By Taye Obateru
President Goodluck Jonathan’s two-day official visit to Plateau State weekend will go down in history, not just for its historical significance, but also for its political implications for the state. For Governor Jonah Jang, it was a much-needed tonic to energize his second-term bid as the visit was an opportunity to showcase his achievements to the Number One Citizen of the country and by implication, nationwide.
Not unexpectedly, the visit was not without political wheeling-dealing and smart manouvres by the various camps within the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state to derive maximum political advantage .
It is no secret that many prominent politicians in the state including all the former civilian governors are in one camp against Governor Jang and they have sworn to stop him from getting a second term. The latest dimension to the “war” is the open romance of Jang’s deputy, Mrs. Pauline Tallen who has also picked the party’s nomination form to contest for governorship ticket with the ‘opposition’.
Following the postponement of the visit because the initially scheduled time coincided with the Eid-el-Fitri celebrations, there were allegations from supporters of the governor, that the opposition members were working to stop the President from coming.
They were said to be against the visit because it would confer political advantage on Jang who they believe would maximize the opportunity to flaunt his achievements especially in the execution of projects. It is a fact that despite their dissatisfaction with the governor’s style, many in the opposition admit that he has achieved a lot in the area of infrastructural development.
The rumour of a possible abortion of the president’s visit became rife again days to the arrival following the alleged withdrawal of all workers attached to the deputy governor’s office to ostensibly force her to resign.
Many members of cabinet and other close aides of the governor are speculated to have piled pressure on the governor to move against Tallen for allegedly “fighting” the administration from “within”. They consider her picking the governorship nomination form as an affront and are unhappy to see her around.
Although the withdrawal of the workers was later denied, it was rumoured that the Presidency considered it an exhibition of political intolerance and threatened to cancel the president’s visit if the workers were not returned. This could, however, not be confirmed.
It was therefore a relief to the governor and his supporters when President Goodluck Jonathan arrived at about 11.45am on October 8 to commence the official visit. The governor had declared the day a public holiday to enable residents accord the “August Visitor” a befitting welcome. After the usual airport formalities, he commenced the commissioning of projects in different parts of the state amidst tight security.
The President flew in a chopper to most of the places. Apparently impressed by the road projects in rural areas, President Jonathan said Nigeria would experience rapid development if similar attention were paid to the grassroots by various governments.
Business activities were paralyzed in most parts of the state capital during the visit as security agents forced shops along routes scheduled to be taken by the president to remain shut. An unusual traffic jam was also experienced in the town as the routes to be used by the entourage were closed for several hours.
The first day of the visit was rounded up with a state banquet in the president’s honour with a surprise appearance by former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the banquet.
Obasanjo who was not on President Jonathan’s team when he arrived was sighted at the banquet and was not seen thereafter until the president departed. His mission to the state was unclear since it was gathered that the state government was also taken by surprise hence it did not arrange any airport protocols for him.
While some sources said he arrived in the state ahead of the president, others claim he came into town on Friday for an undisclosed mission.
A source told Vanguard that he was in the state for “politics” but gave no further details.
Speaking at the banquet, President Jonathan said there is no alternative to making the 2011 elections credible as the country is under world searchlight and re-affirmed the administration’s determination to achieve this.
He said “As the biggest black democracy in the world, I need to remind us that the world is watching us and we cannot afford to fail. We are committed as an administration to sustaining the enabling environment for credible election guided by the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act.” He challenged Nigerians to play their part in ensuring a credible election saying it is a misconception to assume that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) alone had the magic wand to free and fair elections.
According to him, “the truth is that the conduct of a free and fair election lies in the hands of the electorate who must ensure that their votes count. I urge all of us to go into the 2011 elections determined to make the best out of it and wherever you have to vote, make sure that you are not cheated.”
Responding to a request by Governor Jang for the upgrading of the Yakubu Gowon Airport, Jos to international status, he disclosed plans to upgrade facilities in all Federal Government owned airports in the country.“We are in the process of upgrading all Federal Government-owned airports. I have received a presentation from the aviation ministers. We must upgrade all the Federal Government airports across the country because if you travel out, you’ll find that the first impression visitors get about a country is from the airport. We must make sure that all our airports meet minimum international standards”, President Jonathan said.
He expressed delight at the return of peace to Jos and challenged the people to restore the state to its past glorious days when it was known as a land of bliss and hospitality stressing, “Plateau must once again be a land of peace, not strife; joy, not sorrow. This is a task I enjoin you all to work hard to achieve and the Federal Government would work with you.”
Governor Jang had earlier seized the opportunity to reel out the achievements of his administration which he said had constructed over 400 kilometres of urban and rural roads network including the first fly-over bridge in the state capital. Significantly, the road where the fly-over bridge is was named after the president when he commissioned it on Saturday. Other achievements chronicled by Jang include sinking of bore holes in rural communities, expansion and overhaul of water works in the state, establishment of agricultural centres in the three senatorial zones and several others.
He commended the president for his resolve to give the country a free and fair election adding, “Your desire to elevate Nigeria to the league of developed nations in the world in the world is one that is endearing to many Nigerians”.
He drew the president’s attention to abandoned Federal Government projects in the state listing the Regional Water Project, Mangu; the Wamba-Bokkos-Kombun road; the International Sports Centre, Jos; the International Youth Tourism Centre, Kurra-Falls, reclamation of abandoned mining ponds and the non-movement of the University of Jos to its permanent site, as some of them. He urged him to look into them.
The president also attended a town hall meeting with a cross section of citizens on Saturday where he fielded questions on various issues as raised by those present. He patiently listened to questions, opinions and comments and defied attempts to make him limit the number of questions for the sake of time. Issues touched included the demand by women for 35 per cent of elective offices for which he reiterated his support.
He, however, pointed out that since there was no extant law to this effect, parties should be encouraged to give special concession to women. He also challenged women to support themselves noting that with almost 50 per cent of the voting population, they should not have any problem getting elected into positions.
On the allegation by a local government chairman that anti corruption agencies were ‘harassing’ them, acting on frivolous petitions, President Jonathan regretted the development but noted that the law mandated the agencies to act on petitions even if anonymous. He added that they had nothing to fear once they had no skeletons as the agencies would let them be once they found nothing against them.
Answering another question on the falling standard of education, he assured that the education system in the country would be restructured to change the trend. He recalled the education roundtable held the previous week which he said discussed strategies to turning things around.
The president rounded off the trip by commissioning the Jonathan-Sambo campaign office in the state capital which sort of confirmed the avowed support of the people of the state for his presidential bid.
Many speakers at the various places visited by the president did not mince words in assuring him of the total support of the state at the primaries and during the election proper.
On the whole, it was a successful visit and many residents heaved a sigh of relief as life returned to normal devoid of the heavy security presence and the inability of some to pursue their legitimate businesses. Despite the inconveniences many applauded the visit and welcomed the opportunity to ‘catch a glimpse’ of Mr. President.