By Paul Mumeh
Whichever side of the divide one clings, the story of the former Nigerian President of the Senate, Senator David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark, his military and political career albeit his steady rise to the top cannot be written completely in one book. This is just an attempt, a line in the intermediate chapter of the still unfolding narrative of Mark’s highly eventful sojourn on earth.
History is replete with such narratives of great men and women who in spite of their backgrounds made it to the very top of their chosen professions or careers.
We are familiar with the cliché “from grass to grace”, of people rising above the circumstances of their births to become great personalities in the society. Senator Mark unarguably belongs to this class. He rose from a non-descript Otukpo rural community in the present day Benue state to the zenith of his profession.
As a soldier, he belonged to the elite class and was indeed successful, rising to the rank of a General before he left the crispy “khaki” uniform for the “Agbada”. As a politician, he made his mark to the admiration of both friends and foes. Till date, he remains the only Nigerian living or dead who has contested Senatorial election six times and won in the same corresponding number.
It was therefore not surprising though unprecedented when a forthnight ago, the red chamber of the National Assembly came alive as Senator Mark took the oath of office for the sixth time as the man representing Benue South Senatorial zone. It was an unusual scenario in a senate divided along party lines for all to be really excited and indeed gave him a standing ovation.
Mark was Senate President for the sixth and seventh Senate (2007-2011 and 2011 -2015) when he demonstrated considerable maturity in handling his colleagues and national issues. He was dubbed “Mr. Stability” for stabilizing the senate and the National Assembly that was hitherto a theatre of musical chairs.
It is instructive to note that the return of Mark for the 6th record time took a long and tortuous path and was often laden with frustrations and intrigues. To begin with, the reasons given for the nullification of the March 28, 2015 Senatorial election was not worth the paper it was written on. Many wondered why the judiciary could not resolve the mere discrepancy in date between the day election was held and the date which appeared on the result sheet. Whereas it could have been an oversight on the part of the electoral officials for no fault of Mark but it cost him an avoidable re-run and the test of the will of the Idoma people.
The return of Mark reinforced his mystique often criticised as a mere fluke sustained by his military background and the strong loyalty to the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). That election and its outcome said so many things about his integrity and leadership, the unwavering commitment of the Idoma People of Benue state and leaves a lesson for young men like Daniel Onjeh, the All Progressive Congress (APC) candidate who was goaded to jump a long cue.
In the senate today, Mark is the most ranking member and has garnered a whole lot of experience not Just as a member of the red chamber but as President of the Senate Emeritus. Undoubtedly, the quality of debate will always benefit from the insights and experience of Mark to sustain good governance. No doubts, he represents a reference icon on both local and international issues that may confront the upper legislative chamber nay National Assembly.
As Senator Mark turns 68, one is quick to reflect on his journey so far. Many political pundits have severally described Mark as a pragmatist, a magnet that moves both friends and foes into his enchanting orbit, a man whose flame and fame continues to illuminate. A pan- Nigerian, a true nationalist and political strategist of no mean standing. He has proven to be a man of immense political sagacity.
Born on the 8th day of April 1948 in Otukpo, Otukpo Local Government of Benue State of Nigeria, he started his early education at St. Francis Catholic Practising School, Otukpo from 1956-1961. He later proceeded to the prestigious Nigerian Military School (NMS) Zaria from 1962-1966 thereby setting the tone for his ambition for a military career. He graduated from the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) Regular Course 3 and was commissioned Second Lieutenant in 1970.
He proceeded for further professional training in the United Kingdom and India from 1971-1976 and bagged a Bachelors Degree in Telecommunications Engineering. Between 1978 and 1979, he was a student at the Command and Staff College, Jaji and in 1990-1991 he was at the National Defence University in Washington DC and later at Harvard University Boston, USA 1991-1992.
He held various Staff, Command and Administrative appointments during his service in the Nigerian Army. Some of these include but not limited to Directing Staff, Command and Staff College, Commander Corps of Signals and Faculty Director, National War College (NWC) now National Defence College (NDC), Abuja.
Mark also held extra-curricular appointments while in the military. He was appointed the Chairman of the very challenging Abandoned Properties Implementation Committee in 1976. In his capacity as Chairman, he effectively supervised the implementation of the Federal Government White Paper on the controversial abandoned properties in the old Eastern Region now south East and South South zones.
In 1984, Lt-Colonel Mark was appointed Military Governor of Niger State. His tenure as the Military Governor of Niger State was characterized by brilliant ideas, bold actions and courageous initiatives which set Niger State on the path of development.
As Minister of Communications in 1988, he revolutionalised the communications sector in Nigeria by introducing mobile phones and digital telephone system in the country. He reorganized NIPOST and started the city coding system. The Nigeria Telecommunications (NITEL) was removed from the Civil Service Structure and staff welfare package was improved significantly. He also built two ultra-modern digital earth stations in Lagos and Enugu from internally generated revenue without recourse to the Federal Government fund.
