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Benue South Rerun: David Mark Vs Daniel Onjeh

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Former Senate President, Senator David Mark of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and one-time President of West Africa Students Union(WASU), Comrade Daniel Onjeh of All Progressives Congress, APC, will be slugging it out on February 20, 2016, in the rerun of Benue South senatorial election.

After the March 28, 2015 Senate election in Benue South, Mark was declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the winner, having polled a total of 99,538 votes against Onjeh’s 50, 115 votes. The ex-student leader was dissatisfied with the result announced by the electoral umpire and he proceeded to the tribunal.

At the tribunal, Mark thrashed Onjeh as his election was upheld. But the unwavering young man, who felt that the time has come for the soldier turned politician to step aside after 16 years in the Senate, headed for the Court of Appeal. Onjeh succeeded in getting the judgement of the tribunal quashed at the Appellate Court where a rerun was ordered. Hence, the duo of Mark and Onjeh are back to the trenches.

The Benue South rerun is one election that political watchers are finding it difficult to predict who will carry the day between Mark and the much younger Onjeh. Though, Mark had clearly won the annulled election, it is believed that the former number-three citizen may not find it easy this time around, especially now that APC is the party in power in Benue State and at the federal level. It is, without a shred of doubt, going to be a tough battle for the soul of Benue South.

Onjeh and his supporters have argued vehemently in different fora that Mark has done nothing meaningful for the people of his constituency in the over sixteen years he has spent in the Upper Chamber (out of which he was Senate President for eight years). For them, it is only proper for him to leave the stage for another person to be tried on the exalted Benue South Senate seat. In fact, they see his 16-year sojourn in the Red Chamber as “a complete disaster”.

The United Idoma Citizens (UIC) is among the groups queuing behind Onjeh and insisting that it was necessary for Senator Mark to step down. Coordinator of the group, Sunday Ogbe said: “Mark’s 16 years in the Senate is a complete disaster. His achievements were only seen on the pages of newspapers and blogs. As the number three man for eight years, his kinsmen had no portable water.”

On the contrary, Mark’s loyalists believe that his emergence as the Senator representing Benue South Senatorial District in 1999 remains “a great blessing” to the people of the zone. It is in their view that the ex-Senate President made significant impact on the lives of his constituents with his quality representation and people-oriented leadership. In the words of his followers, the achievements of Mark should not be a matter of debate, because they are there for everybody to see. They even alluded to the fact that Onjeh himself benefited directly from the largesse of Mark, who in their estimation, is a tested, reliable and trusted leader with great compassion for his people.

The Idoma Youth Vanguard, an umbrella body of youths in the nine Local Government Areas (LGAs) making up Benue South Senatorial District, believes that no sincere Idoma man would say Mark did not do anything to better the lot of his people in his 16 years of being a member of the highest legislative body in the country.

The group through its president, Mike Ocheibi, said: “If people like Onjeh loafs around with mischief that David Mark has not done anything for the Idoma nation, we dare ask, who made professor Jerry Agada , Abba Moro, Grace Ogwuche among others Ministers? Who brought the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) Otukpo study center? Who brought the multi–Billion Otobi water dam? Who facilitated the construction of multimillion naira Oweto Bridge now nearing completion? Can Onjeh in all honesty deny profiting from Mark’s Education programs! Every year, since 2005, over 1,000 students benefit from Mark’s Scholarship Foundation (DMSF). At least 20, 000 Benue sons and daughters who ordinarily would not have had access to school are today graduates on account of Mark’s benevolence.”

The Benue State Chairman of PDP, Dr. Emmanuel Agbo averred that nothing can stop the immediate past Senate President from emerging victorious in the Benue South rerun election. Agbo who is also the Coordinator of the Conference of PDP Chairmen, in an interview, said his party remains dominant in Benue South, stressing that there was no reason for them to fear, even though APC is at the moment the governing party in the state and at the centre. The PDP stalwart added that no amount of propaganda would work for any other candidate, as according to him, the people of Benue South are solidly behind Mark.

On his part, the APC Chairman in Benue, Abba Yaro, maintained that the PDP is going nowhere in the contest. He noted that the good work being done by the APC government in the state since it came on board last year would give Onjeh an added advantage in the rerun. Yaro said: “We are fully prepared to take on our opponent in the election and we will demonstrate to Nigerians that the era of dominance of David Mark has ended… Barnabas Gemade won the Benue North Senatorial election; Sen. George Akume also won the Benue North Central polls; and this election will not be an exception.”

For the Director General of Mark’s campaign organization, comrade Abba Moro, the February 20 rerun election for Benue South is about the Idoma nation and only the people can decide who their senator will be. Moro, the Minister of Interior under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan said the Idoma folks are not in a hurry to dump PDP, despite the recent defection of some major stakeholders in the party to APC.

Hear him: “Let no one be in doubt that this Benue South Senatorial District rerun election will be determined only by the votes of the people of the senatorial district. The people are resolved to resist any external infiltration that will truncate the democratic expression of the political will of the people. We wish to make clear that the people of Benue South Senatorial District are determined to revalidate the votes and mandates freely given to the PDP and its candidate, Senator David Mark.”

Michael Jegede, a media professional writes from Abuja

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Articles by Michael Jegede