Home News 2019: Benue and the jostle for Mark’s seat

2019: Benue and the jostle for Mark’s seat


In Benue state, a fierce political battle is playing out among political parties and candidates seeking to corner the senatorial seat in Benue South Senatorial District currently occupied by former Senate President David Mark, reports Uja Emmanuel from Makurdi.

Following his decision not to seek another term in the senate beyond 2019, the struggle to replace former Senate Presdient David Mark as the Senator representing Benue South senatorial district is on. Mark has been in the national assembly since 1999 and for eight years, he served as the Senate President, setting an enviable record as the longest serving Senate President till date.

Last October, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Benue State published the names of Senatorial and House of Representatives candidates for the 2019 general elections. According to the list pasted at INEC’s headquarters in Makurdi, for Benue South senatorial district, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is fielding ex-Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro.

While the All Progressives Congress (APC) fielded a former deputy governor of the state, Chief Steven Lawani for Benue South, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) has a former federal permanent Secretary of Defence, Chief Mike Okibe Onoja as its candidate. Similarly, Alhaji Usman Abubakar, popular known as young Alhaji, is the flag-bearer of Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance (APDA) for Benue South.

Of those gunning for Mark’s job, Morro, Lawani and Onoja of PDP, APC and SDP respectively, have been described by many pundits as frontrunners in the race. This, our correspondent gathered, is largely because the three candidates are widely regarded as political heavyweights. They had emerged from their different platforms last year to battle each other for the plum seat.

Onoja had contested for the governorship ticket of the PDP in 2007 and was almost coasting home to victory before there was a tie which led to a coalition of aspirant that gave victory to ex- Governor Gabriel Suswam . He again  contested the 2018 PDP primaries  for the Zone C senatorial ticket and lost to Morro in a rescheduled shadow election. Onoja cried foul and defected to the SDP where he easily picked the ticket to square against Lawani and Morro in the election proper .

The SDP candidate is believed to be coming into the race with a financial  war chest. Many of his supporters argued that he should be given the chance to replaced David Mark having locked horns with the former Senate President in the previous race until Zone C elders intervened and appealed to him to step down for the general. Going by his performance in the 2007 governorship primaries of the PDP, Onoja is expected to put up a good fight.

But his opponents say given that he came a distant third position in last year’s senatorial primary election of the PDP, his political weight has waned and he will easily be defeated at the polls. “He has a good war chest. He is a well grounded politician who has been in politics for a long time. But his performance in the PDP senatorial primary election is not a good measure of his political standing,” a source explained.

Lawani, who is the APC candidate for Benue south senatorial zone, polled 1,321 votes to beat his rival, Daniel Onjeh, who scored 1,059 votes during last year’s senatorial primary election held to elect the flag-bearer of his party. Abubakar Muhammed, the APC Electoral Committee Chairman for the district, announced the former deputy governor as the candidate of the APC in Otukpo after the shadow poll.

He has also contested the PDP governorship primaries in the past but lost out like Onoja. Having defeated former president of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Onjeh in the primaries to pick the zone C APC  senatorial ticket, many observers are tipping him for victory as he is coming into the race with rich political experience and records of public service.

He was deputy governor to ex Governor Suswam for eight years of two terms and is expected to understand the power play and strategy required to win such a big political race. Lawani remain a power broker in the politics of the zone. He goes into the race with a rich political background and if being a deputy governor for eight years is anything to go by, then Lawani will make a difference in the senatorial race. This senatorial election is also a test case for the APC in the zone.

The senatorial election would be conducted by INEC before the governorship election and the result would determined if APC has made a headway in Benue south senatorial district. For Lawani, he has to shoulder a lot of  responsibility for him self and APC as a party in the zone. But many of his supporters within and outside the APC believes Lawani has what it takes to give victory to his party.

On his part, Morro, who picked the PDP ticket for the senatorial race in the zone, is another political force in the state. He polled 461 votes to defeat Joseph Ojobo, a one time member of the state Assembly, who polled 365 votes and Onoja, who came third with 165 votes, in the primary election held last October. Sunny Agbade, Secretary of the PDP Benue South senatorial electoral committee, said over 1,000 adhoc and statutory delegates participated in the primaries.

The PDP candidate, who started as a lecturer, once served as the chairman of Okpokwu Local Government Area and Chairman, Association of Local Governments  of Nigeria ( ALGON) in Benue state. Like Onoja and Lawan, he had contested and lost the governorship primaries on the ticket of PDP. He was appointed Minister of Interior in President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.

Comrade Morro has everything going for him in the  race. He is a man of the people and they call him “the bridge between Tiv and Idoma.” “He is a crowd puller, lover of  humanity, especially the vulnerable in the society,” an admirer described him. Many of is supporters believe that for the ex-Minister, the senatorial election in zone C would be a walk over for him.

Many believed he had  been anointed to replace David Mark in the senate  because he served the Okpokpolu ‘K Idoma (Mark) diligently. He was Mark’s campaign Director General at a time. Moro has a solid support base in all the nine local government areas that make up zone C, largely because as DG of Mark’s campaign, he traversed the zone during a couple of political battles.