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3 Rallies: The vote before the elections



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By Chris Gyang

Within the 3 days, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) kicked-off its rallies in the 3 senatorial zones of the state at 3 venues, it was apparent that Plateau had now transited beyond the usual hype, razzmatazz and hollow sloganeering that once characterised such events.

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Citizens assessed leadership, measured competence and interrogated government’s sincerity towards meeting their needs and keeping campaign promises with utmost integrity. adsbygoogle || []).push({}); Did the All Progressives Congress, APC, government in the state withstand the rigorous and objective scrutiny? We shall see.

During the 3 rallies, Plateau people across political party divides were already voting through their tumultuous and overwhelming attendance.

They massively demonstrated their frustrations, fury and rejection of the almost 8 years of the Lalong and Buhari administrations. They declared that, since they had not had such an organised and collective way of displaying their discontent since the last campaigns in 2019, this was an opportunity to, in a way, speak out – by showing solidarity with the Atiku/Mutfwang movement sweeping across the nooks and crannies of the state.

From Shendam to Bukuru and then Pankshin, citizens were not only making political statements but existential declarations that they must stand up and change the status quo. Clear the swamps and make our state habitable once again. And, as we have so far witnessed at the rallies, a popular struggle is afoot – for our democracy and, most significantly, for the salvation of Nigeria’s suffering masses.

And no politician is better placed to expose the soft underbelly of the ruling APC government, which has held Plateau State captive in the last 8 years, than Hon. Latep Dabang. Fondly known as ‘the masquerade’ for his rare political acuity and sagacity, he is today the Director-General of the Atiku/Mutfwang Campaign Council in the state, having dumped the APC in 2022 for its high-handedness in treating members who dare to oppose the imperious Governor Lalong and general lack of internal democracy. Prior to that, he had been APC’s state chairman. He also possesses an incredible hands-on experience of the state’s party politics.

At Shendam, he declared that the zonal rally marked the beginning of the end of the APC in the state and gave the assurance that, before February 25, 2023, APC would be completely forgotten as the people would have returned to the PDP, their original home. In Pankshin, he waxed prophetic when he compared the PDP gubernatorial candidate, Barrister Caleb Mutfwang, with the Biblical Caleb who, along with Joshua, famously guided the Israelites through the campaign that led to the collapse of the walls of Jericho. For Hon. Dabang, the walls of Jericho symbolise the current APC administration in Plateau State.

He regretted that when he and the APC campaigned in 2015 and the people gave them their votes, “Little did I know that I was fronting for confusion.” He further admitted that when they gave their word that they were going to make a difference in the lives of the people, they were only making empty promises to win votes. “The Pankshin-Lankang road has been abandoned,” he disclosed, saying that this was only one out of the many road projects they promised the people of that zone which have not been fulfilled.

“And now they still want Plateau people to support their gubernatorial candidate,” he announced, incredulous. In Hon. Dabang’s estimation, that is tantamount to telling Plateau people to continue on the path of backwardness.

“Yesterday,” he lamented, “I was the chief imam that brought Lalong and others. I regret that today….” However, “I thank PDP for giving me the opportunity to undo what I started…. We have seen darkness, injustice, lies, etc. I thank PDP for giving me the opportunity to correct the confusion we caused, especially here in the Central Zone.”

At all the rallies, he reeled out loads upon loads of the deceptions the APC administration in the state had dished out to citizens. The most visible are the so-called Lalong legacy projects. These have largely remained white elephant monstrosities that litter our local government areas, further accentuating and bringing into sharp relief the abject backwardness of our rural communities, no thanks to the APC.

Deliberately sited by the sides of the state’s key highways, the government’s intention was to give them undue visibility to boost the ego of an attention-seeking administration. But, alas, these projects have become mammoth, hooded, skeletons, displaying the incompetence of the administration for all to see.

Certainly, the masses trooping to these PDP rallies will never forget these relics of failure dotting the landscape of our state, which was once upon a time renowned to be a huge construction site due to the sheer pervasiveness of developmental projects being executed throughout its length and breadth. With a huge sense of nostalgia, Plateau people still remember that golden era of the Governor Jonah Jang (PDP) administration. But even if those good times seem to be a distant memory, there is still great enthusiasm and hope that things will soon change.

To further underscore the sloppiness and lack of vision and strategic planning that are the hallmarks of these projects, Hon. Dabang gave the example of a local government area were the foundation of a new ‘legacy’ health care facility was laid just opposite an existing one. The most logical and sensible thing to have been done was to simply channel such resources towards equipping and upgrading the existing facility to upgrade and standardise its functionality and effectiveness.

