Mr. Lar died in the U.S. on Wednesday, the Plateau Governor said.
Solomon Daushep Lar, one of Nigeria’s longest-serving political godfathers, who led the old Plateau State as first civilian governor in 1979, and later became the Peoples Democratic Party’s pioneer chairman, is dead.
He was 80.
Mr. Lar died in a United States hospital early Wednesday, after a protracted struggle with an unnamed ailment, Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang, said. The former governor had been on life support for days, fuelling earlier reports of his passing.
The Plateau governor broke the news of Mr. Lar’s eventual death to the newly-elected speaker of the Plateau State House Assembly, Titus Alarms, who had paid a courtesy visit on the governor shortly after taking office on Wednesday.
“Mr. Speaker, this is a sad news for us as a state, we have lost Baba Lar,” Mr. Jang said. “He has gone to be with the Lord.”
The governor had said earlier that Mr. Lar died at about 9 a.m. Nigerian time.
Mr. Lar was born April 1933. One of Nigeria’s most enduring politicians, he served in multiple capacities at the state and federal levels, in a political career that spanned more than half a century.
He was a member of the first post-independence federal parliament in 1960, and helped start the Nigerian People’s Party, NPP, in 1978.
Mr. Lar later became the governor of Plateau State on the platform of the NPP in 1979 having earlier received the party’s presidential nomination.
After the Muhammadu Buhari military junta swept away that civilian administration in 1983, he was investigated for corruption and sentenced to 88 years in prison although he was not found guilty. He was released from jail by the Ibrahim Babangida government.
Mr. Lar remained on Nigeria’s political turf for decades, deftly switching loyalty during intermittent military dictatorships. At a point, he served as police affairs minister under late dictator, Sani Abacha-a post he later resigned from.
In 1998, he was a prominent member of the Group of 34, led by former vice president, Alex Ekweme. When the group transformed to the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr. Lar became the party’s first chairman.
He left the post after barely three years, after enduring a prickly relationship with then President Olusegun Obasanjo; and later became the party’s Board of Trustees chairman in 2004.
When Mr. Obasanjo fell out with his former deputy, Atiku Abubakar, Mr. Lar backed Mr. Abubakar.
In Plateau State, Mr. Lar remained the most influential politician and retained, for years, an undying political influence that largely decided who became what-from state lawmakers to federal lawmakers to the state governor.
Regardless, he was largely respected and loved by the Plateau people and led repeated government effort at restoring peace to the crisis-ridden state that endured years of volatile sectarian crises between indigenous Berom-Christians and Hausa Muslims.
Mr. Lar’s most recent appointment was in 2010 when he was named chairman of the presidential committee on the Jos crisis.
PDP, Atiku, Tambuwal mourn
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has expressed “deep sadness” over the death of Mr. Lar, describing the development as a huge loss to Nigeria.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, in a statement said the death of the politician has “left a big vacuum not only in the party but in Plateau State and the nation at large.”
The party described Mr. Lar as a quintessential politician and patriot who sacrificed the greater part of his life for the entrenchment of true democracy and an egalitarian Nigeria where all are free.
“Our hearts reach out to the government and people of Plateau state, the millions of PDP family nationwide, but most importantly to his loved ones and immediate family.
“Chief Solomon Lar will be remembered for his insistence on the emancipation of the masses and his white handkerchief. That is why he was fondly called “The Emancipator”. PDP members will not forget the image of Chief Solomon Lar on the podium with his white handkerchief singing and dancing to the PDP song.”
The statement further said the “PDP at the national level will participate fully in ensuring that Chief Solomon Lar is given an equivalent of a party national burial”.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar also described Mr. Lar’s death as the loss of one of the country’s greatest statesmen.
“He was a leader Nigeria needed at each time of crisis,” Mr. Abubakar said; noting that his departure will be most felt at this time when there is growing disagreement among the country’s political elite.
Mr. Abubakar said Mr. Lar’s “fight for his middle-belt region in particular and Nigerians in general will be remembered by every worthy historian of this era.”
He prayed to God for the repose of his soul and to grant the entire Lar family, people and government of Plateau State and Nigerians as a whole the fortitude to bear the loss.
Also, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, said he received the news of Mr. Lar’s death with immense sadness and a feeling of great national loss.
In a statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Imam Imam, Mr. Tambuwal said Mr. Lar will always be remembered as a man of integrity whose forthrightness and wisdom stood him out among his peers.
He said the late former Plateau Governor lived a fulfilled life full of accomplishments and notable contributions to national unity.
While praying for the repose of the soul of the elder statesman, the Speaker urged his family, friends, associates and admirers to be comforted by the knowledge that he will always be remembered as a visionary and a universally acclaimed pacesetter who delivered positive results in all the public assignments he undertook.