Onje Vs Mark: Questions & Lessons for the Tiv nation – By Simon Imobo-Tswam

Nigeria-Senate-President-David-Mark

Let me dignify this simple piece by opening it with the profound words of Markus Cicero: “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treachery from within.”

Since every nation is blessed with its fools, the over-ambitious and the treacherous, Tivland also has its fair share of these. But we concern us today with the treacherous i.e treachery from within. But what is this treachery from within the Tiv Nation? It is the treachery against truth, the truth; it is the conspiracy to decree a regime of silence in the Tiv country.

Since a conspiracy usually involves a scheming minority, there is a minority in Tivland now that ardently seeks to redefine truth and impose a culture of silence on the population. If this small, but loud and powerful group succeeds, Tiv people can only clap its pleasure; and every Tiv man/woman will begin to see life through its skewed lenses.

In this age and time, this should be an outrage, but in our poor Benue, the race for the crumbs has become so fierce and competitive that it has turned into a scramble. In fact, to stand aloof or not to join them is akin to economic foolishness; but to dare to question the drift is the same thing as committing economic suicide. This is the way Tivland is being structured now. A new Animal Kingdom is under construction, and its engineers, frenetic and fanatical, are intent on creating a timid society: where intimidation terrorizes the democratic spirit; where merit continues to serve mediocrity; and where nepotism locks the door against intelligence. Luckily, these engineers are doomed to fail. The vast majority of our people are decided on negating this treachery. But I return to this later.

The on-going political drama between Comrade Dan Onjeh and Senator David Mark, with the attendant cheers from Tivland has inspired this opinion.

The enfant terrible of Idoma politics, Onjeh, 41, has by turn been the President, National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) as well as President, West African Students Union (WASU). He holds a B.A. (Double Honours) in Political Science/Economics from the University of Ghana, Legon.

This is his CV: very short, like a mini-skirt. Of course, he is brimming with idealism, but you cannot see that on his CV. His CV is not even padded by such auxiliaries as a chieftaincy title or an honorary doctorate. His is a brief political CV indeed, but as an ambitious comrade, he is as vocal as they come.

Mark, 68, on the hand, is someone that can be described, in the reality of Nigerian politics, as a political juggernaut, an enigma, a colossus. We may want to protest, but a man who has been governor, minister as well as general, and has been being inaugurated five times as a senator cannot be anything less. If we want to borrow the words of the late Chief Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe, we can call him: “a man of timbre and calibre.” Otherwise, we can just call him: “a caterpillar and a bulldozer of a politician.”

He is someone who, at once, approaches a political institution i.e. as far as winning elections against all odds is concerned. He dumbfounds his critics; he shocks and awes his enemies; he inspires his supporters; he ridicules text-book prescriptions; he confounds political analysts; he mocks the observations of election-observers; he shatters political permutations; and his fantastic wins sometimes defy statistical tabulations too. His consecutive election-wins may have the scent of the mysterious, and his political longevity may be said to be denominated by a distinctive, democratic unorthodoxy, but 2015 is the first time since 1999 that the courts have been impressed by the arguments of the serial victims of his political braggadocio.

So like him or hate him, you must give it to Mark: he knows how to make his marks. It is either he knows the game thoroughly and/or he knows the system inside-out. This is why he can plan both the game and system so very well i.e. making his own unique marks (straight or crooked), snatching victories from the jaws of defeat, drilling his opponents to no end, and thrilling his fans beyond measure.

A peep into his casualty ward will reveal the pained faces of victims like Gen. Chris Abutu Garuba, Gen. Lawrence Anebi Onoja, Chief Usman Abubakar (alias Young Alhaji), Chief Ameh Abute and Okibe Mike Onoja. Matter-of-factly, they are, politically-speaking, still on life-support as even in this 2015, they are still gasping for breath, and ruing over the devastating impact of Hurricane-Mark.  In Zone C where he is said to be the lord of all he surveys, a saying has evolved that: “the fear of David Mark is the beginning of political relevance.” In other words, you challenge David Mark, you go into political oblivion.

