As the 2023 governorship election in Plateau State draws close, it is clear that Governor Simon Lalong is strongly working hard to ensure that the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Dr. Yilwatda Nentawe, succeeds him as the next governor of the state.
However, Lalong has the two former governors of the state – Senator Joshua Dariye and Senator Jonah Jang contend with. The duo has vowed to stop Lalong’s bid to install a successor.
Since 1999, when Nigeria returned to democratic rule, it is on record that no governor of Plateau State has installed a successor. All efforts towards that never materialized.
Nentawe, a Ngas, who hails from Kanke Local Government Area as former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, has pledged to unite and secure the state if elected as governor. Based on the zoning arrangement of the governorship seat in the state, all the 2023 gubernatorial candidates are from Plateau Central Senatorial District unlike in the 2015 elections.
Governor Lalong, will by next year, complete the two terms of the southern district and it is expected that the central senatorial district will produce his successor, while the northern senatorial district takes its turn in 2031.
Dariye, who served as governor of the state for two terms (1999 to 2007), had his second term ending in controversy, following his impeachment by members of the state House of Assembly and the consequent declaration of a state of emergency in the state by then President Olusegun Obasanjo. In 2011, he was elected to the Senate to represent Plateau Central Senatorial District.
He was reelected in 2015 but had his second term in the Senate cut short in 2019, following his conviction for fraud perpetuated while in office as governor of Plateau State.
The former governor was prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for N1.16 billion fraud and was on June 12, 2018, sentenced to 14 years in prison for criminal breach of trust and two years in addition for misappropriation of public funds, which both ran concurrently. Recently the National Council of States granted Dariye and a former governor of Taraba State, Jolly Nyame, who was also jailed for fraud, pardon.
The former Plateau governor has since been freed and he returned to Jos, the state capital. During a reception ceremony organized for him in Jos, Dariye commended the prayers and solidarity of everyone who worked for his pardon and subsequent release from prison, noting that God has disappointed those who tried to frustrate his return to the state.
He also appreciated what he termed as the magnanimity of President Muhammadu Buhari in granting him and Nyame as well as others the pardon that saw to his release from prison.
Dariye, who also spoke on the 2023 elections, made it very clear that he will support the APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who he said helped him during the declaration of a state of emergency in Plateau State. He, however, declared that he will work to install his former commissioner for Information, Dr. Patrick Dakum, who is the gubernatorial candidate of the Labour Party (LP) as the next governor of the state.
It would be recalled that Dariye had in 2007 wanted to install a successor through the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) after he left the PDP. His candidate then, Arc. Pam Gyang and his running mate, Chief John Dafan, didn’t succeed as Jang was elected as governor of Plateau State.
For Dariye to install Dakum as governor of the state come 2023, he has a fierce battle to fight with Lalong and Jang Dakum, who is from Pankshin, Plateau Central Senatorial District of the state, contested the APC governorship primary election and was defeated by Nentawe he later moved to Labour Party, accusing Governor Lalong of imposing his candidate.
But, Dakum is also fighting a battle in the Labour Party as he was not part of the governorship primary conducted in the state on June 9 at Retna Suit Multi-Purpose Hall, Sabon Bariki, Jos South Local Government Area.
Amb. Yohanna Margif, who was initially elected as the governorship candidate of the Labour Party in the state, had approached a Federal High Court sitting in Jos through his Counsel M. B. Abdullah, challenging the nomination of Dakum as the candidate of the party.
However, with the support of Dariye, the coast is clear for Dakum, who has a former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Edward Pwajok (SAN) as his running mate. As it stands, Dariye is doing everything possible to ensure that his anointed becomes the next governor of Plateau State although it is left to the Plateau people to decide whether to support Dakum and Pwajok or not.
For Jang who took over from Dariye in 2007 and also served for two terms; an attempt to install a successor in 2015 in the person of Senator Gyang Pwajok (now late), was resisted due to the governorship zoning arrangement in the state. Jang is from Plateau North Senatorial District and Pwajok too was from the same district. This made it difficult for the former’s candidature to fly.
Although many citizens of the state acknowledged that Jang did well in terms of governance, especially with visible projects across the state, they rejected his bid to have someone from his senatorial district as his successor.
Jang has been described by Plateau citizens as one of the best governors of the state given his legacy projects but like Dariye, he was also accused of misappropriation of state funds and taken to court by the EFCC.
But after several years of a court battle, a Plateau State High Court discharged and acquitted him of the N6.3 billion corruption charges preferred against him by the antigraft agency. Ahead of the 2023 elections, Jang is believed to be standing strong to ensure that he delivers a former Secretary of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) in the Plateau State.
Barr. Caleb Mutfwang, as the next governor of the state on the platform of the PDP. Mutfwang is from Mangu in the central senatorial district of the state. It is a known fact that PDP is making a strong move to take over power from the ruling APC in the state and Plateau North and Central Zone, especially Mangu, is believed to be the stronghold of the opposition party although the APC and Labour Party are also strong in Plateau North.
However, for PDP to reclaim Plateau State, analysts are of the view that stakeholders of the party must put close ranks. There is a divide among PDP leaders in the state.
