BENUE GUBER & THE DYNAMICS OF POLITICS IN BENUE SOUTH SENATORIAL ZONE
Benue south senatorial zone (zone C) comprises of nine Local Government Areas, six of which begin with letter O namely Otukpo, Ogbdibo, Okpokwu, Ohimini, Oju and Obi, while the remaining three begin with letter A, Agatu, Ado and Apa. Oju and Obi are inhabited majorly by the Igedes, while the dominant Idomas occupy the other seven.
Historically, the Idomas have felt marginalised by their co-tenants in the Benue valley, the Tiv people. Since the creation of the state in 1978, the Idomas have not being given the opportunity to rule the state in the capacity of Governor. After several failed promises, they have gradually carved a political niche for themselves and found alternative ways of being relevant. Amongst other ways, they have been the deciding factor in governorship elections in the state, at least since 1999. Since then, they have consistently voted in favour of the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). One of the key reasons behind this have been their political figurehead, Senator David Mark who have been senator since 1999 and as the senate president, the number three man in the country, the 2015 general elections was going to be business as usual.
Senator Mark wasn't bestowed the tittle of Okpokpowulu k'Idoma (the bulldozer or leader of war) by his kinsmen for nothing. After so long at the senate, apart from influencing jobs placements to their children, he was considered the only one with the impetus to one day confront and liberate the Idoma nation from Tiv dominated Benue state – the Idoma agenda. Andy Obeya in his article titled BUHARI, APC AND THE POLITICAL FUTURE OF IDOMAS on Idomavoice.com captures it beautifully, “we watched him treat our Tiv brothers like slaves, hijacked all the opportunities and never gave them any opportunity to enjoy certain benefits. While our brothers from the other end were languishing in pains, we were jubilating and making snide remarks like 'that serves them right, Mark knows how to deal with the Tivs, they have marginalised us enough and this is payback time' ”
Senator Mark had from day one, promised to influence the creation of an Apa State for his people and on this promise he won elections sometimes undeservedly if it were based on performance. The 2015 general elections presented yet another opportunity for the people of zone C to show their commitment to the struggle by voting Senator David Mark and his party, the PDP yet again.
Expectedly, the PDP swept through zone c winning all nine LGAs with a difference of 34,953 votes in the presidential elections and of course Senator Mark returning to the senate for a consecutive fifth time. That notwithstanding, the wind of change which swept throughout the country including the other zones of Benue state, led to the victory of APC as Gen Mohammadu Buhari beat president Goodluck Jonathan to become the president elect.
This sudden change in the fortunes of the PDP left the people of zone C bare, light and exposed; the Idoma agenda will not see the light of day under an opposition – what PDP was sure to become. Who else to blame than the leader, “…our political leader (David Mark) has thrown us into opposition with no explanations as to what fate beholds us as a people” Mr. Obeya writes.
The uncertainty was palpable and the intervening two weeks between the presidential and governorship elections was going to be critical to reaccess the agenda and realign appropriately so as not to be left in political wilderness in the next administration. Senator Mark's patriarchal influence had fallen apart and its pieces picked up by other politicians who held sway in their various localities. Those two weeks saw an unprecedented level of defection into the APC of big wigs such as Gen Lawrence Onoja, Dr Mathias Oyigeya and Chief Agbo Oga with several others working for the APC behind the scene while maintaining a PDP front.
Inasmuch as there was generally a low turnout of voters in the state compared to the presidential elections, there was actually a 6.8% (20,964) increase in voters in zone C. Such was the desire of the people to take matters into their own hands at least for this once. Even though the PDP still won the won in the zone again, they did so by a pantry 2,333 votes, meaning the margin with which they won the presidential election had dropped by 87.5%. The APC candidate won only 3 out of the 9 Local Governments quite alright but he got 48% in Apa, Obi and Ado, 45.4% in Ohimini, 40% in Okpokwu and 28% in Agatu. For a party that had no significant structure in Zone C at the start of the race, this was landslide. The APC and PDP practically cancelled each other out in zone C leaving the already all-Tiv governorship contest in the hands of the Tiv speaking part of the state, zone A and B to determine the fate of their sons.
What next for the people of zone C and what becomes of the Idoma agenda is a story for another day but one thing is sure, that never again will they shut their eyes and let one man determine their fate.
Ushakuma Anenga, a columnist on Benue.com.ng , writes from Makurdi and tweets using @UAnenga