This is the stuff that is the David Mark phenomenon. It is this phenomenon that has made him the most-tenured senator in the history of the Nigerian senate. And it is this phenomenon, otherwise called Chief (Dr.) David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark, that the relatively unknown comrade wants to topple from his Olympian heights.

And Daniel Donald Onyirofe Onjeh has taken more than the proverbial first step: he successfully challenged Mark’s putative victory right to the Appellate Court. The next and final step will be if/when he displaces Mark during the soon-to-be-held election, and replaces him in Abuja as a distinguished senator of the Federal Republic.

And from many indications, the youthful and debonair Onjeh looks set to demystify the legend – what with the APC nation-wide momentum, the advantage of APC’s double incumbency, the band-wagon effect as well as Onjeh’s promise of fresh air.

But politics is still not yet a precision science, and so to cast our projections in iron will be nothing short of political naivety. In other words, in a political contest, anything can happen. It is the classic case of: it is not over until it is over. This is more so in a high-stakes election where David Mark will be a candidate, PDP will be a candidate, myth will be a candidate, ego will be a candidate, blackmail will be a candidate and money will be a candidate.

But David Mark is a personality whose name at once evokes and invokes strong emotions, moods and sentiments among Tiv people. And so, not surprisingly, some Tiv people are exultant over Mark’s imminent ejection from Nigeria’s most exclusive club: the Senate!

The conspirators, who deify clay-footed gods in Tivland, worship the statusquo and scoff at any suggestion of change – whether in leadership or leadership attitude – have suddenly found their voice: “BAD Mark” must go. (BAD from: Bonaventure Alechenu David). The treacherous purveyors of inverted wisdom, who are deviously twisting the truth, dubiously manufacturing facts and labouriously re-writing our history, have become the cheer-leaders of the change-campaign in Idomaland. The contradiction is that even as they do this, they are simultaneously celebrating business-as-usual politics in Tivland!

This sharp contradiction brings some questions to mind. What makes Idomaland ripe for change, but Tivland ideal for the statusquo or business-as-usual?  What is Mark doing wrong and his Tiv counterparts doing right that we wish them different political fates? When we re-order his names to get “BAD Mark” or say he is bad, is it because he has shamed us by representing his constituency so very well that he has turned the Idoma-minority group into a forceful majority that majorly appropriates all and everything that is due to Benue state where we Tiv are the demographic majority? Put another way, is it that when Tiv elite see Mark, he indicts them by virtue of his purposeful, pragmatic, community- focused, representation of his people, with all the practical and collateral benefits?

If not, why would Tiv elite, who are vehemently opposed to real change in Tivland be drumming support for change in Idomaland? And if not, why are Tiv leaders, who celebrate change, but only as a poetic idea or a romantic slogan (Chenji), be excited that “a small boy is going to finish Mark.” Do we not have small boys in Tivland? Are they not in politics? When they vie for political crowns, and the political disputes dovetail into judicial disputes, what do we counsel them to do as aggrieved litigants? Do we urge them on the course of justice or do we pressure them to withdraw their suits “for the sake of peace and unity?”  And when they refuse, don’t we vilify them, blackmail them and even curse them? And even their loyal supporters, don’t we slander and assassinate their characters; labeling them traitors and enemies of progress? So when we now turn around, and hail the “stubborn” Onjeh and his steadfastness in yonder Idomaland, there is the hidden danger of this being interpreted as an advertisement of our elite hypocrisy. But of course, in rooting for Onjeh and gloating over Mark’s precarious fate, we could also be saying unlike the Tivland, Idoma people do not deserve “peace and unity”

These questions are rather many, but I have a basketful.   If we are happy that Mark is “going” because of his permanence in power and the need for fresh air, can we first make the same arguments in Tivland where some people have appropriated, monopolized and personalized power for upwards of 30 years before we seek to export the change-mantra to our Idoma-neighbours? If his offence is that he is defines democracy outside the common orthodoxy of one-man-one-vote or that he ruggedly secures his electoral victories via unorthodox methods, do we not have such political juggernauts with their unorthodox tactics in such Tiv local governments as Katsina-Ala, Ukum, Logo, Gboko, Tarka, Guma etc, and do we not worship them? If we fault “BAD Mark” with the grievous sin that he is mean to Tiv people, and helps only his people, can we say it is also his fault that Tiv leaders do not help Tiv people except when such Tiv people come from their immediate or intermediate families?

