Lalong’s long battle to renew mandate

ISAAC SHOBAYO writes on the long-drawn legal battle between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over the 2019 governorship poll in Plateau State.

 

Since the Peoples Democratic Party lost one of its strongholds in the country, Plateau State, to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015, the PDP has been making concerted efforts to regain the state. However, the APC through its party leader, Governor Simon Lalong ensures it consolidate its grip on power having realized thta the victory of the party in 2015 was as a result of protest votes against the PDP and former Governor Jonah Jang. The Latter alleged to have circumvented the zoning arrangement in the state to foist the late Senator Gyang Pwarjok his kinsman on the party.

The 2019 election was seen as an opportunity by the PDP on the Plateau to regain the power In the election, the APC candidate, Lalong won with a wide margin. Dissatisfied, PDP governoship candidate Lt- Gen Jeremiah Useini (retd) and the party alleged malpractices and approached the Election Petition Tribunal on the premise that  that he scored the highest number of  valid votes cast in the March 9, 2019. Useni equally alleged that Lalong did not win the election but used the power of incumbency to rig the election. He contested the governor’s academic qualifications alleging anomaly in the certificates presented to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

However, the lower tribunal ruled that the petitioners did not move further to substantiate their claim or prove of evidence. It was held that since Lalong obtained his WAEC examination in 1982, he used the same certificate in gaining admission to School of Basic Studies and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where he bagged a BA in Law up to second degree, adding that he is the owner of the certificate and further resolved that the second respondent Lalong is the owner of the certificate and that all the four different names were link to him.

Not convinced by the judgment of the lower tribunal, Gen Useini approached Court of Appeal, where the Court further affirmed the election of Simon Lalong as the duly elected governor of Plateau State. The appellate court, in its final judgment, dismissed the appeal filed by the Peoples Democratic Party governorship candidate, Useni , challenging Lalong’s victory.

In spite of this, Useni refused to succumb and cave in to the pressure that he should abide by the judgment of Appeal Court. He held on tenaciously to the conviction that the evidences in his possessed were enough to prove that he won the election and also that Governor Lalong was not qualified to contest the election in the first place.

Apparently dissatisfied, Useni took the matter to the Supreme Court in its judgment upheld Lalong’s victory. It held that the constitutional requirements for any person contesting for governor are that, he must be a citizen of the country, must have attained the age of 35, must belong to a political party and must have at least a primary school certificate.

Justice Galinje said Mr Lalong satisfied all the requirements by law and added, that the “appellants failed to prove that the election was not conducted in substantial compliance with the electoral act. On the whole, this appeal fails and it is dismissed by law.”

The 11-month of legal tussle sealed by the Supreme Court in favour of Lalong. In his reaction to the judgment, Lalong said the affirmation of his election victory had finally confirmed the overwhelming mandate willingly bestowed on him by the electorate. He said he was sure of victory because he did not only campaign and engaged all stakeholders, but also delivered on his campaign promises during the first tenure. He said: «I again dedicate this victory to God and the people of Plateau State irrespective of their political, social, religious or ethnic affiliations. The highest court in the land has stamped the mandate I was given and this means that our administration is now clear of litigation distractions. The time now is for governance and actualisation of our next level agenda encapsulated in our 3 point vision of peace, security and good governance; Infrastructural development and sustainable economic rebirth.”

In his reaction, Gen Usen called on all stakeholders, officials and supporters of the PDP, as well as the people of Plateau State to remain calm, peaceful, and avoid any form of provocation. He declared: «It has been a long struggle to get to this point in our sustained and vigorous efforts toward freeing the people of Plateau from the new form of retrogressive politics and people-alienating governance that we have come to witness in recent years in our dear State. I salute and thank you all for your support, hard work and perseverance. Let us then stand together and keep the party going. Do not trade blames. It won›t lead to any good destination. It is also no time for mourning. After all, we all fought gallantly together. Our best is yet to come. So, let us face the future with pride, confidence and dignity. As long as God gives us breath, we must keep as our enduring agenda the vision for the total security, unity and prosperity of the people as our state.”

Many believe Plateau is strategic to both the APC and PDP hence the determination of the latter to fight on and the quest by the former not to take anything for granted in the course of the litigation. President Muhammadu Buhari attested to this in his reaction to the Supreme Court judgment when he declared that losing Kano and Plateau would have been a blow to his party and indeed his government.

It is generally believed that Plateau is a political gateway to other states in the Middle Belt. Whatever happens in the state usually has domino effects on the nighbouring states. The PDP dominated the political space on the Plateau for 14 years before it slipped into the hands of the APC in 2015. Since then, the party has succeeded in putting the PDP in disarray.

Now that the battle has been lost and won, the public expectation is that Governor Lalong would give governance more attention so as to surpass the achievements of his first term in office.

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