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Useni And Lalong’s Long Walk To Victory

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In this report ACHOR ABIMAJE  writes on the power play that ensued in the build up to the Plateau governorship rerun

There was wild jubilation last Sunday,  in most parts of Jos  the Plateau State capital and Shendam  the country home of Governor  Simon Lalong when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared him winner of the  governorship   election in the state.

He was the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Returning officer and  Vice Chancellor of University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Prof. Richard Anande Kimber declared that Lalong polled 595, 582 votes to defeat his closest rival, Sen. Jeremiah Useni of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who polled 546, 813 votes.

The declaration came after supplementary election was conducted in 40 polling units in nine local government areas of the state.

The council areas where rerun held are Pankshin, Barkin Ladi, Bassa, Mangu, Jos North, Langtang South, Bokkos, Kanam and Shendam.

The jubilation came regardless of the fact that APC was already poised to win at first ballot which held on March 9 as the lead margin between the parties was 44,992 while the total cancelled votes is 49,377. Still, the returning officer Prof. Richard Anamde declared supplementary election which held on March 23.

The election was never going to be easy. For a state that was always under the control of the PDP until 2015, the contest was poised to be tough and it was. What’s more, the decision of Sen Useni to join the race having served over 20 years ago as an influential member of the Gen Sani Abacha regime, albeit as minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), was indicative of how intense the battle was going to be. He later emerged the candidate of the PDP.

A major highlight of the election battle was when Useni accused Lalong of spending the N20 billion rehabilitation funds released to the state on his reelection campaign.

Useni who stated this during a press conference in Jos alleged that the APC administration spent the fund on vote buying.

“20 billion naira given to Plateau State by the Federal Government to help in the rehabilitation of those internally displaced persons affected during the crisis, but Lalong has spent the money in trying to buy Plateau voters, and we all know that Lalong government has not done anything.

“Lalong lied to Plateau Citizens that he has rehabilitated over 2000 of those affected, but we were all aware of the protest that followed that statement, for the past four years, he has not done anything good for Plateau state”.

But in a swift reaction to the allegation, Mr Mark Longyen SSA media to the governor, described the allegation as despicable, malicious and nauseating.

“How on earth would a septuagenarian, a retired general and a supposed elder statesman condescend so low to malign the person of the governor with such barefaced lie all in the name of politics?”

He added “As I speak to you, the state is yet to receive a single dime from the Federal Government for the resettlement of IDPs. Ordinarily, Useni ought to be charged to court for this malicious allegation and be compelled to produce evidence to back his claim, failing which he must face the full wrath of the law,” the governor’s media aids fumed.

With the election won and lost, Lalong in his post-election address said his victory is a clarion call to deliver dividends of democracy along the 5-point Policy Thrusts of his administration.

He added, “With gratitude to God Almighty, on behalf of myself and the Deputy Governor, I sincerely thank you all. We whole-heartedly accept this mandate to serve for a second and final term with all the humility it deserves. Above all, we accept this mandate by equally soliciting your usual cooperation and partnership as we strive to sustain the execution of our mandate.”

Lalong noted that the outcome of the exercise in the state was clearly an amazing show of confidence and trust. It was also referendum on the other most cherished principles of Unity and Peace as well as affirmation of the desire to move to the Next Level.

“Moving to the next level in the light of equality and inclusiveness, which are core values fundamentally located in the heart of the Plateau spirit that speak to the sense of communality, diverse ethnicity, mutual respect, tolerance, peace, hospitality, humility and diligence.

“Let me use this opportunity to urge my fellow citizens to regard this victory at the polls as victory for the whole of Plateau, with no victor, no vanquished. We had a dream, which we collectively and tirelessly worked towards achieving and succeeded.

“To me, this victory is a mark of honour and clarion call for consolidation of our gains and the sustainable peaceful coexistence for the good of the State. Together, we will do more. I urge all citizens to celebrate in harmony with even the opposition without harassment, intimidation and provocative statements against any person or group.“

He however congratulated his co-contestants for their mature conduct during and after the electioneering campaigns. “I also extend my hands of friendship and urge you to share in the patriotic zeal of building a virile Plateau so that we can bequeath a positive and lasting legacy for the younger generations.”

But Useni said the results announced by INEC is not acceptable to them.

While speaking to newsmen on the outcome of the polls, he said, we have every reason to believe that justice has so far not been done to our people in this election, because of massive rigging and electoral shortcomings; After due consultation, I hereby state that the results announced by INEC are not acceptable to us.”

He further stressed “Consequently, we have requested our legal team to activate all the due processes to reclaim our cherished mandate;  I give you my word that we will pursue this matter diligently, and by the grace of God, we will overturn and recover the people’s mandate.”

According to Baba Maituwo as he is fondly called, the Restoration Agenda is for the soul of Plateau State, until its glory is restored. While thanking all leaders, stakeholders, members and supporters of the PDP for their commitment, hard work and sacrifices so far, he appealed for unity within  the ranks of the party.

Already there are insinuations in some quarters that over 200 lawyers have volunteered to battle Lalong in court for Useni at the tribunal .

A PDP chieftain, Nde Alexander Molwus also alleged that the governorship rerun was characterised by vote buying and other electoral iregularities.

“As you can see from the mood of the people of the state when Lalong was announced winner of the election by INEC the entire state was as quiet as grave yard . There is no form of jubililation.”

He claimed that even APC members were not happy when Lalong was declared winner as the governor noting that a second term for this administration would see the people of the state become poorer.

Molwus expressed confidence in the judiciary adding that with the overwhelming evidence on ground, there is going to be light at the end of the tunnel.

However, there was jubilation at the headquarters of the campaign office of Governor Lalong in the early hours of Sunday morning as the news started making the rounds that he has won.

A supporter of Lalong and stalwart of the APC in Plateau,  Alhaji Nagelu Garba who spoke to our correspondent about the Victory of Lalong,  thanked the people of the state for the support shown to Gov Lalong.

He said “ I was  confident that the APC would emerge victorous at the supplementary elections because of the good works the governor has done in Plateau .”

Assuring the people of Plateau are behind Lalong, he stated that the governor would continue to provide more dividends of democracy to people of the state.

A youth activist in the state, Comrade Pius Hoomen in a congratulatory statement to the governor on his victory, further commend the people of the state for returning Lalong, saying that he is confident that the elected will continue to provide the dividends of democracy to the good people of the state.

“The government of Lalong  will not take for granted the confidence the people have reposed in him, as a workaholic person, he will definitely take the state to the next level,” he said.

Hoomen, added “His (Lalong) victory will ensure taking action, getting results and working  for the people of Plateau State. Also ensuring people oriented projects and programmes that will impact on the lives of the people”.

In the same vein, senior special assistant to governor Lalong on media and publicity Mr. Mark Longyen said the victory is a referendum on Lalong’s excellent scorecard in his first tenure.

According to him,  the people have spoken and the governor’s victory is an endorsement of the Rescue Phase 1 Agenda and by extension, an approval of Rescue Phase 2 in his second term.

The chairman of Mikang local government council and ALGON state chairman, Hon. Ezekiel Volgap and his counterpart in Quanpan local government council, Isaac Kuchili in their separate reactions said the victory of governor Lalong at the poll is well deserved as the people of the state have spoken through their votes because of the confidence they have on him.

According to them, the governor in his second tenure will consolidate on what he has started in his first tenure particularly in the area of Agriculture, education, infrastructural development and peace which, for them, is the needed rock of any development, stressing that the governor is a peace builder and a lover of peace in the state.

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