The Benue South Senatorial District rerun election scheduled for February 20th, 2016 is perhaps one of the most highly anticipated reruns in Nigeria’s current election cycle.
The initial contest between Senator David Mark (PDP) and Comrade Daniel Onjeh (APC), which held on March 28th, 2015, was seen by many as a contest between a political neophyte and a colossus, with the perception in some quarters that Onjeh stood a slim chance of winning the election. The eventual results of the election, though annulled by an Appeal Court under controversial circumstances, reflected earlier assumptions that David Mark was the candidate to beat.
With the annulment of the election by the Court of Appeal, the storyline by supporters of Daniel Onjeh has replayed itself. The pro-Onjeh narrative remains that Onjeh, a largely unknown candidate with some youth followers, will against impossible odds emerge victorious against Mark, a four-time Senator regarded by many as a political heavyweight.
But a critical look at the facts and figures of the politics of the Benue South senatorial zone do not support this narrative. A careful study of electoral results and trends from this zone show a strong, almost certain, likelihood of Mark emerging victorious on Saturday. And stating it in these terms is just being politically correct. Let’s take a look at the following points:
1.) Historically, the Benue South Senatorial District has always overwhelmingly voted PDP since the return of democracy to the country in 1999. Until the 2015 general elections, no other party won elections into any electoral office in the zone. Now, this is a pretty telling fact.
2.) In the 2015 general elections, PDP won 10 of the 11 House of Assembly seats that were up for election. It is widely believed that PDP only lost the seat for the Otukpo-Adoka constituency because residents of the area voted for the APC candidate in protest of the candidacy of Hon. Joshua Ogbole.
3.) It is instructive to note that PDP won all 4 seats at the House of Representatives that were up for the election in March 2015. One of those seats is still the subject matter of litigation over the qualification of the PDP candidate.
4.) Despite the strong showing of the ruling APC in the presidential and gubernatorial elections in the State, the PDP candidates in both elections won the zone by pretty strong margins.
5.) Things are currently not too bright for Onjeh. Onjeh faces disunity in his camp with most of the political bigwigs from the zone refusing to go all out to support his candidature. Chief Audu Ogbeh, Minister of Agriculture under the Buhari administration, is still smarting from the petition Onjeh wrote to the Senate opposing his nomination as minister. At the time of writing this, Ogbeh was in Rome and it is believed he will not return in time to participate in the electoral process.
6.) Other political bigwigs in the party like Chief Mike Onoja, Steven Lawani, Jerry Agada and Sam Ode are refraining from backing Onjeh to the hilt based on the belief that Mark will probably leave the upper legislative chamber in 2019. These APC bigwigs reckon that an Onjeh victory will make it significantly more difficult for any one of them to vie for the Senatorial seat upon Mark’s exit.
7.) To make matters worse, the two biggest grassroots mobilizers in the Benue South senatorial district are in the camp of Senator David Mark. Comrade Abba Moro, Nigeria’s former Minister of Interior serves as his campaign director general and in a rare boost, Alhaji Usman Abubakar (aka Young Alhaji) a pro-APC political influencer has endorsed Senator Mark, rolling out his grassroots campaign machineries in support of the former Senate President. What this means is that significant inroads have been made into Onjeh’s primary support base – young people aged between 20–40 years old.
8.) More emphatically, as the rerun draws closer, there are strong indications that the people of Benue South increasingly see the election as a battle between Idoma liberation and Tiv domination. Onjeh is backed by powerful outside interests from the Tiv ethnicity of Benue State, chief amongst whom is Senator George Akume, the former governor of the state who is now a serving senator. The popular notion in Benue South is that more than any other son of Benue South, Mark stands out as the greatest beacon of hope for the liberation of Idoma/Igede people. Despite the grievances some of his constituents may have, the prevailing sentiment is that Benue South will not replace a “Lion” with a “Goat” in the Senate.
Taking all these into consideration, one is hard pressed to see Onjeh bridging the gap between the 50,115 votes he scored during the March 2015 elections, and the 99,530 scored by Senator Mark. In fact, it can be tentatively concluded that this story will not have the giant killing ending that is the stuff of fairy tales. How that makes you feel depends on which side of the divide you stand on.
Ilemona Onoja is a commercial solicitor based in Abuja. He tweets via @the_harrasser