BEVERLY HILLS, April 26, (THEWILL) – With the Plateau PDP house still in disarray, no thanks to the disputed state congress already set aside by the courts, the contest for the 2023 governorship ticket is rife and raging in closets and cleavages, with some of the party wigs insisting that relatively young aspirants be favoured to emerge to avoid the ‘mistake’ of 2019 which grated on the Party’s electoral appeal and fortunes leading to its shock loss of chance to recapture power. UKANDI ODEY reports on a political duel that has already produced splinter groups, divided ethnic frontiersmen, pitched allies against alliances, and set political camps and tents against one another.
At the recent zonal congress of the Peoples Democratic Party in Makurdi, Benue State, a scenario played out which had prefactory lash on the governorship intrigues percolating in the PDP in Plateau ahead of 2023. Former Niger State governor, Ibrahim Babangida Aliyu introduced and presented Professor Jerry Gana as PDP’s big catch in his state as part of ‘robust’ build up to the next general elections, Jonah David Jang, former governor of Plateau State, quickly asserted his state mileage and pedigree by introducing Bagudu Hirse, former Minister of state, Foreign Affairs, as their own big catch in Plateau. A lighter mood ensued momentarily, occasioned by banters that did not neutralise seething sentiments and the troubles stoking back home in Plateau.
Like the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, zoning arrangements in the Plateau PDP has put the 2023 governorship slot in the Central Senatorial District where Hirse, of Mwaghavul stock in Mangu Local Government Area, belongs. Other contending local government areas in the district include Pankshin, Kanke, Kanam, and Bokkos already ruled out because of former governor, Joshua Dariye, 1999-2007.
Bagudu Hirse, now an experienced and practiced governorship bidder, was defeated for the first time as the defunct National Republican Convention, NRC, candidate in 1991 by the equally erstwhile Social Democratic Party, SDP, candidate, Fidelis Tapgun. Until recently, he was a PDP renegade and political apostate. He abandoned the party ahead of 2015 election, was denied last minute attempt to squeeze into the sprouting APC, and later skirted with the austere Labour Party in 2019 where he was diminished and discountenanced in the polls proper, and abandoned to lick the wounds of his partisan nomadism.
Having reapplied and got accepted into the party, it is obvious for now that it may be an acceptance without assimilation and integration – a reality that Hirse is yet to reconcile with – as reactionary cliques and power blocs in the party view him scorrningly as a gold digger or fortune seeker. But Hirse is apparently desperate as he enters with a bang like an energy-full football game substitution, and is calling for the party’s number one ticket for 2023. He has been consulting and meandering through power and powerful blockades in the party like an old war horse, though without Trojan agility and fitness and finesse.
As it was the case for him to be appointed Minister of the federal republic in 2007, Hirse is again romancing and hobnobbing former governor Jonah Jang who no doubt is still in control of good measure of the party structures in the state. Although he is in the same age bracket with Jang, it is arguable that the former governor will trust him enough to work for him and deploy his structures to service his ambition. After he was nominated by the Jang administration and was eventually appointed Minister in the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua federal cabinet, he was quick to abandon Jang in very treacherous circumstances, and pitched tent with an incendiary group that crystalized a bitter opposition that haunted the Jang administration and gave birth to what came to be known in the state then as PDP Two. Jang could suffer a rebellion from his ranks and rungs if he attempts to impose Hirse against popular will and clamour.
Revered outside party circles and described quite often as “one of the illustrious sons of Plateau,” given his prolific public service accomplishments for the state, Hirse is no doubt eminently qualified for the office and job. But his troubles are many and arguably surmountable.
At more than 70 years old, age is ostensibly not in his favour. Those who stand against him in the party are drumming this truth at the slightest opportunity, noting that it counted against the party’s chances in 2019 when it fielded Jeremiah Useni whom the electorates shunned as too old, weak, and old-fashioned to run the state as governor. To this however, Hirse and his governorship salesmen have offered a whopping discount, promising that he will serve only one term of four years and yield the stage for another member of the party from the zone. Not even this offer has appeared carrot enough for his adversaries who are insisting that the average age of the contenders in the rival APC is far less.
Again, the zoning arrangement has not conferred absolute advantage on Hirse. There are other contenders from his Mwaghavul tribe in Mangu local government area, far younger, for which reason some of his tribesmen dismiss Hirse as a risk and miscalculation, as they cannot afford a single term and throw away incumbency advantage in 2027.
The Mwaghavul votes are a huge decider of governorship election in Plateau Central, and the people are wont to make a huge political capital and bargaining chip, knowing that the current deputy governor is their own, and other contending tribes as the Mupun in Pankshin and the Ngas in Pankshin and Kanke LGAs will factor this in as they negotiate for the same party ticket with other stakeholders.
Other majority tribes in the zone, that is Mupun and Ngas in Pankshin and Kanke are rigorously articulating their interest and approach to the game. They want to beat Mangu and its Mwaghavul people to it for several reasons including their cultural affinity with Bokkos that produced Joshua Dariye in 1999. It is also feared that the duo of Mupun and Ngas may decide to pull their resources together during primary, mobilize Kanam their geographically contiguous neighbour in the zone, and neutralise the Mwaghavul delegates and defeat Mangu and clinch the ticket.
Yet, there is a macro problem which Hirse shares with other aspirants on the PDP platform. There is a lingering crisis of leadership on the party which got worse with the manner and outcome of the last congress in which members of the State Working Committee were to be elected. A bitter rivalry between two retired Generals, Jeremiah Useni and Jonah David Jang, has balkanized the party into two rival factions, with each claiming right to the leadership in the state. The congress held last around November was controverted and boycotted, and eventually set aside as sham and unacceptable by a High Court.
At the zonal congress in Makurdi a fortnight ago, delegates from Plateau State purportedly elected as members of the State Working Committee during the controversial congress were barred from voting in order not to pollute the legality of the exercise.
Not much has been said of what the National Secretariat of the party is doing to restore normalcy and decorum and get the desired cohesion to work in unison towards 2023, in spite of the popular impression and gossip around the state that the ruling APC, through its actions and inactions, has conceded the state to the opposition in the next elections. In recent times, not much activities have been holding in the state secretariat of the party as it most often looks deserted and desolate. However, members of either divide have expressed hope that things will be sorted out soon for the party to reassert itself and wax stronger .
Two things are certain, though: if the PDP continues in crisis to the extent of affecting its preparedness and mobilisation for the elections,the way for the people may be the way back to Egypt. A rag-tag ruling APC may again appropriate undeserved victory to itself. In that case, it would be no victor, all vanquished for Hirse and challengers, leaving the party as its own albatross, and the dinosaur may sink thereafter.
On the other hand, if the PDP can tidy up and get its acts together, then an intriguing and interesting ticket seeking process is underway; suggesting that for Hirse and other aspirants, time and hours, will indeed go through a campaign in which age and other sentiments will separate eaglets and dinosaurs on the night before the morning.