The 2019 governorship election in Plateau State is undoubtedly going to be a keenly contested one.
This may be due to the current political permutations and support the two strong contenders – incumbent governor Simon Lalong of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Jeremiah Useni of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), enjoy in their strongholds.
There are 21 governorship candidates cleared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Checks by PREMIUM TIMES indicate that the real battle would be between Mr Lalong, a “Gomai” from Shendam local government and Mr Useni, a “Tarok” from Langtang North local government, both from the Southern zone.
The two major parties in the state conducted different primaries for the governorship election.
While the ruling APC in the state had a direct primary for the governorship tussle where Mr Lalong emerged as the party’s candidate through affirmation, the PDP, the main opposition in the state, conducted indirect primary.
Jeremiah Useni, a retired general, emerged the candidate of the PDP.
After the PDP governorship primary, some aspirants of the party were not happy with the role of the state party chairman, Damishi Sango, and a former governor, Jonah Jang, who were alleged to have openly sided with Mr Useni, during the primary.
This development led to the defection of some aggrieved PDP aspirants to the APC.
Some of the aggrieved PDP aspirants who defected to APC include Chris Giwa, a former football association head, and a former senator, Victor Lar. Both of them have political influence in their areas.
Unlike the previous elections, in 2019, all governorship candidates in the state hail from the southern zone of the state.
This according to political parties, is a move to ensure that zoning of governorship ticket is followed strictly.
The zone has not enjoyed its agreed eight years like the other two zones (Central and North ) that finished their eight years each.
Joshua Dariye, representing Plateau Central governed from 1999-2007 while David Jang, the senator representing Plateau North also governed from 2007- 2015.
PDP had in 2015 election broke the zoning formula when the late senator, Gyang Pwajok, from Plateau North, was selected as its governorship candidate instead of selecting a candidate from Plateau south based on the ‘gentleman’ agreement of the party.
It would be recalled that the zoning arrangement in 2015 by the PDP had then given Mr Lalong an added opportunity to form the current APC government.
But this time, the PDP has carefully made a U-turn and now respects the abandoned zoning formula. It nominated its governorship candidate from the southern zone, where Mr Lalong and all other governorship candidates hail.
Political analysts opine that the PDP might have done that to prevent a second defeat by the APC.
Mr Lalong appeals to a majority of the civil servants due to the regular payment of salaries, payment of nine months backlog of salaries for state workers and seven months ‘no work no pay’ salaries for local government workers inherited from the previous administration of Mr Jang.
This according to political analysts is likely to shape the voting pattern and possibly give the governor an edge over Mr Useni.
Governor Lalong also appeals to most of the minority tribes who claim to have been marginalised and neglected before the coming of the APC-led administration.
There is also the power of incumbency that may favour him in the tussle.
Mr Lalong has control of almost all the chairmen and councillors in the 17 local governments of the state who also have a direct connection with grassroots politics.
He equally enjoys the support of the majority of Hausa/Fulani communities which though a minority, constitute a significant percentage of the population in the state.
The governor was also able to complete some abandoned projects by the previous administrations, such as the Yakubu Gowon Expressway, a flyover along federal secretariat junction initiated by ex-governor Jang, aside from other projects initiated by him.
Although, neither Mr Lalong nor Mr Useni’s ethnic groups constitute 30 per cent of the state’s population, the ethnic affiliation will come to play in the poll.
Each of the two strong candidates is likely to win their home LGA.
The support of former governor Joshua Dariye, who is still influential in the state’s politics despite being in prison, will also assist Mr Lalong’s re-election bid.
The inclusion of the minister of sport, youth and development, Solomon Dalung, as a member of the campaign council of Mr Lalong is also a plus to him (Mr Lalong). Interestingly, the PDP candidate hails from the same local government as the minister.
The “Gomai”, Mr Lalong’s ethnic group, are the majority in only one local government compared to the PDP candidate, whose tribe, “Tarok” dominate two local governments.
The recently held presidential and National Assembly elections were a boost to Mr Lalong. Although the APC lost in the state, President Muhammadu Buhari got a significant number of votes from there.
Prior the 2019 National Assembly elections, the Plateau APC had no member in the Senate and had only one in the House of Representatives, but the outcome of the last National Assembly elections raised the performance of the party in the state. The APC produced one senator and three representatives from the results announced.
Mr Lalong is unlikely to enjoy the support of Berom tribe from which former governor Jang, a chieftain of the PDP, comes from.
Mr Jang, the political ‘godfather’ of the Berom, will likely swing the votes of Berom to the PDP but pundits have said even with the influence of Mr Jang in Berom nation, the governor may still poll significant votes from there.
The Berom are the majority in three of Plateau’s 17 local governments.
Mr Lalong’s concentration on abandoned projects and the slow movement in the execution of the new ones have made many score him low.
Mr Useni, however, has vast experience in governance being a former military governor of the then Bendel, a one-time minister of FCT during the late General Sani Abacha’s reign and currently a senator.
Mr Useni is financially buoyant and can stand any financial expenses just like the incumbent governor.
Unlike Mr Lalong, Mr Useni appeals to the majority of Berom.
Questions have also been raised about the health status of Mr Useni, who is much older than Mr Lalong; a factor that could work in the latter’s favour.
Mr Useni also lacks grassroots politics because of his military background.
The former general also would not have the support of the Hausa-Fulani communities because of his alliance with former governor Jang who has been at loggerheads these communities especially in Jos, the capital of the state. For that, they see Mr Useni as ‘another Jang’.
Analysts say Mr Useni is likely not to enjoy the sympathy of smaller tribes because of the perceived marginalisation by the Berom.
Political godfatherism, often a major factor in Nigerian politics, may not come into play in the Plateau election.
Since the return of democracy in 1999, there has not been any single politician that has been able to command massive political influence or decide the politics of the state.
So, Messrs Lalong and Useni may not have many worries on endorsements by political godfathers.
During the state governorship debate, Mr Useni did not show up at the event, a development that gave Mr Lalong, who attended the debate, an added advantage to promote his activities.
However, in their submissions during the campaigns, both candidates promised to provide good governance and tackle the insecurity bedevilling the state.
Given the nature of Plateau politics, none of the candidates can at the moment beat their chests that they will win the governorship poll.