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Disquiet in Jos as Plateau plans to abandon North-South zoning

 In the build-up to the 2007 elections, there was concern among party members about maintaining fairness to all the zones in the state which shifted…

 In the build-up to the 2007 elections, there was concern among party members about maintaining fairness to all the zones in the state which shifted sympathy to the Northern Senatorial Zone due to the perceived marginalization of the zone from the governance of the state.  

Both the Southern and the Central zones have produced a governor for the state while the Northern Zone has not. The Southern Zone produced a governor in the old Plateau State when Chief Solomon Lar became the first civilian governor on the platform of the Nigeria People’s Party (NPP), He was able to complete the first tenure as he reigned as governor between 1979 and 1983 and won a second term which was truncated by the military three months later.

Afterwards, Sir Fidelis Tapgun who hails from Shendam, also in the Southern Senatorial Zone of Plateau became governor in 1991 but was sacked along with his other colleagues by the late Sani Abacha who took over in 1993.

Chief Joshua Dariye who hails from the Bokkos Local Government Area got the nod of the PDP and later won to govern the state for two consecutive terms between1999 and 2007. By 2007 when Dariye was billed to hand over, the cry of marginalization by the Northern Zone of the state which had aspirants like the incumbent governor Jonah Jang, the former Minister of Sports, Damisihi Sango, the former commissioner, Sam Galadima, the former Deputy Senate President, John Wash Pam and the former Military Governor, Col.  John Dungs looked too serious to be ignored.

 As an indication of how serious the issue had become, all the major parties then, including the PDP, the Action Congress (AC), the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), with the exception of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Labour Party (LP), which fielded candidates from the Southern Zone all had their candidates from the Northern Zone.

 Now that elections are here again, some issues challenging the  fairness of insisting it was still the turn of the Northern Zone have cropped up. In contention is whether the Northern Zone has the moral right to claim marginalization after Jang would have completed his tenure.

 The argument is that by the time Jang would have completed four years, the difference between the period spent by the Southern and Northern zones in governing the state would almost be at par, which automatically punctures any claim of any particular zone not being fairly treated.

A gubernatorial aspirant who does not want his identity revealed said the difference will not be much given that in addition to the four-year stay of Jang, his kinsman, Chief Michael Botmang had spent about six months on the seat when Dariye was illegally removed as governor in 2006.

 The aspirant said this gives both the northern and southern zones by the time Jang would have completed his present tenure, roughly a term each but with the south still having some months ahead insisting that the tenure of Tapgun which was truncated by the military cannot be counted as a term.

Recently too the state governor did not help matters when he contributed to the debate on zoning at the national level where he said the principle should be jettisoned. Jang said the nation has outgrown zoning arrangement and that it would be better for the nation to realize this.

 The comment by the governor has been held as an indication that he has accepted that the theory be applied in his own case is wrong since he cannot be championing the jettisoning of the zoning principle at the national level and clamour for its application at the state level.

Recently at a lecture organized by Senator John Shagaya at Shendam, the mood of the majority of the people there was for the Southern Zone to field a candidate. This, by implication, means challenging the zoning principle.

 The Southern Senatorial Zone is convinced it has enough reasons to go for the governorship seat. Since the Jang administration the zone has also been crying of marginalization both in terms of locating of projects by the present administration and in terms of appointments.

 Majority leader of the Plateau State House of Assembly Joseph Bukar was more direct when he told the gathering at Shendam that while other zones in the state have shown interest in the number one political office in the state, the South should show a similar interest as having one of its won would serve better the interest of the zone.

In the past, people like Senator Cosmos Niagwan,  Sir Fidelis Tapgun, Jimmy Cheto , John Alkali and Victor Lar have shown interest in vying for  the seat. In the present dispensation, however, only Jimmy Cheto and Victor Lar, among those from the zone, have come out openly to say they are interested in the governorship seat in 2011.

But there are indications that the present Deputy Governor, Pauline Tallen who also hails from the zone, and Sir Fidelis Tapgun as well as John Alkali might be interested but are only waiting for the coast to clear before they throw their hats into the ring.

If the people of the southern part of the state decide to pick up the gauntlet and run, the beautiful bride to woo would remain the Central Zone which seems to have accepted that it would not be morally right for them to show interest in the seat for now as none of them has since 2007 come out to declare any interest.

Both the south and the northern senatorial zones have six local government areas each, but the northern zone usually beats its chest about having an upper hand in electoral contests due to high population.

But the high population of non-indigenes and others considered as settlers in the zone, analysts contend, also provides a good ground for a bargain with any other candidate since they cannot be swayed by the same sentiments of geography.

Former Governor Solomon Lar, while reacting to a question on the zoning principle, said such principles did not guide elections during his time as the people voted for leaders they could rely on. He however did not comment on whether or not the principle should hold sway in the present dispensation in the state.

Those who are said to be interested in running for the seat from the Northern Zone in the present dispensation include the incumbent; Jonah Jang, Chief Damishi  Sango, Chris Giwa  and Danladi Atu.

It is not clear how each of the aspirants will fare in penetrating the other zones when push comes to shove, but the major strategy by aspirants in the past was to appoint their running mates from the zones they perceive as likely to give them the most challenge.

In 2007 Jimmy Cheto, running on the platform of the Labour Party, appointed his running mate from the Northern Zone, while Jang, and PD Gyang of the PDP and AC respectively, appointed theirs from the Southern Zone.

The weight of Jang’s running mate, compared to that of PD Gyang of the AC helped in no small measure to win the votes for Jang. But a major revelation in the present experience is how the office e of the deputy governor can be rendered ineffective by the governor if he chooses to. With Tallen deputizing in the past three years, the people of the Southern Zone seem to have realized that no matter how influential the holder of the office of the deputy governor is, his exercise of authority is at the discretion of the boss. Popular opinion in the state is that Tallen has been muzzled.

 

Faced with the prospects of having either a governor or a deputy, it is now clear where the people will vote. The fear, however, is that if the North is not allowed to have a second term, whoever emerges may want to have two terms and that will also re-enact the pre-2007 situation where the gap between one zone being in office for far more period than the other became too glaring to ignore.

In the present dispensation, the governor is from the North while the deputy is from the South. The Central Zone produces the speaker of the state legislature and the party chairman. It is not clear how who will get what if the present formula is discarded.

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