Former Senate President, David Mark, still has another hurdle to scale, despite his return to the Senate following his victory in the recent Benue South senatorial district re-run as his main challenger, Comrade Daniel Onjeh, of the All Progressives Congress, APC, has filed a fresh petition before the Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, asking for his declaration as the outright winner of that election.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had declared Mark of the Peo ples Democratic Party, PDP, as the winner of the poll with a margin of 12,571 votes. Mark had polled 84,192 of the total votes cast, against Onjeh’s 71,621 votes.
Onjeh predicated his prayer at the tribunal on the ground that “the purported margin of win that led to the declaration of Mark was far less than the number of cancelled and rejected votes.”
According to him, evidence on the face of the Certified True Copy of result declaration sheets obtained from INEC have shown clear irregularities and non-compliance with Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
He said: “We have put an air tight petition with the hope that justice would be done to it and we would be out rightly declared winner.”
He maintained that in areas of his stronghold, results were either canceled or rejected without reason, and insisted that he won in five local government areas of Ado, Oju, Obi, Ohimini and Ogbadibo, adding that in the other four local govern
ment areas, results were either fabricated, or no accreditation took place or election shrouded in non-compliance with the Electoral Act.
This is not the first time On jeh would travel this road. He had shortly after the 2015 National Assembly election in which he lost to Mark, approached the tribunal alleging rigging, multiple thumb printing, over-stuffing of ballots, al location of votes, intimidation, harassment and inducement of voters among others.
The tribunal however upheld Mark’s victory on the ground that Onjeh failed to established any case against Mark. The Justice Mosumola Dipeolu-led three man panel, in its judgment held that the petitioner failed to substantiate any of his claims, saying this was “fatal” to his case.
The APC candidate however triumphed at the Court of Appeal. The appellate court, in nullifying the election, faulted the decision of INEC to declare Mark winner of the poll and ordered for a rerun within 90 days.
It was against this backdrop that both men returned to the trenches. And as expected, the rerun was characterized by tension and intrigues.
While Onjeh got the backing of APC chieftains from across the state and beyond, Mark had some of his political allies and associates deserting him when he needed them most. Among those who left Mark in the PDP and jumped into the ruling APC was a former Minister of State for Education, Dr. Jerry Agada, though he claimed his loyalty to the former Senate President remained, “considering what he did in my life.”
Others who embraced the ruling party in a bid to stop Mark from returning to the upper legislative chamber and make history as Nigeria’s longest serving legislator, (he has been in the Senate since 1999), were his military colleagues from the Idoma ethnic nationality.
Some groups under the aegis of United Idoma Citizens, UIC, were not left out. About 10 of them came together and asked Mark to back down from the race. The group in a statement by its coordinator, Sunday Ogbe, said it was time for Mark to step aside, having served as the political leader of the Idoma nation for 16 years. The group listed several abandoned projects including the Oweto road, Otukpo dam and University of Medical Sciences as some of his “sins.”
But while the APC basked in the defection of Mark’s former supporters to triumph in the poll, the camp of the for mer Senate President recorded a major political gain, when a longtime political rival of the former Senate President, Usman Abubakar, popularly known as ‘Young Alhaji’, declared his support for him.
Abubakar’s support for Mark came as a shock to most po litical observers in Benue South and he even took it further by joining Mark’s campaign team. No doubt, the support of Young Alhaji contributed to the PDP’s victory.
While the outcome of the poll did not go down well with the APC, Mark on his part, immediately he was declared winner of the poll, called for reconcili ation among the people of the area, promising not to betray the confidence reposed in him by electorate.
He said his victory was another call to service that re quired the collective efforts of the people to ensure a greater Idoma nation, adding: “Now that the elections are over, I beg those who fought me to join hands with me to build the Idoma nation, because this vic tory is for each and every one of us irrespective of our political, religious or tribal differences.”
This plea, perhaps, explains the recent call by some youths and opinion leaders from Idomaland for Onjeh to sheath his sword by withdrawing his fresh petition in the interest of the area.
Insisting that nothing can change the support of Benue South people for Mark, they described the APC candidate’s return to the election petition tribunal as “a huge joke” and “a sheer waste of time.”
The youths said: “His action is inimical to the progress of Idomaland. It would have been nice for him to respect himself and respect his political career and withdraw every ambition or any court action against Okpanyi (Mark). He should with draw the push and go to Mark who is our father, so that he can embrace him as his child. He is a good man; he has never rejected anybody.”
A youth leader in Apa Local Government Area of Benue State, Unah Kingsley, said: “But any attempt to go further on any court action will not speak well of him. It will give him a total knock out from Zone C politics, to the extent that he may not be able to contest any further election in Zone C or even councillor in his ward.”
Another youth leader in Benue South, Ada Fred Odan gla, said: “Onjeh doesn’t have Idoma agenda at heart. He is self-centered and playing desperate politics. He is out there to make money and going to the tribunal again shows he is not out to protect the Idoma nation. But I can tell you that it is a waste of time.
“Being a young and vibrant Idoma man, he should hold on a bit. We need a David Mark to continue to protect our interests. Nigeria is a big country with many tribes, so we need someone like him who can protect our interests.”
The acting District Head of Agatu, Emmanuel Oyigadu, also urged Onjeh to withdraw his petition in the interest of Idoma nation, saying: “The elders in Idomaland in Zone C consider David Mark as the bull who can fight for Zone C. He has served in the army, he was a minister, he was a governor and Senate President for eight years. We need a courageous person like him to be there to deliver Zone C.”
The legal fireworks are yet to commence as the tribunal is yet fix a date for the commencement of hearing on the matter, but the question most political analysts and observers in the area are asking is: Will Onjeh triumph again in the court in his bid to unseat Mark? Only time will tell.