JANGLING TUNES AGAINST JANG IN PLATEAU
Plateau State presents a peculiar, though not entirely strange, political environment. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is essentially the only party in the state. Yet it is so fragmented and factionalised that it ironically stands out as the strongest opposition to itself. And the gladiators for occupation of the Rayfield Government House, the seat of power in the state come 2011, have already lined up along the factions.
Governor Jonah Jang's political combatants are from within. He knows it and seems ready for the impending showdown. For now, the battle is for the soul of the party. The hawks are hell bent on dislodging Jang from the driving seat, but the man is fighting back. Fiercely. His supporters insist that the soul of the party, important as it is, may take a back seat when compared to the democratic dividends put on the ground by Jang, which has tended to endear him to the populace.
Struggle for the PDP
Shortly after Jonah Jang survived the primaries and got the PDP ticket in 2007, he sought to seize the party machinery. It was a swift and deft political move that handed him the party with a view to reducing the tendency for people to make trouble for the government. If only it were so. The governor did not reckon with the armada of political arsenal amassed by contenders within the party who railed against the process that threw him up.
At the primaries, Jang had run virtually neck and neck with Damishi Sango, erstwhile Minister of Sports, who always had an eye on the Plateau Government House. The primaries were heading for a rerun in which Sango was said to be cruising home. But that was before former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, dropped his sledge -hammer. It was the era of impunity and the then president was the Supreme Emperor, who was also leader of the party. He ordered that no rerun should hold and handed the party ticket to Jang.
But there is a bit of history behind Obasanjo's action in 2007. Since 1999, Jonah Jang had offered himself to be the helmsman in Plateau. A party chieftain told Sunday Sun that Jang always came close to picking the ticket but for high wire political intrigues, which he did not seem adept at, but which Joshua Dariye and his supporters understood well enough to always edge out the retired Air Force officer. The 1999 incident still seems like a movie to Jang.
He had allegedly won the primaries, had gone to Abuja to receive assurances from his former state governor, Chief Solomon Lar, who manned PDP at the national level. Jang was told to go home and await his nomination letter. But as they say in politics, 24 hours is a very long time in that fluid game of power. In this instance, 48 hours was all it took for Joshua Dariye to supplant Jang. Dariye 'miraculously' emerged the PDP candidate and rode in a blaze of glory into the Rayfield Government House in Jos. Jang made another effort in 2003, which went the way of previous attempts.
In 2007, Damishi Sango's head was shaved for Jang. And Obasanjo was bent on drying the political tears in Jang's eyes. He had been denied for too long. Perhaps the former president knew that if he allowed a rerun of the primaries where Jang and Sango were virtually running at the same speed, the former Sports Minister would have clinched it, since he had an amalgam within the party rooting for him.
The primaries marked the point at which the rain began to beat Jang. And he knew it. If he didn't, he would have allowed the status quo to remain within the party. So he promptly made for control of the party machinery, and handed its chairmanship to the Director-General of his campaign organisation, a wily old political warhorse who, like every old broom, knows all the corners. Professor Dakum Shawn had been in politics when Jang may have been at the dawn or middle of his military career. Shawn bandies intimidating political credentials in the state. Being the pioneer speaker of the Plateau House of Assembly in 1979, he can hardly be described as a neophyte, not after 31 years in the game. He knows where the shoes pinch.
But that was not enough to make the opposition from within cave in. Joshua Dariye, immediate past Governor, Ibrahim Mantu, immediate past Deputy Senate President, Damishi Sango, Fidelis Tapgun, a former governor, Jimmy Cheto, a former director at the Federal Capital Territory, Alhaji Danlidi Pasali, an oil magnate, and several others cannot be described as pushovers or paperweights in Plateau politics.
They massed against Jang by pulling out of the Dakum Shawn led Peoples Democratic Party to form what they call the 'real PDP', which is better described as a faction. However, Dakum Shawn insists, as he told Sunday Sun, that factions do not exist in the party. But he would need more than refusal to describe a group that has an office with a bold signpost and allegedly holds regular meetings. And to make matters worse Solomon Lar, a former national chairman identifies with that group said to be a caretaker committee duly constituted by the National executive of PDP. The committee was, however, shot down by a judgement from a Plateau high court.
But the matter is back to court. The Appeal Court in Jos is on the verge of a ruling, and may set the records straight. On paper, it would seem that Jang still holds the machinery of the party. But that would be until the court rules on the authenticity of either of the groups. However, a high court had ruled in favour of the Dakum Shawn led group, leading to the impending appeal. This reporter learnt that the new national boss of the PDP, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, is favourably disposed to another congress in the state branch and had already set machinery in motion for that purpose.
