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After 2015 zoning calamity, Plateau State PDP battles odds to recover

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
04 May 2022   |   4:24 am
By Thursday, April 28, when they came to Abuja for their screening, the 18 governorship aspirants on the platform of Plateau State chapter of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were sober.

[FILES] Senator Jonah David Jang

By Thursday, April 28, when they came to Abuja for their screening, the 18 governorship aspirants on the platform of Plateau State chapter of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were sober.
  
The gladiators did not seem to have forgotten what befell the party in 2015, when the then outgoing governor, Jonah Jang, in what was seen as a clear case of political miscalculation decided to violate the established zoning scheme of the state.
    
Although only one out of the 18 governorship hopefuls cleared to contest the primary election hails from Plateau North Senatorial District, the preponderance of aspirants from Plateau Central showed that the party was prepared to do the right thing.
   
Sources within the state chapter indicated that the lone ranger from Plateau North rushed to pick the nomination forms by cashing in on the situation at the national level, where the National Executive Committee (NEC) could not take a definitive stand on zoning.

  
However, the calibre of aspirants from Plateau Central shows that the party has not only learnt its lessons, but was also prepared to add the merit mix to the zoning formular.
   
Records show that the outsider, Jack Yakubu Pam, who hails from Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau North, has been contesting for the Senate seat. Perhaps, he figured that with the number of contestants from Plateau Central, he could capitalise on the bloc delegate votes from North to win the ticket.
   
But, PDP chieftains from the state say that is not the route to go, even as they recalled the 2015 example when the entire electorate united to vote against PDP for reversing the zoning arrangement.
   
The strange horse, Pam, was said to have obtained his forms before the State Executive Committee of the party ratified the zoning of the governorship to Plateau Central Senatorial District.
    
Among the other governorship aspirants cleared last Thursday for the party’s primary, 10 are from Mangu Local Government Area, five from Kanke LGA, while one each came from Pankshin and Bokkos LGAs respectively in the Plateau Central.
     
They include, Chief Jonathan Sunday Akuns; Latep Mwelbish Dabang; Dauda Wuritka Gotring; David Shikfu Paradang; Timothy Simon Golu; Kefas Ropshika Wungak and Ephraim Lenka Dewa.
     
Others, who hail from Mangu, are Shadrack Gaya Best; Caleb Manasseh Mutfwang; Bagudu Mutle Hirse; Satu Jatau Jewun; Mazadu Dader Bako; Vincent Alfred Nanle; John Sunday Sura; Jeremiah Danjuma Gushop; Alexander Ladan and Alfred Ali Dapal Damiyal.
   
In a communique by the state Publicity Secretary of PDP, Mr. John Akans, after the 85th SEC meeting penultimate Saturday, the party declared that the governorship slot had been zoned to the Central Senatorial District of the state.
   
Akans disclosed that SEC considered a wide range of “issues of urgent importance within the party, the state, as well as, preparations toward winning the elections in 2023.”
   
He said the SEC enjoined all members of PDP to be peaceful and remain resolute in the vision and mission of the party to win elections and enthrone good governance in the state and beyond.
   
Part of the communique read: “As regards the preparation for the forthcoming general elections in 2023, SEC unanimously approves the zoning of governorship seat to Plateau Central Senatorial District.
    
“SEC commends the efforts of the state leadership of the party and other various organs of our great party; the Caucus, National Assembly members, elders’ forum, and the structure of the party at the ward, local government, and zonal levels.
   
“It commends the commitment of the State Working Committee (SWC), under the chairmanship of Mr Christopher Hassan, for uniting and repositioning the PDP ahead of the 2023 general elections. SEC also commends members of the party for the victory recorded at the last by-election in Jos North/Bassa Federal Constituency and Pankshin South State Constituency.”
  
While stressing that Plateau people and indeed Nigerians were looking up to the PDP with the hope that the party would provide solutions to the challenges confronting the nation, SEC encouraged the party faithful across the state to work hard to ensure victory in 2023 general elections.
Naysayer

However, despite the SEC’s position, the party recorded one aspirant from Plateau North, Pam, who was said to have obtained the forms before the SEC meeting.  In an interaction with The Guardian, a chieftain of the party, Hon Zarka Akos, said the general expectation was that all governorship candidates will come from Plateau Central, noting however that prior to the zoning there were those who wanted the rotation to start from Plateau North.
       
However, Akos explained: “The general understanding in Plateau State is that the zoning moves clockwise. From South to Central; from Central to North and then from North to South. So, the last eight years Plateau has been governed by the Southern zone and we expect that it is moving to the Central zone in 2023.
  
“So, almost all the political parties are thinking alike and PDP has done official zoning to the Central. The 17 aspirants that were cleared yesterday are all from the Central zone, which comprises five Local Government Areas and they cut across those Local Governments.”
 
Akos said it was not possible to conclude that the lone aspirant from Plateau North was speaking the voice of his ethnic nationalities or somebody from outside Plateau sponsoring him. His involvement in the contest seems to reinforce the argument by some party chieftains that they don’t want to zone anything to anywhere and that everybody has right to stand for election.
       
