By Adakole Elijah
IN an interview recently published in the national dailies, an indigene of Benue South Senatorial District, Chief Mike Onoja made several serious assertions. One of such assertions was laughable. He said: “The people of Zone C (Benue South Senatorial District) are saying that it is wrong for one person to be in an elective post for 16 years; not just for 16 years, to be there forever….’’ Chief Onoja noted further that “It is becoming a big embarrassment to the people of Zone C.” He also ingloriously painted a similar picture about zone B Senatorial district of the state and almost concluded that the Idoma should learn from their Tiv neighbours.
From his political thesis, two factors were obviously at play – jealousy, targeted at Senate President David Mark, as well as ignorance about democratic tenets. This was made manifest when he said, “…even in the senate now he (Mark) is the longest-serving Senator. Is it that we do not have competent people to represent Zone C? So on the basis of that, I am contesting for the Senate for Zone C in 2015.”
Considering his wealth of experience as a retired federal Permanent Secretary and somebody that had been trained severally abroad, Chief Onoja ought to have known the classical distinction between the executive and the legislative arms of government. While the executive position is pegged at two terms, that of the parliament is not and this is a global practice. In fact, the legislative arms of government are like wine – the older the better. And that is why in an advanced democracy like the United States (US), there are Senators that have served up to 40 years.
For instance, Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia spent 51 years, five months and 26 days in the US Senate. He was there as from January 3, 1959 to June 28, 2010. Also, Senator Daniel K. Inouye spent 49 years, 11 months and 15 days (1963 – 2012). Similarly, Allen Joseph Ellender spent 35 years, six months and 24 days (1932 – 1972), while Patrick J. Leahy has been in the senate since 1975 to date. All in all, they are about 25 Senators that have spent over 20 years in the US Senate and their communities are better off for it.
In Nigeria, a new Senator cannot even be a committee chairman. You must be a ranking senator to be considered for chairmanship position of a committee. The question to ask is: Has the Benue South Senatorial District fared better under Senator Mark’s leadership? The answer is obviously in the affirmative. Senator Mark took advantage of his mandate shortly after his election into the Upper Chamber in 1999 to critically look into the problems confronting Benue South senatorial district. What he saw convinced him that leadership anchored on humanistic posture, as well as corporate social responsibility would certainly propel Benue South to the needed citadel of development. This, the Idoma High Chief has done creditably well.
Taking cognisance of the role of corporate social responsibility to community development, Senator Mark, like a Trojan horse, swung into action with his developmental programmes in accordance with the yearnings and aspirations of his people.
The first thing that caught the attention of Senator Mark after his inauguration in the Senate in 1999 was how he could strategically place his kit and kin in places of influence. But with good brinkmanship, the Okpokpowulu, as the Senator is popularly called in Otukpo, the trado-political capital of the Idoma Nation, was able to lobby for positions for his constituents. The Idomas have been given choice appointments through his efforts both at the national and state levels. These include the appointments of four Idoma as ambassadors at various times since Mark became a Senator.
Senator Mark also facilitated the appointment of Dr Grace Ogwuche and Dr Jerry Agada as ministers in both Obasanjo and Yar’adua’s regimes. He also played a key role in Chief Audu Ogbe becoming the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after the exit of Chief Barnabas Gemade in 2001. He was also instrumental to the appointment of Honourable Sam Ode as Minister of State for the Niger Delta. He again ensured the appointment of Comrade Abba Moro from Okpokwu Local Government Area of the state as Minister of Interior. The list is surely endless and verifiable.
As part of his constituency projects, the President of the Senate, David Mark, constructed many critical development projects in all the nine local government areas in zone “C”. The constituency projects, which fall under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS), cut across water, health and education sectors.
Before now, Mark got the ancient town of Otukpo telephone exchange digitalised so as to keep the city in touch with the wind of globalisation. He also facilitated the establishment of two Federal Government Colleges in Idoma land: Federal Science and Technical College, Otukpo and Federal Government College, Otobi. Today, a lot of people are benefiting from these facilities.
Senator Mark successfully lobbied the Federal Government to award the contract for the Oju–Otukpo–Oweto Road. When he discovered that work on the project was not going fast enough, the Onmojijik’apa (killer of mystery animal) as he is called within Apa/Agatu Federal Constituency, pleaded with the state government to take over the construction and transfer the bill to the Federal Government. This has contributed greatly to the progressive nature of the road today. With the road nearing completion, the people of Apa and Agatu Local Government Areas of Benue State are beginning to feel the impact of government. The work will soon be completed as the Oweto Bridge is nearing completion. Similarly, work in ongoing at the Otukpo multi-purpose dam at Otobi –Akpa which, when completed, will not only boost agricultural productivity but will also provide electricity to the swelling populations of Otukpo and its environs. In addition to the provision of potable drinking water, it will also create tremendous job opportunities to the inhabitants of the area. Not less than 14 communities will benefit from the dam.
Senator Mark also lobbied both the state and Federal Governments to electrify Otukpo – Oju and Otukpo- Agila in addition to the proposed Igumale Cement Company. The Senator, in his quest to extricate the Ado people from the clutches of poverty and underdevelopment, and while in exile had wanted to establish the cement factory in conjunction with some associates but was frustrated by late General Sani Abacha.
The people’s Senator, as Mark is fondly called in Benue, established garri processing plants at Ado, Apa, Ohimini, Okpokwu and Obi Local Government Areas and donated them unconditionally to the inhabitants. Taking cognisance of the role of sports in human development, Senator Mark established an ultra-modern golf course in Otukpo. Today, hundreds of the youth from the area, who have taking advantage of this benevolence, are competing with their peers from other parts of the country. Golf tournaments in Otukpo have empowered hundreds of people economically.
Also, Senator Mark built and donated a full study centre worth N60 million to the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) so as to bring university education closer to the people of Benue South. In other to further ensure the state is well-placed educationally, Mark lobbied the Federal Government to establish a medical campus of the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi. Already, an expanse of land has been acquired for the take- off of the varsity. The institution is to be located at Akpa in Otukpo Local Government Area. In the same vain, King David University, a private institution is being sited at Akpegede, while he has established scholarship for all the indigent students of the state. The scholarship has given succor to thousands of students from the three senatorial districts of Benue State.
In the same vein, the Senate president attracted four national youth centres for vocational training of our jobless youths. It is hoped that the youth centres which is situated in each of the federal constituencies in Benue-South senatorial district will stem the tide of unemployment situation in the area when it becomes operational. These centres which are situated in Otada-Otukpo, Obagaji-Agatu, Ohuma-obi and Ugbokolo-Okpokwu will not only create job opportunities for the people but will also enhance development of the area.
Election is by the corner and everybody of age has the right to aspire to any position. But, those in previous positions of authority must be made to account for what they have used their positions to do for their people. The Idoma people want Chief Mike Onoja to tell them what he has done for them because this is the period of Operation Show Your Records.
Elijah writes from Otukpo, Benue State.