Opinion: Lalong, Plateau killings and 2019 – MARIE-THERESE NANLONG

lalong

By this time in 2014, heated debates were going on in public spaces wherever people gathered here in Plateau. Politicians, those not in politics and even those not eligible to vote engaged in the debate on who would emerge the Governor of Plateau State in 2015. Gov. Lalong The debates started as the result of the circumstances surrounding the State politics at that time.

The then Governor, Jonah Jang from Plateau North Senatorial zone had insisted on having his successor from his zone but the people were not in support of such idea; arguing that from 1999 to 2007, Joshua Dariye from Central Zone was Governor, Jang from Northern zone took over from 2007 to 2015 hence it was natural for someone from Southern zone to come in to balance the calculation. Many were of the opinion that Jang’s deputy at that time, Mr. Ignatius Longjan from the Southern zone be allowed to continue from where his principal stopped but all entreats fell on deaf ears as Jang ensured the emergence of his kinsman, the late Gyang Pwajok as the flag-bearer of his Party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP while he (Jang) won the election to take over the Senate seat hitherto occupied by the late Pwajok.

As the State had an opinion about who should occupy the seat, it was not difficult for the incumbent Governor, Simon Lalong from the All Progressives Party, APC, a Goemai man from Southern Plateau with relatively impressive credentials to clinch the seat, narrowly beating the then Government’s anointed candidate, Pwajok.

After the election, different analysts examined why Lalong won, the deciding factor was zoning. He enjoyed massive goodwill from the people across religious, tribal and Party affiliations. Many in the PDP openly engaged in anti-Party activities, various groups including “Plateau Elders” among others held clandestine meetings, campaigning for Lalong, the candidate of the APC. When he won, all heaved a sigh of relief as the people stood against government and won. But not too long after the swearing-in ceremony, the goodwill waned as people faulted the manner Lalong appointed his lieutenants. But the Governor insisted whatever action he took was to ensure peace, a cardinal point in his “rescue” agenda. He achieved peace for some time although there were pockets of attacks, ambushes and killings in the hinterland but they did not attract much attention. In these euphoric moments, the Governor told whoever cared to listen about his peace efforts but not without doubt from those who knew all was not well in the State.

When the hand-picked speakers including the Governor at the town hall meeting held during President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to the State failed to tell the truth about security situation in the State even when killings were ongoing, property razed and villages sacked at the time of the visit, the action drew the irk of the people.    The killing of over 200 people in Barkin Ladi and Riyom local government areas by herdsmen again made the goodwill nosedive further as many have blamed the government of not handling the situation well. In view of this, pundits are already analysing the Governor’s political fortune in 2019. Very many who gave their support in 2014/2015 are asking if it would be wise trusting the Governor with another four years in office. The balance of zoning and consistent payments of salary of civil servants may count in his favour. Despite the misgivings, the State Chairman of the APC, Mr. Latep Dabang who earlier said the Governor; having been endorsed by groups in his Party, would not get automatic ticket; later told Saturday Vanguard that, “Every qualified person is free to contest but I can assure you that contesting against Governor Lalong is a waste of time.” Others have a different view from Dabang.

Aside the aggrieved APC members who do not want the Governor back, earlier aggrieved PDP members who are now pacified may not be willing to pledge their support. Already, the PDP is earnestly seeking a candidate from Lalong’s zone who would get his position for only a tenure and handover to another from the Central zone. PDP REACTS The same elders from the PDP who supported him are now reconsidering their stance as seen in the recent meeting tagged: “Meeting of Elders’ Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Plateau State Chapter.” They met at the Party’s Secretariat in Jos and after deliberations on a number of issues, including the security situation in the State, issued a communiqué to air their views. According to the communiqué signed by Ambassador Fidelis Tapgun as Chairman and Barrister Justina Vrengle as Secretary, it read in part, “We lament the incessant butchering of human lives and attendant destruction of homes and properties of the ordinary citizens of Nigeria, from Plateau, Kaduna, Benue, Nassarawa, Taraba, Adamawa, Zamfara etc, which has gone on for too long, with no concrete plan or clear roadmap to suggest that the Government is serious beyond the assurances and promises.

“We need more than assurances and promises of tracking down these criminals; much as these assurances are needed, they have become irrelevant in the face of continued attacks that have claimed countless lives. It is lamentable that communities can be attacked and hundreds slaughtered for over 48 hours without any immediate provision of rescue efforts. This obviously points to the fact that the nation’s security system has been compromised, and that government lacks the will and capacity to resolve these challenges to peace and security. “The frequency and quantum of these despicable attacks on innocent communities makes a mockery of the much taunted ‘Security’ Mantra of the present administration. We find the mockery of the sanctity of human life totally unacceptable, we demand the immediate pursuit of the criminals under whatever guise or name, the disarmament of the occupied Communities and rehabilitation of Rankum (Mahanga) Fass, Gashish, Shong, Tanti and Exland (Gindin Akwati), all in Barkin Ladi LGA, amongst others in the State. “We insist that the perpetrators and sponsors of these heinous crimes against humanity be arrested and brought to justice, as these are the essence of the rule of law.

