To fully bring to the fore an understanding of the man Senator David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark the President of the NIGERIAN Senate since 2007, it is necessary to take a historical excursion of the man who has become a recurring decimal in the socio- political landscape of NIGERIA.
Born in the non-descript, inaucous and obscure ancient community of Otukpo in the defunct Benue/Plateau state ( Present day Benue state,) on April 8, 1948 . Mark began his early education at St. Francis Catholic Practicing School, Otukpo between 1956 to 1961 . He proceeded to the NIGERIA Military School, Zaria.
Thereafter, he was admitted into the prestigious NIGERIA Defence Academy(NDA) and was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in 1970 making him one of the 3rd sector officers to graduate from the academy . ( Mark is a member of the 3rd regular course of the NDA).
He had further professional military trainings in the United Kingdom, USA, and India . He later bagged a Bachelor Degree in Telecommunications Engineering between 1971 and 1976. From 1978 – 1979, he was at Command and Staff College, Jaji and between 1990 –1991 , he was at the National Defense University, Washington DC and later at the Havard University, Boston USA between 1991 and 1992.
Mark has always exhibited leadership qualities and traits that constantly stood him out as a beacon among his pears .Till date, Senator Mark is remembered for his honesty, patriotism and orderliness . Decades ago as a young Major in the NIGERIAN Army during the administration of former Head of state General Yakubu Gowon he headed the abandoned property, implementation committee after the 30 months old fraticidal civil war. It was to his credit that GOWON administration implemented the Reconstruction, Resettlement and Reconciliation policy otherwise referred to as the 3Rs to reintegrate the defunct Biafrans into the NIGERIAN society.
In 1984, providence bestowed on Mark as he was appointed Military Governor of Niger State where again he demonstrated uncommon leadership qualities in spite of daunting challenges.
He left a positive footprint in the sand of time in that state. Till date he enjoys the citizenship of Niger state.
As the then Communications Minister , Mark transformed NIGERIA Telecommunications (NITEL) with his hyper tech engineering skill when he introduced mobile phones and digital telephone system in the country. He reorganized NIGERIA Postal Service(NIPOST) and started the city coding system. Under his meticulous watch on NITEL , the Organisation built two ultra-modern digital earth stations in Lagos and Enugu. Unarguably, services improved and internally generated revenue increased and the Organisation became buoyant and independent without having to rely on government for subventions.
Perhaps, It is instructive to note that Mark’s uncompromising position that telephone subscribers then should pay their bills or no services which earned him the wrath of not a few NIGERIANS who interpreted his position that “telephone is not for the poor”. He was vilified. But today what Mark saw decades ago is what is practicable in our country. Under the Global Service for mobile telecommunications (GSM) no one uses the services without prepaid credit. Without any iota of sentiment Mark is a man who saw tomorrow. He deserves commendation .
The end of Mark’s robust military career ushered him a new beginning on another turf-Politics and opportunity to serve his fatherland even better on a higher pedestal . He has contested and won elections in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2015 as a Senator representing his Benue South Senatorial zone. He remain the only NIGERIAN who so far enjoyed such good will.
If Mark had a glorified career in the military, what he has achieved in the political turf paled to the insignificant his successful records in the Army.
As a Senator, he gave quality representation to his constituents in sports, education, health, empowerment and scores of infrastructure. But as was discovered later his most superlative qualities were not realized until he was elected President of the Senate in 2007.
From a long, tortuous and implacable position, the Nigeria’s Senate eventually assumed a model and rejuvenated status and a great deal of legislative stability under Mark’s leadership . He has put paid to the reign of instability which was the hallmark of the upper chamber between 1999 and 2007. Thus the Nigerian Senate which used to be a laughing stock in the comity of nations given its nature and activities, has gradually evolved into a virile, focused and stable parliament.
Prior to Mark’s emergence as President of the Senate, the Red Chamber was an irritation to the vast majority of Nigerians. The Senate within this period was portrayed as an assemblage of uncooperative people as a result of lack of cohesion among members which often culminated in frequent change of leadership.
