A line-up of aspirants with eyes on the job of Governor Simon Lalong, are coming out from across political platforms on the plateau as the state prepares for next year’s governorship election.
With the release of the 2019 election timetable by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), political juggernauts have seen the development as a wake-up call to commence political activities in Plateau State.
Plateau has always been the hot bed of Middle Belt politics as championed by the late Chief Solomon Lar, the first civilian governor of the state. Even after him the political spirit he fired has not died down.
Today, those followers of his that he trained in the art of political scheming and calculations are now surreptitiously gunning for various positions although the electoral body, which has ignited their curiosity, has not blown the whistle to commence the race.
As it is, most of the political gladiators in the state have, wittingly or unwittingly, indicated their interests with their supporters flying the kites and dotting every strategic street and notable junction in the Jos Bukuru metropolis with posters.
Most importantly, the governorship seat is being keenly sought after even while incumbent Governor Simon Bako Lalong is interested in seeking a second tenure to complete his eight years.
Apart from the governor, others showing interest in the race include serial contestant, Senator Victor Lar, former Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly and one time member of the House of Representatives, George Daika, former Secretary to the State Government (SSG) during the tenure of Jonah Jang, Professor Shedrack Best, Engineer Jimmy Cheto a technocrat and former Federal Capital Territory Minister and current Senator, General Jeremiah Useni.
Lalong, a former Speaker of the House of Assembly under former governor Joshua Dariye, now a Senator representing Plateau Central, did not get elected as governor because of his popularity or political wizardry but for the miscalculation of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which zoned the position to Plateau North where Jang who was about to complete his eight-year tenure, hails from.
There has been an unwritten agreement whereby each senatorial district will complete two terms of eight years. Angered by the failure of Jang to transfer the governorship slot to another district, the people of the state rose in protest and voted overwhelmingly for the fidgeting and crawling All Progressives Congress (APC) as an alternative.
That was how Lalong, who is believed to be getting set for another term on his APC platform, emerged as governor in 2015. Many groups, associations and individuals are already mounting pressure on him to contest the 2019 election, but all along, he has not come out to give his nod.
For all the gladiators however, their eyes are on the votes from Jos North local government council, which are very essential for anybody to win the state. Analysts, who believe that anywhere the Jos North political pendulum swings will win the poll, are quick to cite the last 2015 general elections where the council played a deciding factor in Lalong’s victory.
It is therefore not strange that all the gladiators have shown interest in the council votes where, in a fair and transparent exercise, the dominant Hausa/Fulani, who are more politically conscious will win the contest.
Lar, who by virtue of the unwritten zoning arrangement is a politician to watch because he is also from Plateau South Senatorial District, is believed to be nurturing a governorship ambition.
A Tarok man, Lar hails from Langtang North and was a two-term member of the House of Representatives representing Langtang North/Langtang South on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) from 1999 to 2007. Feeling politically matured, having completed eight years in the lower chamber, he took a shot at the governorship of the state in 2007 on the same ANPP platform but lost to Jang of the PDP.
After losing the election, he defected to the PDP and contested and won the Plateau South senatorial seat in 2011. After his first term in the Senate, he took another shot at the governorship in December 2014 but lost to the late Senator Gyang Pwajok.
For the 2019 election, posters announcing his intention on the platform of the PDP can be seen at strategic places in the state. Lar ‘s consistency in running for the governorship seat has earned him the appellation ‘serial contestant.’
Useni, an Army General turned politician is the current senator representing Plateau South. He was a highly influential and powerful Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) during the era of late Head of State, General Sani Abacha and had most of the time, been in opposition to the ruling PDP until 2015 when he joined the party to realize his ambition. Before joining PDP, he was a chieftain of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP).
Best, a professor of Political Science at the University of Jos before joining the political race by contesting the House of Representatives primaries for Mangu/Bokkos federal Constituency. Having lost the election, the then Governor Jang appointed him as the Secretary to the State Government (SSG).
After the tenure of his principal, Best went back to the University to lecture, but has not hidden his interest in occupying the governorship seat in 2019, judging from his banners placed at strategic positions in Jos metropolis. He is still contesting on the same PDP platform.
Another contender on the platform of the PDP, Daika, a former member of the Plateau State House of Assembly who was made Speaker at the first plenary of the House represented Mikang State Constituency.
After his tenure in the state legislature, he moved up the ladder to represent Shendam/Quaan Pan/Mikang Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives in 2007.
His attempt to return to the lower chamber after the expiration of his tenure on 2011 was however thwarted at the primaries by Innocent Tirsel, who enjoyed the support of the governor.
He is however believed to be prepared for the governorship contest next year especially as the ticket, because of the zoning arrangement, is expected to remain in the southern district where he comes from.
Cheto is a civil engineer who had a good record at the Housing Unit of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja before he was prevailed upon to come home and seek elective positions. He contested on the Labour Party (LP) platform with Jang but lost out to the former governor.
With dogged resilience, he defected to the PDP in 2011 and lost, once again to incumbent Jang. Undaunted and undeterred, he contested the PDP primaries in December 2014 but lost to the late Gyang Pwajok.
Disenchanted with the PDP, Cheto crossed to the ruling APC. Here too, he did not get the satisfaction he desired allegedly because of the way the party was being run. He returned to the PDP and has since shown interest in the 2019 governorship election. He too is a serial contestant.
With the battle starting afresh, it is interesting to note that the electorate has been getting wiser after each general election. They continue to learn from their mistakes and from other people’s mistakes every day. They cannot be taken for a ride again as this time around, they want their votes to count and see positive effects on governance and delivery of dividends of democracy.
This acquired wisdom of the voters and the resilience of the politician to convince them about their good intentions, are the hallmarks of a growing democracy that are expected to come to play as next year election draws nearer on the plateau.