On April 13th 2015, Simon Lalong in a shocking political upset was declared winner of the Plateau gubernatorial election. Many political analysts were aghast with stupefaction and astonishment as to how he was able to surmount the massive odds against him.
Lalong won against both the might of the PDP political establishment and the indomitable power of incumbency. His triumph was akin to the rather shocking victory of Donald J Trump – 45th president of the United States of America. Simply put, the people had spoken –and their will had to be respected.
As expected, many politicians and critics tagged Lalong the “accidental governor”. Implying he was a man who won simply because of the discontent of Plateau people with the PDP political establishment and not necessarily because of the adulation or affection of the electorate. Whether that is true or not, remains a matter of debate – but the manner of his victory was no doubt resounding and emphatic.
With that victory, many were again quick to conclude that he stood no chance of being able to adequately govern the state –because of what they perceived as his “lax” and “free-for-all” attitude. Well, 1.5 years into his term, Lalong appears to be defying the odds and is warming his way into the hearts of his critics and opponents.
Initially, he made a shaky start by being in constant confrontation with his predecessor about the amount of debt, abandoned contracts and accusations of fraud amongst others. He then attempted to foist the much maligned and controversial grazing reserves policy on the people (something that caused significant resentment).
However, since that shaky start of mid-2015 to early 2016, Lalong appears to be making inroads at governance. He cleverly aligned himself to President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC national leadership, essentially raising the proverbial “middle finger” to Tinubu and his loyalist. This display of loyalty to the Buhari camp enabled him to rise in the pecking order of relevance –becoming one of the trusted lieutenants of the APC leadership. As such, he was saddled with the responsibility of leading the APC strategy for the Ondo 2016 elections –something he delivered on.
He also exploited his closeness to the President to request for favour from president Buhari with regards the dire financial state of Plateau and was able to secure Government Bonds and loans which provided some respite in running the state.
On the home-front, he was able to woo political heavy weights like – Chief Joshua Dariye, Mrs Pauline Tallen, Engr Jimmy Cheto, Amb Ignatius Longjan, Arc Pam Dung Gyang, Mr. Danladi Atu to the APC family –essentially bolstering its ranks and consolidating its strength in the state. This move no doubt puts significant strain on the strength and capacity of PDP to win future elections.
In fact, a lot of people (myself included), had in the past forecasted the emergence of Solomon Dalung as the main political gladiator in the state because of Lalong’s perceived laid back persona – however all of us are now eating our words, as Dalung appears to be in “self-destruct mode” making numerous political gaffes, non-savvy utterances and unwise political overtures etc. His political stocks appear to be in free-fall and in desperate need of a makeover and re-branding – (I’m sure his aides are already working to salvage what is left of his already battered image).
Back to the decamping of erstwhile PDP leaders to APC –Simon Lalong appears to have perfected a strategy for the decimating of the PDP from its previous lofty position to a shell of itself. Only a handful of strong men including Senator Jonah Jang, Ibrahim Mantu, J T Useni and Amb Fidelis Tapgun remain. Will these strong men be able to wrestle power from the APC in 2019? This remains an open question. But so far Lalong is not giving them a chance –he appears to be putting his feet in the right places, without mis-placing a single step. For instance, he cleared the entire backlog of civil servant salaries which was outstanding for decades (and has now cleverly scheduled local government elections in early 2017 to cash-in on that overture).
In addition, he still has a windfall of approx. N60 billion to come from the London-Paris club debt repayment, having already received an initial payment of N10.5 billion (used to clear the salary backlog). So essentially, the abandoned capital projects which have remained uncompleted since May 2015) may soon be finalised and with his own (i.e., new) projects initiated …….if this happens, PDP will have the odds stacked against them.
Dr. Chinan Maclean
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