As the February, 2019, general elections draw closer, politicians across the country are already fine-tuning and mapping out final strategies at their various grassroots to win over the electorate for their desired ambitions.
Expectedly, therefore, politicians in Benue State are no exceptions; consequent upon which certain men in Benue South Senatorial District, where ex-Senate President, David Mark, has held sway since the return of democracy in 1999, are flying their parties’ tickets to take over the baton from the retired military general.
Available records show that notable men in Idoma land like Mj. Gen. Lawrence Onoja (Rtd) and business mogul, Abubakar Usman (Young Alhaji) suffered “controversial” defeats in the hands of the ex-senate president in their quest to wrest power from him on different occasions.
However, this time around, the long reign of Mark will voluntarily come to an end as the senator representing the Idoma-speaking senatorial district commonly referred to as Zone C in Benue State has indicated that he will not contest for the seat.
To this end, our correspondent takes a look at the strengths, weaknesses and chances of these individuals eyeing the seat.
Mike Onoja (SDP)
A former Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Finance, Chief Mike Okibe Onoja clinched the Social Democratic Party (SDP) ticket to take over the seat from Sen. David Mark in the forthcoming general elections.
Chief Onoja earlier made his intention to represent his Idoma people known in Otukpo during a rally to defect from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
However, shortly after the PDP primary election which he lost to an ex-Minister, Abba Moro, Onoja defected again to the SDP where he secured its ticket.
Onoja told the party faithful during his PDP defection rally that, “In 2014/2015, I was an aspirant in this very party against the senate president. The accreditation was done and we were to start voting when I stepped down for David Mark in the interest of the Idoma Nation. If the PDP had won that time, David Mark would have been returned as senate president. I did that without any precondition and he (Mark) was grateful I did that.”
In a recent campaign of SDP in the zone, Onoja remarked that, “We don’t believe in cabalism in SDP and we will not tolerate it. The motor of SDP is good governance, sustainable development and social justice for all. We will make sure that everybody in our party is fairly treated.”
Onoja, a successful businessman with a towering empire in Abuja, no doubt has the financial capacity to stand any opponent in the election, plus the argument that his Ado home local government should be considered for the position having allegedly suffered neglect for so long in terms of power sharing within the Idoma axis. He is also not likely to lose sleep over followership as his name rings a bell.
However, his undoing may be the contention about his age now that more electorate are clamouring for younger people to represent them. He clocked 70 on September 29, 2018.
Patrick Abba Moro (PDP)
Comrade Patrick Abba Moro is a former Minister of Interior. He flies the PDP banner for Benue South Senatorial seat in the February general elections.
Moro is the man mostly liked by the electorate, but it appears he has an axe to grind with some perceived power blocs in the district. He paid his dues to David Mark as a core loyalist of the former senate president when many “big” politicians from the area deserted him (Mark), especially during the rerun election of February, 2016.
Apart from that, Moro is a grassroots mobiliser, having served at various levels in the state as a lecturer at the state polytechnic, local government chairman and head of several boards before becoming a minister. He has a reputation of giving jobs to people irrespective of who they are.
Moro, who at first announced his senatorial intention at a news conference in Otukpo after touring the nine local government areas that make up Benue South, said, “This press conference is to formally declare my intention to run for the Benue South Senatorial District (Zone C) seat. I have been in the field for the past one week to intimate my people of my intention.”
Feelers are that he is the man to beat. He has got the political goodwill of the people and is capable of financing his election too. The fact that the seat must rotate from the Otukpo axis where it has been under the control of Mark for nearly 20 years now, also favoures the Okpokpwu home area of Moro. The earlier fear in some quarters was whether Mark would support his ambition, but as it is, the Ogigo-mebe K’ Idoma (Mirror of Idoma) in the thinking of his close associates, has the backing of his godfather. They believe the former senate president is solidly behind Moro and will support no other ambition than that of his loyal “boy”.
Moro was born July 3, 1956. He is an educational administrator, a grassroots politician per excellence, a former minister and an ex-Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of the University of Agriculture, Makurdi, among others. His chances are not in doubt because the zone is believed to be a PDP stronghold.
Abubakar Usman alias Young Alhaji (APDA)
An experienced politician over the years, Abubakar Usman (Young Alhaji) is the senatorial flag bearer of the Advanced Peoples’ Democratic Alliance (APDA) for Benue South.
Young Alhaji is from Orokam District in Ogbadibo Local Government Area. He contested severally for different elective positions in the state, mainly on the platforms of opposition parties. Since he left the APC which he helped to build in the state on account of his disagreement with some leaders of the party during the build-up to the 2015 general elections, Young Alhaji maintained a low political profile.
Although he campaigned vigorously for David Mark’s re-election in February, 2016, contrary to the expectations of many people, he did not defect to the PDP. Young Alhaji won the hearts of many Idoma people for his support for Mark at a period when it was expected in some quarters that he would be the first to cast a stone on the ex-senate president based on political rivalry. That action, according to admirers, should ordinarily have attracted a pay back from Mark’s camp with a reward of an exalted responsibility at the national level.
His travails in politics seem an advantage, but the intricacies of Idoma politics will likely demerit his ambition. Whether he will be able to grab the chance to become a senator on his present party platform is another food for thought.
Young Alhaji’s desire to take over from Mark, however, cannot be wished away because he is a crowd puller. If his philanthropy is anything to go by, then he may spring surprises.
Stephen Lawani (APC)
Chief Steven Lawani, a former deputy governor of the state, will lock horns with his other kinsmen eyeing the Zone C seat on February 16. He defected from PDP to APC in the wake of Mark’s repeat re-election in February, 2016.
In the 2015, Lawani contested for Benue governorship. He was expected to spring up a surprise for the senate seat then, but he rejected the offer thrown at him by the APC to stand against Mark shortly after he lost his bid to secure PDP’s gubernatorial ticket.
However, he got several pats on the back from Mark who publicly commended him for not accepting APC’s “Greek Gift” during his (Mark’s) fifth time election campaign. Mark told a crowd of cheering supporters then that the opposition was really disappointed that the duo of Onoja and Lawani refused to challenge him in the polls.
Mark said, “They (APC) even offered the Deputy Governor, Lawani, their ticket to contest against me, but he refused. They were disappointed that my friend, Onoja, also did not contest with me.”
Lawani was born on December 30, 1947; that means the present agitation for the younger generation to come to power will likely frustrate his dream. Besides, political pundits believe he will not have much backing from the power brokers in the area.
His chances, however, cannot be ascertained at the moment following what political observers call the “diminishing strength of his party in the senatorial district” in recent times.