APC, PDP gladiators upbeat for Plateau South Senatorial bye–election
The rescheduled Senatorial bye–election across the country by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for December 5, 2020 has energised the political atmosphere in Plateau South Senatorial District. The district had earlier gone to sleep because of COVID–19 pandemic and #ENDSARS protests that aborted the initial October 31 earlier fixed by INEC. The battle line has been drawn between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the zone, comprising six local government areas.
After the demise of Senator Ignatius Longjan representing the zone in February, political gladiators did not waste time in expressing readiness to fill the vacant seat. Longjan was elected on the platform of the APC from Quaan Pan Local Government Area. However, watchers are expecting a keen contest as none of the two parties can predict easy victory for itself, because they are both strong on ground and each has its own share of problems going into the election.
The problem of APC dates back to the period of its primary, when Professor Nora Daduut emerged its candidate. For PDP, its own problems date back to the governorship primary in the 2019 election. However, the parties have their relative strengths in spite of their challenges.
The gladiators in APC, who are expected to work for the victory of the party are governor Simon Lalong, Women Affairs Minister, Dame Pauline Tallen, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Alhaji Idris Maje, Chief of Staff to the Governor, Noel Dungjur and the Majority Leader in Plateau State House of Assembly.
Others are members of the House of Representatives for Shendam/Quaan Pan/Mikang Komsol, Commissioner for Higher Education in the state, Mrs. Elizabeth Wapmuk, the Director–General of the Industrial Training Fund (ITF), Sir Joseph Ari, Chairman, State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Professor Matthew Sule and many others from that zone.
It is the responsibility of these prominent personalities to mobilise human and material resources to win the coveted election. It is also believed that the governor has a huge stake in the election since he is in his last lap and may likely contest the seat in 2023.
Apart from the power of incumbency, Lalong has the structure of the party with the elected chairmen of Shendam, Quaan Pan, Mikang, Langtang South and Wase. These are APC local government chairmen and councilors, except for Langtang North, which went to the PDP.
In spite of these obvious advantages, APC has its own share of weaknesses. Most of the political henchmen from the zone have been complaining bitterly that six years of Lalong’s government has not achieved any meaningful development in the zone, in the areas of roads, health, job creation, education, and security.
APC’s major problems arose from the primary, when it was alleged that the candidate (Daduut) was imposed on the party and that she is not a grassroots politician. They accused her of not being a card–carrying member of the party. Many believe she is merely “a caretaker senator”, who will hold fort for the governor till 2023, when Lalong will simply replace her.
Most of the card–carrying members of the party from the district are prepared to engage in anti–party activities if only to scuttle lalong’s imposition and future plan for the seat. Some of the aspirants who contested with Daduut, but were forced to step down for her by the governor believed that the governor has not been fair to them since he did not call to dialogue with them.
Some say that the party is weak at the state level because close to six years now, there has never been a State Working Committee meeting. Moreover, the local government chairmen in the state do not have confidence in the state chairman who has refused to set any agenda for state, local government and ward congresses. Most members accuse the APC state chairman, whose four–year tenure has elapsed, of sit-tight mentality without plan to conduct primaries or step down for a caretaker committee to run the party in the state.
On the side of PDP, the main gladiators, who will defend the senatorial seat in the zone are Senator Jeremiah Useni, Hon. Beni Lar, Chairman of Langtang North Local Government Area chairman, Dr. Laven Ubandona, the two members representing Langtang North in the Plateau State House of Assembly and former chairman of Shendam Kemi Nshe.
The candidate for the seat, Hon. George Daika, easily an experienced grassroots politician, having been a former Speaker of Plateau State House of Assembly and a member of the House of Representatives, is to some extent capable of weathering the campaign storm to victory. Also, the North Central Zonal PDP chairman, representing Plateau State, former Speaker of the Plateau House of Assembly, Dapian Long, Jaafaru Wuyep and others are ready to help secure victory for Daika.
PDP also has a strong structure in the six local government councils in the Southern zone. The party has also concluded congresses from ward, local, and state, and it is expected that the party can mobilise effectively towards winning the forthcoming bye–election. The experience of PDP’s candidate and his popularity are strengths the party is banking on for victory.
However, the PDP is not without its challenges. One of the biggest challenges is funding the election. The party lost out in the 2019 governorship election where Jeremiah Useni was the party’s flag bearer. PDP has been out of government close to six years now. So, the party is cash–strapped.
Another problem is the crack in the party, which started before the 2019 governorship primary and at the last congresses the party held. It was alleged that Sen. Useni and Senator Nasir Mantu faction hijacked the party before the 2019 governorship primaries from Senator Jonah Jang, which in turn gave the party a weak outing in the 2019 elections. The crack subsequently paved the way for Simon Bako Lalong to emerge governor for the second term.
The friction has continued to haunt the party. When General Useni lost out, it was blamed on the Jang faction, which was believed to have engaged in anti–party activities. But Jang has since denied the charge.
It was also alleged that Useni’s faction opened a new caretaker office, led by a staunch member of the party, Nanpon Penap and six others against the Chris Hassan caretaker committee and 27 others. But observers are of the belief that the Penap group, Useni lost out in the contest for governorship, in the attempt to take over the party structure through the Penap caretaker committee, but failed. So, the group may not actively work for the bye–election, which will affect its candidate, Daika.
Another challenge of PDP is that some of Jang’s supporters are alleging that Daika cannot be relied upon because of his antecedents, especially when Jang supported him for the governorship in 2019 but abandoned the Jang group at the end of the day. Some others believe that he can easily be influenced by the power of incumbency, which will affect the chance of the party at the poll.
In a chat with journalists, Daduut said that her gender has additional value to her aspirations, because women have not been in open politics as the men. She said that women have been celebrating the men in politics and helping them to achieve their aspirations.
She said if she is elected, she will sponsor people–oriented bills at the Red Chamber of the National Assembly, especially bills on curbing violence against the girl–child and women generally, while the youth will be empowered in order that their welfare and livelihood will improve.
On the insinuation making the rounds that she is a stooge of the governor, so that he will have a soft–landing in the Senate after his eight-year tenure as governor, Prof. Daduut said that as an academic; “It could have been anybody. Even if the governor did, I have the choice to say no or yes. But because of the aspiration, I will stand my ground.”
While addressing journalists recently, Governor Lalong debunked claims about internal conflict rocking the APC. He noted that if there were any, they had been resolved, saying no political party is devoid of internal problems in the country.
So, the battle will be between Daduut of APC and the PDP’s Daika on December 5, 2020. Sources from within the APC indicate that there are three camps with different candidates eyeing the seat. Number one group with such interest is the governor, who is believed to be interested in Prof. Daduut succeeding Longjan in the National Assembly.
It is being touted in some political spheres that Daduut will complete Longjan’s remaining three years and consequently hand over to the governor in 2023 to rhyme with the time when the governor will complete his tenure and contest the Southern Senatorial election.
It is fast becoming the practice for ex-governors who have completed their tenures to retire to the senator chamber. Lalong is believed not to be an exception. Senators Joshua Dariye and Jonah Jang served out eight years as governors and became senators immediately after. Many believe Lalong may just follow their footsteps.