By Mark Longyen
Minister of Employment and former Governor of Plateau, Simon Lalong, is at daggers drawn with his political ally, Rep Yusuf Gagdi (APC-Plateau, Pankshin, Kanam), over who should replace the former, who is set to quit as minister and take up a senate seat.
It would be recalled that the Court of Appeal in a highly controversial judgment recently declared Lalong, who was defeated in 5 out of 6 local governments, including his own Shendam LGA, winner of the Plateau South Senatorial election.
Lalong, being the leader of the APC in Plateau, is said to have submitted the names of two people to the President to enable him to pick one of them as his replacement.
It was gathered that the minister, who is from the Goemai ethnic group, and succeeded his kinswoman, the immediate past Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, again, submitted the names of two Goemai people as his replacement.
Sources close to the dramatis personae said that Lalong submitted the names of two Goemai people, the immediate past Director-General of Industrial Training Fund, ITF, Joseph Ari and APC Deputy National Secretary, Festus Fuanter, a decision that has put him on a collision course with other stakeholders like Gagdi, who consider it as glaring nepotism.
Gagdi, an avowed Lalong loyalist, who personally bought the N20 million senate nomination form for Lalong, is said to have been miffed by the minister’s action and decided to make moves to ensure that his kinsman, Prof Saleh Kanam, is appointed minister instead.
Sensing Gagdi’s subterranean move as an affront, a group loyal to Lalong, under the auspices of APC Progressive Forum, in a statement immediately claimed that the lawmaker was undermining the minister, and warned him to desist from it.
The group noted that despite the fact that Lalong always carried the Gagdi along in his political scheme of things on account of their cordial relationship, stressing that it was obvious that all is not well with the duo.
The statement signed by Victor Rotgak, the group’s leader, reads in part:
“There is no gainsaying the fact that Lalong is the leader of the APC in the state and so, we will not allow anyone, however higly placed to denigrate the place of our revered leader.
“Lalong led Plateau as governor for 8 years and ran a faultless government with avalanche of visible infrastructural development that has placed Plateau top among the comity of states in Nigeria. But the unfolding event where Gagdi is seen to be undermining the place of Lalong as leader of APC in Plateau is unacceptable.
“We have watched with keen interest, how Gagdi is making efforts to downplay the place of Lalong in an attempt to assume the position of the leader of the party in our state. Gagdi is using his federal connection to become too overbearing, to the extent that he takes decisions without proper consultation with the leader of the party or even the chairman of APC in the state.
“While many party elders and loyalists are lamenting over this development in their closets, we have taken the bold step to speak out because we believe in party hierarchy and Gagdi shouldn’t be allowed to undermine it.
“The reason for Gagdi’s overbearing posture is not far fetched; he is claiming that he has invested over N20 billion in the governorship election up to the tribunal and the Appeal Court and vehemently wants to be in charge so that if Nentawe becomes governor, he will recover his money with ease.”
The Lalong group was actually merely reacting to an earlier news conference addressed by Gagdi’s group on November 29 in Jos under the auspices of Kanam Progressives Youth, KPY, seeking the appointment of Prof Saleh Kanam as the replacement for Lalong as minister from Plateau.
The group said that in the expectation that Lalong would eventually resign his position as minister and go to the Senate, it would be fair for them to nominate a replacement in the Federal Executive Council and demanded that the slot should be given to Gagdi’s Kanam Local Government as the “strongest base of APC” in the state.
Chairman of the group, Hon Ali Abdullahi and Secretary, Hon Buhari Zakari said: “One of us, who is a founding member of APC, Hon Saleh Galadima Kanam is abundantly qualified to replace Lalong as minister of the Federal Republic.
“It will interest you to note that Galadima Kanam has invested so much in the ruling party more than anyone else in the state. We therefore think he deserves to be appreciated by giving him the ministerial position that will give him the opportunity to serve the ruling party better.”
The ding-dong political battle to succeed Lalong as minister is said to have assumed another dimension when another group demanded for the appointment of Rufus Bature, the current APC chairman in Plateau, as Lalong’s replacement.
It was learned that Bature, the Secretary to the State Government during Lalong’s first term in office as governor, may have been thrown into the ministerial race by Lalong’s group as a counterforce against Gagdi.
It is noteworthy that while Lalong is from Plateau South Senatorial Zone, which has produced 6 ministers since 1999, namely Pauline Tallen (twice), Fidelis Tapgun and his sister, Josephine, Solomon Dalung and Lalong, Gagdi is from Plateau Central Zone, which has produced just 1 minister (Bagudu Hirse) since then.
Rufus Bature’s Northern Zone, on the other hand, has produced 5 ministers within the same period: Damishi Sango, Mark Aku, Musa Izam, Dasuki Nakande and Sarah Ochekpe.
Some have however argued that whoever Gagdi annoints will be subsequently be appointed to fill in the Plateau ministerial slot. They say Gagdi has so far succeeded in all his plots by getting the APC to take over the National Assembly seats from Plateau from PDP through some curious manipulations and his self acclaimed judiciary connections, the video of which went viral recently.
They say so much is Gagdi’s influence in the party that his house has become a political Mecca of sorts, where virtually all Plateau APC politicians come to pay homage and to receive blessings or to benefit from his bottomless pit of generosity, which Lalong in contrast lacks.
Such beneficiaries include the state’s suspended LG chairmen and councillors, the jobless, State and National Assembly Members. For instance, soon after APC (and LP) members collected their certificates of return after the controversial Appeal Court judgments, they quickly rushed to his Abuja residence to show and thank him because they know who the real leader is.
Who blinks first between Lalong and Gagdi in this high stake battle royale for the ministerial slot and, by extension, political supremacy, and the soul of Plateau, remains to be seen, as many argue that while Lalong may be the leader of the APC on paper, Gagdi is the de facto Plateau APC leader, going forward.