“This space cannot contain even a scratch of what one has to say about Mark as a patriot, a man of dignity and an excellent public officer.”
Dear Michael Bush,
Permit me to occupy this space today; by privilege. By the way, thank you for the unusual literary energy you have invested in this column since it started. Column writing has never been easy. I can testify. Therefore, your consistency is commendable. And I love your simplicity of language.
A few weeks ago, I read your piece entitled: In Search of Political Mentors (2). Your focus that day was on David Mark. You introduced him as a two-term Senate President; the longest serving senator so far; and a retired general of the Nigerian Army. Let’s consider this contribution as a continuation of that discourse.
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My first physical encounter with David Bonaventure Alechenu Mark was after his election to the Senate in 1999; when I was later posted by the Punch newspaper to serve as Senate correspondent. Before that period, I was a distant observer of Mark’s exploits in the military. It is difficult to explain what the attraction was. But somehow, I simply admired him. This blossomed in the mid-eighties when he was named as one of Ibrahim Babangida’s Boys. That was when we all admired IBB for leading a government with some semblance of democracy.
Suddenly, I hated Mark when he masterminded the coup that brought back full military dictatorship after IBB had stepped aside. That coup also ended MKO Abiola’s hope of ever becoming the president of Nigeria. Later, as events unfolded, I realised that Mark had different reasons for the coup. It was rather the greed for political power displayed by General Sani Abacha that changed the initial coup plan.
My perception of him changed after I read his interview in the defunct Newswatch magazine chronicling his risky encounter with Abacha before miraculously escaping into exile. He was the only member of the junta that challenged the fearsome general for altering the original coup plan, which was to either hand over power to Abiola or hold another election immediately. For daring Abacha for the sake of democracy and living to tell the tale, he became my distant hero.
Then came the Senate assignment. And I met Mark and his twin brother, Tunde Ogbeha, also a retired general and senator. It is without doubt that if you have any problem with Mark, then you are in trouble with Ogbeha; and if you nurture any evil against Ogbeha, be assured that Mark will come after you.
Mark’s simplicity and force of argument on the floor of the senate drove my curiosity further. I needed to unveil him to get a better understanding of his person. Sometimes, for several days, he would remain silent on the senate floor. All he would do is smile and watch events with undivided attention. On other days, he would crack ribs with uncommon jokes. Then came days when he would take over the floor with motions, counter-motions, and contribution to issues. It was, and still is difficult to reasonably understand Mark.
He has a way of coming around when you least expect. Imagine this: One day, the then Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu, was facing impeachment threat. Mark was yet to enter the hallowed chamber when Mantu was accused of several things by his colleagues because he spearheaded the third term agenda of 2006. While the issues against him were to be subjected to investigation, opposition party senators, who were in the majority at that sitting, demanded Mantu be removed from office.
Mark was the last person Mantu expected to rise to his defense. Somehow, someone sent Mark a text message, and within minutes, he was in the chamber. Quickly, he stepped into the debate with a counter-motion; stating that it would amount to standing justice on the head if someone who was still innocent of an accusation was removed from office before the charges against him were investigated. It was a tough argument; but he won. Mantu was later investigated by a committee headed by one of his accusers and was cleared of any wrongdoing.
It takes a man of unquestionable integrity to stop injustice in its track. One can- not easily forget Mark’s anti-corruption crusade in the senate. In the immediate past, and at any point, he wasted no time in mobilising senators against any Senate President involved in acts of corruption. It was also characteristic of Mark to stand up against unjust treatment of anybody. That spirit prompted the Doctrine of Necessity; a mysteriously conceived, unprecedented move that rescued the whole country from a constitutional blunder.
When Mark took over as Senate President, I asked him in an interview what his plans were against the legendary banana peel that had consumed almost all his predecessors. His answer (paraphrased) was: Sam, if it is money; or arrogance and disrespect for fellow senators, or nepotism rather than patriotism that would remove me from office, then I promise you that it won’t happen because I won’t give it a chance. He was right.
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This space cannot contain even a scratch of what one has to say about Mark as a patriot, a man of dignity and an excellent public officer. Wait! I can’t claim to know anything about this man other than what I have observed from a distance. Some people may have justifiable reasons for not liking him. That’s okay! But I would rather celebrate his fine points than waste time on his mistakes.
My conclusion: Mark is a combination of military discipline, godliness and creative political sagacity. He is a leader that can look anybody in the face and say it the way he feels irrespective of your status. That’s why I admire him!