Ex-Governor Jang and Senator Jeremiah Useni are in a battle over who controls the party structure in the state, and as a result, their supporters are divided along the two camps. Elders of the party like Sir Fidelis Tapgun and Hon. Damishi Sango has equally kept a distance from Jang’s camp, focusing on delivering PDP’s presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
Recently, a group, headed by a former Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Shedrak Best, who also contested the governorship primary election but lost to Mutfwang, disassociated itself from Jang’s association with Governor Nyesom Wike’s camp of the PDP. Members of the group insisted that they will deliver Atiku in the Plateau State.
On the chances of the PDP in the forthcoming governorship election, the state chairman of the PDP, Hon. Chris Hassan, who has consistently declared that the APC administration in the state has failed to meet the expectations of the people, is of the view that his party now has the backing of the Plateau citizens to take over power in 2023.
According to him, PDP will comfortably win the 2023 governorship election in the state as well as the Senate and House of Representatives elections. His words: “If you go to all the local government areas, you will discover that almost everyone that matters has decamped to the PDP in the state, To us, the APC is dead in Plateau State and the people of Plateau are no longer with the APC.
“Our victory in the Jos North/Bassa by-election signified more victories in coming elections for the party in the state. So, it is time to close ranks, upgrade our strategies and ensure we remain focused and highly committed toward greater achievements.”
The APC is also not relenting in the race for the Plateau governorship. The party’s leadership in the state is optimistic that its candidate has what it takes to win the election. There is no doubt that Nentawe is a seasoned technocrat but some APC governorship aspirants expressed dissatisfaction with his emergence as the candidate of the party.
However, he has since reconciled with almost all of them. The APC candidate has in the last two weeks moved from one local government area to another, meeting with party stakeholders in the 17 councils of the state in preparation for the election.
Apart from counting on Governor Lalong, who doubles as the Director General of the Tinubu/Shettima Presidential Campaign Organisation, Nentawe also enjoys the support of most youths and women in the state. For Lalong, who sees the 2023 general election as an opportunity to achieve what his two predecessors failed to do, he is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that all candidates of the APC win in the 2023 election.
The APC candidate, Nentawe, on his part has vowed to tackle insecurity and revamp the state’s economy as well as to emulate the leadership principles and qualities of the late Joseph Gomwalk, who was the military governor of Benue-Plateau State between 1975 and 1984. The late Gomwalk is reputed to have lived and died fighting for the course of minority ethnic groups in the Middle Belt.
Nentawe has consistently described Gomwalk as a “visionary template for egalitarian nationhood, who died for the cause of protecting the minority tribes of the Middle Belt Region in Nigeria.” Nentawe, who is also the coordinator of the Tinubu/Shettima campaign in the Plateau State, also pledged that the campaigns would be issue-based. “We, the APC, will run an issue-based campaign; we will embrace the upcoming campaigns and elections with utmost responsibility, patriotism, and care for our state and country.
The APC candidate, Nentawe, on his part has vowed to tackle insecurity and revamp the state’s economy as well as to emulate the leadership principles and qualities of late Joseph Gomwalk, who was the military governor of Benue-Plateau State between 1975 and 1984. The late Gomwalk is reputed to have lived and died fighting for the course of minority ethnic groups in the Middle Belt.
Nentawe has consistently described Gomwalk as a “visionary template for egalitar-ian nationhood, who died for the cause of protecting the minority tribes of the Middle Belt Region in Nigeria.” Nentawe, who is also the coordinator of the Tinubu/Shettima campaign in the Plateau State, also pledged that the campaigns would be issue-based. “We, the APC, will run an issue-based campaign; we will embrace the upcoming campaigns and elections with utmost responsibility, patriotism and care for our state and country.
I call on the people of Plateau State to continue to support our party at all times. “We have the confidence that we will win the 2023 elections from the House of Assembly to the House of Representatives, Senate, governorship, and the presidency. We will deliver and we are fully prepared and ready for the campaigns. “I want to be governor of Plateau State, not a governor of my tribe. If given the mandate, we will run an all-inclusive government, where Plateau youths would be engaged and empowered to become economically self-reliant.”
The APC chairman in the state, Hon. Rufus Bature, on his part, boasted that the ruling party will retain power in the state. Bature, a former two-term member of the state House of Assembly, averred that opposition parties trying to reclaim power in the state will fail. According to him, Plateau State has already been captured by the APC, and come 2023, the party will win from the top to bottom.
However, the candidates of the PDP, Labour Party, and others, who have vowed to reclaim power from the ruling APC, are of the view that Governor Lalong has betrayed the two-term mandate given to him by the people of Plateau State and they won’t make a mistake of electing another APC candidate.
The optimism of the respective governorship candidates, notwithstanding, to Plateau citizens, especially indigenous farmers, who have suffered incessant attacks over the years, what they need is a secured state, where they can go to their farms and come back home and sleep with their eyes close.
All they are looking is for a governor, who will defend them and their land from land grabbers, and provide security for the lives and property of citizens, which is the main responsibility of the government as stated in the Nigerian Constitution.
However, given the political permutations ahead of the governorship election, there is no doubt that Plateau people, particularly the youth and women will be left with the biggest task of deciding the future of the state come March 2023.