The Okpokpowulu K’ Idoma otherwise popularly known as Senator Alechenu Bonaventure David Mark GCON is a household name in Nigerian politics. In Benue state where he hails from, he has attained the status of some sort of political demi-god. Little wonder not a few observers where taken aback with surprise and in some cases, amusement when the election of the immediate past President of the Nigerian Senate into the 8th National Assembly was annulled by the court of appeal, ordering a rerun by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. In a no-holds barred chat with SIGNAL, Director of Media and Publicity of the David Mark Campaign Organisation, Dr. Adakole Elijah talked about a lot of things; from his principal’s contributions to the development of Benue South senatorial district, how he has liberated his constituency from slavery in Benue State, his unshakeable commitment to the PDP to why he remains the candidate to beat in the senatorial rerun.
What was your reaction when the Court of Appeal nullified your principal’s election?
The judgment was very funny and strange at the same time. After going through the entire judgment, as far as I am concerned, that judgment appears very hollow and shallow in the sense that it defies all known legal logic, because you have a situation where the petitioner in this case who is Mr. Daniel Onjeh was not challenging the validity of the election at the various polling units. We have about 1,017 in Benue South senatorial district. He was not challenging the validity of results that were collated at the various council wards, that is 102 council wards in Benue South senatorial district. He was also not challenging the authenticity of these results at the various 9 local governments in Benue South senatorial district. Strangely enough, he said that the election was characterized with rigging, thumb printing, massive thumb printing, ballot stuffing, ballot snatching etc. During the trial, he appeared before the lower tribunal as a witness PW 17. And under cross examination, he was unable to make out any case because he pointedly admitted to the court that he was not in any of these polling units, apart from his own personal unit in his village. After voting, he went straight to his house. So the tribunal found his allegation very strange because it was humanly impossible for one single person to round 1017 polling units and know precisely what took place there.
He also made a heavy case on card reader and he was shown documentary evidence from INEC that during the presidential, senatorial and national assembly elections that INEC suspended the usage of card readers and so he was unable to make any case. He attempted to smuggle in the senatorial result of the entire election. But the tribunal discovered that it was not pleaded, it was not listed. So after hot argument from counsel to David Mark, counsel to the People’s Democratic Party, counsel to Onjeh and APC, agreed that because that document was not pleaded and was not listed the court to could not place any dependability on that document and discarded and rejected it and the document was marked reject. There was no appeal against this document. That was around July.
Strangely enough, the court of appeal found out and resurrected that same document and predicated their judgment on it, and what was their position, that there was a discrepancy in date. But this discrepancy does not affect results from polling units, ward level and local government level and there are known judgments by court of appeal that sated that once there are no problems at the bottom of the election which are the polling units to ward to local government, whatever you do up there should not be used as a reason to nullify an election. But funny enough these people turned this logic topsy-turvy and decidedly annulled the election. So we found it very spurious and very strange and even though I do not have any empirical evidence, there is more to it than meets the eyes.
Some are of the opinion that with PDP losing power at the center, it will be difficult for Senator David Mark who himself is the PDP candidate for Benue South senatorial district to win. What is your take on this one?
Well, I have heard that. It is a possibility and also an impossibility. But I am very optimistic that the federal government will allow the people to come out and vote in Benue South senatorial district.
I am also very sure that the people who are also bandying this and hoping that there will be intervention from the centre against us will also not use the same method. But you see this fear cannot be taken for granted looking at what has happened in Kogi state and Bayelsa state. Because the APC government as it is, now looks at election as a battlefield; as a do or die affair. But I also believe that because the federal government under president Buhari is a responsible government, they will also not do things that would put them in bad light. So when we get to the bridge we would know how to cross it. For now, I do not want to comment on that. But I strongly believe that if the election is conducted today, Senator David Mark will win that election.
You just said now that if the election is conducted today he is going to win the election, what gives you this confidence?
Because we have records, we have a permanent imprint on the lives of the people, and what do I mean by this? Senator Mark even before becoming a politician had tremendously impacted into the lives of the people of Benue South senatorial district. And I will give you one or two examples. First, during his days in the military, he digitalized the Otukpo telephone exchange as at that time there were about three that were digitalized in the entire country. When he was in the military, he also attracted the Federal Technical College to Otukpo and another Federal Government College to Akpa. And then a lot of our people, prominent sons and daughters of the Idoma people were also catapulted into enviable political positions so you can see that he is somebody that has the interest of his people at hand and on becoming the senator representing them, he made a declaration on the 4th of November 1998 where he said he is going to the centre to fight for the Idoma people and I think he has justified that greatly. If you observe very clearly, since becoming a senator and the president of the senate, a lot of our people were given opportunities to serve in various strata of government either as civil servants, either as chairmen of statutory commissions and boards and parastatals or head of federal parastatals, ministerial and ambassadorial appointments if you want I can name all of them and apart from that he also used his position and influence to attract various projects to Benue South senatorial district. It will also interest you to know these were projects that meant a lot to the survival of the people. I will give you one, two, three examples for us to see.
