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Column: Taraba 2023: Inside the vicious political succession battles (1)

By Iliyasu Gadu

This is the sixty four billion naira question on the lips of most Tarabans.

It is made more poignant by the fact that in 2023 there will be no incumbent on the seat of the Governorship of the state. Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku would have served his mandatory two terms of eight years and will be expected to vacate the office. It will be an all comers affair and everybody from both the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) has a chance. Expectedly the battle will be fierce and keenly contested and by all permutations it will likely get to the wire.

Governor Ishaku has not helped matters by keeping his cards very closely to his chest on who should succeed him. It is not unusual in Nigerian political practice for incumbents to want to ''anoint'' a successor. This is for a number of reasons ranging from continuity of policies and projects and the need to ''cover my back''.

The suspense this has created has reached a climax. Like athletes on a hundred metres race some of the leading contenders can no longer hold their patience at the silence of the governor. They have been oiling their campaign machinery while they keep a keen eye on the body language of the governor, engaging in subtle media campaigns, making frequent visits to party headquarters, making some philanthropic gestures, holding stakeholder meetings and sponsoring religious events and the like. The whole idea is to strengthen their visibility in the public space.

But of late some of them cannot hold back their elaborate pretence. And that is because do that that they risk being left behind and allowing opponents steal a march.

Nowhere is this shadow dancing fiercer than in the PDP.

Recently on the much publicised trip by the Governor to Kenya a few of the leading contenders managed to ''smuggle'' themselves on the plane to the east African country noted for its enchanting wildlife and tourist attractions. But they had other things on their minds rather than watch Lions chase and devour Antelopes and Zebras or see thinly clad Masai tribesmen shepherd their cattle on the east African savannah.

Ostensibly they wanted to use the opportunity to ''show face'' and be seen in solidarity with the governor on the joyous occasion of his niece's wedding. But they actually wanted to ''corner'' the governor on the auspicious occasion to look favourably on their suitability to succeed him.

In this caper were Victor Bala Kona, Joel Ikenya and Anthony Jellason all of whom are in the race for the governorship of the state come 2023.

But from feelers at the occasion and from government house Jalingo and the PDP secretariat, it was zilch for all of them in these manoeuvres. The governor I was told maintained his blank, taciturn, non-committal demeanour all the while as the aspirants tried to subtly pressure him.

Of all the PDP aspirants, the one whose goose appears cooked is incumbent Senator Emmanuel Bwacha representing southern Taraba at the upper chamber of the National Assembly. For daring to come out openly to challenge Governor Ishaku he has now been ostracised politically. The party under the control of the governor treats him like the plague and his declared ambition to contest the governorship is running into heavy political headwinds.

But the irrepressible political personality that he is, Senator Bwacha is not without some aces up his sleeves. I am reliably told by deep sources in the government that Senator Bwacha has close allies in the inner recess of Governor Ishaku's political and government circle who are sympathetic to him and who feed him about latest developments in government house. ''It is what emboldens the Senator to keep defying the governor and party in the state'' as one PDP stalwart told me in the strictest confidence. The stalwart further told me that the governor is aware of these developments and will soon pull the rug from under the feet of these ''fifth columnists''.

From indications there are moves by the governor who is the government and party leader in the state to drastically shake up the polity in Taraba which will affect some of the notable political figures in the state. Some of them will likely from their Olympian political heights and rendered politically homeless. And look out also for the emergence of new political faces and forces. ''The governor will be swift and ruthless against such people who have betrayed the party that made them what they are'' my deep source emphatically said.

I am told that the governor is keeping the timing of these moves to himself in order to benefit from the element of surprise. But it could come as early as November/December but most certainly in the first quarter of the new Year. The action will be done to align with the emergence of the new PDP national executive following the expected departure of national Chairman of the party Uche Secondus. 

The governor needs to embark on this house cleaning because he also has his own Senatorial ambitions. He will need to chuck out known and hidden loyalists of Senator Bwacha who may likely work to thwart his ambitions at the state and southern Taraba senatorial district. In this regard, nothing I am told will be left to chance.

It is all set for a battle royale as the governor will be fighting a battle at multiple fronts. He will be keeping a wary eye on the party of which he is the leader and especially his nemesis Senator Bwacha who has sworn to put ''k'' leg on his Senatorial ambitions. From all indications this fight will not end at the PDP level but will extend to the electoral contest between the governor and whoever the opposition APC decides to field for the seat. With the way things are going if Senator Bwacha is thwarted in his gubernatorial ambition and kicked out of the PDP he is likely to take his pound of flesh on the governor by supporting the APC candidate at the senatorial election.

In the event of this happening, southern Taraba senatorial elections will witness one of the hottest political battles in the country pitching an incumbent governor against a tough grassroots political gladiator like Senator Bwacha who is no slouch. There will be all to play for and anything could happen. We may end up as happened in Oyo state where the late Governor Isiaka Ajimobi lost the senatorial election to a candidate from the opposition PDP despite his incumbent gubernatorial advantage.

All this will also likely affect the outcome of the gubernatorial race in Taraba. As the PDP is embroiled in vicious succession battles on both the gubernatorial and senatorial fronts within, the opposition APC might look to cash in on the situation.

No doubt interesting times lie ahead for our beloved Taraba. Grab the popcorn and watch this space.      

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