Plateau Central senatorial zone is critical to elections in Plateau State. But the politics of embattled Senator Joshua Dariye who was recently convicted of financial corruption, might alter the way elections turn out in the state in 2019. ACHOR ABIMAJE, writes.
As it stands, the people of Plateau Central Senatorial zone have no representation in the National Assembly. The conviction of the senator representing the senatorial district, Senator Joshua Dariye, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has left the seat physically vacant in the red chamber.
Dariye, a former governor of Plateau State was sentenced to 28 years in prison by an Abuja Federal High Court for embezzling 1.4 Billion Naira being ecological fund that was meant for the state during his tenure as governor of the state.
Since his conviction and subsequent imprisonment the seat has not being declared vacant. There has been no hint on moves to replace him because the leadership of the Senate is yet to declare his seat vacant, perhaps on account of the fact that Dariye has since appealed the judgement which sent him to jail.
Still, this intriguing scenario has increased the uncertainty in the state, not just because the senator is considered influential in the senatorial district but largely because the central district is very crucial to the outcome of the general elections in the state.
Leveraging on his political hold in the district, the former governor despite his incarceration sought to retain his seat in the red chamber by joining the race in the build up to the primaries. He had secured the APC forms for the primaries a situation which elicited condemnation from the opposition in the state.
But, section 107 sub-section 1 (d) of the Nigeria Constitution 1999 as amended, states that no person shall be qualified for election if, within a period of less than 10 years before the date of election, he has been convicted and sentenced for an offence involving dishonesty.
It also states that anyone that has been found guilty of contravening the code of conduct shall not be allowed to contest election.
However, confirming his purchase of forms at the time, APC publicity secretary in Plateau State, Chindo Dafat said “Yes, Sen. Dariye has picked a nomination form to seek a third term. It is true. He is among those jostling for the APC ticket in Plateau Central.”
He continued “His (Dariye)’s ward secretary came and signed the form on his behalf. It has been filled and his supporters are already campaigning ahead of the party primary election.”
The party official interestingly said that Dariye was “still very popular and relevant in Plateau Central in spite of his current ordeals’’, adding that the former governor “can win the primary elections from the prison’’.
He said that Dariye had appealed his conviction and could have it upturned “because we are praying for him’’.
“Aside possible success in the appeal, we are also praying for a state pardon. That is another possibility.
“Dariye is very important to our party, unfortunately, this happened to him. It is not that we cannot win elections without him; we can win without him, but he has done a lot and is well loved by his people.”
He further gave a rather contentious perspective on the issue thus: “Somebody could be in the hospital or prison and pick a nomination form from there. We have no right to deny anyone a nomination form. Even INEC cannot stop Dariye from contesting the 2019 elections.
“There is no law that stops him from buying the form. Whoever comes for the nomination form can get it. I see it as a constitutional matter. Only the court can disqualify him.
“If Dariye wins elections from prison, he will not be the first Nigerian to do that. Iyiola Omisore, from Osun, once won a senate seat while in prison,’’ Dafat pointed out.
But, while the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dariye’s former party, described the development as shocking, strange and embarrassing, it also exposed its soft side towards the former governor.
“It is shocking that a convict serving a 14-year jail term will be given a nomination form to contest an election. This is just ridiculous,’’ Mr Ben Shignugul, PDP Vice Chairman (Plateau Central), told our correspondent.
He added “The nomination form has a portion which requests aspirants to state whether they were once convicted; I wonder what information Dariye provided in that column.
“He (Dariye) is our illustrious son and we sympathise with him. We expect him to be sober and reflect on what has happened to him, instead of allowing himself to be dragged around by desperate politicians,’’ he said.
Shignugul said that the Plateau PDP executive council, led by its chairperson, Damishi Sango, recently visited Dariye in Kuje prisons and prayed for him.
“We still pray that he will serve out his 14-year jail term and come out in good health.
“Dariye should equally be praying, instead of attracting unnecessary attention to him self,’’ Shignugul said.
The PDP official, however, said that the party was not afraid of facing Dariye, or any other APC candidate, in the 2019 general elections.
“Dariye cannot be a threat to us because people in the zone are already fed up with him after eight years as governor and two terms in the senate,’’ Shignugul claimed.
After all is said and done, Dariye could not emerge the candidate of the party as he could not follow through with the entire process. A retired Commissioner of Police, Hezekiah Dimka, picked the APC ticket to contest the Plateau Central Senatorial seat in 2019.
In the PDP a former Comptroller General of Immigration, David Paradang emerged the flag bearer for the Plateau Central Senatorial District. Also a University Don Santos Ayuba Larab under the platform of Green Party of Nigeria (GPN). The former ASUU Secretary and one time President of Rotary club Nigeria Jos district emerged as the party flag bearer in the primaries.
While the trio are seeking to replace the senator in the red chamber, Dariye is often described by his supporters as the head boy of Plateau central politics. He commands large supporters in the zone. The head boy was a two term senator representing the zone having decamped from PDP to APC at the wake of his trial.
Plateau Central zone is also said to be the meeting point of Plateau politics. The local councils in the zone are Mangu, Pankshin, Kanke,Kanam and Bokkos local government. Mangu, Bokkos and Kanam are densely populated, thereby offering the zone a numerical edge electorally.
