Even though there are 21 governorship candidates, the contest in Plateau State would no doubt be between incumbent Governor Simon Bako Lalong of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Sen. Jeremiah Useni of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
With the atmosphere already tense, and even though both Lalong and Useni are Christians, religion has been brought into the fore in the contest.
Useni has some Christian religious leaders rooting for him with majority of indigenous churches persuading their congregations to vote against Lalong due to what they perceive as his “unholy rapport” with the Hausa and Fulani population in Jos North whom they refer to as settlers.
However, though at first glance it may seem that the gang up by indigenous churches may be detrimental to incumbent Governor Lalong, the PDP’s alleged controversial choice of James Dalok to run its ticket with Useni is causing division amongst the Christian denominations.
While others prefer to keep mute on the development, there are those who feel betrayed that the PDP would settle for a governorship candidate and running mate who belong to the same COCIN church, thereby attempting to alter a past precedence where a balance between the COCIN and the Catholic once held sway.
Lalong, being a Catholic with a running mate from COCIN in the person of Prof. Sonni Tyoden, who is the current deputy governor, may end up benefiting from the intra religious but needless rivalry over power.
For Useni, who is 75, the contest maybe a one-off chance to give it his all against a younger Lalong. The army general turned politician has a strong name and a tough past to carry him through the political tides but his reported ill-health and ‘disappearing’ acts only seek to reinforce the fear that all may not be well with the PDP candidate.
Even though he enjoys wide acceptability among his large Tarok tribe in the southern zone and the Berom in the northern zone, Useni is viewed with suspicion by the people of the central zone who fear that a vote for him could jettison the zoning arrangement should he win and insist on two full tenures.
With his party battling to dissuade the people from that notion and assuring that the PDP candidate would only spend four years in office, Useni’s main challenger, an unassuming but determined Governor Lalong is basking on that assumption. The central zone would much rather trust a Lalong who has four more years to complete the tenure of the southern zone following which the baton of leadership would revert to the central.
The governor enjoys wide acceptability not only among his large Goemai ethnic group, but also among various minority tribes. He has won the hearts of people living with disability and his restoration of chiefdoms as well as the creation of new ones and upgrading existing ones has earned him much popularity among minority tribes.
Lalong has also been consistent in paying workers’ salaries and arrears for pensioners. State civil servants and various labour unions seem at home with him. His ability to complete left over and abandoned projects with a recent bold move to repatriate Internally Displaced Persons has earned the governor additional praise.
But even as he enjoys wide acceptability, Lalong’s visible weakness is his inability to complete paltry road projects his administration initiated within neglected communities in Jos North. That has resulted to a lot of “murmuring” within the city centre.