First he discovered that, the state of public primary schools in Benue South senatorial district was in a total state of dilapidation. So what he did, he constructed blocks of primary schools in most council wards in Benue South senatorial district. There is no local government area where you would not see public primary schools built and donated to those communities.
I will give you one particular incident, Igumale Community Secondary school had developed the idea of establishing the Igumale Community Secondary school, but to start it was a problem, so their students numbering over 200 were receiving tutorials in another public primary school and so one day he sent me to the community to ask what they want. And I went. The chief, the elders and the youths met and said ‘please tell our daddy to kick-start our secondary school for us. If he is able to do that, he has done everything for us.’ I went there about 10pm in the night and I said okay can I see the location and the chief said you want to go there this night I said yes let’s go. We went down to the land using car head lamps, saw the place, that night I communicated with him and the next day, contractors were mobilized to site and today they have a beautiful edifice which is housing their students. If you go to Okutungbe, the one Itabono was even more pathetic. I even went myself, he sent me there and I saw people studying under tree shades in the 21st century. When I brought the pictures and showed him he shook his head and said no this is unacceptable and I should go there and tell them to show me where we should put a block of classrooms for them. I went there, we started the place, took materials to the place then there was a controversy. Some persons didn’t want the school to be created in that environment. I waited for about two, three weeks but they where unable to resolve it so I moved the school to the neighbouring community called Okutungbe. Today if you go there, you will see a school with block of three classrooms, a head master’s office and air conditioner and the people are happy. I can go on on. If you go to water projects for instance, in Benue South senatorial district, one of our greatest problems is that of water supply. Unfortunately for us, most parts of Benue South senatorial district does not yield water in terms of bore hole. Construct bore hole there you will end up not getting anything. So what the man did, you know he is an engineer and he understands the working of our topography very well. So he said okay if that is the case he is going to give them earth dam so he constructed air dams in some place if you go to Otukponobi, there is an earth dam there, you know this is dry season, if the tap is not running, most of the communities in this vicinity like Otada, Akpachi, Onobi, Upu, Adavi that is the water that they are using. Then he is constructing one at Amla. That one is still under construction. There is one at Onkpa which is still under construction. The one at Adoka is almost completed but it is still under construction. Because he believes that bore hole can not work lets experiment with earth dams and see how this could also help in eliminating water shortage in our area but that is not all. There also some localities where bore holes can be constructed and water could also be yielded for instance if you go to Obi local government, Obarekeito, we have two motorised boreholes there if you go to Bojo we have a motorised bore hole there and it is functioning.
The most important one as far as I am concerned is the one built at Benue State College of Education Ogiu, what happens is that year in year out crisis associated with lack of water has always been there and when he learnt of it he said okay what am I going to do to end this? He went there, gave them a borehole with about 10 taps so that students can easily access water and the thing has actually reduced that crisis and since then no more crisis associated with water in that school. And then, he also brought the multi billion-naira dam to Otobi Ankpa with a hydro component. The idea is that at completion, the dam will also generate electricity for our consumption and for states around Benue South senatorial district, Kogi, parts of Enugu, parts of Cross River so that our light situation can also be stable. The project is 75% completed.
If you go today to Otukpo after Enugu roundabout, you will see that the federal government has been able to rehabilitate the Otukpo-Enugu road up to Gbokulu, fantastic road. These are projects that he is attracted. As a senator you know he is not in executive capacity so he cannot award contracts. The only thing he can do is to lobby and attract to his constituency. The award of these contracts is mostly done by various government agencies. If you go to Otukpo from Enugu roundabout to Agatu. Agatu is the agricultural nerve-centre of Benue South senatorial district. In short that is where the commerce of Benue South senatorial district is because they are mostly agriculturists. When you talk about rice, yam, pepper, beans, talk about anything, he discovered that lack of proper road network was a great hindrance to them so he had to convince the federal government to construct what is now known as Otukpo-Oweto road. It’s a federal government project, the road has been completed, it remains only 10 kilometres from Oshigbudo to Oweto.
