LEGENDARY human rights warrior, Martin Luther King Jnr in one of his struggles noted that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenges, controversies, adversities or national peril.”
Senator David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark is one man who makes his position unambiguous no matter the odds. He calls a spade its rightful name no matter whose ox is gored. As a soldier, Senator Mark demonstrated patriotism, courage and faithfulness to his father land in all assignments he handled during his service in the Nigerian Army.
For the less knowledgeable, it was a young and virile Major Mark who was appointed Chairman of the Abandoned Properties under the former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon’s Reconstruction, Reconciliation and Resettlement (3Rs) policy after the divisive 30 months old Nigeria/ Biafra Civil war.
That assignment was the test of his capacity, competence and leadership quality. Without sentiments, Senator Mark did the assignment creditably to the satisfaction of his superiors and many victims of the fratricidal war. It marked the first imprint of his leadership triumphs in the later years.
As military Governor of the old Niger State in 1984, he transformed education and made the girl-child education free and compulsory. That singular policy placed Niger State atop of states with the highest number of female graduates in the Northern Nigeria. One of his remarkable policies then was the granting of citizenship to non-indigenes of Niger State who had lived in the state from 20 years and above.
As Communications Minister, he revolutionised the Nigeria Telecommunications (NITEL) sector when he migrated the organisation from analogue to digital telephony system.
On account of irreconcilable differences with the then Military Head of State, late General Sani Abacha, Senator Mark in 1994 left into exile. He returned to the country in 1998 and upon the urging of his Idoma people of Benue State, he joined politics and enlisted into the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He contested for the Senate and won.
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. Senator Mark arguably belongs to this class. He rose from a hitherto obscure 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.
Born on April 8, 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.
Mark was Nigerian Senate President for the 6th and 7th Senates (2007-2011 and 2011 -2015) of the Fourth Republic, when he demonstrated considerable maturity in leading his colleagues and managing national issues. He was dubbed “Mr. Stability” for stabilising the senate and the National Assembly that was hitherto a theatre of musical chairs. The stability in the National Assembly was to later help in stabilising the polity at the time of the uncertainty, especially during the short lived tenure of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Mark’s steady run in the Senate was put to test in 2016 when his senatorial election was annulled. He had to face an avoidable rerun that tested his popularity at a time in which PDP had lost its mandate. Against considerable odds, he prevailed to the astonishment of his critics. The rerun reinforced his mystique often criticized as a mere fluke sustained by his military background and the loyalty to the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The outcome brought to the fore so many things about his integrity and sterling leadership qualities.
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 on motions and bills will always benefit from the insights and experience to sustain good governance.
During his tenure as President of the Senate, 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 navigate a way out of the turbulent headwinds of a burgeoning constitutional crisis through the invocation of the Doctrine of Necessity. That singular action ended the constitutional crisis then. 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) as well as their Polytechnic counterparts to return to classes after one year of industrial dispute in 2014. 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. In a pioneering act that mirrored under Senator Mark, the National Assembly in December 2008 returned the sum of N7billion unspent fund to the national treasury.
In the Senate, Senator Mark is popular for his belief in participatory 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 the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as Nigerians who keenly watched his dexterity during plenary session.
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. At the moment, he is pushing for a clear position from the federal government on the persistent clashes between the Benue people and Fulani herdsmen.
A pragmatist, an outstanding Senator, one of Africa’s finest parliamentarians, a man fiercely and unapologetically devoted to the social, economic and political growth and development of Nigeria; a shrewd and excellent politician, indeed one of the best managers of our democracy!
He contested the 2018 PDP Presidential Primary in Port Harcourt, Rivers State and lost gallantly. He wanted to be the President of Nigeria to actualise his vision to revamp the ailing economy under his Project 730. That was not destined to be.
Senator Mark is a man who has all his life displayed vigor without vanity, strength without insolence and courage without ferocity and all the virtues of a natural leader without its vices.
As he turns 71 (Monday April 8, 2019) and sets to bow out of the Senate after 20 years sojourn, he takes a retrospective look and submits that “I have played my part, I’m convinced that history will be kind to me, let it be noted that Senator Mark was here”.
– Paul Mumeh is the Media Assistant to
Senator David Mark.