By Ejikeme Joseph, Lagos, and James Ibechi, Makurdi
With the February 20 Benue South Senatorial Election Re-run drawing nearer, a Middle Belt leader, High Chief Ochi Ode Emmanuel, has said that the people of the region, as well as the indigenes of the state are not happy with former Senate President, David Mark, one of the candidates for the election, who is running under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) platform.
Mark, a four-term Senator, his closest rival in the last election, Daniel Onjeh of the All Progressives Congress (APC), are returning to the polls following the cancellation of the result of the last poll by the Appeal Court.
It would be recalled that Mark’s victory at the Benue South Senatorial District election was challenged by Onjeh on the grounds that the poll was marred by irregularities.
But, the Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Makurdi had in October upheld the election of the former Senate President.
Undeterred by the ruling, Onjeh challenged the decision of the tribunal, before the Appeal Court. Onjeh’s lawyer, Adetunji Oso, argued that the tribunal erred when it held that the papers tendered by his client were mere documentary hearsay.
He urged the Appellate Court to allow his appeal and set aside the decision of the Tribunal. In setting aside the election of the former Senate President, Justice Ige ruled that the election of David Mark was fraught with so many irregularities that it failed all tests of “freeness and fairness.”
However, in an exclusive interview in Lagos, Ochi, Chairman of the Middle Belt Traditional Council (MBTC) in South West Nigeria, stated that although he does not oppose the continuation of Mark in the Senate, “he (David Mark) has not done much for his people.”
Ode maintained that although Onjeh is younger and less experienced compared with Mark, the Benue South Senatorial re-run election is not matter of being young or old, but rather that of quality representation.
The MBTC Chairman lamented that for the long years Mark has spent in the Senate, especially his eighth years as Senate President and the Number Three Citizen of the nation, Middle Belt and in fact Benue State and the Benue South Senatorial District have nothing to show for his representation.
Ode stressed: “In his position as Number Three Citizen of Nigeria for eight years, he was regarded as the de facto President as it was being rumoured in many quarters. If that is the case, he has not done much for his people.
“The roads to his senatorial district and the state are death traps. The presence of the Federal Government establishments in the state is nothing to write home about.
“Though leadership is not about selfishness, but it will not be counted against him as selfishness if he was able to attract several federal establishments to his state as Number One or Number Three most powerful man in the Federal Government for eight solid years.”
Ode stressed that although he would have loved Mark “to complete his term which is the last of its kind in the Senate” despite his short comings, “majority of people in the Benue South Senatorial District want to vote against Mark as he did not do much for the state and his people for eight years he was Number Three or Number One henchman of the Federal Government.”
The MBTC boss recalled how Mark allegedly was positioning himself to take over from former President Goodluck Jonathan, hoping that the former President would have taken the advice of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to drop his second term ambition.
He maintained that as a Middle Belt leader, he was aware of Mark’s ambition to replacer Jonathan although he did not make a public declaration about it and was rather openly loyal to the former president.
“It was a hidden fact that with many of the PDP chieftains and former governors having left for the APC, and seeing himself as one of the most powerful man from the North and the party, he had thought that if Jonathan had dropped his two-term bid, he (Mark) would have been in a strong position to emerge as the PDP flag bearer for the 2015 presidential election and he was counting on the support of the Middle Belt who he did nothing for.”
“He was everywhere with Jonathan. He attended all Jonathan’s public official functions. He thought that with all other powerful PDP men out of the way, it would have been a smooth ride for him if Jonathan had listened to the voices of wisdom and bowed out honourably.”
Ode said there was nothing wrong if Mark aspires to be at the top, but that he would have used his position to help the state and the region, so that even if he wants to contest the presidential election in 2019, he would have received the support and backing of not only the ordinary people of Benue, but the generality of the Middle Belt.
He maintained that what the Benue people, or any other people for that matter, require from their representatives and leaders are proper leadership and representation that will improve their welfare through the provisions of dividends of democracy and not distribution of bags of rice salt and money before elections.