|David Mark vs Dan Onjeh|
By DAILY TRUST
From all indication, the rerun of Benue State south senatorial election ordered by an appellate court between the former senate president, David Mark, and All Progressives Congress (APC)’s candidate, Daniel Onjeh would not be a walkover for either of the contestants.
A Court of Appeal sitting in Makurdi had in November last year sacked Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s Mark and ordered for a fresh election within 90 days in the nine local government areas of the zone C south senatorial district of the state.
Even since the judgment considered by political watchers to be a setback for the PDP which suffered major defeat in the 2015 general election, shades of opinion has continued to trail discourse about the fate of the Idoma-born political ‘demigod’ who had held onto the highest political office of the zone for the past 16 years.
While it appeared that Mark’s camp had been treading lowly, the supporters of his challenger seem to be sounding loudly so much so that it has become pertinent to ask: what becomes of David Mark? Will he survive the ordeal of the yet-to-be fixed date repeat election?
More so, that only recently there were speculations that he was reaching out to his people with the resumption of road construction that was rejected even to the extent that the people chased him away in places in his Otukpo country home, on grounds that they can not be deceived any longer to cast their votes for him.
Some places where the said construction work are currently ongoing in Otukpo included Otukpa street, Jericho road, Ajene street/Etina way through zone HB, Ojira road and Odugbo street.
Even though, a signpost erected at the area indicated that the job was contracted to the Rock Bridge Construction company by the Lower River Benue Basin Authority, the rumour had been that the former senate president was behind the initiative to curry support of his people at this time when he could no longer sell the creation of proposed Apa State to buy his way into the senate as usual.
A resident of Otukpa street, one of the roads being constructed, Barr. Mark Ofikwu, however dismissed the rumour that the alleged gesture by Mark was rejected as he described the rumuor as a mere propaganda and untrue.
“It is not true that any such thing happened in this area. Residents have not rejected the work going on here neither have they chased away the workers or any other person. As a matter of fact, we are very happy with the construction of the road.
“We don’t even think that Mark is the one doing the project because there is a signpost to that effect showing that the Lower Benue Basin Authority had contracted it to Rock Bridge. The contracting firm had already graded the street before proceeding on new year break and they promised us that they were returning to work on 9th January,” Ofikwu said.
While ascribing the rumour to the handiwork of those who might be doing so to settle, perhaps, a perceived political score, the legal practitioner added that the activities of youths in the area was well coordinated under the leadership of a mayor, insisting that nobody had so far showed disgust or ridiculed Mark in the vicinity.
Similarly, another resident, Emmanuel Oko who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday maintained that the rumour was unfounded, bias and intended to reduce the personality of Senator Mark in the eyes of the people.
“I’m not a politician but I can tell you that Mark is too prestigious to be mocked by some self-seeking opportunists. Nobody can reduce Mark’s personality in Idoma land. All they are doing is propaganda. Those of us residing here know that the work ongoing is the project of Lower Basin Authority and nobody had rejected it,” Oko responded angrily.
However, the rumour in certain quarters maintained that Mark is the brain behind the roads constructions and that he had been reaching out to his people with constituents fund he withheld from them over the years in other similar ways. And those who are bent on ensuring that he does not return to the senate have sworn to the fact that he would be sufficiently disgraced at the polls.
For instance, in a statement signed and made available to Daily Trust on Sunday by the Chief Press Secretary to the state deputy governor, Ede Ogaba Ede at the end of a crucial stakeholders meeting of the zone C APC held at the Government House in Makurdi on Tuesday, Governor Samuel Ortom called on people of the district to ensure that their expressed wish to be part of the nation’s political mainstream is not subverted.
The statement also suggested to senator Mark to humbly withdraw from the senatorial re-run election and save himself the humiliation of a crushing defeat.
While deputy governor, Engr. Benson Abounu, who made the call at the expanded caucus meeting was quoted to have said that the best way Mark could avoid the looming defeat is for him to step down from the contest, noting that the decision of the Idoma people to embrace the APC is irrevocable.
Part of the statement read: “the contest is one that pitches the former senate president and his personal ambition against the people and their desire to be part of the change agenda of the APC. The decision by the Idoma people to reject opposition politics is a time-honoured one, collectively taken by them to prevent being obliterated politically.”
Abounu further disclosed that, for that reason, Senator Mark had always argued for the people to remain in the mainstream of the nation’s politics and wondered why the same Mark would now turn a round to ask them to do exactly what would afflict them politically and economically.
