Friday, 19 February 2016

Benue South Rerun: Mark, Onjeh Set To Make History

Between Senator David Mark of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Comrade Daniel Onjeh of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is a fight to the finish for the coveted seat of Benue South in the Red Chambers. AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE writes on the intrigues as both candidates get set for Saturday’s rerun election.

Like the infamous Roman Coliseum in 70-31 BC and Circus Maximus that witnessed one of the world’s most brutal animal fights as well as human destruction, where armed men fought each other in violent, often mortal, combat for fame, fortune, and even freedom.

The Roman games, watched by the Emperor and members of the Senate with a large crowd, was part of the culture of the people and played an important role in the social and political life of Rome at that time.

Often, unequal animals were pitched against each other and slaves too who also served as gladiators took their tune to fight each other for the soul purpose of entertaining the crowd. The end result was always fatal with blood spilled in tens of litres, sometimes surprises sprang up with the assumed weak taking the day.

The Appeal Court nullification of former Senate Presiden, Senator David Mark’s election into the Nigerian Senate to represent Benue South Senatorial District on November 28, 2015 in Makurdi has created an amphitheatre, a Coliseum for an epic battle for the political soul of Benue South.

The Appeal Court nullified Mark’s election over issues bothering on irregular dates in the first election between Senator David Mark of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Comrade Daniel Onjeh of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The nullification of the election of the history making Senator Mark, who was gunning for a record fifth term in the Nigerian Senate, has sparked off a political revolution never witnessed in the history of Benue South. Not even when Senator David Mark was seated as the Senate President for the 6th and 7th Senates.

Mark, since 1999, like a true warrior has conquered every frontier of aggression against his political ambition winning every election both at home and at the centre.

By 2007, he moved a step further to become Nigeria’s senate president, a coveted position envied by his peers from his North Central Zone of the country. He claimed the record of being one of the longest serving senators in Nigeria and the longest to hold the position of Senate President of Nigeria, sometimes described as the ‘DE factor President’ of Nigeria.

Mark’s victory at home was another peculiarity personified in his dominance in Benue South in the last 16 years but at the centre, he was weakened to just sitting on the Red chamber with almost no say in the affairs of the Senate.

His bitter rival and juvenile in politics but with a courage to fight, Daniel Onjeh, a former students’ union leader lost at home but was instrumental for his party, the APC in taking Benue State and the federal government.

Daniel Onjeh’s doggedness in confronting ‘Almighty’ Mark, a colossus that knows no failure in election was unprecedented in the political tracks of Benue South. He pulled over 51,000 votes for the APC in the zone.

However, since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the new date for the rerun, the atmosphere in Benue South has become more tensed and a replica of the Roman circus of survival of the fittest.

Indeed for the first time, the lion of Zone C is being confronted by forces never imagined in history.

Mark, an ex-soldier, military governor, minister and a seasoned public administrator is facing a tough time in his political life. Some observers have, however, tagged the February 20, 2016 rerun as the ‘hottest’ and a battle of a gladiator versus a puppet who enjoys the support of the emperor.

Even before the nullification of Mark’s election by the Appeal Court, the war of words had begun. The comrade politician wasted no time in firing at Mark then as Senate president when he paid a visit to Muhammadu Buhari then as president-elect.

Onjeh described David Mark’s visit to Buhari as unnecessary with little or no importance. He said Mark was on a ‘wild goose chase’ and cannot subvert or change the cause of justice.

In a swift reaction, James Oche, the national coordinator of David Mark Door2Door, issued a statement in which he stressed that Onjeh was overstepping his boundary and should be called to order. “I do not want to dignify a certain Daniel Onjeh with a response. I believe that in our culture and indeed Africa, tradition is held in high esteem and respect for elders is an integral part. When a young man consistently misbehaves, there is a tendency to ask if his mother was properly married to his father, Daniel Onjeh arguably fits into this category.”

While Onjeh is riding on the virtues of President Muhammadu Buhari and heavily backed by Mark’s political rival, former governor of Benue State, Senator George Akume with the support of the sitting governor, Samuel Ortom, Mark is building on the successes of the past.

