June 20, (THEWILL)- The chestnut is in the fire in the Plateau State chapter of the All Progressives Congress. The party is embroiled in an internal crisis resulting from a clash of interests between its chairman and the governor of the state, Simon Lalong, who is also the leader of the party in the state.
At the root of the crisis is an amorphous group within the party, which calls itself the Concerned APC Patriots. On June 3, 2021, members of the group addressed a press conference in which they presented a multi-coloured impression of the fallen chairman, Letep Dabang, brought weighty accusations against him and charged him for anti-party conduct and unmitigated high handedness, which saw him running the party’s secretariat like a “Leteb Dabang Foundation”.
One of Dabang’s miscalculations, which his traducers highlighted, is his declaration of interest in the forthcoming governorship election in the state on the platform of the APC. His ambition to succeed Lalong as the executive governor of Plateau has transcended the realm of speculation, as his posters have been found at different locations in the state.
Without a disclaimer on the posters, it is assumed that Dabang himself is behind the project, for which reason some of the party faithful feel he should have voluntarily stepped aside as chairman of the party in the interest of fairness and good conscience. But there is more to it than meets the eye and the ‘patriotic’ conscience of the ‘Concerned APC Patriots’.
The fire started stoking when the Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission (PLASIEC) announced a timetable and its readiness to conduct local government councils elections on October 8, 2021. This development put all the political parties willing to participate in the exercise on their marks.
For the ruling APC, the stakes couldn’t have been lower or less. For both Lalong and Dabang, party leader and chairman, respectively, it was not the time to delegate power or deploy functions, especially in the critical area of setting out guidelines that would regulate party members – especially aspirants – during the exercise.
Twice a meeting of stakeholders convened by Lalong at the Government House in Jos merely stretched into the night but ended inconclusively, no thanks to the dichotomy in the positions canvassed by Lalong and Dabang as regards how candidates of the party for the local government polls should emerge. On both occasions, Lalong ended with undisguised anger and annoyance with the submissions of Leteb whose script was united with his own only in their parallel and self-serving details.
For instance, Dabang was said to have unilaterally, as chairman of the party, favoured automatic tickets for incumbent local government chairmen, who are willing to run again, while Lalong reportedly objected to that, preferring a more inclusive arrangement in which candidates would emerge from the delegates’ options.
On both occasions, it was actually a night of tempests occasioned by boastful but bitter exchanges, forcing Governor Lalong to appropriate victory to himself by calling the meeting to a close with executive arrogance and callousness.
However, the lessons of the rowdy meetings were eloquent in both content and context. Dabang’s insistence on his own guidelines indicated boldly to Lalong and his foot soldiers that he underrated the governor and desired to take one step ahead of him by preempting who emerges as candidate.
Secondly, Lalong saw himself more as governor than party leader. He considered Dabang’s effrontery as an uncommon affront, which should be dealt with with political banality and contextual finality – the logic being that once he loses the platform, he will also lose the voice, relevance, and all appurtenances thereto.
For his current travails, many have blamed Leteb for proceeding without the benefit of hindsight: Ever since Obasanjo introduced the nebulous position of ‘party leader’ into political party structure in Nigeria, no party chairman has ever fought the party leader and won!
Eight days after the ‘Concerned APC Patriots’ launched the offensive at a press conference and after two nights of turbulence and turmoil, without a grand finale, on June 11, the national Secretariat of the APC slammed a suspension order on Leteb, over alleged “anti-party activities”.
The letter of suspension, signed by John James Akpanudoedehe, Secretary, Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, states quite unambiguously, “The party is in receipt of a correspondence suspending you from office as the Chairman of the Caretaker Committee of the Plateau State chapter of our party over anti-party activities. Your suspension as contained in a document endorsed by members of the state executive committee and the executive governor of your state cannot be ignored.”
Although the suspension order was kind enough to hint at a “pending investigation” to determine the veracity or otherwise of the charges, it is arguable whether Leteb will have the privilege of returning to office as Plateau State Chairman of the APC. Apart from the reality that the forces against him are unyielding and closing in with tactical consolidation by the day, Dabang’s governorship ambition is his albatross.
Being a bona fide citizen of Plateau Central Senatorial District (Pankshin LGA) whose turn it is to produce the next state governor come 2023, Leteb’s ambition is not well received by Lalong, who is said to be more favourably disposed to the ambition of another Plateau Central Citizen from the Kanke Local Government Area. The suspension of Dabang is designed and calculated to hound him out of the party. Having served as chairman of the State APC for more than two terms, it will be naïve to discountenance his pedigree and reach. As he rues his suspension, or as ‘investigation’ into the charges against him continues, the Lalong war machine will continue an aggressive quest to neutralise his counter-offensive.
By and large, the forces on both sides are determined, just as the duel holds the prospects of denigrating fortunes for the APC in the local government elections and the general elections in 2023.
Already, both sides have to admit that the suspension has given rise to some issues in the party and factions have been created with Lalong and Dabang heading either platoon. Given the time and stakes, it is a fight-to-finish contest with a huge potential to spiral across senatorial borders. Whichever way it goes and whoever wins, it will be at a price to the APC. It may end up as an unnecessary war fought for selfish reasons over spoils that belong to the generality of Plateau people to decide.