By Ruth Agada, Abuja
COMRADE Daniel Onjeh is a known name in the country’s student unionism, having served in various capacities, capping it as president of National Association of Nigerian Students and that of West African students. He contested the Benue South senatorial election with former Senate president, David Mark and lost after a rerun.
In this interview, Onjeh insists that he was robbed of his victory and defends his decision to go to the tribunal to contest INEC’s declaration of Mark as winner of the election.
Recently, you contested for the Benue South senatorial district election. If you had won, what would you have done with the people’s mandate?
Well to me, the people’s mandate is very sacrosanct and that was the entire essence of going into the race; just to represent the people and be their voice at the national scene as it affects them and the nation at large in terms of legislation, law making that sharpens our co-existence as people in Nigeria. Secondly, I was going to be very effective in terms of carrying out my oversight functions and by so doing, I was going to ensure that the dividends of democracy and good governance from the federal table trickles down to my people at the constituency.
The people of Benue South can vividly be described as the most deprived people in Nigeria and also the area can be said to be the most forgotten corner in Nigerian. I say this with all sense of objectivity and purpose because there has not been any noticeable federal presence in Benue South, not because successive governments had failed completely or totally but because those saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that the federal constituency project which other senatorial districts and federal constituencies have benefited from have failed. But those saddled with the responsibility to ensure we also benefited in Benue South have failed woefully as a result of either their attitude or deliberate measure to subject the people of the zone to perpetuate poverty and deprivation from basic social amenities with the view of having permanent control of the minds of the people so they can perpetuate themselves in position of power and influence forever.
The other tool is propaganda. Feed them with lies, and that is exactly what is obtainable in Benue South because the only notable conventional media in Benue South right now is the Joy FM that is privately owned by my opponent, Senator David Mark. Through this medium, he has been able to effectively drum lies and deceit to the gullible people in perpetuating himself. But thank God for the new media, young people have woken up from their slumber and they have risen to the challenge of their time and they have been able to organise and mobilise themselves towards the much desired change in Benue South.
That is what is accountable for the massive rejection of David Mark in the just concluded rerun election. They know that David Mark did not win the election. I won the election landslide and that is why after the purported victory of David Mark, we are poised to go to the tribunal to challenge the victory because the election was rigged. Aside the rigging, the election was inconclusive because the purported margin of victory between David Mark and I is 1200. The law has asserted its position in very recent times.
The very classical example of what should happen when the margin of victory is less than the number of cancelled votes in an election is the Kogi governorship rerun that was ordered or the supplementary election that was ordered as a result of declaration of INEC that the election was inconclusive. This was because the number of cancelled votes or rejected votes was higher than the margin of victory. It also happened in the elections in Bayelsa and several other places.
If the law has so expressly provided that election should be declared inconclusive where the margin of victory is lower or less than the number of cancelled or rejected votes, it should have been religiously followed by the INEC.
For me, it was double standard by INEC, with respect to my contest with David Mark. We have over 29000 of cancelled or rejected votes which triples the purported margin of victory and the natural consequence of that, as provided by the extant electoral laws in Nigeria, is to declare the election inconclusive. But they went ahead to declare David Mark as the winner of the election and that declaration was done in error.
Even though we protested against it and forwarded our letters to the INEC national headquarters, the chairman and also the resident electoral commissioner in Benue, they still remained adamant and issued him the certificate of return.