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Plateau LP torn by guber controversies, intrigues

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
21 October 2022   |   2:38 am
The 2023 political battle raging in Plateau State is akin to a sporadic melee on many fronts. Governor Simon Bako Lalong’s insistence on giving his acolyte, Nentawe Yilwatda the governorship

[FILE PHOTO] Joshua Dariye

The 2023 political battle raging in Plateau State is akin to a sporadic melee on many fronts. Governor Simon Bako Lalong’s insistence on giving his acolyte, Nentawe Yilwatda the governorship ticket of All Progressives Congress (APC) left a mass of dejected party faithful no option than to seek political vent elsewhere.

Perhaps foreseeing the possibility of the governor foisting his preferred candidate on APC as its gubernatorial torchbearer, Ambassador Yohana Margif, who claims that his aspiration to be governor was backed up by divine revelations, moved over to the Labour Party (LP). As at the time of his entry, LP was still a sleepy political platform like other fringe parties in the league of the 18 recognised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

However, that near comatose characterisation was to change after June 24, 2022, when the former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Vice Presidential candidate in the 2019 poll joined to ventilate his 2023 presidential ambition.

It could therefore be said that Peter Obi’s entry to LP and the subsequent momentum his presidential run has generated became an albatross to Ambassador Margie. This is because after being displaced in APC, Dr Patrick Dakum, who like Ambassador Margif, is among former governor Joshua Dariye’s enforcers during his tenure, joined LP. Both men are currently jostling for the court’s attention for a declaration of who qualifies as the authentic governorship standard bearer of the Labour Party in Plateau State.

While Ambassador Margif’s supporters contend that Dariye was behind the attempt to smuggle Dr. Dakum onto the ballot as LP’s gubernatorial contender, the former said that as a victim of political wickedness, he wants some respite.

Intriguingly, Dariye, who alleged that his incarceration was politically motivated has not been visited by either the state chapter of APC or PDP, on which platforms he went to Senate and governed Plateau State.

The former governor had, while appearing on a Channels Television programme, claimed that part of the money for which he was sent to prison was spent on campaigning for Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s second term election.

Recall that in 2007, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) charged Dariye to court for misappropriating Plateau State’s fund put at N1.126billion.

But, insisting that it was a calculated attempt to blur his political clout, Senator Dariye explained that N800million out of that sum was credited to Plateau State account, adding that N100million went to Southwest PDP, while another N100million went to former President Obasanjo’s campaign organisation.

Giving a further breakdown, the former governor disclosed that a million went to the ecological fund, while N66 million went to PDP Plateau State, even as he described the outstanding balance of about an N4million as commission on turnover.”

Although the Court of Appeal, Abuja, reduced the sentence to 10 years, which the Supreme Court also affirmed, last April President Muhammadu Buhari, in the exercise of his prerogative of mercy announced his pardon on the grounds of age.

LP squabbling
However, while APC and PDP have maintained some silence and distance about the former governor’s fate, parties to the LP governorship disputation associate him with the move to revise the outcome of the governorship primary, which threw up Ambassador Margif.

Margif’s supporters claim that the events leading to what they describe as illegal substitution of the governorship contender began with a joint visit by Senator Dariye and Dr Dakum to explore the possibilities of a voluntary withdrawal since according to them “Margif does not possess the huge war chest to prosecute the governorship poll.”

In an interview with The Guardian, Ambassador Margif said he joined the LP, when the party’s presidential candidate, Obi, was still in PDP, noting that at the time he emerged as the party’s governorship candidate, Dr Dakum was also still in APC.

It would be recalled that although Dr. Patrick Dakum announced his withdrawal from the Plateau State APC governorship primary when it became obvious that Governor Lalong’s preferred aspirant was sure to clinch the ticket, he was credited with 70 votes from the straw poll.

Dakum was among the 10 governorship aspirants that walked out of the primary, based on complaints that the venue was flooded with government appointees and unaccredited delegates.

However, participating in a purported repeat LP primary after Ambassador Margif’s alleged withdrawal, Dakum was said to have emerged as the party’s gubernatorial contender.

But, alleging foul play, Margif contends that he neither withdrew his nomination nor did he write the LP chairman to announce that. He alleged that the letters purportedly written by him were outright forgeries, explaining that the two letters sent to INEC bore different dates of August 2 and 5.

The embattled governorship candidate noted that on August 5 he was kept in a police cell, stressing that he rejected overtures to have him withdraw from the race to pave the way for Dr Dakum.

State chairperson of the party, Mrs. Mary Zamfara, told The Guardian that the authentic governorship candidate of the party for Plateau State is Dr. Dakum, pointing out that that was the position of stakeholders and INEC.

