Following the recent demise of the senator representing Plateau South senatorial district at the National Assembly, Ignatius Longjan, underground scheming and maneuvering have commenced for his replacement.
The senator died on February 10, 2020 after a brief illness and his funeral service/requiem mass took place at the St Louis Catholic Church in Jos, the Plateau State capital, while the interment held at his country home of Qua’anpan. The deceased was a senator on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who defeated the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) candidate, Peter Dandam Kefas in the keenly contested 2019 election. He was the deputy chairman, Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism prior to his death.
Longjan was also a chief of staff to a former governor of the state, Jonah Jang and later became deputy governor to Jang. Although the people of the senatorial district are still in mourning mood over the demise, it was, however, learnt that underground scheming and intrigues for his replacement has since begun among politicians, political parties and other stakeholders. For now, the two major contending parties strategising to occupy the seat include the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP.
The body language of the other political parties does not suggest that they will field candidates. A candidate of the Green Party of Nigeria (GPN) in the 2019 election told our correspondent that they would have taken a shot at the contest to replace Longjan, but their party was among those de-registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The Plateau South senatorial district, where a candidate is expected to emerge from, comprises six local government areas namely, Langtang North, Langtang South, Mikang, Qua’anpan, Shendam and Wase. For the APC, there are many interested persons jostling to replace the senator. Among the people speculated to be interested in the seat are Stephen Teel from Qua’anpan, Nanvel Nimfel from Wase, John Dafaan from Qua’anpan and Victor Lapang from Qua’anpan. Teel and Nimfel both contested the APC primaries with the late Longjan, while Dafaan was a chief of staff to Governor Lalong. Lapang, on his part, is the current commissioner for sports in Plateau State.
Another person who contested the APC primaries with Longjan is the current Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, whom some said might be interested in the contest. Her case is likened to that of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, who was supposed to contest for a rerun election of Akwa Ibom North-West, which was cancelled. The election held in January, and Akpabio, who is of the APC, was supposed to run against his PDP opponent, Chris Ekpenyong, who earlier won the election in 2019. But Akpabio had already been made a minister and only half-heartedly participated in the rerun.
His participation in the rerun was after the INEC blocked his intention to withdraw from the election or be replaced. The election went ahead while Akpabio still maintained his ministerial position. Ekpenyong won easily and went back to the Senate, while Akpabio remained in his position as minister. For Akpabio, there was nothing to lose. When contacted over Tallen’s intention, her personal assistant, Bala Baba Mohammed, said his boss was still mourning the death of her elder brother and that of Longjan, hence she was not talking politics. According to Mohammed, Tallen’s brother was buried last Saturday in Shendam, while burial of Longjan took place last Monday.
“She is still deeply mourning and doesn’t quite have any position or willing to say anything about it for now,” he said. Meanwhile, it was learnt that there are some persons within the APC fold that are pushing the idea that the wife of the late senator, Maureen Longjan be considered as replacement for her husband. Those who belong to this school of thought and pushing for it have also been gaining ground lately. It was, however, gathered that Governor Lalong, Tallen and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, who is from Wase, Ahmed Idris Wase, will sit to bring out a consensus candidate.
The said meeting, it was understood, would happen any moment from now. The essence of the meeting is to bring out a consensus candidate so as to avoid multiple number of aspirants from the party, who may become aggrieved if they lose and work against the party at the polls. In the case of the PDP, there are indications that the odds would favour Peter Kefas, who earlier contested against Longjan. He still appears to remain their best candidate because of the weight he pulled at the last election.
Many PDP faithful believed they would have won the last election if not for alleged rigging by the ruling party. And since no known PDP member has yet openly shown interest in contesting, people are generally not looking at any other candidate except Kefas. But some officials of the party, who preferred anonymity, told our correspondent that many party faithful, officials and constituents were rooting for George Daika, a former Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly and former member of the House of Representatives for Mikang, Qua’anpan and Shendam constituency. They said those rooting for Daika were growing stronger and would likely spring a surprise eventually because of his antecedents when he was the Speaker of the state House of Assembly and a federal lawmaker.
Commenting on the chances of his party at the polls, the public relations officer of the APC, Chindo Dafat, said the party was prepared and still confident of winning the seat. He cited their strength in the zone, as well as their high number of elected members in the state and federal legislature. He said Governor Lalong is from the zone (Shendam) and still commands good authority and enjoys the goodwill of the people. “That is an eloquent evidence that we will surely win back the seat,” he said.
On party members aspiring for the position, he said no one had officially contacted the party about his or her ambition. He said the APC had no anointed candidate for now, adding, “This is democracy and everybody is free to contest”. He, however, said the party might sit down to discuss and urge others to either step down or come up with a consensus candidate because they do not want too many people coming out to contest for the position, so as to avoid complications.
His PDP counterpart, John Akans, told our correspondent that unlike the APC, where some party members have already indicated interest to contest Longjan’s position, they in the PDP have not, as they are still mourning his demise because he was a statesman and an elder to all. Akans, however, said they were also prepared, and should INEC give them notice to that effect, they would spring into action and give all aspirants a level playing ground.
He assured that the PDP would not have any problem in fielding a candidate because they would follow the party’s constitution and the electoral act. He, however, added that they would look at the advantages or disadvantages of everything before choosing a candidate. Akans said the PDP would win because people were dissatisfied with the APC-led government at all levels.
On the issue of APC’s political strength in the southern zone due to the high number of elected political office holders there, Akans said they all got there through electoral manipulation, which he said was not the reality of things on ground. So, with political scheming and mourning at the same time, claims and counterclaims, as well as all the political intrigues, interesting days are surely ahead.