It is on record that between 1999 and 2005, the Senate changed leadership five times, a situation that was viewed by many as a mockery of democracy. More so that every state in the South-east to which the presidency of the chamber was zoned at the time had a taste of the office before moving to the North-central in 2007.
Thus by 2005, the impression had been created in the minds of most Nigerians that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a Senate President to stay beyond two years on the exalted seat. However, Mark’s emergence in June 2007 proved cynics wrong and changed all that perception as the Otukpo-born retired general turned democrat has succeeded in registering his name in the Guinness Book of Records as Nigeria’s longest serving President of the Senate since 1960 when Nigeria attained independence.
Not only did Mark sustain his position without any threat as President of the Senate throughout his first term of four years in the office between 2007 and 2011, he was also unanimously returned upon his re-election in 2011, a development that was unprecedented in the history of Nigeria’s democracy. It is not only that Mark has sustained himself in the office upon his second coming, he has also not come under any threat of removal from his colleagues who hold him in high esteem. He equally extend more than equal respects to his colleagues. He calls them ” My bosses”.
This reciprocal respect goes a long way to affirm Mark’s uncommon sense of leadership in the Senate and the satisfaction it brings to members. But the question needs be asked at this juncture on how Mark has succeeded in warming his way into the minds of fellow senators and simultaneously fostering stability. The answer to this question is not far fetched.
Upon assuming office in 2007, one of Mark’s first commitments was to phase out the era of “banana peels” which were the characteristics of the Senate prior to his emergence. Before then, “Ghana-Must-Go” syndrome real or imagined was a popular phenomenon in both chambers of the National Assembly. But today, memory of both “Ghana-Must-Go” as well as “banana peels” has completely disappeared in the Senate as Mark has repeatedly said that the Senate under his leadership would not condone any act of bribery and corruption in the course of discharging its responsibilities. He demonstrated this when in December 2007 under late Musa Yar’Adua administration he caused to be returned to the national treasury the sum of N7Billion Naira National Assembly unspent fund.
This resolve has paid off as in the past eight years of Mark in the saddle, the Senate for the first time since 1999, free from frequent scams which cast aspersions on the integrity of the institution and consequently swept away some of his predecessors. Thus the Senate under his leadership has come to embrace the culture of decency, accountability, civic responsibility and indeed salvaged its hitherto soured image in the eyes of the public. This is bearing in mind that some of Mark’s predecessors had either been thrown out through impeachment or forced resignation as a result of ” indictment”, from anticipatory approvals scandal to bribe-for-budget scams respectively. However, in today’s Mark’s Senate, issues relating to “banana peels ” are better imagined than seen.
Another factor that has helped Mark to provide a stable and dynamic leadership in the Senate is the combination of his wealth of experience, wisdom and brilliance in the administration of Senate as an institution. Mark brought into the office of Senate President a wealth of experience as a former military governor, federal minister and sitting senator spanning two terms of eight years before ascending the exalted seat. His prudent leadership also stemmed from his ability to develop and establish himself as an institution in legislative business. He is a master of legislative rules and procedures.
Since he assumed office, Mark has never been caught in the web of indecision or ignorance over any issue that arises on the floor of the Senate. He always has an answer to every situation no matter how complex. He has so developed himself in the task of legislation to the extent that more often than not, he provides guidance to his colleagues in a perplex situation by educating them on proper procedures that should be followed in the course of handling issues under consideration.
In terms of wisdom, Mark can best be described as a good student of King Solomon Institution. Though, the Senate comprises only 109 senators, it is by nature a difficult institution to manage. This is largely because it is not a place the Senate President can unilaterally impose his will on senators as it is the case in the executive arm where the president’s position is not subject to any contention but rather has to be obeyed because he appointed members of his cabinet. Reverse, however, is the case in the Senate where all members were equally elected and the Senate President is only the first among equals.
Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba confirmed this much when he said that ” every word in a bill for instance, does not only have 109 interpretations but also has 109 nuances in accordance with the number of senators in the chamber. Yet, whenever the Senate runs into a rowdy session and there are dissenting voices over the issues being considered, it is usually amazing how Mark deploys wisdom to end such a stalemate in a way that everyone will be satisfied at the end”.
A good instance of this came to play on March 7, 2013, after three days of heated debate on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). The debate had polarised the chamber into two groups with Southerners supporting the provisions of the bill and Northern senators vehemently opposing some of them. Given the level of opposition to the bill by Northern senators, a conclusion had already been drawn that the bill would not survive the second reading. But by the time Mark called for a voice vote, to the surprise of all watchers, there was no longer any single dissenting voice as all senators and sundry chorused “ay” in support of its passage through second reading.
How did he achieve this? In his remark at the end of the debate, Mark had commended the senators for their contributions and described them as an army of patriotic, responsible and well meaning Nigerians who would not kill PIB in view of the vantage position posterity had placed them as well as the numerous benefits the bill possessed for the nation when passed into law. By these persuasive words, Mark had already gotten his colleagues committed as only anyone who wanted to be portrayed as an unpatriotic Nigerian that would sustain his opposition to the bill.
Instances of how Mark had used wisdom to resolve impasse of different kinds in the Senate are numerous to mention.
Mark’s rich leadership style is not only admired by his fellow colleagues in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus; senators from opposition parties also adore him. To buttress this point, an opposition senator, Senator Femi Lanlehin (Oyo South), in 2013 said:“I think the opposition by and large to which I belong has kept to the rule. And of course you are aware that the Senate has the majority membership from the ruling party which is the PDP. But despite that, in my own opinion and to the best of my knowledge, I think we have by and large been able to work together under the able leadership of somebody (Mark) who has a wealth of experience not only in the legislature but also in the executive arm of government. And he has also been a member of the Senate since 1999. So, we have benefitted very well from his wealth of experience and navigation of Senate through his knowledge. And so far, it has been good because irrespective of party affiliation. We are all here to foster and protect the interests of our constituencies and the man who is from Oyo South, his needs are not different from the needs of those who are from Yobe East or Bayelsa North.”
It must also be noted that it is not only within the National Assembly that Mark has provided stable and productive leadership. Through his prudence, the Senate under his leadership has at different times served as a stabilising force in the entire nation. To this end, Senate’s adoption of the doctrine of necessity on February 9, 2010, to end the impasse which heated the polity like a furnace, following the medical trip embarked upon by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua to Saudi Arabia in November 2009 without handing over to his deputy, then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, will easily come to mind. Through this bold, patriotic and responsive move by the Senate, the polity which had in the preceding four months been overwhelmed by tension, heaved a sigh as the vacuum in leadership was quickly filled when the doctrine of necessity conferred the power to act as president on Jonathan.
In the same vein, the complementary role played by the Senate during the struggle to end the fuel subsidy crisis of January 2012 cannot be forgotten in a hurry.
Mark, with the support of his colleagues, quickly moved in to douse tension and as well deploy powers within his reach to end the crisis through various interventionist techniques, dialogue and collaboration which all helped in no small way to end the crisis and restore peace to the hitherto troubled nation.
Also worthy of note is Mark’s negotiation role to end the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) , their Polytechnic Counterparts who were on strike for almost one year as well as NIGERIA Medical Association (NMA) industrial action last year. Mark’s Senate also stood firm against the Western pressure when it passed the anti-gay Law and indeed outlawed same sex marriage in the country.
But in all these remarkable achievements, Mark exhibited humility and did not take the credit to himself rather to his colleagues for their unflinching support, team work and cooperation.
Mark’s style of leadership in the Senate has proved that Nigerians can work together to achieve national goals if only people are conscious of the responsibility that posterity has placed on their shoulders when found in places of authority.
As Mark , the 12th President of the Nigerian Senate marks his 67th birthday today it is hoped that In the years ahead the nation will still need his ready hands to help navigate the socio-economic and political climate.
* Paul Mumeh is the Chief Press Secretary to the President of the Senate.