And yet the man we love to hate and are helping/hoping that “a small boy” will demolish and diminish has a good testimonial before his people of his long, even if crooked, tenancy in power. We attribute the over-visibility of Idoma people in the Federal bureaucracy, their choking hold on both the military and para-military recruitments vis-à-vis their demographic strength to this BAD Mark.  And physically, he has Apa University as well as Joy FM in Idomaland to his credit, to mention but these two. Can his military contemporaries and political colleagues in Tivland raise their voices or hands and point at the Nursery Schools or “Pure Water” factories they have set up in Tivland as symbolic gestures of their long and lucrative stewardship?

The corner-stone of David Mark’s political longevity (at least since 1999) is his advertised legislative agenda of Apa state. It may be a tall dream, but every big thing starts with a dream; it may be a fluke, but it resonates well with his people. And that is the spirit of representative democracy. Can any Tiv constituent, in all objectivity, say he/she knows the centre-piece of the legislative agenda of any of David Mark’s colleagues on the Tiv side? And yet we hold them as humans without reproach, even gods. It is a pity that in our intimidation-induced timidity, we do not see their clay-feet. This is why our “strong men” are very powerful in Benue state, but once they come to Abuja, and are confronted with “the arithmetic of politics,” (credit to Chuba Okadigbo), their power instantly dissolves into powder!

I have not seen David Mark one-on-one since 2006, so no person can seriously accuse me of holding forth for him or being sponsored. And knowing the sociology of his politics too well, there is no way I can defend him. He, therefore, stands or falls by his craftsmanship or brinkmanship or both.

The morale here is that Mark is not the Tivman’s problem: He never was, is not, and never will be. In the military, Tiv sons out-numbered him; and in politics today, Tiv sons out-number him. If he out-performed us yesterday, and today too he still seems to be out-playing us, the fault is not in him, but in us. There is no position Mark has held that a Tiv man has never held. If the obsession of his contemporaries has been the accoutrements or the paraphernalia of power, but he has concerned himself with the meat or substance of power, let the truth be told, and it is hereby told: the sin is not his, but ours. Let us, therefore, leave him to the fate of Zone Constituents.

We complain about Idoma predominance in the Federal bureaucracy, but Mark did not collect money to employ the non-indigenes in the Benue State Civil Service. After gulping more than N7 billion, the Greater Makurdi Waterworks still needs another N6billion to work, and residents are still drinking water straight from River Benue – the way our ancestors did 200 years ago; but Mark is not responsible for this rape.

We have leaders who use desperate tactics to capture power; only to discover that in their crooked haste to win by all means, they had forgotten to worry about a Development Blue-Print; they then start shopping for blue-prints. This can hardly be Mark’s doing. We know our leaders who do not go to work, or when they go, they sleep at the duty-posts; but this cannot be Mark’s fault.

For long, we have been producing predatory leaders who, first, prey aggressively on the commonwealth, and thus empowered, commence a wholesale preying on our lives.  This is why BAD Mark is neither responsible for the looted funds from Benue coffers, beginning 1999, nor can anyone mention his name in connection with the orchestrated mass killings in Zaki-Biam/Gbeji, Kusuv/Ikyurav-Tiev, Kwande or Tarka Local Government.

There is a dearth of industries in Tivland. About 20-30 years ago, there used to be companies like Taraku Mills, Ikyogen Cattle Ranch, Agro-Millers, Lobi Bank, Ben Cola, Benue Printing and Publishing Company etc. Today, we can only recall them from the cobwebs of our memories. David Mark did not kill these.  And if in the last 16 years, a succession of Tiv leaders have been establishing companies only on Radio Benue, it would be wicked to blame such wickedness on Mark’s head. For long, there has been a leadership vacuum in Tivland, with aspirants testing the waters, but getting drowned by their own greed; not Mark’s machination. And whether or not he leaves the Senate, the leadership void in Tivland will not go away.

