Friday, 28 November 2014


"For Forms of Government let fools contest; whatever is best administered is best."
~Alexander Pope

Governor Jonah D Jang of Plateau State

The road to 2015 on the Plateau has been paved with thick hedges of uncertainty and large potholes of ethnic sentiments that are threatening to plunge the state into deeper crisis. While the source of this brewing conflict is clear enough-where the next state Governor will emerge from- the solution is far from apparent.

On one hand, we have advocates of zoning. Those who contend that each of the three senatorial zones on the Plateau must take turns to produce the next state Governor. They hinge their argument on the notion that since the central zone ruled for 8 eight years, 1999 to 2007 and the Northern zone is about to complete her own eight year term, it is only reasonable that the next state Governor should emerge from the Southern zone, to rule for eight years as well. While this argument may seem logical, those against zoning claim that the southern zone has produced the state Governor on two occasions, first Solomon Lar from 1979 to 1983 and then Sir Fidelis Tapgun from 1992 to 1993. This group contends that since each zone has had a taste of the number one seat in the state, the rotation could start from any other zone including the north.
There is also a small minority that believes zoning should be jettisoned and only competent and committed persons should be elected, regardless of zone or tribe. But is there any credence to any of these arguments? Is there really a zoning arrangement in Plateau state?

Plateau as a state had her first stint of democracy in 1979 when the General Olusegun Obasanjo military regime returned the country to civil rule. At the time, there was no emphasis on zones as we know them today. Rather, what we had, was a divide between lower Plateau, which is now Nassarawa state and upper Plateau, that is the Plateau state of today. The arrangement then seemed to be that the Governor would emerge from upper Plateau, which had the larger population, while the deputy governor would be produced from the lower region. Thus the 1979 elections were contested between Chief Solomon D. Lar of the Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) and Chief Michael Audu Buba of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). It is of course common knowledge that the NPP won the keenly contested election. It is however worthy to note that both Solomon Lar (Lantang) and Michael Audu (Shendam) were from what we know today as the southern zone. So does this make a case for zoning? By 1983, when it was time for another round of elections, Solomon Lar of the NPP, being the incumbent, naturally became his party's flag bearer. The NPN on the hand, settled on John Jatau Kadiya, erstwhile federal Minister, from Bassa Local Government Area of what we now call northern zone. Lar won the elections but the democratic process was truncated 3 months later by the Buhari coup.

The third republic saw only two political parties operating in the country, the National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP). On the Plateau, the gubernatorial elections were contested by Sir Fidelis Tapgun of the SDP, from Shendam in the southern zone and Bagudu Hirse of NRC from Mangu in the central zone. Tapgun won the elections to become the second democratically elected governor of Plateau State but like Lar, the entire process was "dissolved" by the General Abacha junta some months later.

The period between 1998 to 2011 followed pretty much the same pattern.

In 1998, history was made in Plateau State when Joshua Dariye, from a little known mushere minority ethnic group beat other Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidates (including Jonah D Jang) to clinch the party's nomination to contest for governor in the general elections that year. Dariye subsequently won the election defeating Yohanna Dalyop of the All People Party (APP). Again, it is worth pointing out that Dariye was from the central zone while Dalyop was from the northern zone.

The 2003 elections was a fierce contest between Dariye (PDP) and Jonah D Jang (ANPP). Like Dalyop, Jang was also from the northern zone. Dariye won the election and ultimately a second term by the narrowest of margins.

In the 2007 elections, candidates for the two major parties in the state (PDP and ACN) were both from the northern zone. Interestingly, both of them were also of the berom ethnic group. Jang of course won the elections by a considerable margin.

By 2011 when Jang was going for a second term, he had to slug it with no less a person than his deputy, Dame Pauline Tallen, who had then moved to the Labour Party (LP). Tallen is from Shendam in the Southern zone. As we all know, Jang inflicted a heavy defeat on Tallen at the polls.
I have gone down this historical narrative to illustrate that at no point in Plateau State was zoning the post of governorship ever instituted. As such, it is not a right over which anyone should threaten fire and brimstone. Therefore, rather than beat drums of war or wail like babies over any seeming imposition of an ethnic agenda, our politicians should get to work educating the electorate on how real power is in their hands. Political stakeholders must also go beyond the ethnic/zoning narrative to present dynamic, dedicated and diligent candidates that can match any "anointed one" quality for quality.

I am a firm believer in equity and fairness but I also do not believe competence should be sacrificed on the alter of equity and fairness. If Governor Jang has anointed a candidate who, most agree, is quite competent and whose only sin is his ethnic group and zone, then those crying foul must also put their best foot forward. That is the only way to show that service, not personal interest, is at the heart of political permutations in the race for who becomes the Governor of Plateau State in 2015.

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