If Jang loses the party machinery, he might as well kiss his second tenure goodbye. His supporters, however, say Jang's chances are as bright as the star. He is said to have provided dividends of democracy such that the ordinary people in the street see him as a 'hero'. Colonel David Dungs [retd] who tried in the past to be governor but now eyes the senate, rates Jang as excellent, saying he dropped his gubernatorial ambition because Jang was living out his dream for the state.
He says in the face of free and fair polls at the PDP primaries and general polls, it would be abnormal if Jang flops. That is a rather idealistic position which holds sway in climes where political decisions are distanced from godfathers and leaders. There is little independence in such things here. The leader points the way and his decision is not necessarily based on ideals. They go where their bread is buttered. The battle for the soul of PDP in Plateau remains a major decider for the pendulum of the forthcoming gubernatorial elections. The battle line is drawn.
Elite gang- up
The road to Plateau Government House come 2011 is still full of thorns, in spite of the confidence exuded on both sides of the divide. There is an evident gang- up of political elite against the incumbent Governor. His aides say Jang's problems stem from his refusal to follow the old order. The said order being that godfathers in the state do receive cash handouts from the erstwhile helmsmen, such that one of them even had a house built for him by the previous regime.
'Jang does not share money,' said an aide who would rather not be named, but who is merely echoing an assertion already made by Colonel Dungs. ''The Governor prefers to develop the state rather than share money to elders. That is his crime. I can tell you that all those talking against him are doing so because it is no longer business as usual. The man in the street knows that he has benefited from this government when it comes to provision of infrastructure' says Professor Shawn.
A taxi driver told this reporter on Bukuru road, that the road from Yakubu Gowon Airport through to the town, was dualised by this administration, praising the governor to high heavens for saving his rickety car from further dilapidation.
The flyover at Rukwuba road, popularly called Gada Biu, the first ever in Jos, may be eloquent testimony for the Jang regime, but such tangibles do not translate to support when the opposition gathers. The leaders have ardent followers who would rather listen to them than take cognisance of developments. The elite challenge is so real that continued dismissal of their potency as fragile, as the Jang group has tended to do, may spring a very unsavoury surprise on them. They have consistently dismissed the elite opposition as Ãbuja politicians who have no grassroots recognition or following. That thinking is as erroneous as it is dangerous. It could spell doom for the governor.
Only a few aspirants, notably Mr Jimmy Cheto, a former Director in the Federal Capital Territory, have openly indicated their intention to govern Plateau come 2011. The development hardly vitiates the impending armada of hidden aspirants only waiting for the PDP ship to head in a given direction. The apparent rudderless movement has tended to put most ambitions in the cooler. For now, a few rumbles have been heard in the political jungle in the plateau. The feelers come from the following contenders:
Senator John Shagaya
John Shagaya has been Jonah Jang's ancient adversary. There is no love lost between both prominent sons of the state. Way back in the mid 80s, when Jang's name was pencilled down as military Governor of Benue State, Shagaya was said to have moved swiftly to dissuade the then military president, Ibrahim Babangida, from appointing him. A source told Sunday Sun that Babangida ignored the advice.
He appointed Jang but told the new governor how efforts were made to thwart his appointment. He was advised to work hard enough to prove the detractors wrong. Whether Jang acquitted himself creditably on that job is a matter for history to resolve. But the seed of discord had been sown. The discord consistently sees Shagaya fighting from the other end of Jang's stand. Currently a senator of the Federal Republic, Shagaya is said to be eyeing Governorship of Plateau, if only to push his ancient adversary out of that seat.
A prominent member of the legendary Langtang Mafia in the extinct days of military dominance in politics, Shagaya is a force to reckon with in the Peoples Democratic Party, and is bent on uprooting Jang from the stool. General Theophilus Danjuma, leader of the burgeoning number of ex-military top brass in the current political dispensation, is said to have waded into the feud between Shagaya and Jang to no avail. The matter reportedly grew worse at every intervention.
Sunday Sun was, however, told that Jang is gearing up to wave the olive branch. Shagaya's supporters believe that the governor has no altruistic intention beyond protecting his position. But the Jang camp says he is a simple, God- fearing man who would rather let peace reign. That is to be seen. For now Shagaya is strongly touted as a contender. He was not in Jos at our visit to confirm or deny.
A former Director of Public Infrastructure in the Federal Capital Territory, Jimmy Cheto , an engineer, wants to be the next Governor of Plataeau State. His campaign office and machinery have risen from the ashes of 2007 when his ambition bit the dust. His platform is yet unclear but being a prominent member of PDP, though the anti-Jang faction, it is possible he would fight to get the nomination in the event that the courts give it to them or the party convention installs a new executive. He hails from Shendam, an area ready to wrest the position from the current Berom area. This is in the face of allegations that the governor's infrastructural developments have been skewed in favour of his Berom zone.
