By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Saturday’s Benue South senatorial rerun election between Senator David Mark of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and Daniel Onjeh of the All Progressives Congress, APC, may have come and gone, but issues arising therefrom, before, during and after the poll will continue to generate controversy.
That poll became necessary after the Justice Peter Ige-led appellate court, on November 28., 2015, nullified the election of the immediate past Senate President, and ordered fresh election within 90 days. Following that judgement, the parties went back to the trenches to prepare for an election that would shake the very foundation of the Benue South. The 90 days leading to that election would remain indelible in the minds of the people of Idoma land.
The period witnessed political maneuvering, allignment and reallignment of forces, intrigues and back stabbing. Though the rerun election was more of a popularity test for the immediate past Senate President rather than a contest, it was also believed in some quarters that it provided the PDP henchman an opportunity to know his die-hard loyalists.
Those who held this view premised their argument on the fact that, Mark was for the first time running for a Senate seat on the flank of an opposition party at both the federal and state levels. The contestants were left with no other option than to sell themselves to the electorate.
Mark’s campaign was led by a former Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, from Okpokwu Local Government Area, LGA, while Onjeh’s team was led by Bar. John Ochoga, from Ado LGA. Moro and his team adopted the strategy of quietly visiting the electorate in the villages and by so doing created the impression in the minds of their opponents they had given up the contest.
The APC, on the other hand, went on a loud campaign and even went as far as inviting the National Chairman of the APC, Chief Odigie-Oyegun to Otukpo, where he supervised the defection of some notable personalities from the PDP to the APC. Among those who left the camp of Mark and the PDP were a former Senate President in the short lived third republic, Senator Ameh Ebute; former Ministers, Jerry Agada and Sam Ode; and a former Deputy Director General of Mark’s campaign organization, Dr. John Enyi.
Others include former members of the state House of Assembly, former members of the State Executive Council and political leaders from various communities in the area.
This, however, did deter the PDP team which sustained its rather secretive and sometimes nocturnal campaigns. In fact, at the peak of the campaigns and given the enormous interest the rerun election was generating among the majority Tiv tribe who had no business in the poll and their untoward disposition to have Onjeh defeat Mark, the minority Idomas, who constitute the south district, felt slighted.
The PDP family took advantage of the people’s line of thought, by reawakening the consciousness of the people to the fact that those supporting Onjeh were the alleged “slave masters” who would rather die than have an Idoma man emerge as governor of the state, Speaker of the state Assembly, Chief Judge of the state or even the Vice Chancellor of the state owned university.
The campaign also harped on the fact that the APC-led state government was bankrolling the campaign of its candidate even while owing workers several months salaries after accessing the Federal Government bailout funds.
The PDP took this message to feverish level and it eventually torpedoed the propaganda the ruling party had mustered. Aside the non payment of salaries, which was also the bane of the last PDP government in the state, reference was made to the several development projects that the former Senate President attracted to his constituency.
According to the Director General of the Mark Campaign, Moro, “our campaigns were issue based, we made the people realize the need to return senator Mark back to the Senate because under him we as a people have enjoyed so much benefits”. On his part, the Director of Media of the organization, Dr. Adakole Elijah, said, “The election was not seen as a personal luggage of Senator Mark. It was a quest towards the extrication of the minority Idoma people in Benue State from marginalization”. The APC had centered its campaign on the fact that Mark had been in the Senate for 16 years without visible impact on the lives of the people of the area.
The campaign team, which at a time came under the direct supervision of the state Deputy Governor, Engineer Benson Abounu, traversed the length and breath of the district, urging the people to steer clear of opposition politics and remain in mainstream politics.
Onjeh, in a recent interview, also stated that he went into the race to deliver his people from the PDP and Mark. At the end of it all, the rerun, held without major incidents, saw Mark emerging victorious, polling 84, 192 to defeat Onjeh who garnered 71, 621 votes. Mark won in five local government areas namely, Okpokwu, Agatu, Apa, Ado and Otukpo, while Onjeh won in Oju, Obi, Ohimini and Ogbadibo. Not satisfied with the outcome of the poll, the APC candidate has vowed to challenge it at the law court.