By James Ibechi
The jostle for Senate in the Benue South senatorial district intensifies as INEC election date draws closer. One of three standard bearers will succeed former president of the senate, David Mark after the February 16 poll.
They are; Chief Mike Okibe Onoja of Social Democratic Party(SDP); Chief Steven Lawani of All Progressives Congress(APC) and Comrade Abba Moro of Peoples’ Democratic Party(PDP).
Each of the three contestants is a recipient of Idoma traditional title.
Onoja is Akanaba or pillar, Lawani is Ochagwu or giant and Moro, Ogigo or mirror. In politics, Onoja is an emancipator and his promise of a new political order to attract economic development is receiving audience, “I have come to end the cabal in politics in the Benue South,” he declared to a cheering crowd at a recent flag off in Otukpo.
Onoja interrogates infrastructural deficit in Benue South arguing that where the nation’s longest serving senate president comes from deserves more than it got in twenty years. “Show me one project in the zone in twenty years of the cabal?” He promised to apply legislative solutions to lingering underdevelopment if elected senator.
But baring unforeseen situation, Onoja is the candidate to beat in the 2019 senatorial contest in Benue South but must assemble a formidable campaign team to match the experience of his opponents. This is his first real election and he is starting late. But pundits believe that he can leverage on his popularity to coast to victory if he puts his acts together.
His campaign slogan, ‘the Peoples Choice’ is a political reality underscoring his acceptability while his radio jingle ascribing redeemer to his political profile is described in apt and definitive narratives. His plot to eclipse the sun of dominant political forces in the zone thickens as his party prepares for poll.
The former federal permanent secretary, Onoja, combines the boldness of a lion with the finesse of a monk and remains the principality the opposition fears. He threw his hat in the ring despite orchestrated mischief and mounting political gang up but vintage is his independence and the lack of a political godfather.
Unlike him, the PDP candidate, Moro, is a loyalist of David Mark and the fear of him submitting to his godfather if he wins election remains an albatross contending with his victory. Twenty years of Mark in senate did not impress people of Benue South and they have abandoned him.
Aside from this, Moro is at war with godfathers of politics in his domain and this constitutes his impediment. His frosty relationship with former senate president, Ameh Ebute cannot be taken for granted.
Moro used every opportunity at his disposal while in government to deny Ebute government’s patronage and this is a good chance for Ebute to retaliate. But he can leverage on his wide grassroots reach to coast to victory if he manages swelling odds against him well.
It was more trouble for Moro when twelve members of PDP died in a fatal auto crash while headed to his senatorial flagoff in Agatu recently. Eight of the deceased were Igede, a principal political force in the zone Moro and his godfather, Mark never reckoned with but marginalized politically while in government. The Igede people know their friends and will vote for them.
Unlike Onoja who courts the friendship of Igede and promises to support their senatorial ambition in the future, Moro values Igede only during elections and will miss their votes in this election. But if Moro manages his reputation as a’ job provider’ for his kilt and kin when he was minister, he can make an impression at the poll.
But the APC senatorial contender, Chief Steven Lawani has a more arduous task due to his closeness to the Benue APC leader, Senator George Akume. Lawani is believed to be Akume’s stooge and this perception is a bad dream he must quickly discountenance to impress the Benue South public.
In 2007, Akume made Lawani deputy governor even though Idoma had resolved to boycott what appears to be their fate. The endorsement of Lawani by Akume as APC senatorial candidate in the forthcoming election drove Onoja and others out of the party in 2018.
As deputy governor under Governor Gabriel Suswam, Lawani kept his loyalty to Tiv born Akume even when the latter had defected from PDP to APC. The strong tie between Akume and Lawani is undeniable and people of Benue South are concerned that the relationship could transport Tiv’s influence into their political space.
Furthermore, as deputy governor (2007 to 2015) Lawani was accused of not doing enough for his people. But, the former deputy national chairman of the defunct National Republican Convention( NRC) knows how to navigate his way in difficult situations and this may likely play out.
However, former national chairman of PDP now senatorial candidate of SDP and senator representing Benue North East in the National Assembly, Chief Barnabas Gemade read the political barometer and announced that the pendulum will swing in the direction of SDP as Benue South prepare for election.
“I have come to Benue South to campaign many times and those I campaigned for won elections each time. I am here again for SDP because it is the winning party,” Gemade announced in Otukpo at Mike Onoja’s declaration.