On paper, the battle over who succeeds Jonah Jang as governor of Plateau State come May 29, could be said to be between five political parties. However, the real battle is between two of them, the All Progressives Congress [APC] and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party [PDP].
At present, only the two major parties are active although the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] in the state said five political parties, including Labour Party [LP], African Democratic Congress [ADC] and Social Democratic Party [SDP] are fielding candidates for the February 28 governorship position.
The APC candidate is a former Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Simon Lalong. His running mate is a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Josnny Tyoden. A serving senator, Gyang Pwajok, is flying the PDP flag, with a former Commissioner for Lands and Survey, Yiji Gomwalk, as his running mate.
Mr. Pwajok defeated 15 other contenders to emerge winner in the December 8 primary election of the PDP. Those he defeated include the immediate past PDP chairman, Haruna Dabin, who got 16 votes; Victor Lar, a serving senator, 109; Kemi Nshe, 31; John Clark 6; Rufus Bature 5; John Alkali 3; former Governor Fidelis Tapgun 1; Godfrey Miri 4; Sunny Tyoden 7; Nandom Pyennap 1; Joseph Golwa 2; and Bitrus Nabasu 10. Jimmy Cheto and Longmas Wapmuk got no vote.
The APC candidate, Mr. Lalong polled 2,222 votes to defeat Emmanuel Garba who got 304 votes, Solomon Dalung 293 votes, Elijah Maina 50 votes and Dangin Vinken who got no votes.
But should the battle turn regional, it will be between the Northern Senatorial District where Mr. Pwajok hails from and Mr. Lalong’s Southern District. Should it assume religious dimension, the Church of Christ in Nigeria, COCIN, where the PDP candidate worships shall test its popularity with the Catholic to which the APC candidate belongs. If the impending contest is based on ethnicity, Mr. Pwajok’s Berom ethnic group will clash with Mr. Lalong’s Gomai nation. If it is based on career and profession, it will be the legal profession to which the APC candidate belongs and the PDP candidate’s Political Economy.
Both candidates are in their early 50s.
The PDP candidate enjoys the support of the outgoing governor, who ‘anointed’ him for the position. He had served first as director, research and development in the Government House and later chief of staff to Mr. Jang before his election to the Senate sometime in 2012 following the death of the former occupant of the Plateau North seat, Gyang Dantong.
Another factor in Mr. Pwajok’s favour is the popularity of his party, which has been in the state since 1999.
However, the controversial manner in which he emerged at his party’s primary election may pose some problems for him. Currently, the 15 governorship aspirants he defeated to clinch the ticket, including a former governor of the state, Fidelis Tapgun, are still kicking against his emergence.
Yet, a factor that is likely to work against Mr. Pwajok is the refusal of PDP leadership in the state to maintain the rotation and zoning arrangements that have been in practice. Though unwritten, the governorship seat has been rotating among the South, Central and the northern senatorial districts.
The first civilian governor of the state, the late Solomon Lar, hailed from the Plateau South Senatorial Distict just like Mr. Tapgun, who ruled the state in the short-lived Third Republic. Joshua Dariye, who ruled between 1999 and 2007, is from the Plateau Central Senatorial District while Mr. Jang is from the Plateau North Senatorial District.
The emergence of Mr. Pwajok, who hails from the Berom ethnic group in the northern district just like the outgoing governor, is believed to have violated the zoning arrangement.
A section of Plateau people who believe in the rotational arrangement said since the PDP candidate is from the same ethnic group and senatorial district as the governor, he (Pwajok) should not run for the position. The anger is aggravated by the fact that while Mr. Pwajok wants to succeed Mr. Jang, the governor is taking over from the PDP candidate in the Senate.
However, some political elites who are in support of the PDP and its candidate insist that for democratic principles and good governance to take roots, rotational and zoning practices should be discarded. For them, the qualification of who governs the state should simply be based on credibility and therefore Mr. Pwajok fits the bill.
They also attribute the success of the Jang administration to Mr. Pwajok, who they said has been working behind the scene in the Government House in the last seven years Mr. Jang has been in power.
Among those fighting the PDP candidate is a group of PDP elders who call themselves “Equity and Justice” group and led by a former State chairman of the party, Dakun Shown, as well as the Concerned Plateau Youth Vanguard.
Some of Mr. Pwajok’s kinsmen, in a recent statement, signed by James Jiwa, Daniel Sule and Nyop Dachollom, state coordinator, secretary and ex-officio member respectively, also frowned at the violation of the zoning arrangement in the state.
Curiously, some kinsmen of the PDP deputy governorship candidate, Yiji Gomwalk, under the aegis of “Concerned Ngas Elders and Youths,” who addressed a press conference recently, denounced the breach of the zoning of the governorship seat by Mr. Jang.
They accused the outgoing governor of being selfish, insisting that the process that threw up Mr. Pwajok was flawed. The aggrieved Ngas people said what the governor did by allowing his fellow Berom man to become the PDP candidate was divisive.
“We are not against you but against the whole process. Whoever is pushing you to this game is your enemy because the Du dynasty can never be trusted,” the group’s leader, Kakame Dafup, told Mr. Gomwalk.
They warned that any person or group of persons working to ignite crisis in the state would not succeed.
They also wondered why in a state with about 52 ethnic groups, the principle of zoning is not respected so as to give others a sense of belonging.
However, a political association, “Political Re-awakening Support Team, PREST, whose membership cuts across the state has declared support for the PDP candidate, insisting that zoning principle was undemocratic.
The group’s leader, Jonathan Amande, has held several press conferences before and after the primaries insisting on the candidature of Mr. Pwajok.
Despite the raging protests, Mr. Jang has openly boasted that Mr. Pwajok will not only succeed him but that the party would rule the state in the next eight years.
“I want to assure you that Plateau is a PDP state, and shall continue to rule the state in the next eight years,” he told members of the party recently when Messrs. Pwajok and Gomwalk paid him a visit in Jos.
The governor, however, said the party was not leaving anything to chance in its quest to win the forthcoming polls, just as he appealed to all the 15 protesting governorship aspirants who lost during the PDP primaries to support Mr. Pwajok.
Mr. Jang said the presentation of the flag to Mr. Pwajok was a confirmation that he was the acceptable candidate of the PDP both in the state and at the national level and, therefore, the party faithful should avoid any form of sentiment and support him.
Unfortunately, Mr. Lalong is not making any attempt to cash in on the zoning controversy to attract sympathy votes. Analysts say there is the possibility that the APC will get protest votes from those complaining about the violation of the arrangement by the PDP as well as the defeated aspirants’ supporters if he rises to the occasion.
The APC flag bearer, who was speaker of the House of Assembly in the administration of Mr. Dariye, hails from the Southern District where the governorship slot should have been zoned to going by the zoning arrangement.
The APC appears relaxed as it is not yet campaigning on a large scale. The party only inaugurated its campaign on Wednesday in Pankshin whereas the PDP commenced intense campaign to return to power long before it.
The APC however received a boost a few days ago when a former Deputy Governor of the state, Paullen Tallen and others joined the party.
The PDP has constituted a 159-member campaign team to woo the electorate. This is beside other campaign committees raised in support of PDP and Mr. Pwajok, which have emerged to engage in community-to-community campaign.
However, as things stand now, the PDP’s campaign appears to have gained more momentum. But even an hour is a long time in politics and the APC might as well spring a surprise.