By Marie-Therese Nanlong
Jos – When the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Jeremiah Useni indicated interest to contest the governorship seat in Plateau State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, some people dismissed his ambition as ill-timed considering the fact that the Senator, who was once a Military Governor of old Bendel State is old and prone to age-related illnesses.
Despite the misgivings that trailed his ambition, Useni, who is the incumbent Senator representing Plateau South in the National Assembly went to work very early, meeting critical stakeholders. His Party, which had been in a dilemma over who could give a fierce contest to the incumbent Governor, Simon Lalong, probably reasoned that his age was an advantage.
Lalong who is from the Southern zone of the State was elected in 2015 following an unwritten zoning agreement and having served a tenure already, whoever gets elected will only be liable for one tenure to complete the turn of the Southern zone and give way to another person from the Central. Useni’s age counted here as many reasoned that after serving a term, he would not have the strength to defy the people and seek a second term in office.
Another school of thought disagreed with this arrangement and argued that since the Party had already made it clear that the mistake of 2015 should be corrected and whoever gets the seat should serve a tenure, a younger person just like Lalong should be allowed to get the ticket and should the person defy the arrangement, all the people should rise to resist him.
Not long after his declaration, new entrants started aspiring for the seat with all of them promising to serve a tenure; at the time the Party was set for its governorship primary election, 13 aspirants, all from the Southern zone had indicated interest which some pundits argued was not healthy for the Party.
Alarmed by the development and apprehensive of possible implosion, the State Working Committee set up a five-man dialogue committee headed by former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ibrahim Mantu to within five days get a possible consensus candidate or trim down the number of aspirants. But at the end of the period, the Committee could not get any candidate to step down but they all agreed that they would work with whoever emerges to ensure victory for the Party in 2019.
Each aspirant believed he could win while the party leadership assured that it had no preferred candidate and would give level playing ground to all aspirants. Saturday Vanguard however gathered that the body language of some party elders indicated that they were in support of some of the aspirants. At the end, the over 2,000 delegates from the 17 local government areas made their choice.
It was not confirmed if the delegates actually voted according to their conscience or gave their votes to the highest bidder considering the gap that existed in the votes each aspirant got. The results announced in the early hours of Monday showed that a total of 13 aspirants participated in the Gubernatorial Primaries and Senator Useni clinched the ticket with a total of 1,018 votes.
2,097 delegates participated in the exercise and breakdown according to Local Government Areas were as follows: Shendam – 118; Qua’an Pan – 117; Mikang – 107; Langtang North – 147; Langtang South – 106; Kanam – 136; Kanke – 108; Pankshin – 124; Mangu – 159; Bokkos – 139; Wase – 90; Barkin Ladi – 119; Riyom – 107; Jos East – 104; Bassa – 157; Jos South – 120 and Jos North – 140.
The results showed that Senator Useni got 1,018; Rt. Hon. Johnbull Shekarau, 340; Sen. Victor Lar 249; Rt. Hon. George Daika 199; Hon. Nicholas Kemi Nshe 117; Dr. Ponyah Ibrahim 62; Godfrey Bawa 35; Yitman Maimako 4; Nandom Ishaku Pyennap 1; Arc. Sam Jatau 5; Sam Abashe 3; Engr. Jimmy Cheto 7 and Brig. Gen. Musa Gambo 0. 33 invalid votes were recorded.
Since announcement of the results, there have been no disagreements among the aspirants except few supporters who were asking their candidates to defect to other parties and get their tickets for the general election.
When contacted to speak on the outcome of the exercise, the State Deputy Chairman of the Party, Hon. Amos Gombi and the Party’s Publicity Secretary, Hon. John Akans gave their opinions.
Gombi said “As you can see, everyone is at home with the outcome of the election. The processes were transparent and some of the aspirants have congratulated Senator Useni, they have gone to his house to congratulate him. As we speak, none of them has approached the Appeal panel to lay any complaint.”
Akans added, “Appeal panel had a three day period to receive any complaint from the aspirants but the window had elapsed, no one approached the panel and there was no reason to do that because we were fair and transparent in our conduct. All the aspirants have written congratulatory messages to Senator Useni.”
Delegates spoken to maintained that they were “not influenced by anyone but believed that Senator Useni has the needed experience to deliver on the mandate.”
One of them, who simply gave his name as Boniface said, “It is hypocritical for any APC member to tell us that Useni is old, how old is the President and how old is the former Deputy Governor, Ignatius Longjan who is vying for the APC ticket to take over from Senator Useni in the National Assembly. Age is not an issue because a younger deputy for Useni will complement him and give us victory in 2019.”
Having won the ticket, it is left to be seen if the citizens will prefer Senator Useni to the incumbent Governor Lalong in the general election.