Since the recent release of a former Plateau State governor, Joshua Chibi Dariye, from prison after a presidential pardon, alongside his Taraba State counterpart, Rev. Jolly T. Nyame, a lot has been changing in the political atmosphere in his home state, in the build-up to the 2023 general elections.
Dariye was jailed for about four years (since 2018), and he was to serve a 10-year jail term after the Court of Appeal Abuja convicted him for diverting public funds estimated at N1.162 billion while he was governor.
The case was based on the charges levelled against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He ruled Plateau State from 1999 to 2007 under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), thereafter, in 2011, he won the senatorial seat to represent Plateau central zone in the Senate under the Labour Party. He served until 2015, when he defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC), and remained in the Senate until his arrest, trial and sentence in 2018.
However, since his pardon, there has been some level of uncertainty in the political direction of Plateau State, and some sort of alignment and realignment were also evident.
Undoubtedly, Dariye still commands great political respect in the state. In fact, many believe that he still wields more influence on the political fabric of the state than other leaders.
Dariye is still believed to be the father/godfather of this political and democratic dispensation which commenced in 1999 in the state. That is why, after his release, the foreground of state politics and politicking for the 2023 elections began to rock.
Political commentators and pundits have at several times hinted that some leaders from the state had made frantic efforts to have Dariye detained until after the election because they believed should he be released before the election, that would alter the political formation which may at the end not be in their favour. Those who are not on good political terms with him are naturally wary of him, they said.
Apart from the perception that he controls considerable political structure and people due to his human empowerment drive in the state, which made him have loyal boys spread across various political parties, his impact in the forthcoming election is expected to be greatly felt.
This is because the major political parties in the state have all zoned their governorship seats to Plateau Central Zone where Dariye hails from. The central zone consists of six local government areas: Bokkos, Kanke, Kanam, Mangu, and Pankshin. Dariye is from Bokkos.
The former governor’s political weight registered immediately after he was released from prison. Several leaders from the state, including aspirants for different elective positions, went to visit him at his Abuja residence. The state governor, Simon Lalong, was also not left out of the visitors. He (Lalong) went with a high delegation from the state to show their solidarity.
All that transpired during the visits was keenly monitored back home as the people and stakeholders alike believed that whatever happened there would have a lot of bearing on the political activities and atmosphere of the state.
Prior to the visits, the rumour that greeted his release was that he would contest for the Plateau Central senatorial seat on the platform of the Labour Party. That sent shivers down political parties and contestants from the zone.
Our correspondent gathered that should Dariye contest, his chances of winning are high, given also that some of the contestants for the seat are his boys. Not only that, his popularity cuts across three major parties in the state to which he belonged at one time or another – PDP, Labour Party and APC.
Besides the senatorial aspiration rumour, which immediately electrified the political atmosphere, most of the contested/elective seats from the zone and the state in general also had their share of the little quiver.
This was given that the Labour Party under which it was said Dariye would contest, was already gathering national momentum with Peter Obi as its presidential flag bearer.
Since the rumour of his intention to contest under the party came out strongly, the party in the state became instantly re-energized and a force to reckon with. This rejuvenation also trickled down to the candidates of the party seeking elective offices.
Moreover, the Labour Party’s governorship candidate, Patrick Dakum, is also a strong political force in the state. Dakum initially aspired for governorship under the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) but lost to Nentawe Yilwatda in the primary election.
He then went to Labour Party and got the governorship ticket and this has also caused some level of worry for the APC as they believed he would share in their votes, thereby giving the strongest opposition party in the state, the PDP, an upper hand at the poll.
Again, there were many disagreements after the APC primaries as the aspirants, such as the current deputy governor, Sonnie Tyoden, and Sunday Biggs, among others, who were not the favoured candidates. These could play various roles for the party to succeed, depending on the party’s moves to pacify them or otherwise.
However, a credible Labour Party official said it was true that Dariye intended to run for the Senate under Labour Party, adding that they have already made arrangements for him to come from Abuja for the declaration.
The source, who preferred anonymity, also said Dariye will spring surprises at the poll because he remains a much-loved politician in the state, and that no one was yet to beat his structure and human development initiatives.
Dariye’s release and homecoming, the source confirmed, have also given a boost to the governorship aspirant of the party, as well as other candidates, adding that Dakum is Dariye’s man.
However, Dariye is said to have debunked the rumour that he was running for the Senate when Lalong visited him. This was contained in a statement by the Director of Press and Public Affairs to the Governor, Makut Simon Macham, after the visit.
The statement described the rumour as unfounded and untrue and quoted Dariye as saying he had not bought the form or done anything to that effect.
There were whispers in several quarters that leaked information about his aspiration and the attendant reports that followed could have prompted him (Dariye) to momentarily debunk the rumour.
The Labour Party chairperson for Plateau State, Hon Grace Zamfara, did not respond to her calls to clear the air on the matter; at other times, she was said to be attending mee
Commenting on the current unpredictable political situation associated with Dariye’s release, a lawyer and political commentator in the state, Tobias Musa Ngufuwan, expressed confidence that Dariye would significantly alter the political equation in the state come 2023.
He said even his critics would admit that Dariye is a grassroots politician who enjoys tremendous followership across the length and breadth of the state, adding that one of the things that endeared him to many people was his generosity and compassionate leadership style.
“He is one person who governs his people with a human heart and would easily go the extra mile to put a smile on people’s faces. This is not to say that he is a saint. Of course, no person is.
“Secondly, Dariye’s tenure as governor of Plateau State for eight years and later as senator for nearly eight years left indelible footprints in infrastructure and human capital development. These are visible and verifiable, and the many people whom he positively impacted can also bear testimony to this.
“So, a man with this rich pedigree is undoubtedly a force to reckon with politically. Dariye had, in the past, demonstrated his capacity and capability as a political game changer. A few examples will buttress this.
“Firstly, in 2007, though absent from the state, he was able to successfully deliver the late Senator Satty Davies Gogwim as senator representing Plateau Central in the National Assembly, against a powerful incumbent deputy Senate president who had all the backing of the federal government.
“In 2011, when Dariye decided to contest the senatorial election, the forces of the state were all against him. He was denied a platform to contest the election. Within a very short period, Dariye joined the Labour Party and defeated the candidates of other parties to emerge the winner of the senatorial election.
“Also, in 2015, Dariye played a leading role in ensuring the victory of the current governor of the state. This feat was again achieved despite the fact that the incumbent government of the time desperately wanted to install someone else as governor,” he said.
Ngufuwan stressed that with all the influence Dariye wields in the political equation of Plateau State, he is certain and likely to continue wielding that influence for now, especially in the forthcoming elections.
In his remarks, a former Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) chairman in Plateau State, George Ndu, said on the surface, Dariye’s release may not appear to have a palpable or direct impact on Plateau politics, but it would have an indirect effect.
He said though the political landscape may have slightly changed from the time of his incarceration to date, he will still have some level of influence in the changing variables and dynamics of politics in the state.
He said no doubt Dariye’s political influence has reduced, no matter how small, but he had a hand in birthing the present government.
As the anxiety and the uncertainty in Plateau politics associated with Dariye’s release continue, it is left to be seen the extent to which this will eventually turn out, and whether he will alter the calculation as forecast or otherwise.
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