From inconclusive to conclusive elections as Lalong emerges in Plateau
Many residents and voters in Plateau State were surprised after the March 9 governorship election was later declared inconclusive. The incumbent governor Simon Bako Lalong of All Progressives Congress (APC) polled 583,255 votes, while his closest contender and People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) candidate, Senator Jeremiah Useni, had 538,326 votes.
They contended that the gulf between Lalong and Useni, which was 44,929, was too clear and wide for Lalong to be declared winner of the gubernatorial elections. But the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) inadvertently told them that they were not very knowledgeable in the art of politics.
According to the Returning Officer of the Gubernatorial Elections in Plateau State, Prof. Richard Kimbir Anande, the margin between the two major parties at the polls was lower than the votes nullified and cancelled due to one irregularity or another. He explained that the nullified votes in the affected polling units were above 48,000 votes, adding that there must be a supplementary election to determine who actually carried the day.
At the end of the day, when the supplementary results were collated and added to the original results, Lalong had 595,582 votes while Useni had 546,813 votes. INEC had, therefore, based on the added results, declared Lalong winner of the elections.
Before the elections proper, the signs were clear that Lalong was going to emerge winner. He is the incumbent governor of the state who also has a good relationship with both the APC at the national level and the presidency. They also argued that he has control over APC’s structure in the state including having a majority of APC members in Plateau State House of Assembly. Others include the elected chairmen of the local governments, management committee chairmen in areas not privileged to have elected chairmen of local governments. Also, he has his cabinet members and numerous assistants and aides.
Prompt payment of salaries to workers which gave him the name ‘Governor Alert,’ continuation and completion of projects left behind by his immediate predecessor, promotion of peace and inclusive governance are some of the factors in his favour. His win did not come as a surprise to many.
Besides, Lalong’s choice of deputy, Prof. Sonni Tyoden, from the Central Senatorial District did not create any division in the zone unlike PDP. It was an advantage for Lalong. The creation of chiefdoms, village areas, districts and upgrading of second class chiefs to first class chiefs in many local governments also gave him an edge over his major opponent.
Another advantage Lalong enjoyed was that he embarked on recruitment of unemployed graduates into the civil service, which was left dormant before his coming on board. The massive and unprecedented support Lalong got from Jos North, Wase, Kanam, which are predominantly Hausa, also bolstered his chances at the polls.
Apart from the bloc votes he secured from the Hausa enclave, the governor also won a landslide victory in his Shendam Local Government Area unlike his major opponent, General Useni, who had divided votes in his Tarok nation of Langtang North and Langtang South. He also had landslide vote in Plateau Central of Bokkos, Mangu, Pankshin, Kanke, and Kanam Local Government Areas. This is the first time in the political history of the state that a candidate will win all the five local governments that comprise the zone.
He also garnered votes in Qua’anPan and Mikang Local Government Areas of the state. Prior to the supplementary elections where he was already leading with 44,929 votes as against his main opponent, Senator Useni, he led with a margin of over 3,000 votes at the supplementary.
It was then clear that there was no magic that the opposition could lead in the supplementary elections where the contesting votes were slightly above 48,000. Generally, the turnout at the supplementary elections was very low in some places and high in others. That is to say there was voter apathy and total boycott, which in essence was in favour of APC, as many believed that the winner had already emerged in the person of Lalong.
One other fundamental reason why Plateau Central supported APC was the calculation for power shift to the zone in 2023. The political permutation in the zone is that giving power to somebody who is just coming in new might likely jeopardize the Central Zone’s chance of producing the governor in 2023, as the new governor might want to spend eight years thereby frustrating the zone.
However, in all the opposition PDP gave APC a good fight with the margin the supplementary election. But Llaong, when he was declared winner, urged his supporters not to carry his victory too far to the extent of inadvertently hurting his co-contestants in the race, as he is governor for all. He dedicated his win to Plateau citizens and democracy, while extending his hand of friendship to those who contested against him. He acknowledged the mature conduct exhibited during the electioneering campaigns in the epic race.
Immediately after being declared winner, Lalong urged his rivals to partner with him in the patriotic zeal to build a virile and viable Plateau. But this olive branch extended to his rivals was rejected outright by the defeated PDP candidate, Useni, who restated his desire to challenge the authenticity of INEC and the electoral process that declared Lalong in spite of the irregularities recorded at the polls.
In his acceptance speech proper, Lalong said, “With gratitude to God Almighty, on behalf of myself and the Deputy Governor, I sincerely thank you all. We whole-heartedly accept this mandate to serve for a second and final term with all the humility it deserves. Above all, we accept this mandate by equally soliciting your usual cooperation and partnership as we strive to sustain the execution of our mandate.
“The outcome of the exercise in the state was clearly an amazing show of confidence and trust. It was also referendum on our most cherished principles of unity and peace as well as affirmation of the desire to move to the Next Level. Moving to the next level in the light of equality and inclusiveness, which are core values fundamentally located in the heart of the Plateau spirit that speaks to our sense of communality, diverse ethnicity, mutual respect, tolerance, peace, hospitality, humility and diligence…”
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