…Remain calm, I’ll win again, Mark tells supporters
In what may be the end of a political era, the Court of Appeal Division in Makurdi, Benue State, presided over by Justice Peter Olabisi Ige, has nullified the election of former Senate President, David Mark, as senator representing Benue South senatorial district.
Senator Mark is one of the longest serving members of the Senate, having been at the upper chamber since 1999.
The appellate court however ordered a re-run of the poll in the senatorial district within 90 days, and directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to comply with the execution of the judgement.
The senatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the election, Comrade Daniel Onjeh, had dragged Mark before the Court of Appeal, challenging the decision of the National and State Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal which had earlier in its ruling, upheld the victory of Senator Mark of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The lawyer to Onjeh, Adetunji Oso, had urged the court to allow Onjeh’s appeal and set aside the decision of the lower Tribunal. According to Oso, the tribunal had erred when it held that the electoral papers tendered by his client were mere documentary hearsay.
However, the appellate court presided over by Justice Ige, in a judgement delivered yesterday, on six grounds of appeal brought against a lower tribunal ruling, which was brought by Onjeh, held that the election of Mark was fraught with so many irregularities that it failed all tests of “freeness and fairness.”
Ige further noted that Mark’s election results had been pre-written on March 28, before proper collation and announcement was made on March 30.
The appeal panel ruled that a fresh election be conducted in 90 days in the senatorial zone.
Reacting to the ruling, counsel to Mark, Mr. Kenneth Ikonne, described the judgement as strange, pointing out that some parts of the judgement delivered by the appellate court were out of the ordinary and definitely unexpected.
Meanwhile, jubilation erupted across the state yesterday over the nullification of the election of Mr. Mark.
Although the sack of Mark came as a rude shock to the people of his constituency, several persons however hailed the appellate court’s decision and urged Mark to hands off the PDP ticket.
In Otukpo, a major town in the senatorial district and hometown of Mark, yesterday, the entire town known as ‘Texas City,’ by the locals, the people expressed mixed feelings over the ruling. Commercial motorists and motorcyclists as well as other locals were seen where they gathered under trees and drinking spots discussing the annulment of Mark’s election. Many of those seen were visibly happy that Mark had finally fallen after occupying the senatorial seat for the past 16 years.
A former secretary of the youth directorate of the David Mark Campaign Organisation, Comrade Philip Agbese, in his reaction, advised the former Senate President to relinquish the PDP ticket in the forthcoming rerun elections to another candidate of the party, in the interest of PDP and the Idoma people.
According to Agbese, the nullification of Mark’s election was an indication that the people were ready for change.
“We welcome the judgement with every sincerity of purpose and wish to call on the distinguished Senate President to voluntarily resign the PDP ticket to Daniel Onjeh to lead the party to victory when a date is finally given for the election,” he said.
No stranger to electoral battles
Mark who has been an active player in the nation’s political landscape since 1999 is no stranger to electoral battles.
He has contested the same seat since 1999 when democracy returned to Nigeria and apart from in 1999, the courts have had to validate his victories.
In 2003, Abubakar Usman, popularly called Young Alhaji contested the senatorial seat alongside Mark on the platform of the United Nigeria Peoples Party (UNPP). He however lost. He went to the tribunal but was reportedly persuaded by former Benue state governor, George Akume, to withdraw his petition. He did, and that was when people began to take notice of him.
2007 was not any different as the Benue State Election Petitions Tribunal in Makurdi nullified the election of Senate President David Mark
In a 150-page judgement read by the tribunal chairman, Justice C.I. Uriri, the panel ruled that Mark was not duly elected senator for Benue south senatorial district in the April 14, 2007 poll as declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The tribunal said the election which returned Mark was marred by irregularities ranging from falsification of results, through intimidation of supporters of opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) to substitution of poll result sheets in some local governments.
Consequently, the tribunal ordered fresh ballot in Agatu and Okpokwu local governments within 60 days.
ANPP’s Abubakar (Young Alhaji) had asked the tribunal to void the election of Mark.
Mark appealed the tribunal ruling and the Court of Appeal judgment in Jos, Plateau State, ruled in his favour.
A similar scenario played out in 2011 when his opponent, Gen. Lawrence Onoja, who contested the election on the platform of the Action congress of Nigeria (ACN) challenged Mark’s election on the grounds that the poll was marred by irregularities.
The lower tribunal had dismissed the petition for lack of merit, saying it was filed in total negation of the provisions of paragraphs 18 and 47 of the First Schedule of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended.
Not satisfied with the verdict, Gen. Onoja appealed against the decision at the appellate court.
The Court of Appeal sitting in Makurdi dismissed the petition.
Delivering judgement on the matter, Justice Ahmed Tsamiya dismissed the appeal on the grounds that it was time barred. He anchored his decision on the provisions of Section 285(7) of the 1999 Constitution which according to him allows an appellant 60 days within which an appeal should be heard and disposed of.
It remains to be seen in 90 days, if Mark will hit the mark again or if this would mark the end of his political era.
Remain calm, I’ll win again, Mark tells supporters
Following the nullification of his election by the Court of Appeal, Mark has called on members of his senatorial district to remain calm and be law abiding.
Senator Mark in a reaction to the ruling, told his people not to be deterred by the appellate court’s verdict but be strengthened ahead of the rerun election to be held in 90 days.
According to him, he was of the belief that he won the election convincingly and therefore, had no doubt that his constituents would turn out en masse to vote for him again.
“Whatever the situation may be one thing I know is that my people are solidly behind me. They also appreciate the fact that I have done more than enough to lift up Idoma nation to a position of eminence in the contemporary political history of Nigeria,” Senator Mark stated.
He insisted, “I won the election clean and clear. If we go back to the polls 100 times, I will still win convincingly.”