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Column: The 2023 race in Taraba: How the PDP and APC square up

 Iliyasu Gadu

 Although some may think it is early days yet, it is however unmistakeable that the political stage in Taraba as in other states of the nation is warming up to what promises to be an epic political battle in the 2023 elections which is just a couple of years away.

The elements point to that undoubtedly. At the governorship level, there will be no incumbent as Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku having served out his mandatory two terms will bow out. Already he is making a pitch for the Senatorial seat of Southern Taraba. So for all practical purposes the race to replace him both within the party and between the two main parties, the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) promises to be a tough one.

At another level there is a palpable sense in some quarters in Taraba that after more than two decades in power the ruling PDP needs to be sent to Coventry as it were as the party seems to have run out of ideas in respect of managing the affairs of the state. Pointers to this are the vexing issues of non-payment of salaries and remunerations to public officers and the general slow pace of development in the state. This is what the opposition APC is banking on in its bid to ride to Government House Jalingo.

That of course is not a given as the PDP even with its sun not shining brightly presently will not readily give up its commanding control of the state which it considers its own turf. As one PDP bigwig told me with a dismissive wave of the hand '' Forget it Iliya, we will beat the APC any day. The band of confused misfits called APC cannot match us. We have the ready formula to defeat them and we have done so twice now. A weak PDP will beat the strongest APC anytime in Taraba.''

Strong words of confidence those. But if the PDP were to gauge the general mood of Tarabans and political developments within the polity in Taraba it may not be so confident. The alienatory style of politics by Governor Ishaku has generated ill feelings among the party's rank and file. Some of its leading lights are making exploratory moves to join the opposition APC with a view to eventually jumping ship in order to further their political ambitions which seem to be under serious doubt in the PDP.

The feeling on the streets in Taraba is mixed. While many are not happy with the Governor Darius administration for its not too satisfactory  performance, they are not so readily prepared to embrace the APC yet. In other words dislike for Governor Ishaku on account of his less than stellar performance does not automatically mean a         rejection of PDP and a liking for APC.

So it is all poised then between the two major parties and as the political stage begins to warm up, a look at their strengths and weaknesses will offer us insights into how they square up in the 2023 race in Taraba.        

The PDP enjoys the distinction of being the mother political party which birthed most of the political figures in the state at its formation. Before one thing or the other compelled them to join other parties, some of these political figures had expended so much efforts into building the party thereby making it formidable enough to withstand whatever countermeasures ranged against it subsequently. The head start PDP had in this regard also accorded it the advantage of making its presence felt in all the nooks and crannies in the state. And with the added advantage of being the first political party to ascend to power following the return to civil democratic rule in 1999, the party has consolidated its presence and position over the years in the state such that at every election it always comes up as the party to beat especially at the governorship elections. Thus PDP has seen off the ANPP, CPC and lately APC in all the governorship elections in the state. 

But with all these some weaknesses have come to the fore. Like all political parties, the PDP has struggled in managing the expectations of especially some of its high profile members. Some who expected to be rewarded for their contributions to its successes suddenly found themselves shunted aside. And this gave rise to resentments and factionalization. Some who could not stomach the situation jumped ship and pitched their tent with the opposition.

At present many members of the party chafing at the way the party and government is being run under the Governor Darius administration are so disillusioned that they are either planning to ditch it and head for the APC or aiming to stay and work against it in the 2023 elections.

Against the background of untoward happenings in the government and the party many PDP partisans and Tarabans consider with nostalgia that the Governor Danbaba Suntai administration was the golden point of the government and party in the state.

On the plus side for the APC it boasts of more political bigwigs than the PDP. The list of its stalwarts read like the who's who of the Taraba political establishment. Minus the governorship of the state its members are to be found in all possible political offices at the state and federal levels. The only Federal minister from the state Engr. Saleh Mamman is from the party.

As if this is not intimidating enough, the APC can call on the support of the federal might at Abuja when it needs to especially during governorship elections. An APC grandee told me that at the last governorship elections in 2019 the party was heavily funded to the hilt and on its request adequate security was provided to police the state.   

But as everybody in Taraba knows, the APCs has not been able to translate this strength into achieving tangible results. Unlike the PDP which has a recognized leader in the form of Governor Ishaku who can take decisions on behalf of his party and get its members to obey or shut up, the APC seems almost rudderless. The authority of the state party Chairman Tukur El-Sudi counts for less as he does not have the wherewithal to enforce decisions and sanctions on such an assemblage of grandees.

Although the party says that the person occupying the highest elective post in a state where it is not in power should be the leader which in the case of Taraba is Senator Yusuf A. Yusuf of the central senatorial zone, the Minister Engr. Saleh Mamman does not seem to go along with that. Both men have been on collision course over who should boss the party leaving the chairman in the shade. Again the party runs on three speeds in reflection to the three senatorial zones in the state with which each doing its own thing.

This setting clearly indicates that in spite of all the advantages it possesses the APC in Taraba will most likely sink into its usual default mode in the 2023 elections which will probably cost it the governorship of the state once again.

Senator Yusuf seems to take exception at the description of the APC as a party in confusion. In a text message over my article titled ''Taraba 2023: The All Progressive Congress House of Confusion'', his cryptic message was '' I beg to differ. Lets talk''. But up till this moment, the distinguished Senator has neither redeemed his invitation for the ''talk'' he wanted me to have with him on the subject nor even offered an explanation as to why he suddenly clamped up. This is after I have made repeated calls and sent text messages to him to no avail.

As it is now, with both the PDP and APC in Taraba immersed in a balance of strengths and weaknesses, it will all boil down to the little details who wins the race in 2023. In this stalemate sadly the matter will not be settled on issues of performance and capability but on issues of religion and ethnicity. APC will use the Islam card while PDP will use the Christian card. But in this wise the PDP will most certainly get the upper hand even with its poor performance as the Christian population ever more united than their Muslim counterparts will be swayed by the message of religious solidarity in order to keep Taraba from falling into the hands of Muslims.

This unfortunate tragedy of Taraba politics.

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