Ambassador Fidelis Tapgun
He was former governor in the shortlived and, in fact, aborted third republic. Tapgun is one of the elders contending against the current governor. He is known to be eyeing the position he was forced to quit with the annulment of June 12, 1993 election. Tapgun, who also hails from Shendam, believes that his agenda for the state is yet unfulfilled.
But insiders say he has suddenly turned against the Governor because he made a request that was turned down. Tapgun, in a telephone chat with this reporter dismissed the allegation as 'a recycling of old lies' and challenged those peddling the lie to say the specific request that was turned down. On his gubernatorial ambition, Tapgun said he was still consulting, adding that his current effort was geared towards putting the Caretaker Committee of the PDP in the state on a strong footing. 'I don't know yet whether I will run,' he said. But the feelers are that Tapgun is a serious contender to the position.
Going by his antecedents and showing in 2007, Sango may well be the strongest contender to the governorship of Plateau. He narrowly missed the nomination at that time and has remained unbowed. He hails from Riyon Local Government. He has made no public declarations so far. Insiders say he has been oiling his machinery and would bounce back to reckoning as soon as the whistle is blown.
Victor Lar ran for the position in 2007. He did not run under the banner of PDP. But he is back in the fold and has not buried his ambition. He is said to be wooing party elders, especially the former military top brass, a force in the state politics given their sheer number and following. Lar is said to be the scion of a former mentor to most of the military juggernauts and is likely to enlist their support in the battle for governorship of the state.
The foregoing may not be exhaustive, given that some contenders are still hiding under the shadows, perhaps perfecting their strategy to spring a surprise. There are also strong feelers that Jang is fighting the wrong opponents. The unseen forces eyeing and working behind the scene to get his seat may well be those currently wining and dining with him. Sunday Sun could not confirm any rift with his deputy, Mrs Pauline Tallen, but the feelers are that the two top citizens are at daggers drawn.
While her supporters say Tallen's gubernatorial interest has no immediate consequence because her real target is 2015, some of Jang's people believe such projections to be a decoy to confuse their camp and spring a surprise. Tallen was away attending an event concerning her daughter outside the country when we called. It was learnt that the woman, who was also allegedly foisted on Jang by Obasanjo, had become exasperated by being misunderstood and may have opted to throw her hat into the fray.
In preparation for an official visit by either President Goodluck Jonathan or his wife to Plateau, Mrs Tallen was said to have made billboards to welcome the impending visitor.They were allegedly pulled down by state authorities, in the bid to stifle her visibility. The former minister was so infuriated that she was said to have opted for a fight. Expectedly, no one could confirm her immediate interests.
Those who ought to know insist that the woman has her eyes fixed on 2015 but may have been forced into an early fight.
Jos crisis factor
'Jang should count himself lucky at the turn of events at the presidency. It is evident that if Yar'Adua had remained in office, it would have been virtually impossible for him to return on the platform of the PDP,' said a party chieftain who would rather not be named. The governor had stood toe-to-toe with the Federal Government at the peak of the Jos crisis. He set a parallel panel of enquiry, operating side by side another instituted by the late President Yar'Adua.
Jang argued that he was chief security officer in the state.
Yar'Adua was infuriated and waited to take his pound of flesh before death came calling. But the crisis is a clear and present danger. Alhaji Danladi Pasali, a PDP chieftain and businessman who sees 'nothing credible in Jang' says the Jos crisis is the governor's albatross. He sees it as strong enough to cause his downfall. This may be contrary to the views of the average Plateau man whose support for Jang on the matter transcends political affiliations. Since the days of J.D Gomwalk as Governor of the state, who was summarily executed following implication in the 1977 coup that claimed Murtala Muhammed, no other leader has stood the state in good stead like Jang.
Some Plateau indigenes say Gomwalk, a police commissioner, may have been wasted as an offshoot of the indigene-settler tiff that has tended to paralyse Jos rather than involvement in any coup. Jang is seen as taking the struggle to the next level and thus has coveted the favour of the masses. How that will translate to electoral dividend in the coming year remains to be seen.
Tottering opposition parties
The Peoples Democratic Party stands head and shoulders above other parties in the state. If there was a semblance of their existence in 2007, that visibility has since paled into pitiable insignificance. The All Nigeria Peoples party office in Jos exists only via a billboard as no one was seen there.
Petty traders and petrol hawkers had emerged as visible occupants of the premises. That scenario pervaded most of the other parties except perhaps the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) with a few members in the state assembly and its founder General Jerry Useni still standing as a benefactor. The party office is Useni's property in town. It remains to be seen whether it can muster the wherewithal to stand for electoral battle in the state.