Not very many can be that lucky-to be 64 years of age and a statesman of no mean repute. Come April 8, 2012 President of the Senate, Distinguished Senator (Dr.) David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark would have reached that milestone. Many argue that age is just a number, but we must acknowledge that not many have been blessed with the grace of the almighty God to attain a milestone such as 64 years of age. For Mark though, age is more than just a numeric figure-it represents the totality of the value he has been able to add to life, his family, his community, and the nation. It is in living life to the fullest, not for the sole benefit of the self but to the larger advantage of the many.
Born (without a silver spoon) in the nondescript and sleepy village of Akpegede in Otukpo local government area of Benue state in the 1948, Mark seem to have been destined for the top. After completing his primary school at St. Francis Catholic Practicing School, Otukpo, Mark proceeded to the prestigious Nigerian Military School, Zaria where he laid the foundation for what turned out to become a remarkable career in the military. After graduation from the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Zaria Mark’s professional skills in the military were further sharpened in some of the most elite military training institutes in Europe, Asia and America. What began as a childhood fancy to appear in crisp military camouflages turned out to become a fulfilling career where Mark’s leadership credentials stood as an invaluable asset to all formations that he had the privilege to serve, not the least of which was as Military governor of Niger state and later, Communications Minister.
But whatever exploits Mark achieved during his sojourn in the military pales to insignificance compared to his remarkable stewardship on the political turf. Agreed, battles fought in military combat can be ferocious and deadly. Yet they appear simpler when compared to political battles. In the former, the battle lines are fairly clear and the enemy is more often than not, known. For the latter, the enemy is more often than not, the seemingly innocent neighbour next door, the apparent political ally or the ubiquitous godfather. Here there are no battle lines, no clear enemies and the theatres of war are so fluid as to be indistinguishable. It goes without saying therefore that political battles are more difficult to prosecute, and far less easy to win. It is against this backdrop that we can safely say that winning political wars demands much more than brawns and the quality and quantity of the arsenal in the armory. It demands a lot of political savvy, prime amongst which is the ability to command followership. And this is where David Mark’s leadership credentials have buffeted the grand posturing of his political opponents and traducers.
When Mark, on the return of democracy in 1999 decided to try his hand in partisan politics, many looked upon him as just another ex-military man seeking to satisfy yet another craving for power and relevance. But as we would suddenly realize, here was a man whose heart was out there with the people, the common men and women in the streets. Mark had no illusions about the toughness of the task he was about to undertake, but his eyes were trained on the objective-to first win the people’s hearts, then votes; which comes with a huge opportunity and privilege to represent his Benue South Senatorial District in the senate. This, again for Mark was just a means to an end-the opportunity to serve and add value to the lives of his constituents.
The rest, as the old saying goes, is now history. Mark contested the election and won a seat to the senate in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011. Expectedly and characteristics of politics in our clime, virtually the elections were acrimonious, bitterly fought and won, to state it mildly. To be sure, they were those who felt that going into the senate, or any political office for that matter was “a turn-by-turn” arrangement, where people “will come and chop”, as we say in local parlance in this part of the world, and give way for others. That is why even when his opponents were trounced resoundingly at the polls, they thought victory and the peoples’ mandate could be secured through the back door- the law courts.
But Mark had a dream, a vision and mission in the National Assembly- to redefine the parameters of leadership where service to the people is the cornerstone. It is this new vision of leadership that Mark espoused in his first two terms in the senate, ‘marking’ him out as one of the most outstanding lawmakers of the 4th and 5th senate. It therefore left little to the imagination, when in 2007; Mark contested and received the overwhelming mandate of his colleagues to lead the senate as its president in an open, transparent and democratic process. That election was significant in several respects, not least of which was the rebirth of true democracy in the senate.
That was the first time in a long while that the leadership of either House of the national legislature emerged through a democratic process. There is the tendency to miss the huge significance of that epochal event, but it bears mentioning that the sanity, stability and the now entrenched democratic culture prevailing in the senate today is a direct result of that seemingly innocuous democratic exercise. And we must never miss the point, again that David Mark was, and remains the symbol of that transformation. If our memory does not fail us, we would recall the chicanery that was the hallmark of legislative practices and procedures pre-David Mark’s ascendancy to the leadership of the Red Chamber of the National Assembly. It therefore speaks loudly to the astute leadership qualities of the senate president that the several hurricanes and tsunamis that use to sweep with profound regularity in the upper chamber, and had brought to a premature end to the vaunting proclivities of many a senate president have become a welcome bygone since Mark assumed office in 2007.
As senate president, David Mark has always pursued the pan-Nigeria agenda. The senate under his leadership has earned a reputation for itself for standing up for the ordinary citizen on the street through the passage of laws and motions that aim to improve the material condition of their existence and stabilize the polity. In this wise, two critical interventions of the senate at a time of grave national peril bear some mentioning- the invocation of the Doctrine of Necessity in the wee hours of the Late Yar’Adua presidency to rescue Nigeria from the abyss and the mediatory role it played during the conflagration spurned by the fuel subsidy removal earlier in the year. In a country so used to holding the national legislature to blame for all manner of ills plaguing the nation, the role of the Senate in the situations under reference was not only a welcome and most desirable breathe of fresh air, but more poignantly gave strong indication that we are not doomed after all. No one can quite reasonably argue that the resolution of those epochal crises were a mere happenstance. To the contrary, the strong leadership provided by the senate president during those trying periods
played more than significant role in the final outcome of those events. Gradually but surely, we are beginning to once again repose some measure of hope in our public institutions, in this instance the national Assembly under the leadership of David Mark not only to stand up to the defense of the public and national interest, but also to drive the sort of change that the nation so badly craves.
As Mark turns 64 today, our only hope and prayer is that the Almighty God continues to endow him with the needed strength and wisdom to carry to logical conclusion at the end of his term, the radical transformation and evolution that the 6th and 7th senate has come to witness under him. Needless to add that all the accolades and recognitions that are daily being bestowed on the president of the senate are well deserved. But more poignantly, there are a call to spur him for further dedication and selfless service to our fatherland in the days, weeks, months and years to come.
Many Happy Returns, Mr. Senate President, the man the gavel fits.
Paul Mumeh, Chief Press Secretary to the President of the Senate wrote from Abuja