you have defected to PDP, are you satisfied with the performance of your former party?
Well there are ardent followers of APC and they have there reasons for being in the APC and there are also people who are ardent members of PDP, they have never shifted to any political party since the establishment of the the party. What will make the difference is the 70 percent of people made up of either civil servants, farmers, business men and people who are not too aligned with a political party and in every election, they will look for one reason or the other to vote for party A or B. The APC tried on the first four years, the party stabilizes security in the state and brought in some developmental strides while some major decisions were taken in line with the five point policy of the governor when he came on board. I can say there was a serious effort in the last four years but thereafter, the government drifted completely and lost focus; since then, Plateau people are disappointed. Our desire when we came on board was to develop the state evenly and each Senatorial zone should have something cogent that will ease the lives of people in those zones. I remember that 22 road networks were awarded in the first tenure across the 17 LGA to ease up issues of transportation but when we got to the second tenure, the focus was shifted; most of these roads are still at the stage of laterite work which are being washed by the rains. If you go through those roads, it is as good as saying nothing ever happened. When those roads were ongoing, the governor jumped to legacy projects where the state government committed huge sums of money running into several billions while those road projects are there; some at 10 percent and some 30 percent with no indication that one of these projects may even be completed before the end of this administration. We are going to have a lot of abandoned projects that will be left by the Lalong administration.
You were part of the APC administration from the beginning; which project will Lalong be remembered for?
I don’t know. The truth is that there is no project initiated and completed by this administration; the flyover bridge at the British American road, only God knows whether it will be completed before the tenure elapses and I am hearing of the rebuilding of the Jos Main Market again. One of the principal things we had in mind when we came into power was to buy back the BARC farm, build the Panyam Fish farm, to resuscitate the Jos International Brewis (JIB), rural electrification but nothing was done. In terms of business, we had in mind to construct the Jos Inland Dry Port which we saw as economic booster to the state but nothing was done and so it is difficult to say this is what the state can be remembered for under Lalong. While the APC government has failed to bring to conclusion any major project, we have the total absence of Federal Government in the state; I remember before the 2019 election, the Federal Executive Council approved the dualisation of Akwanga-Jos-Gombe road; up till date, there is no activity with regards to construction on the road.
Are you saying the governor has not used his position as the Chairman of Northern Governors Forum to attract federal presence to the state?
That is not a constitutional office and I don’t know whether President Muhammadu Buhari takes it seriously as a pressure group that can make him do something; I don’t know. Nigeria is operating a federal system of government and so if we begin to form this kind of association, sometime I feel it is a misplaced priority. The governors have virtually become unionist while you are executive governors who are supposed to tackle issues that affect you as a state. Being the Chairman of Northern Governors Forum does not give anyone any advantage before the President. The President will look at every state according to the importance attached to it, either electoral, economic or social value. Sometimes developments are key towards patronage; what were the votes Mr. President got in Plateau for example; it is not enough to be a Chairman of a forum and think that will give you any advantage.
The State Government is going into a deal with Jaiz Bank on the reconstruction of Jos Main Market; the bank will provide the fund and take 60 percent of the shops; the state will go with 40 percent while people who buy the shops will operate for 40 years, do you think that is fair enough?
If this is the factual position, then it will be disturbing. But you don’t blame Jaiz Bank, if the bank is investigating N10 billion in reconstructing the market, whether it is Jaiz or any bank at all will want to have something in return; it is their money. The problem we are having with it is the tenure of running the market for 40 years because you are giving me N10 billion. It is possible that such money could be recouped in less than 10 years and you have 30 years to enjoy gains; it is not fair. It could be Jaiz, it could be UBA or First Bank; we are saying that arrangement is not fair; it is unhealthy to the life of the people of the state.
Do you think the PDP Governorship Candidate, Caleb Mutfwang is prepared to bequeath the legacies that Plateau people are yearning for?
Yes, I believe so. Every political party has manifesto and people who are elected into office stick to this manifesto and implement them judiciously; the issues of development shouldn’t be a problem. What causes these problem is that sometime, people embrace so many things at the same time without regard to your financial strength of the state; they go borrowing in quantum.
If the current APC government is sensitive to the financial strength of the state, they would have concentrated on the legacy project and finish them; you don’t have to borrow money to construct a flyover bridge; you don’t have to go and borrow N10 billion for the reconstruction of Main Market. The government has borrowed about N30 billion for the legacy project and that has not been completed, then you are borrowing for another project; it is not possible for one administration to complete the developmental strides of a state; it is not possible. The government is not steady, it touch heres and abandon, touch there and abandon; it is going into the Jos Main Market at the twilight of the administration and people are suspecting that it is not in good faith. The Jos Main market was the key campaign issue in 2015 and how come the governor abandoned it in the last 7 years and started thinking of it with less than 7 months to leave office.
Are you optimistic that PDP will win the 2023 election?
There is no political party that will not be optimistic to win election and for me, the PDP is better position to win the 2023 election if you have been a follower of events in this country and Plateau State. If you reflect over the unfolding political developments in the last two years, you will know that PDP is the party to beat, this was exhibited during the rerun election for the Jos North/Bassa Federal Constituency in Plateau. It was clear that PDP bounces back. You saw the pattern of voting that took place in 2019, it is a clear indication that it is certainly not going to be business as usual in 2023. For me, the PDP is a government in waiting, it is just a matter of time. If you look at the candidates that have been presented by the parties, the PDP has the most credible candidates, politically sound candidates. I don’t see those candidates loosing election.
What do you think are the chances of PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar?
Atiku Abubakar has been unifying Nigeria, he is a politician to the core, he is seriously a detribalise Northerner; 99 percent of his friends are Christians. He is one person that you cannot pin him down on the basis of ethnicity, religion or region; he has gone beyond that. Atiku is an African figure, he is respected across Africa and the world over. You can see it clearly, he is just a President in waiting; how many embassies have visited him; Germany was there, Britain was there, America and so on. This is even when the election has not taken place.
Are you saying he is winning the election?
Of course, these are indications; these international organizations don’t just jump the gun, they know what they are doing.
Are you not disturbed by the emergence of Peter Obi as a presidential candidate of Labour Party?
No, these are people who are saying on the sentiment of people who have been frustrated within the APC or the PDP and elections are not decided completely on emotions and sentiment. Between now and December, this tension will die down and people will begin to face the reality of life in the country.