At any event, the LP national chairman, Mr Julius Abure, was said to have informed eminent stakeholders that, “anything that is not ceremonially done should be disregarded, it may be designed to play the purported candidate.”

Margif maintains that until the court delivers its ruling on December 15, the claims of withdrawal or substitution remain a ruse, alleging many instances of forgeries, acts of intimidation and inducement in the attempt to deny him his mandate.

He stated: “As it is today, we are in court, because of the illegal substitution, which they are claiming through letters of withdrawal. I was arrested on August 4 in Abuja and taken to Jos.

“It was on that day, while I was in the cell that they claimed that I wrote a letter of withdrawal. I can’t explain it; it is laughable. How can somebody be in a cell and he is writing a letter of withdrawal?

“It is obvious that once you are so desperate, God will remove His hands from what you are doing so that you will use your hand to dig your own grave. They forged a document, I cannot even say it is my name, my name is Ambassador Yohana Yilpwan Margif, but they went and wrote Yohanna Yewan Marigif and that Yewan is not my father’s name.

“That apart, they forged a letter of withdrawal dated August 5, and submitted it to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). After some days again, they still went back to forge another letter again dated August 2.
“And that letter of August 2, is the one they attached with a court affidavit in their defence and all these two letters have been verified by my lawyer that they are all fake.”

As suspense defines the three-dimensional political battle in Plateau State, LP faithful in Plateau State argue that the big picture question begging for an answer is, does it mean that the internal affairs of the party are anchored on weak internal processes and undemocratic practices.

It is yet to be seen whether the political wickedness, which Senator Dariye alleged as the cause of his incarceration is rearing its heads in LP, especially given that both Margif and Dariye are all from the same local government council.

Could it be that an external force is instigating the storm in Plateau State LP, which has become the credible alternative to the governing APC and main opposition PDP?

Already two conspiracy theories have been making the rounds about Ambassador Y.Y. Margif and the Plateau State LP 2023 governorship contestation. For instance, going by Mrs. Zamfara’s declarations, there is the suggestion that Margif, who says he is the validly nominated LP governorship candidate from the June 9, 2022 primary, was aware of the party’s decision to substitute him through the purported primary election of Dr. Patrick Dakum on August 5, 2022.

How far this complies with the Electoral Act 2022 is yet to be seen, even as it comes off as a doubtful claim, particularly given Margif’s denial of any formal or informal communication from LP with him about the party’s decision to replace him.

Margif contends that the case of voluntary withdrawal by a validly nominated candidate is one that is legally, morally and socially roused from dialogue and conversation between the lawful candidate and LP leadership. Such interface is essentially to nudge and persuade the candidate to consent to the exigency requiring the need for such substitution, but must not stem from arm-twisting or legal breaches.

His supporters maintain that Margif was denied a fair hearing by LP leadership, alleging that the party leadership ignored the candidate, acted whimsically and resorted to daredevil traumatizing tactics, which subjected him (Margif) to threats, police arrests and detention, intimidation, harassment and blackmail to cajole him to relinquish the governorship ticket.

As it stands Margif’s decision to seek legal remedies through suit No. FHC/J/CS/76/2022 at the Federal High Court Jos, has put a dampener to LP’s electioneering plans, thereby subjecting the party faithful to the suspense. What happens in the event that the court quashes the purported substitution? Could the parties to disagreement come together to prosecute the election as a united force?

Although there are subdued claims that Margif’s arrest and detention flows from serial criminality and chameleonic behaviours, stakeholders maintain that only a court of law could debar an aspirant from participating in election based on mere allegations not proved and upheld by a court of competent jurisdiction.

Based on the foregoing, the validity of the purported meeting on August 3 and 4 during which the state and national chairpersons of LP hosted Ambassador Margif to persuade him to relinquish his ticket for his own safety and interest, does not confer legitimacy to the action taken without his consent.

That INEC witnessed the August 9 governorship primary, which threw up Margif and subsequently issued him a certificate of return, suggests that he fulfilled all the requirements of the 2022 Electoral Act, as well as LP guidelines, upon which he was screened and cleared for the exercise.

And, acting on providence, Amb Margif was said to have delivered a letter to LP headquarters and INEC on August 2, to debunk rumours that he had withdrawn from the governorship race. If the national leadership overlooked that letter and went ahead with the repeat primary, the party has opened itself to the probative decision of the court to ascertain the validity of Dr Dakum as its governorship primary. Only then could the party occupy its lane as the third horse for Plateau State governorship race.

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