Whatever the original agenda taking one to Benue State nowadays stands to suffer being quickly subsumed by the thick consciousness about politics across the state. Stories of good versus bad guys form the stuff of open air night out conversations that professors of Political Science would pay anything to obtain as raw materials for a great text. In this, it is most unlikely that any zone has as much of the excitement about 2019 in the state as Zone C. This is the entire Idomaland, the homeland of the about two million Idoma nationals co-habiting the state with the more numerous Tiv. Certain to be the only Senatorial district in Nigeria which coincides with a nationality, election into the Senate in Benue Zone C in 2019 is not going to be a local affair but of interest to the numerous identity and geopolitical interests and forces at work in Nigerian politics. It has always been so. Now, the leading subject matter in politics in the area is who takes the Senatorial seat in 2019.
That has been Senator David Mark’s monopoly since May 1999 when civilian rule was restored in Nigeria. Mark spent eight out of those twenty years as president of the Senate. Now, there are mixed feelings for and against his continuing to hold the position. Interestingly, there is yet to be any noticeable contender for the position within the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP). That sends the signal that the old war horse might still be nursing the desire to retain the position if he can get re-elected in 2019. It is also a signal that everyone else in the PDP is waiting for him to make his move before those nursing the ambition make any. Whether this is out of reverence for him or fear of him is unclear.
The picture is completely different in the All Progressives Party, (APC) where no less than four are already known to be keen to step in. Of these, the most known is, unarguably Chief Steven Lawani. It is not clear if the chief has made any formal announcement but everyone appears to know he is in the race. Chief Lawani almost needs no introduction in national politics in Nigeria, much less Idoma politics, having been a former Deputy National Chairperson of the National Republican Convention, (NRC) under the General Babangida transition programme. Whatever local gap he might have left in his rooting he made up for by serving as Deputy Governor of the State from 2007 to 2015.
What would be Chief Lawani’s greatest assets is part of the open air symposia going on around the Zone, especially if he should be slugging it out with David Mark? Distilled properly, the folks seem to agree that his greatest asset would be the sentiment that Senator Mark should give way after 20 years on the seat. There are those who subscribe to this for its own sake rather than in support of any particular aspirant in mind. But there are also those who insist on this specifically because they want to see Lawani there and they have their own reasons even if they have not seen, much less heard from Lawani on the issue. Such is what makes the argumentation around Zone C very interesting to listen to.
Lawani’s second asset would be that there are really not much against him, comparatively speaking. No scandals, no appearance in court on corruption charges, generally said to be clean of involvement or association with thuggery, no open quarrels with any other major players, including Senator Mark and generally minding his own business, he appears to have prepared himself.
There are those around Makurdi who emphasise the point that Lawani had been a Senator before and he is the right person to inherit the position from Mark after 20 years. These ones are referring to Lawani’s election as a Senator in 1993 but which General Abacha disbanded in the aftermath of the 1993 coup before it could roar. So, if he wins in 2019, it would be a reclaiming of what he had before.
What could stop him from winning? If we rely on the open air seminars, his greatest liability might be the perception that he is too close to Senator George Akume. The implication drawn out of such perception is that he would be a stooge of Tiv interest. A word like stooge has such loose meaning that it is puzzling why people think Lawani would be a stooge of Akume rather than Akume being a stooge of Lawani. It would be an interesting question to read the answers. And why Akume who went to Government Secondary School, Otukpo and must have more friends in Idomaland than any other Tiv leader is associated with Tiv hegemonic interest must give students of ethnicity creeps about the mystery of the word. However, given the importance of perception in politics, it would appear an error of judgment to start posing such questions now instead of correcting the perception, although how widespread beyond Makurdi open airs remains unclear yet.
What would be Senator Mark’s assets and liabilities? Unarguably, his greatest asset must be the new reading of his significance in Nigerian politics. That is the idea that he stands taller than all other Nigerian leaders except General Murtala Mohammed and that if he were not a minority element without the benefit of being packaged and presented as a leadership material, he would have made it. It is a contentious claim that has yet to attract a counter-arguments, endorsements or alternative analysis. But whether it flies or does not fly, it has very little to do with contest for the Senatorial District. It is an argument for national level politics but which is not so much about Mark but minority – majority dynamics. So, that argument has little or no utility in 2019 at the Senatorial level.
The truth is that if one bases his or her conclusions on current everyday sentiments, there is difficulty in finding great reasons for Mark’s re-election into the Senate in 2019. The feeling that there was problem with the theory and practice of trickle down effect under Senator Mark is such a strong current. And even those who argue that Idoma distance from her successful sons and daughters as a reason for such end up acknowledging that very reality. The question would be whether he can close that gap between now and 2019. However, Mark’s own difficulties do not mean that Lawani would automatically emerge the winner.
There are names being mentioned to be warming up. Among these are Honourable Hassan Sale, currently a Federal legislator, Mr Abba Moro, a former Minister for Interior and Chief Mike Onoja, a former Federal Permanent Secretary. What would change dramatically whether any or all of these persons come out to contest eventually is what is difficult to figure out right now. This is more so when the stakeholders such as the Idoma elders, the Idoma National Forum and certain powerful individuals are not part of the open air seminars and their own view of the Senate seat and Idoma strategic interest in contemporary Nigeria are unknown yet. The only picture in view is that, however it goes, the Senatorial election in Benue Zone C in 2019 is not going to be a local election but one which will be under the geopolitical gaze of several constituencies in the country. It is thus the election to watch and pray that the best win.