The Politics of Lalong’s Re-election

Simon Lalong

Seriki Adinoyi writes that beyond the blame game and alleged electoral fraud,some factors defined the re-election of Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State

Plateau citizens were in the early hours of Sunday greeted with the news of the re-election of Governor Simon Bako Lalong for another four years.

The governor was declared winner by the Returning Officer, Prof Richard Anande Kimbir, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Benue State, who announced that Lalong polled 595,582 votes to defeat his closest opponent, Senator Jeremiah Useni of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who polled a total of 546,813 votes.

To many, the victory was not really a surprise considering that Lalong was already leading Useni with 44,929 votes in the earlier election before it was declared inconclusive.

The election was declared inconclusive because a total number of 48,828 registered voters in 49 polling units had their results disputed, a figure that superceded the 44,929 that Lalong led Useni with.

In the supplementary elections in nine LGAs of Langtang South, Barkin Ladi, Bassa, Bokkos, Jos North, Kanam, Mangu, shendam and Pankshin Lalong still led Useni polling 12,327 additional votes against Useni’s additional 8,487 votes.

Lalong was therefore declared winner and returned elected as the Governor of Plateau state for a second term.
While the APC received the results with jubilation, thanking Plateau people for the confidence reposed in Lalong, Useni on his part has outrightly rejected the results of the election as announced by INEC, insisting there was massive electoral fraud,

He said, while addressing a press conference that investigation has revealed that the results announced by the INEC were completely different from the correct results signed by the PDP agents.

“I want to give you my word that we would pursue this matter and recover our stolen mandate. I assure you that it is not yet over; we have just entered the critical phase. We are approaching the tribunal to seek legal redress,” Useni reiterated.
He said, “Democracy must be democracy or nothing else. If it is not democracy, it cannot be made to look like democracy. True democracy means that we must respect the wishes of the people who vote. We must therefore stand firm against those who must steal votes to survive and celebrate in politics.
“What happened in Plateau was shameful. It was no democracy. It was a mixture of deception and violence.
The whole election is about the soul of Plateau, its heritage and its people who always bear the loss of any cancellation. I therefore call on our supporters and stakeholders to stand taller and even stronger than before.”
Useni contended the deployment of the military to harass and intimidate his supporters at their polling units and collation centres, urging the military to remain neutral and stick to their constitutional role and not to add electoral matters as extra responsibility.
He said, “Those who are expecting me to get tired, angry, frustrated, or outwitted and quit the struggle are making a very poor judgment of who I am.”
Saying that elections have never been as bad in Nigeria in general and in Plateau state in particular, he alleged widespread thumb printing, vote buying and outright intimidation by some security men who had absolutely no business to do with the election.
He said what APC did during the last election was to be buying votes and buying over their party (PDP) agents with money, adding that “don’t forget this money is our tax money. This money is the N20 billion given to the state to help in rehabilitating those affected during the crises in Plateau state. And the state government has not done anything. So, the N20 billion which came which was used during this election, while we give N100,000, they will go and give N5 million. When we give N1 million, they will go and give N10 million.
“If you look at the state, what has he done? They say there is no money, there is money now. It is the money given to him to rehabilitate people.”
But responding, the State Commissioner of Information, Mr Yakubu Dati said in a statement that Plateau people have spoken loud and clear through the ballot by voting overwhelmingly for Governor Simon Lalong.

He expressed worry that “the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Plateau State, instead of toeing the path of honour by celebrating its second position in the keenly contested governorship race, is rather trying to claim what it could not get through the ballot box through allegations and innuendoes.

“It is unfortunate that the PDP governorship candidate, has been misled into throwing tantrums over the election by lending his voice to the attempt to fault the elections rather than act as an elder statesman and concede victory to the winning party.

“No doubt the PDP tried by scoring a handful of votes in the elections by a margin thought to be impossible considering the manner it mismanaged the state in the past years, but to claim that it can defeat and APC administration that has cleared the mess it visited on the people of Plateau State is the worst form of self-delusion.”

He observed that the PDP is only crying wolf where there is none. “Its allegations of alleged widespread thumb printing, vote-buying and intimidation by some security men are things that are alien to the APC and an attempt to cover for its failures.”

He added that Lalong does not need to threaten civil servants and traditional rulers to vote for him, as claimed by the PDP, because he has been the only governor who has been consistent in the payment of workers’ salaries in the state and has seen to the improvement of the welfare of traditional rulers with the creation of chiefdoms and upgrading traditional stools.

“His all inclusive governance of emancipation won him several ardent followers. The claim that some PDP supporters were not allowed to vote cannot be true as all with PVCs were duly accredited and allowed to vote.

“Besides, how does an election official know which party a prospective voter is going to vote for that would warrant stopping the person even if the claim is to be considered?”, He queried.

How Lalong Won

Beyond the blame game and alleged electoral fraud,some factors defined the outcome of the election. These include the emergence of Useni as PDP candidate and the crisis that trailed the nomination of his running mate which nearly tore the party into shreds. Useni was the oldest of about eight aspirants that contested the party’s gubernatorial primaries in the state. And many had believed that the ticket will go to a younger and more vibrant aspirant but the lot fell on Useni, a development that discouraged many party supporters.

The other aspirants who believed that Useni bought his way into victory in the primary election failed to give the needed collaboration and support required to give Useni victory in spite of truce by a reconciliation team set up by the National Headquarters of the party.

The emergence of Dr James Dalok as Useni’s running mate was also believed to have brought cracks in the party as it was short of the usual consensus required for such position.
The failures of the PDP Presidential candidate, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku to win the presidential election went a long way to dampen the people’s spirit against the party and it’s possibility to make any reasonable impact. They would rather go for a party that has a link with the federal government.
So PDP’s defeat in Plateau is believed to be more of a consequence of internal wrangling within the party than the challenge APC posed.

Lalong enjoyed federal support as he has been one of the governor’s that have found favour with President Buhari in the first tenure. The success of Buhari naturally added a boost to his chances because the people would want a party that will be in tune with the federal government.

The civil servants in the state have enjoyed regular payment of salaries by Lalong’s administration compared to previous ones. This may have won him substantial votes considering that Plateau is largely a civil servant state.

Whichever way, now that Plateau citizens have spoken through their ballots, Lalong also owes them an obligation to reciprocate their kind gesture by bringing the dividends of democracy to their door steps especially in terms of security, occasioned by persistent crisis between farmers and herders that has divided the people along ethnic fault lines.