As long as we have no Strategic Road-Map for our journey; as long as we have no Strategic Plan in engaging Nigeria and demanding our share from the national commonwealth; as long as our leaders continue to consider themselves as demi-gods and view their followers as raw-materials for wanton exploitation and gratuitous manipulation; as long as we refuse to improve on our leadership choices, deliberately holding down big ideas so that pettiness can walk tall;  as long as we are torn between the Church of Christ and the Swem-Karagbe Hills in the Ugbe-Country; as long as we remain divided between the democratization of power and the democratization of poverty; and so long as we keep seeing political power as an end in itself, and not a vehicle for mass mobilization/social reconstruction; and so long as we find the turf of local politics more appealing than the pitch of national politics where the real action is, we will continue to  stagnate and atrophy even as Nigeria marches on.

There is, thus, so much that is before us, and to become obsessed with BAD Mark is to take our eyes off the big picture. In fact, if Mark is as good as we credit him with all sinister schemes against Tiv people, it would not matter whether he is in the Senate or not: his Idoma-Project would be on auto-pilot by now. So if we get fixated with Mark, and his putative badness, we will be missing the real lesson of this unfolding drama.

So what is the lesson in this blockbuster, Onjeh-Mark drama? The lesson is that a political contest is exactly what it is: a political contest. And under our extant laws, the contest does not end on election-day or even with INEC’s announcement of the outcomes; it extends to the tribunal/courts. So there is no mischief or witchcraft or anomaly deserving of demonization in seeking legal redress after an election, and exhausting the whole gamut of the legal process. If we missed the many examples in Tivland, we can now learn this important lesson from Idomaland – after all, foreign/imported things are beautiful.

In this age of the knowledge economy, two societies have become evident: the Open/Interrogative Society and the Closed/Cultic Society. The Interrogative Society asks questions, it interrogates itself: its notion of truth, its concept of reality, its dreams and hopes, its fears, as well as its goals and methodologies of goal-actualization. But it does not stop there: it goes further to interrogate its leadership, its leadership recruitment process, its leadership choices, its leadership preparedness, its concept of heroes and heroism, its view of criticism, checks, sanctions and balances. It engages in this interrogative process with an eye on self-renewal, self-rediscovery and self-actualization. In summary, a society that is interrogative is a progressing-cum-progressive one.

Conversely, a closed or cultic society conducts its business secret society-style, although it may continue to make declarations to the contrary and even follow up with symbolic actions. It brooks no questions; it interrogates nothing, gets no answers and just ambles along. And because it seeks no answers, it gets no answers. There is, therefore, no renewal, no accommodation of new ideas, no innovation, no regeneration; rather society atrophies. In other words, a closed society is a static society.

So while an interrogative society sets benchmarks, and constructs new paradigms of reaching them, the cultic society seeks no answers, it bothers itself with neither benchmarks nor paradigms – it celebrates the stausquo and obsesses with power: the glamour of power, the trappings of power as well as the coercive apparatus of power and no more.

Finally, the challenge before every Tiv man and woman is to domesticate the positive change we so admire outside the Tiv country. We can begin with the Onjeh take-away, and proceed to states like Cross River, Kaduna and Lagos.

Rikght now, some of us are eating avidly while some of are watching. But let both who eat and those who watch keep in mind that there is another country, another place, a future, called tomorrow. The visa to that country is strategic planning.

Let us, therefore, renew our ideas, let us rejuvenate  our leadership and let us re-invent our society. This is the challenge before each and every one of us. May God have mercy on the Tiv Nation.

Imobo-Tswam, a media consultant, author and public speaker, writes from Abuja. He can be reached at:

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1 Comment on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Ibn Madaki. December 4, 2015 at 9:25 am -

    The truth is always refreshing.
    Simon, thank you for this incisive commentary. More ink to your pen.