Come 2019, Senator David Mark would have spent twenty years on the Benue South Senatorial seat which covers the entire Idoma nationality: 1999 – 2003; 2003 – 2007; 2007 – 2011; 2011 – 2015 and 2015 – 2019. He is bound to give way or else, the Senatorial seat would have become a monarchy rather than a democracy. The question, however, is who takes over from Mark?
Frustration with their political reality in terms of limited access to concrete power in Benue State where they compete with their Tiv counterpart has forced the Idoma ethnic group to place symbolic and substantive emphasis on the seat. Fate and fortune smiled on them for much of the time that David Mark held sway. Not only was he an inner caucus player in the Obasanjo regime, he was positioned for headship of the National Assembly within the Obasanjo exit strategy in 2007 following the collapse of the much denied Third Term. While Idoma deny much concrete benefits from Mark’s rise to power in Abuja, they unconsciously stood with him in symbolic terms because there was a sense of security in his towering presence. This is particularly in the context of a paradox best captured by Mark himself when he once said it was easier for him to become the Senate President than become the Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly.
The Mark era, however, has to come to an end, no matter how much of a performer he is. Otherwise, it could appear that the Idoma are oriented against democracy in the sense of allowing different segments to taste power. This is more so that popular scoring of Mark is a highly contested exercise. There are those who score him very high just as there are those with very low score for him. Nobody argues that he, both directly and indirectly facilitated mass recruitment of young people from the senatorial zone into federal jobs but other than that, Mark has persistently been spoken of more in terms of consistency in exclusionary politics. ‘You must be a loyalist in a sense to be in his camp’ has been a persistent assessment.
Whichever one is more believable depends on where one stands with Mark. What seems to be beyond argument is the manner Mark raised the stakes with his continued assurance to facilitate the creation of Apa State exclusively for the Idoma at a time neither the PDP nor the National Assembly had committed themselves to creation of more states. Or at a time the creation of more states in the very violent and unstable atmosphere of 2010 to 2015 was completely untenable. It remains unclear why he chose the military tactics of deception as against a faster, cheaper and more popular alternative of using his headship of the National Assembly to mobilise colleagues to constitutionalise the rotation of gubernatorial power between the senatorial districts. That would have been a profound contribution to nation building on his part as rotation of governorship is, today, a potential source of conflict in particular states of the federation. So far, only the elite in Cross Rivers and Katsina states have handled this with maturity. Mark has lost that opportunity forever unless, as the survivalist he is, he manages to emerge again in national leadership one way or the other. Meanwhile, he is unlikely to remain in the legislature beyond 2019. Feelers from Idomaland suggest that the struggle for that seat has actually begun in earnest.
The struggle might have begun but some people are still asking why it might be too much to expect the elders’ caucus of a regarded but small ethnic group to assert itself and make the question of who takes Idoma’s sole Senate seat a deliberate political decision? Idomaland certainly has the elders, starting from Ebijie Ikwue; Geoffrey Ejiga; Ochapa Onazi; Isawa Elaigwu; Bongos Ikwue; Samson Amali; Mrs Enyantu Ifenne, Armstrong Adejo, among many others who collectively, have the moral authority to decide this question and enforce such a decision. In other words, no matter how heterogeneous, it is still possible to deliberately centralise certain qualities, certain political realities and, on those bases, push for a consensus candidate with an Idoma Charter of Demands and by which such a consensus candidate can be assessed four years later. Given the experience of 1999 to 2019, (20 years), is it not already clear that freewheeling democracy will leave the Idoma losers in the game of democracy? Or is it the case that a consensus candidate, an idealist who has risen above pettiness, rancour and intrigue, cannot be found?
Unless the members of the rump of Idoma Elders overcome the unique republican virus in the Idoma DNA that makes it impossible for internal coherence and submission to communal authority, then the competition for that seat promises to be the hottest contest in the entire country. So, who is who amongst the masquerades already sighted in the arena so far?