There are those who insist that David Mark must be retained for a record fifth term in the Senate, while others are of the opinion that it is time to try new hands after 16 years of Mark’s sojourn in the Senate.

The members Mark’s school of thought are of the view that Mark, who served as the Senate President for a record of eight years must remain to conclude the work he has already started in the zone. Some of the projects listed by the group include, the 17 Billion Naira Otukpo Multi-Purpose Dam in Otobi-Ankpa, the situation of a centre of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Medical School, and the Law Faculty of the University of Agriculture, Makurdi all in Otukpo and over 14,000 scholarships awarded.

Others are some critical federal appointments influenced by Mark including ministerial portfolios, board chairmen and members and appointments into several MDAs enjoyed by thousands of youths from Zone C.

Also, the construction of hundreds of rural projects in the zone, some of which were abandoned by the ministries in charge. They also argued that Mark raised the issue of Apa State creation in the failed constitutional amendment.

Critics of Mark were, however, quick to point at the high level of poverty in Idomaland where he represented for 16 years in Abuja. His lifestyle of opulence; flying in and out of Otukpo in a chopper; running a lavished golf course in a city where one could easily contract catarrh in minutes of walking down a street because of the bad state of infrastructure.

In fact, it is in view of Mark’s critics that the former senate president drove for the first time in 16 years from Abuja to Otukpo after his election was nullified by the court. He had no idea of what his people go through while travelling on the terrible federal roads that have claimed several lives.

Mark’s Tiv Blame

Mark’s rival, Onjeh had referred to him as “Uncle” while dismissing claims that he was being sponsored by some politicians from Tiv nation. Onjeh however advised the former senate president, whom he called, “Uncle David” to drop out of the race having attained his ‘political menopause.’

He wrote on his Facebook page, “My people appear to be the most gullible in the whole world! “From using the bogey of APA State creation to being a life senate president and now, his rerun election being about the fight between the Tivs and Idomas.”

“The Tivs are certainly not responsible for our stagnation but ourselves! Uncle Mark being a senator for 16 years, and senate president for eight years, who was touted the ‘DEFACTO PRESIDENT’, had all the opportunities in the world to develop Benue South but rather, elected to suffocate the zone further.”

“The infrastructural development of the Senatorial Zone of his former deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, reinforces this point.”

“Uncle Mark has always told us that we are a minority and as such we can’t afford to be in the opposition, why is he eating back his word by advocating we join the opposition?”

“Being inherently an activist, in spite, a young man from a very humble background, determined to free my people, I have fought this far, and it doesn’t matter if I stand alone, I shall fight till the end!”

“I’m better situated to attract development to Benue South than Uncle Mark, as President Buhari would prefer to believe and trust my submissions about the zone. Besides, Uncle Mark has attained his political ‘menopause’, this is evident in his redundancy in the Senate! Thus, his return will amount to silencing the voiceless voice of the Idoma nation in the senate.”

On the triumphant entry of Senator Mark to Otukpo town, he told supporters that the rerun election is a battle for the survival of the Idoma nation. Insisting that only the Idoma man and woman will decide his political future not outside interference.

He lamented the level of interest shown in the affairs of the Idoma people in recent times. The Mark campaign organisation are of the view that Comrade Daniel Onjeh is a puppet of Senator George Akume and Governor Samuel Ortom, using Onjeh to clip the wings of Mark.

But in a simple reaction to the wailing of Mark and his team, Onjeh said in a recent interview that: “When it suits him, it’s not a crime. Come to think of it, are Governor Ortom and Senator Akume PDP? No, they are APC. Is he encouraging them to do anti-party?”

Defection and Loyalty

The defection of key members of the PDP and some former aides of David Mark to the APC in January may have rattled the Mark organisation which never saw it coming. Otukpo went on stand still mode as chieftains of the PDP in Zone C and thousands of their supporters decamped en masse to the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the launch of Daniel Onjeh’s campaign for the rerun.

Among the defectors are former deputy governor of Benue State, Chief Steven Lawani; former minister of state, Niger Delta, Sam Ode; former minister of state for Education, Prof Jerry Agada and federal permanent secretary of defence, Chief Mike Okibe.