You also heard about the Loko bridge that the federal government is constructing across River Benue. From Loko Nasarawa State to Agato in Benue state so that if you are traveling to Enugu state or any of these southern states you don’t have to go to Markudi again. You go through the bridge here before you notice it in two hours you are in Oturkpo. That project is almost 70% we can take a visit there and see. But that is not also all. The man realized that students from Benue South senatorial district are hardly given admission to pursue medical course at the state owned university so he said the best way to do this is to convince the federal government to establish a federal university of health sciences so under Jonathan when they were leaving the approval came. The site was also clear even though some APC chieftains from Benue state after meeting with president Buhari, that university appears to have been reversed but there is no problem. These are genuine efforts. It has been reversed to a college meaning that it’s going to be a college; a college is like a faculty in a university. But it was supposed to be an autonomous university and if it is an autonomous university, they are going to run different medical courses and of course it was meant to be the first in West Africa. But be that as it is you can see that here is a man who is completely sensitive to the yearnings of his people. So if anybody is telling you that he has done nothing, then it means that he is either a visitor to Benue South senatorial district or he has never been to the area or he is being mischievous. For those of us who are here we know what the man has done for us. We appreciate what he has done for us and we wish that the almighty God will continue to empower him so we all can benefit from it because Nigeria is a large community so if one of us is in a strategic location who is attracting things to our area all you need to do is to be praying for him.
In a state where we cannot be a governor, a speaker, chief judge and a vice chancellor of a state owned university, in short, we are like salves in Benue State. Our situation is so pathetic. We are like the Israelites in the hands of the Egyptians. That is the situation we find ourselves. Our other brothers have two senators so why are they envying him? As a single person, he is doing much for us. My point is that the other two senators put together should be able to flood their senatorial districts with projects, do you understand? So the envy is as a result of what the man is doing for us. At any given point in time you hear people going to the Benue State house of assembly saying the recruitment in the military, the recruitment in the para-military and recruitment in government agencies is all Benue South, of course even though as the president of the senate, he is a senator representing a place, you have your children, I have my children. If your children are hungry and my children are hungry and I have food, should I give to your children and starve my children? That’s an abomination! We don’t need to pretend over this. As a senator you must be parochial to some extent because once it comes to the interest of your people, you have to first of all safeguard it first. You must also think about your people first. And I think he has done that very well and that is why our people love him and that is why anywhere he goes our people will go and all of us will go. As it is now he is our light and we are comfortable with him. We thank God for his life.
Your principal as it stands, can be described as one of the last men standing in the former ruling party the PDP. Does he still have faith in the PDP?
You see those of us from Benue South senatorial district from Idoma, we have a culture, we have a tradition. We don’t throw away a ladder used in climbing to the top. Therefore his faith in the PDP remains. The fight against him is because they perceive him as the rallying point of the PDP faithful. That is why they are conspiring to destroy him by all means. But whatever they do, because they are mischievous, their actions does not have the blessings of God, they will fail one after the other.
Nigeria belongs to all of us and no one man can claim that Nigeria is his personal edifice. He believes in PDP and would remain in PDP and I would remain in PDP with him. If everybody in PDP is leaving he will be the last to leave and when he leaves we would leave with him. So his faith in PDP remains undiluted.
What does a David Mark victory mean for the people of Benue South?
Oh! Emancipation, sustainability. Glory unto God. His victory will portray that God works and those who believe in Him, He works for them any day any time. His victory will also show that yes, when others are planning to reduce you to nothing, with God you will be elevated. His victory will also consolidate the emancipation of the people of Benue South from the hand of the political vampires we also have in our society today.
Critics of your boss have said that they expected that with his influence while he was number 3 citizen, there are some roads, which belong to the state government that they expected him to have constructed or used his influence in the construction of such roads. What’s your take?
I have also heard about opinions where people are saying that if you go to Oturkpo, all the roofs there are corrugated and the expectation is that Senator Mark should come and build for everybody. That’s their thinking and they are entitled to their opinion, you understand. But first and foremost, I am aware that most of us are completely unaware of the workings of legislators. As a legislator you are not in executive capacity. You see I was selective in my choice of words. I said he attracted, he lobbied. I never said he contracted. As a senator, what do you do? You spread your tentacles and you make friends across board and these projects emanated from the friendships created. If someone somewhere expected that Senator David Mark was meant to take over the construction of roads somewhere that are exclusive for state government I would not castigate them because a lot of people believe that David Mark is a demi-god and so when he says anything, that thing will happen, in that way you would not blame them. If you come to a place where you can be governor or anything and the only person that is your representative, you know you can believe that he can do anything for you. It’s like you, between you and your children. There is nothing on earth that your children will think you cannot do. We have separation of government, we have arms of government. State governments do most of these projects. They are also done by local governments but you can’t also blame them, when you have a situation where the states are not functioning well, where the local governments are not functioning well so the only person doing something you tell him that he should do more, so I wouldn’t blame them. But in reality state roads are the exclusive responsibility of the state governments, local road are supposed to be exclusively preserved for local governments, federal roads are supposed to be exclusively preserved for federal government. And if you observe carefully, those road that I was mentioning he was the one that attracted federal government’s attention to them.
In any case, sometime in 2012 he also attracted the federal government to rural roads about 18 of them in Benue South senatorial district. Some of them where constructed, some of the where not completed and some of them were meant to be completed but I have also not gone back to check. Those rural roads are supposed to be local government roads. So he has done his best and he is still doing his best.
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