JOS – Governor Simon Lalong, the fifth civilian governor of Plateau State, is an Ajikamai-born politician from Shendam Local government of the state, who rose from a humble background to political limelight by devine grace.
Despite all odds against him in the 2019 governorship election, Lalong won his re-election against Senator Jeremiah Useni, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate and 18 others.
Lalong, a lawyer, before becoming the state governor in 2015, was a two-term Speaker of Plateau State House of Assembly, between 1999 and 2007 during the tenure of Senator Joshua Dariye, who later landed into trouble during the Yelwa/Shendam crisis that led to the declaration of the state of emergency in the state. This led to the suspension of Dariye from office for six months.
Lalong, then a speaker, turned down the offer of becoming the governor made by then President Olusegun Obasanjo, who had summoned him to Aso Rock, Abuja for consultations. Lalong would have become an Acting Governor if he had accepted Obasanjo’s offer which would have seen Dariye out of Plateau Government House then. Lalong rejected the offer as it was not constitutional.
Lalong endured all the political troubles he suffered during Dariye’s period for remaining on the side of the law. Dariye’s tenure ended in 2007.
Lalong had to wait again for two terms of Governor Jonah Jang, who took over from Dariye in 2007 to 2015 before relaunching himself into the state under the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC), to contest the 2015, when he the governorship election against the late Senator Gyang Nyam Shom Pwajok of the PDP and won, even though he was not seen as a favoured candidate.
In the politics of Plateau State, one thing that plays vital role is zoning. There is unwritten agreement by the people of the state to zone the governorship seat to each of the three senatorial zones in the state to spend eight years each in office in form of rotational arrangement.
This political arrangement played out in 2015 in favour of Lalong, who hails from Southern Senatorial District against his opponent, the late Senator Pwajok from Northern senatorial district.
The political game on the Plateau State in 2019 was not different, as Lalong squared against his main challenger, Useni, a retired Army General who hails from the same Southern Senatorial District, but from two different local government councils. While Useni hails from Langtang North local government council, Lalong hails from a neighboring local government council. But, coincidentally, the duo are from the same Kwararafa Kingdom.
The just-concluded governorship polls in Plateau State was hotly contested between Lalong of APC and Useni of PDP, as the game of ethnicity and church denomination was brought into play. The influence of the Hausa-Fulanis and those of the native tribes also took centre stage on how the people voted during the presidential and governorship polls.
Lalong, during the governorship polls and the supplementary election, had to change his political calculations by infiltrating into Useni’s strongholds in Langtang North and South councils to make appreciable gains, adding Jos North Council as his joker. There, Lalong scored over 108,000 votes to overrun Useni, who had an early lead .
Lalong, in the same vein, won over 61,000 votes in his Shendam local government council to secure the winning votes of 595,582 votes to beat Useni, who scored 546,813 votes to be declared winner of the 2019 governorship election in his state.
The incumbent governor won his second term re-election with over 48,769 votes difference over that scores of Useni, prompting him to offer an olive branch to his opponent and the other contestants in his resolve to move the state to greater heights.
Lalong, who in less than an hour after winning, addressed his party faithful at his campaign secretariat around Miango junction in Jos, promised to run an all-inclusive government that would cater for all political divides in the state
While receiving his certificate of return from the state Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Headquarters in Jos alongside his Deputy, Professor Sonnie Tyoden, on March 29, declared that he accepted to serve and deliver more dividends of democracy to the people following the vote of confidence the electorates had passed on him.
Lalong promised to serve the people with all humility and to move his state to the next level. He said he would re-jigging the system of governance by providing vision, direction and accountability in leadership for greater productivity.
He assured the people of his state that the politicking, campaigns and elections were over, and that he would build on his past achievements on peaceful co-existence of the people, which he said was non-negotiable.
According to him, “to achieve these ideals, we shall continue to strengthen both institutional and legal framework and reward loyalty, excellence and hardwork in both private and public sectors of the economy on the Plateau.”
He said he was mindful of the beauty of history that required him to leave behind at the end of his second term, a lasting legacy that others would build on. He, however, requested from the people that all hands must be on deck in the next four so that together they would do more.
Lalong, in his a bid to carry his opponents along, said he extend his hands of fellowship to everyone in the state, urging them to share in this glory and patriotic zeal of building a strong and productive state for generations to come.