The expected move by a chieftain of the defunct Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Maj. Gen. Lawrence Onoja, to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) if not well handled, could rupture the current relative peace in Benue State politics, reports Remi Adelowo
Former Military Governor of Plateau State, Lawrence Onoja, a retired two-star general of the Nigerian Army has been in the news lately.
After two years of being in a political hiatus of sorts, Onoja, a former Principal General Staff Officer (PGSO) during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha, suddenly reappeared from the blues to drum up support for the speculated second term ambition of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Prior to the 2011 general elections, Onoja was constantly in the news. He had contested the Benue South senatorial election on the platform of the defunt ACN against the incumbent senator, who is also the Senate President, David Mark of the PDP.
It was a bitter electoral contest that nearly threatened the peace of Benue State.
The first battle between the two generals was fought in the primaries of the PDP to pick the senatorial candidate for Benue South. Mark secured 1,680 votes to Onoja’s 317 votes.
Not satisfied, Onoja left PDP for ACN where he was handed an automatic ticket to challenge Mark at the general election.
The ‘war’ got so messy that on a particular day after the end of a campaign rally, Onoja escaped death by whiskers after some unidentified political thugs allegedly shot at the Toyota SUV conveying him, shattering the glasses in the process. Though he was alive to tell the story, Onoja sustained injuries on his right hand and was subsequently hospitalised.
It was a baptism of sorts for Onoja in the politics of his home state. Not unexpectedly, Onoja pointed accusing fingers at Mark as the alleged mastermind of the attack on him. The spate of violence in the state during this period culminated in the invitation of prominent politicians in the state by the State Security Service (SSS).
The anti-climax of sort was Mark’s victory at the general elections defeating Onoja by 149,923 votes to 79,433 votes.
Onoja cried foul and challenged the election result up to the Appeal Court, which finally affirmed Mark’s victory.
With his fate finally sealed by the apex court, Onoja recoiled into his shell, perhaps to wait for another opportunity to actualise his political ambition.
Some weeks ago, Onoja, who is also the Chairman of the Strategic Mobilisation Committee of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), granted media interviews where he declared the support of the Middle Belt region to the alleged second term ambition of the president.
In a statement that clearly contradicts the position of the ACF, which has been at the forefront of the return of the presidency to the North, Onoja was quoted as saying, “Middle Belt of today is different from the Middle Belt of the 60s when we were categorised as part of the core North.”
Onoja, who is also a member of a political pressure group, Congress for Equality and Change, added that Jonathan was constitutionally qualified to run for a second term in office if he so wishes.
According to him, the Middle Belt region would back the president for a second term in office.
His words: “There could be anger in certain parts of the North. But there is no anger against Jonathan in my own Middle-Belt part of the North. We support Jonathan for his second term. Every group has the fundamental right to agitate for power.
“The groups that are talking, the Northern Elders, Arewa, are not political parties. They are socio-political cum cultural associations. So, they probably cannot install a president. At best, they are talking of supporting a candidate from the North. You don’t blame me for saying that my own people support Jonathan.”
Speaking further, Onoja, an Idoma, said his people were not regarded as core northerners even by the so-called North.
He voiced his conviction thus, “Assuming the power comes to the North today, would you tell them to concede power to the Idoma people where I come from? This is because I am a minority in the North and Jonathan is a minority from the South-South.”
The retired general added, “I want to say categorically that it is not yet time for power to shift to the North. Mr. President has not done his second term. All the other presidents were given opportunity to do their second terms and Mr. President, by virtue of the fact that he is a minority like me, it would be unfair and an injustice to stop him from doing his second term. If he finishes his second term in 2019, then other areas or blocks can now begin to agitate for power shift.”
These were, no doubt, sweet music in the ears of the power brokers in the Presidency.
Speculations that Onoja may be on his way back to PDP further heightened when he was part of the delegation of the Middle Belt Elders Forum (MBEF), led by a former Senate President in the Third Republic, Ameh Ebute, on a recent visit to the president. During the visit, the support of the Middle Belt to Jonathan was further reiterated.
Sources say the stage is set to receive Onoja in PDP any moment from now after the Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam, reportedly received a directive from the Presidency to that effect.
A few days ago, Suswam met with some Benue PDP stakeholders to intimate them of Onoja’s return to PDP.
The Nation, however, gathered that not all the major PDP stakeholders have bought into this plan. One of them is Senate President David Mark, who has yet to reconcile with Onoja over their political differences.
Sources in the state revealed that Onoja’s planned return to PDP was part of the Presidency’s alleged plan to checkmate the influence of Mark, whose relationship with the president has been described by sources as lukewarm at best.
The Presidency, according to findings, is allegedly not happy with Mark, the reason which may not be unconnected to the hardline stance of the Senate and the House of Representatives on certain government policies.
Some members of the president’s kitchen cabinet are also not happy with Mark over the proposal by the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 constitution, which recommended a single term of six years for the president and governors.
Though the proposal did not scale through eventually, it generated an angry reaction from the president’s Special Adviser on Political Affairs, Ahmed Gulak, who fell short of accusing the Senate of plotting to frustrate his boss’ alleged second term ambition.
According to sources, not a few of the president’s men believe that Mark is secretly nursing a presidential ambition in 2015, a development that has compelled his being placed under a close watch.
Currently in his fourth term as a senator, a record by any Nigerian politician, Mark is also serving a second term as Nigeria’s longest serving Senate President.
The Idoma-born retired one-star general of the Nigerian Army Signal Corps, is allegedly positioning himself as a compromise candidate in the event that power shifts to the minority tribe in the North, as it is being canvassed in certain political quarters.
But the big poser is: does Onoja who is allegedly still interested in contesting for the Senate in 2015 has the political weight and structure to dislodge Mark?
Also, will the Presidency sacrifice Mark, who has not openly spoken in support of the president’s alleged second term bid for Onoja in its calculations for the 2015 general elections? These puzzles will surely be unravelled in the months ahead.