Mark returned to Nigeria from self-exile in 1998 to a tumultuous, thunderous reception by his Idoma people of Benue State. They instantly declared him their political leader and he responded to the yearnings and aspirations of his people. He joined the PDP and had the privilege of contesting election into the Senate. He was successfully elected as the Senator for Benue South Senatorial District in 1999.
Senator Mark was returned by his people in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. In June, 2007, fortune smiled on Mark when he was elected the President of the Nigerian Senate.
During his tenure, a new phrase was added to Nigeria’s political lexicon on Tuesday, 9th February, 2010 when Senator Mark and his colleagues tested extant laws of the land in order to forge a bailout for Nigeria’s continuous existence as one nation through the invocation of the Doctrine of Necessity. That singular act ended the political logjam that had gripped the nation prior to the emergence of a new Leadership.
On several occasions Mark’s interventions and wise counsel have rescued the nation from the precipice. In 2012, he was on hand to save the nation from the catastrophic oil subsidy riots. It was also Mark and his colleagues who resolved the rift between the government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and their Polytechnics counterparts to return to classes after one year of industrial action.
Similarly, Mark as then President of the Senate waded into the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) strike action and succeeded in getting the Medical Doctors back to work during the outbreak of the endemic Ebola virus disease.
Under Senator Mark, the National Assembly in December 2008, returned the sum of N7billion naira unspent fund to the National Treasury.
In the Senate, Senator Mark is widely popular for his belief in true democracy and rule of law. His political and social ingenuity in handling bills and motions have always been to the admiration of his colleagues in both the Senate and the House of Representatives as well as Nigerians who keenly watch his democratic dexterity.
As the then Senate President, he handled the affairs of the Red Chamber with a deftness that carried every one along; he left no one in doubt as to the fact that the success of the Parliament lies in the team work that prevailed in the Senate. The true essence of participatory democracy was always at play under him. He fondly called his colleagues “my Bosses”.
Under his leadership, the Legislature broke the 50-year old jinx by successfully amending the 1999 Constitution. By that achievement, he has helped to set a precedence of procedure such that even those who will come after him will not have much difficulty in altering the Constitution positively. Under him, the National Assembly among others passed into law the anti-gay bill otherwise called same sex marriage law against all pressures from the western world.
His Benue south Zone stands to benefit even more of the dividends of democracy with such a highly experienced politician making their case easier at every point. At the moment, he is pushing for a clear position from the federal government on the persistent clashes between the Agatu people and Fulani herdsmen in the zone. He believes that the crisis which continues to erupt requires the intervention of the federal government to find a permanent solution.
It will require a man of his status to make the case for the completion of the several federal projects still on-going in the zone including but not limited to the Oweto/ Loko bridge project, Federal University of Health Sciences in Otukpo, the Otobi multipurpose Dam and several others in the area.
It has been resolved that Mark is a clear leader of all seasons for the people. In the past, it was debated in some quarters about his status and why nobody has been able to successfully challenge his political leadership. The outcome of the rerun election truly put paid to this debate.
As a great believer in education, Mark established a scholarship scheme under David Mark Scholarship Foundation, which awards scholarships from primary to university level. No fewer than 20,000 students, most of them indigents have benefitted from the annual scholarship scheme since its inception in 2005. In addition, Mark has renovated many schools in his constituency. He single- handedly built and donated a multi-million naira complex to the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) Otukpo Study Centre in 2010.
As a sports enthusiast, he has in place an annual David Mark Secondary School football competition for the youths. As an avid lover of the game of golf, Mark has an 18-hole Green Golf Championship Course in Otukpo open to the public free-of-charge. These have not only given sports a boost in the State but also offered employment to several people. The club has a 400 strong golf academy which provides opportunities to children to play in many prestigious courses. This is besides the annual “Mark D Ball” basketball fiesta which includes clinic for 500 plus children.
Senator Mark also established a radio station, Joy FM 96.5 in Otukpo which offers employment to over 50 Nigerians in his constituency. This has promoted grassroots communication, education, enlightenment, peace and harmony among the people.
A man of undoubted national acclaim and an asset, he has been decorated and honoured with several awards across the country among which are:
Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger [GCON), psc+ fwc fss, Doctorate Degrees (Honoris Causa) from several Universities across the country including but not limited to: National Open University of Nigeria, Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Enugu State University of Science and Technology, Benue State University, Nassarawa State University, University of Agriculture Makurdi and Federal University of Technology, Minna, Novena University, Ogume, Delta state, Fellow, Auchi Polytechnic, Edo state, Fellow, Nigeria Institute of Management (fnim) Fellow, Nigeria Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Public Officer of the Year, 2011 Award by African Newspapers of Nigeria Plc (publishers of Tribune Newspapers), Man of the year award 2015 by the Daily Independent Newspapers limited among others.
As Senator Mark turns 68 today, he needs to be reminded of the inevitability to continue to uphold the sanctity of truth as a statesman and leader of vigor without vanity, integrity without insolence, courage without ferocity and all the virtues of a great leader without its vices.
Mumeh is the Media Assistant to Senator David Mark