It is natural for a military man such as David Mark to want to reproduce himself politically, whether he can do it is the question. Representing no clear ideological tendency beyond the application of military tactics to political competition, there has been no induction that his legatees can fall back on. But he will remain a big masquerade in the arena because he has never known anything other than being in government throughout his life and there can be no guarantee that, somehow, he would not turn up in national party leadership tomorrow and end up remaining relevant. Whether any new position can re-invent Mark in Idomaland vis-a-vis his successful self-reproduction in the Senate seat will remain a tough question. Although, ‘David Mark’ is nobody that anybody can point at yet, s/he is considered a formidable aspirant because of David Mark’s support to him or her as a way of reproducing himself. Whether Mark is keen in seeking to correct popular perceptions of him and his politics as he takes back seat from local politics is a different matter. But that would seem to be the only way that he can replace himself with ‘David Mark’ in 2019.
Chief Mike Onoja
There is very little to write about Chief Mike Onoja in politics yet because he has been a fringe participant. He has not exercised power in a political office yet and nobody can pin anything positive or negative on him in that respect. His pedigree is the Federal Civil Service where he rose to the position of Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence at a time there was no substantive Minister of Defence beyond the then incumbent Head of State. That made him the de facto Minister of Defence under late General Sani Abacha. Ample resources and political generosity are his two defining power resources in Idoma politics but his greatest asset is the perception that he has what it takes to dismantle David Mark root and branches. Where that perception comes from is unclear but there is no doubt that it is a widely held. Surprisingly, he backed down just as a political combat between him and Mark was to commence in 2015. What might have happened? Some people say that Villa power at that time called and pressurised him to step down for Mark, perhaps in lieu of some negotiated accommodation. Whichever is the case, he is considered a front runner.
General Chris Garba
General Chris Garba was a military governor of Bauchi State under the IBB regime and later the General Officer Commanding 82 Division of the Nigerian Army before his UN engagement in Angola. He has to his credit a very amiable image. Beyond that, there is not much to write about him as far as politics is concerned because he has not been a front row actor in partisan politics. It is interesting that he is keen on politics after all and the Senate might unravel whatever hidden potentials he has for community service.
Chief Steven Lawani
Outside Chief Audu Ogbeh and David Mark, Chief Lawani would have the longest resume in Idoma politics. In fact, he has a longer one than Mark because, in the early nineties, he was already the Deputy National Chairman of the National Republican Party, (NRC). Of the existing list of possible contenders, he is the most politician of them all. A model of the quiet and co-operative leader, Lawani tends, however, to never be in a hurry and thus appear to be laid back. That might have served him well in the sense that after so many years in politics, he is still scandal free. His good formal education, his exposure in business and politics, his vast network across the country and in global business added to his heritage of being scandal and trouble free as well as 8 years of direct dealing with the grass roots in Benue when he served as Deputy Governor ought to give him the Senate seat on a platter of gold. His undoing might be his lack of populism.
Although deep into quiet philanthropy and big time intervention in religious causes, he is not the sort of politician who goes drinking and dancing with the folks and getting the applause for saying bombastic things that sends the folks to political ecstasy. Whether he will be able to sell his impersonal but model based approach to problem solving to the Idoma environment around 2019 remains to be seen. Counting most for him is what is regarded as his humility in submitting to party decision in 2007 to serve as Deputy Governor, an organisational discipline that accounts for the reckoning with him as “the only deputy who deserves to move up to be governor”. Now, the reckoning might have to be changed to “the only deputy who deserves to move up to be Senator”. That is if it is confirmed that Lawani is actually one of the masquerades in the arena for the Benue South Senatorial seat rather than any other elective office in the land.
Mr Dark Horse
It is useless talking about a dark horse where there is no overarching power house whose discretion can override party decision in terms of who goes where. Still, a dark horse cannot be ruled out. The Dark Horse phenomenon is, therefore, worth watching out for. Having already challenged David Mark in 2015, Daniel Onjeh can no longer be called a dark horse. However, he can be listed here in so far as he has not been heard yet. He might still join the race this time too.