This is the only full proof guarantee of their safety and security, and the only way to rebuild confidence in their leader as one capable of defending them at all times. “We frown at any move, indirectly or directly, to hide the reality on ground. “We express our deep condolences to the families, the people and leaders of the affected communities, and pray that their deaths will ignite a resolve on our part to rise up against evil and the wanton wasting of precious lives.” On the zoning of Governorship seat, the elders stated, “The Meeting noted with satisfaction the resolution of the State Executive Committee (SEC) to zone the Governorship and other notable positions in Government for the purposes of the 2019 general elections; we commend the courage of the State Working Committee (SWC) in contemplating zoning in the first instance.

“We invite all Party faithful to join hands with the leadership of this great Party and work assiduously to take back power in the elections ahead. We equally call on the leadership to create a level playing field to all aspirants to the various offices and positions as a safeguard towards avoiding what made the party fail in 2015.” They further described the emergence of R APC as the ‘collapse of the dam’, and called on “those who left our great Party to return home as the umbrella has been re-branded to not only accommodate all, but achieve greater democratic gains,” urging members to “remain unrelenting in not only keeping the Party waxing stronger and stronger, but also preparing it for greater electoral gain as we journey towards 2019.” Similarly, the umbrella body of the Tarok Socio-economic and cultural organization, Ngwang Ishi O’Tarok, NIO, Plateau North Chapter which had largely stood with the APC in 2015 has now endorsed the aspiration of Senator Jeremiah Useni to vie for the governorship seat in 2019. Useni, who is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP is from Langtang North local government area and represents Plateau South Senatorial zone in the National Assembly. Members of the Body in Plateau North which comprise; Jos North, Jos South, Jos East, Riyom, Barkin Ladi and Bassa Local Government Areas endorsed him, saying they are confident that he will deliver considering his achievements for his zone as a Senator. The Tarok Community Leader in Jos and environs, Chief Joseph Yarnap had said the Senator had intimated the NIO of his intention and the people have nothing against it because they know the aspiration is for the good of the State.

He said, “General J.T. Useni made known his intention when he visited the Ngwang Ishi Otarok (NIO) at our Quarterly meeting on Saturday 7thJuly, 2018. He said his desire to contest for governorship election in 2019 general elections was to answer the call of the good people of Plateau State and beyond to come and serve in that capacity and correct the damage made to the State by the Government of today and the previous Government. “He found it very important to inform his kinsmen, the Tarok people living in Jos and environs; saying he will re-position everything in the State if elected by the grace of God. This is because every community in the State needs to live in peace with one another and also need quality leadership.” Yarnap assured Gen. Useni of Tarok’s people support if he wins the primary election and emerges as his Party’s candidate.

A political analyst, Ukandi Odey said, “Lalong’s chances in 2019 are not subject to his handling of the recent incident in the State but to be specific, his handling of the incident was quite shoddy by my assessment especially the aspect of burying the victims of the attacks. What happened here was more than what happened in Benue State but the Governor of Benue State was more honourable in treating the dead with dignity. Lalong treated the dead here with disdain. He did not impress anyone of us, if that was going determine 2019; it means he will not make it.” An elder, Saidu Musa added, “PDP in Plateau is on ground and has always been on ground. What happened in 2015 was a mistake. People thought when they go to the other side, they would make impact but they have realized their mistakes, now we are back on ground.

There is no doubt that PDP would make it in 2019, the present government came to power on the basis of former PDP stalwarts that defected or that worked against the Part in 2015 but now, we have realized our mistakes and have come back home. “Like my local government, Wase, let them show me one completed project they executed since they came to power three years ago. I am sure that they are not on ground and will not go anywhere in 2019. Security issues should be left for security personnel, I don’t want to politicize it but definitely, right from the beginning, they did not start well.” Julius Haruna stressed, “Governor Simon Lalong’s Rescue Administration has had three years now. Anything that one does is based on his input in governance so for me, the government has not delivered the dividend of democracy to the people.

How many projects has he started and completed? “Even the so-called abandoned projects from the previous administration which they claim to be completing, where are they? He has not done any. Even his performance security-wise and the economy of the State, earnestly, he has performed poorly. I think his re-election will be very difficult; the race would be tight, he may only survive using the power of incumbency.” In spite of all arguments, ordinary citizens expect whoever comes into power in 2019 to have the masses at heart and ensure that basic needs like peace, security, employment, improved standard of living and economic prosperity take centre stage in the State. Vanguard

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