Senator Jang captured this state of confusion very succinctly during the Shendam rally thus: “Plateau people made a mistake in 2015 and we are regretting it because of the hardship, poverty and the government has no legacy to its name.” Nevertheless, he is still optimistic about the future because, “… I am certain that Mutfwang will not disappoint you.”

Therefore, the fact that tens of thousands of APC supporters abandoned it for the PDP during the 3 rallies should not come as a surprise. This further reaffirmed the strong belief that there is an urgent desire for change – the APC’s very own slogan when it did battle with the PDP in 2015 and 2019. But now, citizens are bent on giving the APC a much more generous dose of its own medicine, following its lacklustre outing in the last 8 years which has plunged the country into the quagmire of utter despair.

Even in the governor’s own political nest, Shendam, 17,000 members dumped his APC for the PDP. While receiving them, Plateau State PDP Chairman, Chris Hassan, assured them of a level playing ground in the party and urged them to work for the victory of all PDP candidates in the February and March general elections.

And Jos North, which Governor Lalong once boasted was the cradle of the APC in the state, was not spared this mass repudiation. Not less than 21, 524 of its members and those of other political parties in Plateau North Senatorial District defected to the PDP during the zonal rally held at Bukuru, Jos South LGA, on January 12, 2023. Party juggernauts who once stood by Governor Lalong publicly gave him the cold shoulder, so to say.

They were led by a one-time Minister of Information and Communication, Hon. Ibrahim Dasuki Nakande, who commands a large following in Jos North. They pledged their unalloyed commitment towards delivering all PDP candidates in the February and March general elections.

Apparently, they did not want to remain stranded in a ship inexorably headed for the rocks. This spectacle will remain a sore point that will haunt the APC even beyond the 2023 general elections as it has lost its key stronghold in the entire state to the PDP.

The APC that was gloating over a purported rift between Senator Jonah David Jang and the PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and desperately sought to make political capital out of it have now been permanently shut up, and for good. This is because, first, Senator Jang had at the 3 rallies stridently and in no uncertain terms appealed to PDP members to vote all of their candidates during the general elections – from the parliamentarians, to the governor, up to the president.

In fact, he never failed to emphasise that since 1999, no presidential candidate of the PDP had failed to win the majority votes in Plateau State. So 2023 will definitely not be an exception.

At the Shendam rally, he expressed delight that the PDP had presented a competent and credible gubernatorial candidate and declared: “APC is not a party for Plateau people, we are known with PDP and no presidential candidate of the party has ever lost an election since the return of democracy in 1999, we will do what we are known for.”

Second, there was also Atiku’s visit to Senator Jang when he came to the state to commiserate with the victims and condole with the families that lost their loved ones in the ghastly motor accident following the January 14 Pankshin rally. That went a long way in not only shaming the sceptics but showed the consolidation of their long-standing relationship. It was also a poignant expression of the fact that the PDP is poised to completely sweep the polls in Plateau State as one solid and united family.

Unlike those politicians given to tedious verbosity and mouthing platitudes, Barrister Caleb Mutfwang, the PDP gubernatorial candidate, had informed journalists at the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Press Centre, Jos, on January 9, that he would make governance more robust, proactive and accessible to the people so as to carry them along the developmental process.

He explained, “we will reform government processes, and if we find out in the course of the reform that certain things had been done wrongly, we will ensure they are blocked and people should be able to correct the mistakes they have made in the past.”

A lawyer, calm and collected, he always marshals out his vision and plans for Plateau State’s restoration off the cuff, without recourse to prepared notes. This is because he is in tune with and shares in the sad realities that have undergirded survival in Plateau State in the last 8 years, courtesy the APC.

While bemoaning the N200 billion debt hanging as an albatross on the neck of the state, Barrister Mutfwang submitted that it was already obvious that the task before him when elected governor in March would not be a tea party. But he promised that the PDP would harness all resources on ground to move the state out of the woods. “We are more than ready, we would leave no stone unturned in the quest of achieving this,” he assured.

During the 3 rallies, he was no less effusive, dynamic and full of empathy for the long-suffering people of the state. A realist who does not indulge in inchoate populist and bland rhetoric, he had asserted at the January 10, 2023, Shendam rally: “If we do not kill APC, APC will kill democracy and if we kill APC in 2023, democracy will survive. We are tired of deceit, bad governance, insecurity and poverty; go and collect your PVCs and vote for PDP candidates from top to bottom.”

