It is not strange that presidential campaigns have captured the interest of many Nigerians in the run-up to the elections for executive and legislative positions at the federal and state levels. Normally, the presidential election tends to draw a lion’s share of the attention of citizens, but right now, the controversy over zoning and resistance to the idea of a Northern candidate replacing an outgoing president of Northern origin have given more prominence to it. However, ethnic and zonal issues are not only restricted to the presidential seat; they are also present at the state level and can be found in governorship election buildups. Nevertheless, Plateau State seems not to have this problem, as unwritten agreements on power shifts between the three senatorial districts have been adhered to one way or another, with a majority of the key gubernatorial candidates coming from the Plateau Central Senatorial District after governors emerged from the Northern Senatorial District (Jonah Jang) and the Southern Senatorial District, which was represented by the outgoing governor, Simon Lalong. The Central Senatorial District had the position when Joshua Dariye won in 1999 and now gets another chance with candidates from the zone being chosen by the All Progressives Congress, the Peoples Democratic Party and a host of other parties, so there is no party positioned to benefit from zonal discontent over a candidate’s origin.
Nonetheless, the different political parties have their various candidates: Dr. Nentawe Yilwada is the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)’s candidate, while the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is represented by Caleb Mutfwang. Others are Samuel Abashe of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Manji Gontori of the Young Progressives Party (YPP), Dr. Patrick Dakum of the Labour Party (LP) and Luka Panpe of the Peoples’ Redemption Party (PRP), but the key candidates to look out for are those from the APC and PDP.
The APC’s 52-year-old candidate, Dr Nentawe Yilwatda, was a lecturer at the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, and the national commissioner of INEC. Furthermore, he has a background in digital systems and energy engineering, and he is liked by some sections of the younger generation, even though he is facing accusations that his candidature came from an imposition by the outgoing governor, Simon Lalong. This might make the contest more difficult for the APC in a state that is unhappy with the insecurity from herdsmen attacks that were rumoured to be enabled by elements in the Federal Government. Similarly, Caleb Mutfwang, the PDP’s candidate, who is just five years older than his APC rival, and former chairman of the Mangu Local Government Area, has had his fair share of struggles. The intra-party disputes around his ticket are more related to his choice of a trained legal practitioner, Mrs Josephine Piyo, as his running mate than anything else.
On the other hand, the LP’s candidate, Yohanna Mangif, who also hails from Plateau’s Central Senatorial District, is in the position to be the “Kwankwaso” of the Plateau governorship race because the LP’s presidential campaign has made blocs of Southeastern votes available, that could be decisive when paired with the indigenous support Mangif already has. Another notable reason why he can be seen as the “Kwakwanso” of Plateau is because while he’s unlikely to win, his capacity to garner considerable public support may weaken the chances of whoever is counting on the votes in the places where he is prominent.
Efforts to resolve the disputes surrounding the candidates have been unsuccessful. Therefore, Plateau might not be dealing with acute zonal disunity, but, as the election approaches, there are other issues battling a hassle-free electoral process in the state.