In the APC, Dariye is expected to lead the likes of former SSG, Nde John Gobak; former deputy speaker APC, Yusuf Gagdi; the present deputy speaker, Rt. Hon Saleh Yepmong APC and former chairman of PDP Maichibi Vwarji now in APC in the battle. It was gathered that APC senatorial candidate enjoyed Dariye’s blessing.
But he will have to contend with some other PDP political chieftains from the zone, including three former speakers of the Plateau House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Istifanus Mwansat, Rt.Hon. John Dabwan, and Rt Hon. Titus Alams.
There is also the member representing Pankshin Kanke and Kanam federal constituency, Hon. Timothy Golu; and former Plateau State speaker, Hon Emmanuel Goar.
With the APC primaries won and lost, Dariye’s political fate became more precarious. The situation in the build up to the polls has reignited the debate over why the seat should remain vacant.
Reacting to the fact that Plateau central zone has no representative in the Senate, publicity Secretary of the Plateau state chapter of the PDP, Mr. John Akans, said the leadership of the Senate has refused to declare Dariye’s seat vacant.
According to him it is when the seat is declared vacant that INEC will conduct a bye election to fill the vacuum created as a result of Dariye’s incarceration.
“As far as we are concerned, we have conducted our own primaries and former controller general of immigration Paradan is the PDP flag bearer for Plateau central Senatorial election. We are only waiting for 2019 for the general election to be conducted”.
He lamented that for now the people of Plateau central zone have no voice in the Senate adding that this development is not good for the zone.
The APC publicity secretary, Barr. Bashir Sati, in his reaction told our correspondent that declaring the vacant seat is the sole responsibility of the leadership of the Senate.
He added that there is no way the party can force the leadership of the Senate to do that, adding however that there are people who will want to contest even if it is a day.
“But we as a party APC, we are not eager or interested in declaring his seat vacant because his appeal is still pending and we are confident that the appeal will favor him, Dariye,” he said.
Effort to get the INEC Public relation officer Mr. Osaretin Emaheyeorobo to speak on the development, could not yield any result as he did not pick his calls when our correspondent sought for his reaction.
Before long however reports emerged that the senator was contemplating to defect from the APC, as most of his supporters have started moving to the PDP. The move was over perceived bleak prospect of Dariye’s supporters under the APC since after his incarceration and the outcome of the party primaries.
The state chapter of the APC swiftly denied any knowledge of the threat by Dariye’s supporters to defect in protest of their principal’s incarceration. According to its secretary, Alhaji Bashir Sati, the speculation is a figment of some people’s imagination.
“The party is not aware of such threat. Just last week, we rounded off our local government tour. We were in Bokkos, which is the council area of the former governor. What the people told us was that they are missing him and we assured them that all hope is not lost,” he said.
It was however learned that the sentencing might not have gone down well with majority of his followers, who thought he could have been given a soft landing.
But, a source close to the senator on condition of anonymity, said Dariye had directed his key associates to move round the state, especially the central senatorial district, to enlighten followers on his predicament and why they should remain in APC.
His words: “When I met him recently along with two other people, this issue was tabled and discussed. He strongly condemned the insinuation that the present administration was behind his predicament and has done nothing to help him out of the situation.
“He stated that the matter was dated to when he was the governor of the state and directed his close associates to enlighten his followers and remain in APC.
“You cannot rule out the possibility that some of his followers were annoyed by the judgment, but the fact still remains that the APC government has nothing to do with his travail.”
The source added that the political structure of the incarcerated senator remains intact, adding that the defection rumor was diversionary and a ploy to cause confusion within the party in the state.
But the Senator openly called on the people of Plateau and Nigeria to vote Governor Simon Lalong and President Mohammadu Buhari come 2019 as part of the efforts to consolidate on the achievements of the APC-led administrations in Plateau State and the national level respectively.
Dariye who made the call in a statement signed by his former Campaign Director, Chief Maichibi Vwarji added that APC under the leadership of the duo has performed creditably and has stabilised the polity.
“Governor Simon Lalong in particular has performed to the admiration of quite a lot of people. Despite the recent security breach in the state, he has been able to stabilise and promote mutual coexistence among groups, which gives credence to the prevailing peace.
“The civil service reform couple with prompt payment of salaries of civil servants and pension have earned him the sobriquet of Governor Alert. Apart from initiating new projects across the state, the governor had also completed projects inherited from his predecessors” he said.
He commended the leadership of State chapter of APC from the ward to the state level for peaceful conduct of all the primaries and advised all party faithfuls in the state to sustain the tempo.
Said he: “The emergence of Governor Simon Bako Lalong as a consensus gubernatorial flag bearer of APC in Plateau State was sign of his acceptance and therefore need the support of all to continue with the good work”
He however appealed to the people of Plateau Central Senatorial Zone and the entire state, to close ranks and give all the support needed to Gov Lalong and President Buhari for governor and President , respectively.
Nevertheless, Dariye has continued to enjoy smooth rapport with the state governor, Simon Lalong. He had been instrumental to Lalong’s emergence as the governor in 2015.
When Dariye was the governor, Lalong was the speaker who vehemently insisted that Dariye should not be impeached. But how far it would go in defining the outcome of the general polls is another matter.