He later declared to Plateau people at Bukuru: “Don’t allow anybody to deceive you, get your PVCs and resist the pressure of APC from buying your votes. We assure you that both women and the youths will be given adequate attention when we get into government.”

And at Pankshin, where another 43,857 persons decamped from the APC and other parties to the PDP, he promised that the people of the Central Zone would overwhelmingly vote all of the PDP’s candidates as a mark of gratitude to the people of the state for giving them the governorship ticket. He emphasised that, this time around, the Central Zone would match the Northern Zone in massively giving block votes to the PDP.

The APC’s wild and unsubstantiated allegation that aspirants who contested for the PDP gubernatorial ticket with Mutfwang were not supporting him was resolutely and resoundingly debunked in fact and principle as all of them were present at all 3 venues. Ambassador Bagudu Hirse, himself an aspirant, explained at Shendam that Plateau Central Zone, particularly the Mwaghavul people, had always supported candidates from the Southern Zone since the era of Ambassador Fidelis Tapgun, former governor of the state. Therefore, he reminded them, 2023 would present an opportunity for the Southern Zone to pay back by voting Barrister Mutfwang.

Professor Shadrach Best, another gubernatorial aspirant, stated at Pankshin that all of the 8 other aspirants were not only solidly behind Barrister Mutfwang but were actively and assiduously involved in his campaigns. This is because they firmly believe that Mutfwang is capable of restoring Plateau State to its former glory in accordance with the spirit and letter of the PDP’s fundamental principles. He revealed that an already sinking APC was further riven by its very contentious and fractious gubernatorial primaries which had driven some of the aggrieved aspirants to scamper for the tickets of other political parties to contest for the governorship and other elective positions. And the case is still in court.

Another remarkable aspect of the 3 rallies was the active participation of the nonagenarian, Ambassador Yahaya Kwande. A veteran politician and renowned statesman, he appealed to Plateau people to vote PDP for the prosperity of the state and Nigeria. At Pankshin, he described Barrister Mutfwang as a calm and patient person which, he said, were qualities of a great leader. He challenged him to be sympathetic to all Plateau people, irrespective of tribe and religion, when he becomes governor. While referring to Senator Jang as his dear junior brother, he extolled the former governor’s sterling leadership qualities and achievements which have placed him on the pantheon of the state’s most outstanding and cherished leaders.

We must pay glowing tribute to the 13 youth who died and others who sustained injuries in that motor accident on Saturday, January 14, 2023, after the Pankshin rally. As has been amply acknowledged, this was a great tragedy that affected not only the immediate families of those affected but the entire PDP household and indeed the nation as a whole. We must commend the unquantifiable love and empathy Atiku Abubakar, Barrister Caleb Mutfwang, other party leaders and members showed the families of the bereaved and the injured.

The PDP national secretariat and the presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, also donated N10 million and N30 million respectively for the welfare of the accident victims. This is a practical demonstration of the fact that the PDP is abundantly imbued with the milk of human kindness. The Platea State PDP has since set up high powered committed to raise more funds towards this humanitarian cause and administer same. This will go a long way in ensuring accountability and equitable dispensing of the resources.

Furthermore, that the party’s flags were flown at half-staff at the PDP’s national and Plateau State secretariats was great testimony to the sacrifices these fallen PDP members made towards the furtherance of our democracy. It was therefore very fitting that Barrister Caleb Mutfwang, the Plateau State PDP gubernatorial candidate, referred to them as “heroes of our democracy.”

That said, the 3-day rallies held in the 3 senatorial zones were an embodiment of a new spirit engendered by the hope brought about by the glowing prospects of a Mutfwang/Piyo governorship. After about eight gruelling years of a stifling APC government, this movement for political, social and economic justice was a much-needed breath of fresh air.

You could not tell whether the anti-APC sentiment was stronger and more visible in Governor Lalong’s Shendam or Pankshin, the APC gubernatorial candidate’s geopolitical turf. But in both areas it was apparent that the people had unequivocally voted against both men and the APC by their unprecedented and tumultuous turn-out. Bukuru was no exception.

That reaffirmation of faith in the ability of the PDP to restore to the state its former glory was re-enacted for 3 glorious days, in 3 local government areas, in 3 senatorial zones. Consequently, Plateau people have unanimously and unequivocally resolved and voted to pitch their tent with the PDP – even before the general elections on February 25 and March 11, 2023.

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