At the meeting, Governor Ortom who commended the people for their strong support for the APC, assured them that the acts of thuggery, ballot snatching and stuffing would not be tolerated during the re-run elections and that everything would be done to ensure that their votes truly count.
On the other hand, the state party chairman, Comrade Abba Yaro, expressed confidence in the ability of the party to win the election. He however charged members to brace up and work hard to ensure that the victory is incontestable.
Yaro who accused the PDP of moving round to buy up Permanent Voter’s Card (PVCs) from unsuspecting voters called on the people not to sell or give their PVCs to anyone, but to hold onto them as it is the symbol of their power.
The party’s candidate for the coming polls, Onjeh on his part assured the people of his determination to change the face of representation by giving them qualitative representation at the Senate.
Onjeh opined that the contest is not between himself and David Mark but one between the people and the former senate president even as he lamented the lack of motorable roads, health facilities, industrial concerns and general lack of infrastructure in the constituency and blamed Mark for closing his eyes to them.
The meeting also received goodwill messages from leaders of the party, among them, Chief Obande Obeya, General Lawrence Onoja (rtd), former House of Representatives member, Nelson Alapa and Barr. Jacob Ajene.
No doubt, much as the rerun promises to be a fierce battle between the two major political parties in the area, the people are torn between two opinions as to whether to allow Mark return to finish his fifth tenure or queue behind a fresh horn.
This generated controversy, however, in the thinking of Adah Entonu, an Otukpo-based political observer would at the end of the election redefine Idoma politics, as he posited that history would not only be made but that lessons would be learnt by politicians in the area.
He nevertheless noted optimistically that Mark would emerge victorious for the simple reason that the majority of electorate may vote his return to the red chamber to complete his tenure.
“Despite what it may look like now, Mark is still a grandmaster in this game. Agreed, he has shortcomings, but the electorate would overlook it and rerun him again to complete his tenure,” Entonu submitted.
His argument contended that Mark’s monopoly grip of the senate seat since the country retuned to democracy in 1999 may not be sufficient reason to humiliate him out of office in the forthcoming polls, considering his political status in the country and his contribution to the Idoma nation.
Moreover, the idea in Entonu’s estimation that external forces are doing everything possible to reduce the popularity of the Idoma people at the helms of the country’s affairs which Mark had painstakingly portrayed positively over the years means a plus for him.
In the same vein, forrmer Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, during the week advised the Idoma people not to betray Senator Mark’s benevolence for them, fingering his Tiv kinsmen among other external influence who rejoiced over the nullification of Mark’s election to have a hidden agenda beyond mere political party loyalty.
“They do not mean well for the Idoma nation. The game of politics should be clean and honest but the way we take it in Benue portrays us as selfish, deceitful and wicked individuals. If the two senators in Tivland are truly involved in the evil scheme to remove Mark, then, they are jealous of Mark’s achievements and want to bring him down by all means.
“None of them has achieved ones third in their senatorial districts what Mark has achieved for the Idomas. This apart, the Idomas reserve the right to choose their leader and know who represent them better,” Tsav said.
The former police commissioner further challenged his kinsmen who are perceived to be plotting Mark’s downfall to rather demonstrate their love for the Idoma people by making a case for the governorship seat of the state to shift to the Idoma axis, adding that the present administration in the state was so selfish to have denied the tribe the post of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) which had been traditionally theirs.
“I wish the Idoma electorate will be wise to do the needful. They should not allow anyone to deceive and mislead them,” Tsav maintained.
Meanwhile, as both supporters of the contestants continue to engage in verbal war over their preference for a particular candidate, the obvious debate among the electorate is whether or not to settle for the popular saying, “that the devil you know is better than the angel you do not know.”
As for the chances of Mark, it is not certain at the moment, especially with the defecting of PDP members in the zone in recent times to the APC, coupled with the alleged massive deployment of the state ruling APC’s resources to capture the seat at all cost.
However, the influence of Mark in the eyes of observers cannot be wished away with a wave of hand, even though he seem not to be presently joining issues with his supposed detractors as the case might look on the surface, it is believed that the man is unarguably full of wisdom and working behind the scene to sustain his seat in the days ahead.
Just maybe like his biblical namesake who reputedly fought 66 wars and lost none to his enemies, David Mark would win again, this time however on a slim margin, which is likely to help him gradually exit the political scene in grand style by 2019.