Seriki Adinoyi, in Jos, examines the circumstances under which the All Progressives Congress came to power in Plateau State and the challenge of keeping the party’s hold on the state

Barely one year into the administration of the All Progressives Congress in Plateau State, there seems to be a nonchalant attitude towards the affairs of the state government on the part of key political stakeholders. The state had been under the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party since the return to democracy in 1999, until last year when the APC changed the situation. But it was with the help of some aggrieved PDP bigwigs, who engaged in anti-party activities, to hand victory to the then opposition APC.

Protest Vote
The PDP chieftains who were alleged to have contributed to APC’s victory included former governors of the state: Ambassador Fidelis Tapgun and Chief Joshua Dariye, former Deputy Governor of the state, Ambassador Ignatius Longjan, former Deputy Senate President; Alhaji Nasiru Mantu; former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Bitrus Kaze; and Chief Bulus Dareng. They had, allegedly, fallen out with the immediate past governor, Jonah David Jang, over his decision to choose his successor from his senatorial zone and among his kinsmen.

The aggrieved PDP members had argued that power was supposed to rotate to the southern senatorial zone of the state, as was quietly practised in the past. They also alleged that the governorship primaries that produced Mr Gyang Pwajok as the PDP candidate was not fair, and consequently worked against the party in favour of APC.

After the victory of the APC, it was expected that the bigwigs will defect to the governor’s party, more so as the governor, Mr Simon Lalong, was also once a member of the PDP. But that seems to be far from the picture on the ground. Rather than actively participating in the government, most of the stalwarts seem simply withdrawn. This has raised concern among political watchers in the state who have given diverse interpretations to the development.

Some observers say the politicians are carefully watching the manner Lalong is handling the political landscape of the state to know whether or not it is worth their while to join him in the APC. A major stakeholder said it was better to cautiously watch in order not to run into a party that would not make headway in the next political dispensation.

The stakeholder, who preferred anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, added, “You know that left alone, the APC would not have been able to match the PDP in Plateau; its victory was a result of the protest against the former governor of the state, Jonah Jang, by the people of the state for wanting to lord a candidate over the people. So I won’t be surprised if the PDP resolves its differences and bounces back in 2019.

“So it will not make any sense to defect to the APC now and start struggling to return to the party in the event of change of power. We worked for the APC at the governorship level, but maintained our party in other positions. We are not desperate to defect. We have a place to stay. To leave, we must be convinced the next place is worth it.”

Although the PDP lost governorship seat, it maintained its hold on the three senatorial zones – Plateau-North, Plateau-Central and Plateau-South – and also won six of the eight House of Representatives seats, with the APC picking only two during the last election. So the party is not in such a hopeless state in Plateau.

Lalong has made modest achievements, especially in the areas of restoration of peace in the state, payment of workers’ salaries, and completion of some on-going projects started by his predecessor. But many are of the view that except he does more to brace up with the challenge of governance, his achievements so far, when placed side-by-side those of his predecessor, may not be able to earn him a second tenure.

Uncertainty still lurks around the APC in the state and many PDP members still believe it is risky to move into the party.
But Lalong’s supporters say it is too early to start assessing the governor, less than one year in office. They believe the governor is on course to deliver his “Rescue Agenda” for the state.

Lalong had held meetings on assumption of office, when he invited stakeholders across the political parties in the state, and lamented the lean resources of the state. He warned that government must seriously cut cost and avoid frivolities if it must live up to expectations in the face of the dwindling resources.

While some took the Lalong’s new position in good fate, others saw the warning as a tactical way of telling them that government was not going to welcome patronages from them. So they would rather withdraw than have themselves embarrassed.

Internal Politics
It is also alleged that APC in the state has some internal wrangling that is quietly eating it up. One of such problems is said to be the alleged ambition of the current Minister of Youth and Sport, Mr Solomon Dalung, to take power from Lalong after the governor’s first tenure.

Though the minister has denied such move, sources within the party explain that he plans to use the federal might to pursue his ambition in 2019. Both the minister and the governor are from the same southern senatorial zone. And if Lalong is allowed to take all the eight years, it may take another 16 long years for power to return to the zone. Dalung may not have such patience to wait.
With the wrangling, which is capable of tearing the APC apart if not tamed, the PDP may only be waiting to take advantage of any eventuality to outsmart the APC.

The PDP, on its part, is regrouping and strategising to recapture the state, though not without its own internal challenges. Confirming this, the state PDP chairman, Raymond Dabo, described the reign of APC in the state as transient.
But the crisis that caused the party’s woeful outing in the 2015 election seems yet unresolved. Many believe attention must be given to the fixing of the internal differences if the party is to make any headway in 2019.

Reconciling PDP
The various contenders to the state chairmanship of PDP in the forthcoming convention have made reconciliation one of their cardinal campaign points. They have admitted that their failure was the fallout of the crisis that had torn the party into factions before the election, and are determined to reconcile the members.

One of the major contenders, Honourable Bitrus Kaze, who spoke with journalists recently, said, “I hope to play a role in ensuring the PDP regains its feet. We have a group of members who have left parliament, who believe that we should not leave the PDP and that we should support all organs of the party from the national to the state, to the local government, even the wards, in giving courage, in assuring the party that no matter how bad things look, we will remain and salvage whatever is left of the party.”

He said, “First, I believe very strongly that if I have the opportunity to serve as the chairman of PDP in the state, my first major task will be to embark on genuine reconciliation and this entails people willingly going to tell the party and, indeed, the world that this is where they acted in a manner that injured several others and that they are sorry for their action. I give you an instance. I believe very sincerely that if we run genuine reconciliation, it will help douse tension.

“Secondly, the reasons that brought about factionalisation: anger, distrust and all the vices in the party, are manifestations of the absence of justice and fair play. All my life, I have always run for offices on the basis of these principles. What that means is that if candidates A, B, C run for a position under the PDP and candidate B picks the highest votes and candidates A and C see openly that candidate B was honestly and clearly the most popular among them, that the party provided a level playing ground for all of them, it will be easier for candidate A and C to join hands with candidate B to face the opposition party at the general election. And if candidate B now sees that despite the fact that he contested with A and C, yet they have joined hands with him and he wins the election, the tendency for B, if he wins, is to run an inclusive government without rancour and divisiveness.

“This picture, unfortunately, has been absent in Plateau PDP, especially, in the last local government and governorship elections. I believe that as a party chairman, I will provide a level playing ground for all members because this is at the root of the whole problem.”

If members of PDP in Plateau really commit themselves to genuine reconciliation, like they appear determined to do, the state may witness an interesting governorship contest in 2019 that may see PDP’s return to power.
Observers say APC, too, must strive to resolve its internal wrangling and reunite to form a formidable force to avoid shame in 2019. It must give the governor the enabling environment to deliver on his mandate