By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
The race for the 2019 governorship contest in Plateau State is gathering steam with leading political stakeholders in the two major political parties in the state taking positions. The unfolding race may prove that the old political war horses on the plateau are not yet out
Governor Simon Lalong may not be the most popular person on the plateau, but for the civil service dominated state, the near regularity in the payment of salaries is an achievement that workers are not unashamed to hail the governor for. So when the governor boasts that civil servants under his regime regularly get their monthly bank credit alerts, his assertions are often set against the background of developments during in the preceding Peoples Democratic Party, PDP administration when workers’ salary was often in arrears.
However, beyond profusions of praise for “Governor Alert” as some hail the governor, are growing issues as to his prospects in the 2019 elections. Such contentions arise from the fact that the factors that brought Lalong to power in 2015 may not be available to help him in 2019.
Presently, the challenge to a second term for the governor from within his All Progressives Congress, APC, it is claimed, come come from the minister of sports, Mr. Solomon Dalung, former deputy governor, Mrs. Pauline Tallen, who had been touted as a political godmother of the governor, and more recently, the director-general of the Industrial Training Fund, ITF, Mr. Joseph Ari.
Suggestions of a contest between the governor and Dalung for the APC ticket is underscored by popular claims of a rivalry between Lalong and Dalung. Dalung was an original Buhari supporter who helped to mobilise for Buhari well before Lalong who
Remarkably, all three possible contenders against the governor for the party’s 2019 ticket are from his Plateau South Senatorial Zone, a development that puts the perennial issue of zoning of little consideration in the emergence of the 2019 governorship ticket. The situation is, however, more varied in the PDP which lost the governorship in 2015 upon mutterings that former Governor Jonah Jang foisted the party ticket on someone from his Plateau North zone.
Permutations in the PDP
The permutations in the PDP are, however, not that straightforward. The complexity of the situation in the PDP is not helped by the fact that zoning has historically not placed a major role in the production of governors on the plateau.
All three major senatorial zones, North, Central, and South, have produced governors of the state in the past putting to no effect any assertion as to which of the three zones should produce the governorship candidate.
In 2014 as Governor Jonah Jang neared the end of his second term in office, the issue of which zone should produce the next governor reared and the decision by Jang to foist the late Senator GNS Pwajok from the same Plateau North as him, Jang, was the major factor in the defeat of the PDP. The loss was, however, not an account of any capacity deficit on the part of Pwajok, but rather, a pointed message to Governor Jang that he could not play God.
The humiliation, the loss of the governorship to a party with leaning to the Hausa-Fulani core North and Governor Lalong’s average performance have sobered the traducers in the PDP and brought them together.
Initial attempts by some aggrieved PDP leaders to humiliate Jang on account of the loss has not resulted in much.
The major persons who left the party after the loss included Senator Joshua Dariye, himself a former governor of the state, the two immediate past deputy governors of the state Mrs. Paullen Tallen and Ignatius Longjan and Edward Pwajok, a former close confidant of Jang’s who served him as commissioner of justice for nearly eight years.
The exit of the quartet and the reality of life in the opposition have combined to strengthen Jang’s political prominence on the plateau, a fact that is further strengthened by the fact that he has no rival among his Berom speaking people who remain the dominant ethnic group in the state.
Jang has strengthened his hand by putting a trusted but effective grassroots mobiliser in the person of Mr. Damishi Sango, a former minister of sports, as the chairman of the state chapter of the PDP.
Given the resistance that was given to Jang’s decision to bring someone from his Northern Senatorial Zone as his successor, it is doubtful that he or the party leaders would contemplate the North in the forthcoming contest as they seek to minimise controversies and issues that could further deepen the crisis in the party.
PDP elders may be tempted to field a candidate from the Southern Zone given the fact that the incumbent and likely APC nominee is from the zone. However, that prospect is snared with its challenges.
Contenders from other zones are likely to argue that inclusive of the incumbent that the zone has produced three governors with Chief Solomon Lar, Chief Fidelis Tapgun and now with Dalung while the other zones have produced one each in the persons of Dariye (Central) and Jang (North).
The options for the PDP in the South range from long time political operator Senator Jeremiah Useni, former Senator Victor Lar who has made attempts for the post twice in the past, Kemi Nshie a political warhorse who has distinguished himself as the longest serving local government chairman of Shendam local government area and George Daika, a former Speaker of the State House of Assembly and former member of the House of Representatives.
Useni’s age, however, almost rules him out from contention and it is generally believed that he would prefer to be a godfather to guide the process pulling the levers from the South as Jang does the same from the North and Central.
Lar’s seeming irreverence and ability to stand up to elders and the fact that he is from Langtang may count against him as some would argue that his tribe had in the past produced a governor in the person of Chief Solomon Lar.
Nshie prospects could ordinarily have been helped by the fact that he is strong on the ground but the fact that he is from the same ethnic clan as the incumbent governor would raise doubts among some.
Daika on his part is believed to be putting up structures for a possible bid but his greatest challenge is that he comes from a small ethnic group in the region which some may count against him in the contest of will between the major ethnic groups in the state.
The best advantage that the South may bring to the table is to project the principle of rotation. The zone may argue that following Governors Dariye and Jang respectively from Central and North and now with the office in the South that the Central may well contend for it, but it is an argument that will not sway.
Nonetheless the central senatorial zone seems to boast the highest number of potential aspirants among whom are the PDP running mate in the 2015 contest, Architect Yilji Gomwalk, three former speakers of the state House of Assembly, Emmanuel Goar and Istifanus Caleb Mwansat and Titus Alams. Mwansat and Goar are from Pankshin while Alams is from Bokkos. Two former Secretaries to the State Government, Prof. Shedrarch Best and Nde Jidauna Dimka are also believed to be potential aspirants. Also believed to be eyeing the seat is a former commissioner of police, Nde Hezekiah Dimka who also showed interest in 2015. It is also believed that not all the aspirants have come out in the Central.