BY EMMANUEL AZIKEN, POLITICAL EDITOR
CHIEF Solomon Lar who died on Wednesday at 80, was at the point of his demise one of THE longest enduring political faces in the country. He was evidently one of a handful of still active politicians who started jostling from the colonial era. Typical of the exhibitionism that characterised politics in the first republic, Lar till his death, was remembered for his showmanship on the political platform as regularly demonstrated by his all present white handkerchief.
Lar’s longevity on the political platform was in the opinion of many political stakeholders a result of his adept combination of political wax and wits. Many others saw him as a master political bridge builder. It was as such no accident that as at wednesday, he remained one of the few linkages between the first republic politics and the fourth republic.
The zenith of Lar’s political odyssey was his appointment as national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, having before then been the first civilian governor of his native old Plateau State. His appointment as national chairman of the PDP followed the decision of the then protem national chairman, Dr. Alex Ekwueme to contest the presidential ticket of the party in 1998.
As national chairman of the party, he presided over what has turned out to be the most democratic of all the presidential primaries of the party hosted in his political base, Jos, Plateau State in 1998. That success was also alleged to have turned into a political undoing as the winner of the primaries, Olusegun Obasanjo, just out of jail, reportedly vowed not to work with Lar as national chairman. The flamboyant Lar was said to have angered Obasanjo when he stood up at the convention for almost one hour on the excuse that he would not leave his house and open the convention unless he was heralded into the Jos Township Stadium, venue of the primary election by police outriders!
Following the primary, Obasanjo commenced the process of restructuring the party structure and staff to make it more compliant to his taste, and Lar became a primary target. In November 1999, Obasanjo ensured that a less showy and more compliant chairman in the person of Chief Barnabas Gemade was elected national chairman of the party.
Lar, however, remained active in the party and was shelved to the then powerless Board of Trustees as chairman. His problems with Obasanjo remained on the periphery of the power play that characterised the party up till 2006 when Lar openly sided with Obasanjo’s active foe and deputy, Atiku Abaubakr. Indeed, only few remember today that Lar alongside some other powerful party chieftains were the first to form a parallel national executive of the PDP in 2006 as their rejection of the total seizure of the party structure and system by Obasanjo.
Obasanjo’s response was to use security agencies to shut down the parallel office established by the Lar group, which eventually never got a footing.
While Lar did not leave the PDP, he remained a distant grandee of the party attending party functions whenever his failing health allowed him. He was, nevertheless, compensated with the election of his daughter, Bene Lar into the House of Representatives in 2007.
His national political standing nonetheless, Lar was sometimes flayed at home for his role in backing some of Plateau’s more controversial political personalities. Senator Joshua Dariye, the former governor of the state and Senator Ibrahim Mantu, the immediate past deputy president of the Senate were two of the state’s more divisive political leaders who got foothold in the PDP in 1999 reportedly through Lar.
As he grew older, Lar returned to the original political course he started his trade from – Middle Belt activism.
In later years, he became a strident voice for the emancipation of the Middle Belt geopolitical zone.
Lar who was born in April 1933 in Langtang, Plateau State had his primary education at the Sudan United Mission Primary School in Langtang, and then proceeded to the famous Gindiri Teachers College, Gindiri, Plateau State where he obtained the Higher Elementary Certificate that qualified him to be a teacher.
He commenced his political career in 1959 when he contested and won the councillorship election in the Langtang Native Authority, and the same year, he was also elected into the House of Representatives on the ticket of the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC). He won re-election in 1964 and became a close associate of the then Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who he served as a parliamentary secretary whilst at the same time serving as junior minister in the Federal Ministry of Establishment.
Following the military incursion of 1966, Lar took time out to study law at the Ahmadu Bello University and was called to the bar in 1971. He would be remembered for his pioneering role in the establishment of the legal aid system having served as the first national secretary of the Nigerian Legal Aid Association.
He was also vice-chairman of the committee that recommended the establishment of 19 states out of the then 12 states in 1976. At the return of democratic rule in 1979, Lar was elected governor of Plateau State and was returned to power in 1983 but was forced out by the military putsch of December 31, 1983.
At the advent of the third republic he joined the Social Democratic Party, SDP and backed Chief Moshood Abiola for the 1993 presidential election, and following the annulment, he was one of those appointed by General Sani Abacha to stabilise the government as Minister of Police Affairs. Lar, however, left the government not long after reportedly after seeing through the power grab desperation of General Abacha.
He was to subsequently team up with likeminded democrats in forming the G9 which cascaded to the G34 that formed the nucleus of the PDP in 1998.
Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State one of the nine original founders of the PDP said in a text message yesterday that Lar would be especially missed at this period. “As a member of G9 he left when Nigeria, democracy and especially PDP needed him most.” That was an appropriate epitaph for a bridge builder.
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