Although the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is yet to announce a date for the by-election into the Plateau South senatorial seat, political parties and various contending interests are already in the field trying to get their acts together. In spite of denials from Government House sources that Governor Simon Bako Lalong is indifferent to the outcome of the rerun election, other independent sources claim the Governor is an active and interested party, and that the exercise is a crucial test for his 2023 political fate as Emmanuel Dung reports
The death of Senator Ignatius Longjang early this year did not only create a vacuum in the upper chamber of the National Assembly, but gave cause for some political agitations and assertion of ethnic and sociopolitical sentiments in the bid to elect his replacement in the inevitable rerun election in the Plateau South Senatorial District. All but one of the six local government areas that make up the district are up and out bidding to be given the chance, with the Taroh and Goemai ethnic groups leading in terms of number of aspirants on parade.
Wase local government area, one of the only two council areas in the country that also double as federal constituency, understandably, appears to only be watching the scenario without really making a bid for the opportunity especially because its House of Representative member, Idris Maje Wase, is also a principal officer in the National Assembly. Shendam council area stakeholders, having produced Governor Simon Lalong, federal minister, Pauline Tallen, House of Representative member for Shendam/Mikang/Quaan Pan federal constituency, Hon. Komsol Alphonsus and sundry plumb federal and state appointments, lacks moral high grounds to participate in the race, although they have surreptitiously put their kinship allegiance in support of their Goemai stock in Quaan Pan, hoping to trounce the Taroh of Langtang North and South who are being maligned to stay off the race because theirs, Senator JT Useni, is the immediate past senator for the zone. A
Although the Taroh have shrugged at this as utter nonsense and unnecessary blackmail given the obvious neglect and discrimination against them in terms of appointments and sundry patronage by the Lalong administration in the state, the rest of the the rerun theorists in the zone expect that the contest should be fairly for Mikang and Quan Pan indigenes.
Expected to be a battle basically between the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, some other political parties with seasonal and nominal presence in the State, who are relying more on ethnocentric backlash from primaries that will be conducted in the two leading parties, have joined the fray, in a political tussle that promises to be a vital forebear of the sociocultural and geoethnic variables and variations that will characterise factors that will shape the outcome of the general elections of 2023 especially in Plateau South. These fringe parties believe, just as the Simon Bako Lalong governorship was made good by ethnic injustice and massive geopolitical electoral protest in 2015, circumstances and trends not so acceptable in the big two parties could swave fortune to their direction and favour.
Thus far, the APC, in spite of the retrogression and strife it is passing through at the centre or its national level, believes it is ready for the by-election anytime INEC blasts the whistle. As at press time, the number of those seeking the ticket of the Party for the same election stood at about seven, including former chief of staff to Governor Lalong, John Daafwang, from Quaan Pan, Hosea Nash vongdip, from Langtang North, Professor Nora Ladi Daduut from Quaan Pan, Professor Decent Sheni from Langtang North, Damian Shekarau from Quaan Pan, Senator Victor Lar from Langtang North, and a few others whose expression of interest has been dismissed by critical bookmakers as sheer bargaining strategy.
In the PDP, favoured strongly by the same bookmakers to win the election in spite of the APC incumbents and incumbency, especially if the Party fields a candidate of Taroh stock, some political personages have already indicated their willingness to contest the election including Lalong’s predecessor as speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly, George Daika, from Mikang local government area, former controverted speaker protempo of the State House of Assembly, Mike Dapialong, from Quaan Pan, and a retired bursary officer of the Federal College of Education, Pankshin, Chrisanthus Dawam, and Philip Peter Isa and Jafaru Damulak whose strength of bid could not really be established at press time as some of the contenders have not as much as visited the Party secretariat to indicate their interest and bid.
However it goes, Lalong’s is the macro dice on the unfolding political chess board, no thanks to his number one position in the State political service, and his 2023 senatorial ambition for which reason he is said to be sponsoring a front and proxy on the APC platform, allegedly one of the contenders from Quaan Pan, Professor Nora Ladi Daduut, to hold sway for him till 2023.
The Lalong phenomenon has already split the State APC and interest groups in Plateau South. One of such groups is that of the deputy speaker of the House of Reps, Idris Maje Wase, who is said to be sympathetic to the bid and credentials of his friend and confidant, John Daafwang. Although this has been disputed and dismissed by the camp of Maje Wase recently, there are fears that the duo of Lalong and Maje could only be pretending at themselves and at the same time trying to pull a wool across the face of the public on the matter. It was gathered that with strong backing of a colourful chunk of ‘Abuja Front’ of Plateau origin, Maje could humble Lalong in the forthcoming contest in concert with other political ‘sins’ incured by Lalong especially between May 29, 2019 to the time, politics, and economics of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The choice of Lalong to support a female candidate has irked the women folk and sparked gender animosities and anger across the state as women feel if it were not for political self service, the Governor should have encouraged and supported the widow of the deceased to contest, win, and proceed to the Red Chamber to complete the late Longjang’s tenure. This is a big problem for Lalong even if his preferred candidate manages through the Party primaries.
Besides, part of the troubles of Lalong is that Professor Daduut is a tall academic who is perceived as a political neophyte and to that extent politically obscure. She has no political structures to anchor her field work, and the structures of Lalong have not been exactly intact since 2019, even to the effect that some are dissipating, disparing, and in fresh talks and reaching new terms with the opposition in the build up to 2023.
Depending on the disposition of the Taroh, Lalong’s candidate could still lose either in the primaries or in the secondary election, to signpost that the ambition of the governor for Plateau South Senate in 2023 is already in jeopardy. With the largest voter population in the Senatorial district, the Taroh votes could provide the swing and decider especially when they aggregate with splinter groups who would be too angry to be consoled as a result of the outcome of the primaries.
From this and other indicators, Lalong has apparently come away from the utopian and oversized project of becoming Nigeria’s vice president in 2023. This could have been after encountering a fairy tale lesson that good luck hardly will walk one road twice, especially where ambition and self worth are on guard. This also explains why the road to the Senate is curiously turning longer than his road to Government House. It is also the reason why the proposed by-election means differently to different groups in that geopolitical zone. For the people or the masses, it is a critical assignment to fill a vital vacuum. For Lalong and his club of political elites and power speculators, it is a vital assignment for critical hold on to power.