On hand to receive them were the National Chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie and Benue State governor, Dr Samuel Ortom.

While some of Mark’s former political aides may have abandoned ship for Mark to stir, key allies like Abba Moro, former minister of Interior and current director-general of Mark campaign organisation as well as members of the National and State Assemblies of PDP extraction are firmly behind Mark ahead of the rerun.

Political observers in Benue South were shocked recently when Mark’s long-time rival, Usman Abubakar, also known as Young Alhaji declared his support for Mark against his Orokam kinsman, Onjeh.

In spite of the political rivalry between Young Alhaji and Mark, which saw the former dragging Mark twice to court over the outcome of the 2003, 2007 election, Young Alhaji is one of his campaign team members.

It was a signal that in spite of Mark losing known face to the APC, he is not a push over in the contest. Young Alhaji was quoted to have said that his reason for supporting Mark was borne out the feeling that the contest is for the soul of the Idoma nation and not APC verses PDP.

The social media community, particularly twitter is agog with pro-Mark and pro-Onjeh at work. The media team of the PDP came up with a trend, #MarkOfImpact, thus, using it to showcase the achievements of Mark in the zone. Even though several completed projects were reeled out to the public, the APC team, countered it with #MarkOfShame, arguing that Mark ruined the zone for 16 years.

Plot To Assassinate Mark

The war of words between the two recently reached a fever pitched level when the Mark group issued a press statement of an assassination plot by Daniel Onjeh’s hench man, Okpokwu Ogenyi to eliminate Senator David Mark.

In a statement signed by Mark’s media assistant, Mr Paul Mumeh which LEADERSHIP Friday copied, Mark stated that plots by the All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftains in Benue State to assassinate the former president of the Senate,  Senator David Mark ahead of the Saturday, February 20, 2016, rerun election  for Benue South has been uncovered.

“The APC candidate for the election, Daniel Onjeh through his campaign director, Okpokwu Ogenyi in connivance with the state deputy governor, Benson Abounu are alleged to have hired the services of cultists and some armed gangs to unleash terror in Benue South and in the process target Senator Mark for elimination.”

Credible sources listed the cultists hired for the assassination to include but not limited to the notorious supreme Vikings squad from Jos, Plateau State as well as the dreaded Black Axe in Makurdi, Benue State,” it stated.

It also stated that, already, Senator Mark has alerted the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Solomon Arase of the plot by the APC stalwarts in Benue to assassinate him.

In a petition to the IGP signed by his counsel, Mr Ken Ikonne, it was alleged that one Okpokwu Ogenyi is the arrow head of the plot.

In the petition, Ikonne told the IGP that “it is obvious that Ogenyi knows more about the assassination plot than he has revealed.”

“Our client has therefore instructed us to petition you (IGP) to as a matter of urgency apprehend and interrogate Ogenyi to throw more light on the details of this grave assassination plot before he and his associates carry out the dastardly plot.”

It also accused the Police said to be attached to the state deputy governor, Benson Abounu for firing several gun shots into the family house of Senator Mark in Otukpo.

A couple of weeks ago, Benue  State chairman of the APC, Mr Abbah Yaro  was quoted as saying “if Senator Mark wants, let him win the election in seven out of the nine local government areas  but no returning officer born of a woman will dare declare him.”

His PDP counterpart, Dr Emmanuel Agbo had petitioned the Nigeria Police over the unhealthy political activities of APC in Benue State ahead of the election and asked the authorities to prevail on them to allow peace reign.

But in swift reaction to the allegation, APC’s candidate, Daniel Onjeh called Mark a wailing wailer. He said Mark’s allegation that he was planning to assassinate him was false and denied that any member of his team was harbouring such intentions.

He went on to state that Mark’s allegation was borne out of fear of imminent defeat.

He maintained that his political ambition is not worth the blood of any man, adding that he or any member of his team has no intention to kill a former military general.

When LEADERSHIP Friday recently visited Otukpo, it was observed that residents of the town are very apprehensive of the outcome of the election and many who spoke said the two candidates both have a bright chance of taking the day on Saturday, February 20, 2016.

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