“Although the party in power then was very good, the party had the muscles, it had the will of the people, it did well, but it made a mistake of bringing somebody from a wrong zone, the voters voted completely against it. So, the people of Plateau have that understanding.”
  
Akos maintained that whoever might be sending that signal, it would definitely not work on the Plateau, because the cohesion of the people, adding, “though believe we have 57 ethnic nationalities, we have cohesion that we are supposed to work as a family. So that seeming zoning of the political arrangement will still hold water. Whatever you may want to introduce may not really matter.”
   
One of the gubernatorial aspirants, Chief Akuns also dismissed insinuations that Pam, the aspirant from Plateau North, was being instigated by forces outside the state to stonewall the zoning arrangement.
     
Akuns stated: “I wouldn’t want to say somebody is propelling him, because in the first place, everybody has a right to contest. The issue of zoning is a political party affair and it is not as if it is a fast rule. The political parties will only advice as they zone, and you have the right to refuse the zoning.
   
“But, the delegates will tell you that your right does not infringe on their own right to do the right thing. So, I wouldn’t want to say somebody is engineering or propelling the person from the north, because he bought the form even before the final zoning was done.
  
“Secondly, looking at the individual, he has been contesting senatorial seat at the northern zone, so it is not as if he is doing it for the first time and it is not as if he is always contesting for that governorship seat. So, I wouldn’t want to say it is somebody actually propelling him but his desire to also contest, which is his fundamental right.”
  
As the party in opposition, zoning does not seem to be the only challenge confronting PDP’s dreams of regaining the Government House. The governing All Progressive Congress’ (APC) power of incumbency apart, PDP stakeholders maintain that the biggest hurdle for the party is credible, free and fair primary.
  
A notable PDP stalwart from Plateau Central, Emmanuel Macham, told The Guardian; “one of the critical issues that need to be addressed is the principle of fairness within the party.”
    
Macham noted that PDP seems to be the leading party in the state despite having APC as the ruling party in government. He however, stressed that that popularity makes it incumbent on the opposition party to exhibit fairness in selecting the candidate that will emerge from the primary.
    
His words: “I think, for the first time, as far as I am concerned, we have a lot of retired civil servants coming into the system, which is a plus, because some of these civil servants are highly experienced, well-connected and have what it takes to bring genuine development in the state.
   
“But, you know, politicians have a way of bringing in somebody they feel is pliable, not minding the experience or whatsoever is attached, sometimes finance plays a big role in producing who becomes the candidate.
   
“However, in 2015, the people of Plateau State rejected PDP despite the overwhelming good performance. And, from what is happening at the moment, it seems the people are prepared to look for experienced people, because we have gone through eight years of underdevelopment.
   
“We have gone through eight years of APC inexperience in governance and the people seem to be determined to make sure, if the free and fair atmosphere is guaranteed, that they can bring up an aspirant that will be acceptable to the people of Plateau state.”
 
Macham maintained that on account of the socio-economic realities in the country, “there seems to be a wind of change towards people with requisite experience in financial management like Chief Akuns.”
  
He stressed that PDP has a lot of experienced politicians this time around from just three Local Government Areas adding, “By zoning to Plateau Central zone, which has five LGAs, just three out of the five local governments threw up 15 aspirants.
   
“You can see how the zone is equipped with highly intelligent and experienced people. I can assure you that we won’t make mistake in bringing out the candidate that will fly the party ticket.”

Legal hurdle
THE leadership problem in Plateau State PDP, which became a subject of litigation could turn out to be its albatross. There are insinuations in the party that the crisis is being fuelled by the governing APC in the state.
  
Hon Macham said those who think the case is being fuelled and sponsored underground by the APC could be right, “because the APC seems to have lost all the respect from the people. As such, the only thing they want to rely on is the small minor problem within the PDP, which has gone beyond the party to the court.”
   
He explained that the ruling party was doing all it could to cash in on the matter that has lingered in the court so that a Zamfara scenario may likely happen.
   
“I think that is the only campaign the APC has in Plateau State at the moment. But, left for the people, I don’t think there is any ward that APC can win in the state. Our prayer is that the party should do the needful and make sure there are no legal hurdles along the way so that if you bring out your candidate at least, they can scale through without any hitches,” Macham stated.
  
Expressing apprehension in the delay in disposing the matter, Macham expressed the belief that the delay is being manipulated by APC to ensure that the judgment comes up after the PDP primaries, so they can use it against the party.
  
“Well, you see, APC has the sitting governor, as a government, anything beyond the party, maybe within the confines of the judiciary, to some extent whether you like it or not, the government can have some kind of power to dictate and influence some of these issues that your people took to the court.
   
“There are judgments that I know, what the plaintiff requested the court to do, the court added its own judgment that took the party by surprise. So, if you allow your personal issues in court, there is that possibility that government can influence the judgment against whatsoever you want.
  
“Let me give you an example, there is a case in the Court of Appeal, I was told the judge handling the case will be transferred and unfortunately that very day, the judge was actually transferred. And, since the new judge came in, he said he is adjourning for judgment and since February 13, that he adjourned for judgment up till this moment I am telling you, there is no date yet fixed for judgment,” Macham narrated.