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New permutations on the plateau: Useni versus Lalong

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The decision of the Plateau State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP to officially zone the 2019 governorship ticket to the Southern Senatorial District may have arranged the matchup for the governorship battle on the plateau.

By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor

The line up for the 2019 governorship election in Plateau State was last Tuesday approaching a finality after the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP officially zoned the party’s ticket to the Southern Senatorial Zone.

The decision reached during a scheduled meeting of the State Executive Committee, SEC of the party has inevitably put the ticket in the hands of one of the country’s most enduring political and military figures; Senator Jeremiah Useni, the former military governor of the old Bendel State and minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.

The PDP’s decision coupled with the spate of endorsements of the incumbent governor, Mr. Simon Lalong has zeroed the contest to an Useni vs. Lalong matchup.

The Damishi Sango led state executive of the PDP in its resolution said the candidate to emerge would serve only one term.

The SEC decision announced by the state publicity secretary, Mr. John Akans, the party claimed, is to ensure fairness as it would ensure that the Southern Senatorial District from where the incumbent governor, Lalong comes from completes it eight years. The Central and Northern Senatorial districts produced the two immediate past governors of the state; Senators Joshua Dariye and Jonah Jang respectively.

“The idea is to respect the Plateau zoning arrangement. The southern zone is currently serving its first tenure. The PDP candidate will complete the other four years and step aside,” he said.

The decision of the state executive is, however, being interpreted as a coup against Jang and an endorsement of Useni’s gubernatorial ambition.

Indeed, what was at one time seen as a long shot for Useni in the PDP is now being seen on the plateau as the most probable route for the party to remove Lalong from office.

Given Jang’s influence on the party, it is believed in some sectors that Useni may have to reach out more to Jang to consolidate the gains of his coup.

Though the executive was put in place by Jang, it is alleged that Useni was able to hijack the executive by funding the exco.

As such not many were surprised by the decision of the PDP executive. Even more, the decision to zone the governorship to the South was ably justified by the executive who saw it as a way of ensuring justice for Plateau South which has not held the office of governor of Plateau since Solomon Lar in the Second Republic.

The other major aspirants from the zone are Senator Victor Lar, a former protégée of Useni’s now turned vicious rival, Kemi Nishe, a three-term chairman of Shendam Local government area and past chairman of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, ALGON, Plateau State chapter and George Daika, first Fourth Republic speaker of the State House of Assembly from Mikang Local government area.

There are also two other potential aspirants presently working in two different Federal Government parastatals in Abuja. Both men who are from Plateau South are yet to declare, and their prospects remain within the realm of speculations especially as senior party officials claim they do not know them as party members.

All five rivals of Useni’s are relatively young and would be unwilling to accept the condition of serving only one term that the party has sanctioned for the candidate leaving Useni as the most promising candidate.

The Sango executive, however, thought better and focused on Useni who has also garnered acceptability through his linkages with the church on the Plateau.

Besides his readiness to serve for only one term, sources said the disposition towards Useni could also have been influenced by his military background as the PDP stakeholders believe that the All Progressives Congress, APC administration in the state will be more careful in their dealings with him than with any of the other aspirants. The party was also said to have been considerate of his wealth which none of the other aspirants could measure up with.

The zoning of the ticket to the South may have also knocked off the two aspirants from the Central Senatorial Zone who have declared. The two are Barrister Caleb Muftwang, the former secretary of ALGON and Prof. Shedrack Best, who served as Secretary to the State Government in the Jang administration.

The downside to Useni some say is his age and capacity to carry on the burdens of governance at 75. It is in this context that expectations are that he could elevate his potentials by choosing a much younger deputy as opposed to the 68-year-old Professor Sonni Tyoden, the incumbent deputy to Lalong.

The two leading contenders could then be Professor Best and Barrister Muftwang the two aspirants from the Central who had flagged off their campaigns.

The seeming desperation and permutations of the PDP it is said could flow from the determination to confront Governor Lalong headlong.

The governor is himself not standing idly waiting for the PDP to consume his second term ambition.

Even before he declared his second term aspiration last month, the governor was endorsed for a second term by the APC Elders Council.

Last month when he declared his second term aspiration among party stakeholders he was received with rapturous approval even though party officials were quick to say that did not mean he had been endorsed.

The governor, however, has his challenges within the party and outside. Lalong is flayed for seemingly giving over the state to the Hausa Fulani minority in the state; he is particularly accused of giving sensitive portfolios including local governments and information before now, to the Hausa Fulani.

The accusations against Lalong, however, do not take into consideration the fact that at the coming of the APC to the Plateau before the 2015 elections, that the Hausa/Fulani were the first to identify with the party. They as such took up most of the critical offices in the party.

The governor is as such not oblivious of the fact that the indigenes voted for him mainly to protest Jang’s decision to present his tribesman, Senator GNS Pwajok as his successor.

Governor Lalong’s moves to present himself as a true Plateau man and not as a protégée of the Hausa Fulani is, however, not being helped by the fact that the majority non-Hausa Fulani now identifying with him want to take prominence in the party.

Ahead of this weekend’s congresses, the governor it was learnt directed that all party officials be returned, a decision that has been received with mixed feelings among the non-Hausa Fulani population who want to take more prominence in the party.

The apparent match-up between Useni and Lalong is, however, not a settled matter as there are still musings from the two parties against the two men.

Governor Lalong is also not also free from internal competition. His perennial foe, Solomon Dalung it is said, is also working his scheme to ensure that the governor does not get the party’s ticket.

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