Wednesday, 16 December 2015

David Mark’s Date with History

When the people of Benue South Senatorial District gathered on Saturday, December 12, to a tumultuous reception in honour of erstwhile Senate President David Mark, in Otukpo, it was another measure of how much of an institution the veteran legislator has become in Nigeria’s growing democracy. The event, from reports, was epochal and a touch of ethnic sentiment pervaded the atmosphere.

This ‘reception’ is coming on the heels of the nullification, on Saturday, November 28, in Makurdi, by an Appeal Court of the return of Mark to the senate for a record 5th term. It was a major development on the political spectrum of Nigeria. The appellate court’s declaration, expectedly generated ripples with a cross-section of Nigerians who feel strongly about the issue.

By this particular verdict of the judiciary, issues of credibility of an expectedly credible arm of government comes into question as the Returning Officer to the April Election expressed strong reservations with the judgment.

Several pertinent issues have come to the fore as fallout of this judicial process. Senator Mark’s victory during the March 8 National Assembly elections was challenged by the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Daniel Onjeh, an erstwhile student leader with a widely perceived penchant for popular grandstanding at the Benue South National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal.

While the Tribunal led by Justice Mosunmola Dipelu dismissed Onjeh’s petition demanding the cancellation of the election and ordering the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), also a party to the petition, to conduct a new exercise, the reversal of this unanimous judgment by the Justice Peter Ige-led appellate bench has been interpreted in different shades among Nigerians and elicited considerable concern especially from the Idoma nation where Senator Mark represents in the Senate.

“The judgment of Justice (Mosunmola) Dipelu led tribunal of October 7, 2015 dismissing the petition is nullified. Therefore the election of Senator David Mark is hereby set aside. INEC by this judgment is to conduct fresh senatorial election in the Benue South District within 90 days,” the Appeal Court sitting in Makurdi declared.

As the controversies surrounding this judgment with dire political significance subsisted even with many Nigerians crying foul over an apparent flout of judicial authority, the Returning Officer during the election, Professor Lateef Tiamiyu was reported by THISDAY as challenging the action of the appellate court, insisting that INEC followed due process while declaring Senator Mark winner of the election.

According to Professor Taimiyu, who claimed to be ready to defend his role in that election at any point in time, “The senatorial election result of Benue South Senatorial District was announced by me after the collation of the results in the nine local governments areas that make up the district.

“The contention that results were announced while collation was still going on is not correct. I never announced the results while collation was still going on. That did not happen. All the results from the nine local government areas were completely collated before I announced the results. I have integrity to protect, so I am ready to defend that at anytime,” the professor told THISDAY.

Though the dismissal of Senator Mark’s election was premised on a somewhat questionable ground of INEC announcing results while election was still ongoing, this reaffirmation of due process by the electoral officer, who is statutorily empowered to announce results of election and a professor of repute calls to question the declaration of the Appeal Court.

Another salient issue that has emerged from this court declaration is the socio-political considerations of the systems. THISDAY checks revealed that Mark has become more of an institution in representative democracy that his legislative experience wields considerable influence in the Nigerian setting.

“This judgment is an affront on commonsense and a direct assault on the political leadership of a section of Nigeria. This is directed at insulting the political identity of the Idoma people and the people have seen the ploy in all of these.

“The Idoma people are peace-loving and are united at ensuring that external forces do not tear us apart. Reelecting Senator Mark is a collective consensus of the people of the constituency, no doubts,” Professor Owoh Akpa, a former university administrator told THISDAY over the weekend.

Since this appellate court declaration, the old political divide and traditional fault lines between the Tivs and the Idomas became more evident. The preponderance of views among the Idomas is that the Tiv political oligarchs are using their comparative political advantage to influence the process against Mark.

While some Idomas are still able to come to terms with the aspirations of Candidate Onjeh, there seems to be a consensus that the electoral rematch would be a contest between the collective aspirations of the Idoma people towards being among the scheme of national considerations and the quest for APC to further its political dominance.

Speaking during the Otukpo reception for him, Mark remarked that his constituent should “see this forthcoming rerun polls as challenge for our emancipation. We must not allow external forces to dictate our political destiny. We won the election clearly. We will win again. These are trying times, but history will judge because the mandate of the people cannot be compromised under any circumstances.
“We must be vigilant against external forces that are bent on capitalising on the situation to divide us and weaken our collective resolve. But I know their attempt will fail because only the Idoma can decide his future and destiny.

As the rerun election draws closer with both parties building their war chest, the choice before the electorate of Benue South Senatorial District is obviously between sustaining an institution committed to the greater good of the people which the former Senate President embodies and experiment with a youth believed to bode trivialities for an ethnic nationality that is strategic to Nigeria’s political evolution.

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