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Benue South: Mark, Onjeh in make or mar contest

Written By Idoma Television on Saturday, January 9, 2016 | 10:29:00 PM

By The Nation

Benue-South Senatorial election re-run between Senator David Mark of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Comrade Daniel Onjeh of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is generating wide interest, reports Assistant Editor, Dare Odufowokan
The Benue South Senatorial District rerun election between Senator David Mark of the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) and Comrade Daniel Onjeh of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) has been scheduled to take place next month by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). According to the judgement ordering the rerun poll, it must take place within 90 days.

It would be recalled that the Appeal Court sitting in Makurdi had in November last year, nullified the Benue South Senatorial District election held in April of which Senator Mark was declared winner. The court nullified the election on the grounds of substantial breaches of the Electoral Act. INEC recently said it was prepared to conduct the ordered rerun in the district.

Candidate of the APC, Onjeh, a much younger man than his PDP counterpart, had challenged the victory of the former Senate President at the Election Petition Tribunal, alleging outright rigging, manipulation of votes and total inducement of the electorates. But the tribunal upheld the victory of the PDP.
The tribunal presided over by Justice Dipeolu Mosumola had dismissed Onjeh’s petition against Mark and held that the petitioner, (Onjeh) failed to prove his case because, according to the tribunal, the document tendered by the petitioner were mere hearsay evidence.

Dissatisfied, Onjeh proceeded to the Appeal Court in his determination to unseat Mark, who, but for PDP’s loss of its majority status in the Senate during the last general election, would have likely returned as Senate president for a third time, from the red chamber. He won and is now poised for a political showdown with the man many regard as the political godfather of the Idoma nation.

Too close to call
Ahead of the much anticipated rerun, anxiety currently pervades the air within the senatorial district in particular and Benue State in general as regards where the pendulum of victory will swing. Many analysts are of the opinion that the election for now, is too close to call.

Dr. Phillip Saror, the state representative of the Centre for Good Governance (CGG), told our correspondent that either of the two candidates can emerge victorious at the end of the rerun election. According to him, opinions and preferences are sharply divided over the duo and their political parties.

“The coming election is not easy to predict. It is not just about the candidates, it is also about their political parties. While it is unimaginable to say Onjeh, a political upstart, will defeat Mark, who is the undisputed godfather of Idoma politics, it is also difficult to say PDP will defeat APC anywhere in Benue state today.

It is not just about whether or not Mark can emerge victorious again. It is also about whether the people of Benue are willing to trust PDP again. A lot of factors will come to bear on the election and at the end of the day, the outcome will go a long way in showing how the people of the senatorial district view Senator Mark’s numerous years as a political office holder,” he said.

There have been strong agitations from some quarters within the senatorial district for Mark to pave the way for someone else, especially the younger generation, to represent Benue South at the National Assembly. The former Senate President has occupied the senate seat of the district since the return to civil rule in 1999, making him the longest serving senator in the country.

But not a few are saying the legislative experience garnered by Senator Mark since 1999 should not be allowed to waste away. Such people believe that Mark is capable and can deliver dividends of democracy. To them, another term for him to serve his people as a Senator is not too much for a man of his political status.

“Many don’t want to see the former Senate President disgraced politically, so they are urging the people to consider his political pedigree in the country and give him another chance. But the younger generation appears inpatient with Mark. Left to them, he is already on his way out,” Saror said.
There is also the issue of whether the people of the district will want to remain in the opposition party. The Deputy Governor of Benue State, Benson Abounu, said that it would amount to political suicide if the Idoma people follow Mark blindly into opposition.

“Do we now join the opposition today because David Mark wants to go for his fifth term as senator? Why does he still need four years at the Senate when in 16 years, eight of which he spent as the Senate President, he has been such a disappointment? Why does David Mark want the Idoma people to mortgage our future,” he asked?

The Deputy Governor, who hails from the same local government with the former Senate President, called on the people of Idoma land to embrace the wind of change, reject the sinking PDP and vote for Comrade Daniel Onjeh of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the re-run election.
But the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, in a statement in Abuja recently, said the confidence of the party of retaining the senatorial seat is even stronger now that the alleged deceit of the ruling APC has become obvious to all Nigerians.

Metuh described Mark as an asset to the nation, adding that he was sure the people of Benue-South would give him another resounding victory at the rerun election. He urged PDP supporters in Benue-South to resist any attempt to intimidate them, “especially in their determination to ensure an effective and result-oriented representation in the Senate.”

Last minute maneuvers
Perhaps conscious of the need to keep seeking the votes till the very last minute, the two contenders are now in a rat race for the support of the voters. Efforts to garner supports and endorsements are in top gear and the people of the district are being carried along in many ways.

The senatorial district’s chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) recently endorsed Mark for the re-run election. A statement by Mark’s media aide, Paul Mumeh, said, the former senate president was endorsed by the Benue South chapter of CAN during a solidarity visit.

The statement quoted the Chairman of the CAN chapter, Reverend Father Emmanuel Odufu, as saying the endorsement was a unanimous decision of their followers. “For us, we are pleased and very comfortable with you. Your sterling leadership qualities and record of achievements speak for you. We stand by you and we shall be with you all through,” Odufu reportedly said.
The group listed various projects attracted by Senator Mark to the zone to include but not limited to the Multi-Purpose Otobi Water Dam, the Oweto/Loko Bridge, health centres, schools and more importantly, the annual scholarship awards to students.

However, Idoma elders have thrown their weight behind Comrade Onjeh and the APC for the seat at the National Assembly. The group, under the aegis of the Idoma Elders’ Union, endorsed Onjeh as their candidate while advising Mark to bury his re-election bid.

Speaking to newsmen in Makurdi, Okpokwu Ogenyi, the coordinator of the group said Mark does not believe that any Idoma man or woman can attain any position of high responsibility without his approval which he will never give unless allegiance is paid to him.

“Mark is looking for a way to cover his shame as the people of Idoma are no longer ready to be further enslaved. Our position is that we want someone else to represent us at the National Assembly and that person is Daniel Onjeh. He is a young man we feel is capable of attracting development to Idoma land,” he said.

The candidates
Since the inception of the democratic experiment in 1999, former Senate President, Senator David Mark, has remained in the National Assembly as the senator representing Benue South. He surmounted several spirited efforts to unseat him.

Among those he defeated to remain the longest serving Senator in the country are General Geoffrey Ejiga (rtd), Major General Lawrence Onoja (rtd) and Alhaji Abubakar Mai Shano. He also overcame several attempts to get him unseated by the tribunals and the courts.

Before emerging a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1999, Mark had served the country as Minister of Communication and the Military Governor of Niger State during the military rule of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. A highly respected chieftain of the PDP, he is seen as one of the closest to former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan.

Comrade Daniel Onjeh became known in the country through his activities as a student union leader. He was the Zonal Coordinator of the National Association of Nigerian Students, (NANS) Zone A between 2001 and 2002. He was then a student of the Federal University of Technology, Minna.

In 2002, he contested and got elected as the President of NANS. His many battles with the Olusegun Obasanjo-led government back then endeared him to many Nigerians. He was rusticated from school on account of his activism. He was also arrested and detained on several occasions by the authorities.
He emerged as the senatorial candidate of the APC in the last National Assembly election and during the disputed election; he was in early lead until the result began to change leading to the eventual declaration of Senator David Mark as the winner by INEC
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