David Mark is not new to battles -be they military or political. He had fought military battles, won many and retreated from, at least, one that I know of, to wit: his bolting out of the country in 1994 on self-exile in the face of real threats of extermination by the Sani Abacha junta. The tactical flight was an opportunity for him to return another day for a fight, which day came at the outset of the current Fourth Republic in 1999. But the fight this time round was political.
He had taken a plunge into the murky waters of politics; and, he deservedly secured the mandate of Idoma people that make up Benue Zone C (South) Senatorial District to represent them in the Senate. And for eight years, he occupied the senate seat as a member. In 2007, he emerged as the senate president and was re-elected by his colleagues for a second term in 2011.
For each of these enterprises, it was a tough battle for the retired army general. He was gallant in the battles. Even though he experienced scary moments, he was able to pull through. Indeed, he had since 1999 fought and won political battles; and, to be sure, he is still fighting in the battlefield.
In 1999, he surmounted the opposition from General Lawrence Onoja for the PDP ticket. In 2003 and 2007, he repeated the same feat. He emerged victorious in the subsequent general elections. With the defeat of the face of opposition within the PDP, the elements who wanted to stop him at all costs from returning to the Senate supported the ANPP senatorial candidate, Alhaji Usman Abubakar aka Young Alhaji.
This was one of the scary moments: he defeated Young Alhaji in the election, but the ANPP candidate claimed he won the election. He headed to the Election Petition Tribunal which awarded him victory. Mark filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal, Jos, which was the last bus stop in post election trial, and was able to secure the final verdict in his favour.
Prior to the verdict of the Appellate Court, Mark’s presidency of the Senate was, indeed, threatened. Some members of the Senate from the North Central zone were quietly warming up for the position in case Mark lost at the Court of Appeal. With his victory, he had consolidated on his position.
The tenure provided an ample chance for Mark to define his presidency. He called on his military background and experience as senator for eight years to apply himself to the task of running the Upper Chamber. He was too experienced to know that money was at the root of the problems that a majority of his predecessors from the Southeast zone had with members.
And, what did he do? He steered clear of senate funds. In 2008, he caused to be returned to the nation’s treasury, in line with the requirement of Fiscal Responsibility Act, an unspent senate fund in the 2007 Supplementary Budget to the tune of N7 billion. He could have caved in, as learnt, to pressure from members of the body of principal officers to speedily tie the money to some projects and contracts before the December 31, 2007 expiration date. He never did.
Deploying other strategies, one of which was intense respect and concern for the socio-political and economic conditions of his colleagues whom he has always referred to as his bosses, Mark had, as far back as his first tenure, been able to win the support of his colleagues.
The import of the camaraderie played out in 2010 when he led the senate to intervene in the crisis of succession in the Umar Musa Yar’Adua-Goodluck Jonathan Presidency. Mark’s senate was able to come up with the Doctrine of Necessity that enabled the Federal Legislature to invest in Jonathan (who was then acting president) the full constitutional powers of president.
Yar’Adua who was terminally ill died some few weeks afterward and Jonathan was sworn in as president. Mark and some of his colleagues had ridden on the synergy between them and Jonathan to settle their political trajectories for 2011. Mark’s victory at the PDP primary and in the general election was not encumbered. His re-election as senate president was equally not. He was returned unopposed unlike in 2007 when he had a gritty contest with the former governor of his State, George Akume, who in 2011 had to re-contest his Benue Northwest senate seat on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and is now the minority leader in the Upper Chamber.
With a few months to the expiry of the current 7th senate, the question is: will Mark seek re-election as candidate of Benue Zone C Senatorial District? If he does and wins, will he seek re-election as senate president since the position is still ceded to the North Central zone by the PDP? From all indications, the answers to these posers are yes.
This is the possibility that has got Mark’s opponents in Idoma land agitated. They know Mark will run. And why not?! If he runs, he will win, perhaps, as he has been winning because, more than ever before, his chances are brightest now when compared with those of his arch-rival, General Onoja (will he contest again?); his new challenger and former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Chief Mike Onoja; and others who may want to throw their hats into the ring. It does not matter which party platform they use, especially now that the Benue South PDP has just endorsed Mark as sole candidate for the zone’s senatorial election.
I read the treatise by my friend, Adagbo Onoja, who is no relation of the two gentlemen mentioned above, in Newsdiary (an online publication), where he posited that Chief Onoja could be Mark’s nemesis. Read Adagbo: “The interesting thing with Chief Onoja is that he could be David Mark’s nemesis. I am not too sure what the balance of sentiments for and against Mark is in Idomaland today but the Chief was the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence when Abacha was Head of State, meaning that he was actually the Minister of Defence. He might not have been decked in the military fatigue but he was in a position to know one or two things about military officers, of which Mark was one.
“So, in him, Mark might find a tough challenger with the resources and advantages of bureaucratic politics. An extremely weak politician like Mark when it comes to mobilisational politics could be very vulnerable if his opponent is someone who knows one or two things about power. I am not sure it is conceit and vanity that makes Mark such a disaster in mobilisational politics…”
My friend, whom I have always respected as a left wing intellectual, had understandably raised the issue of (financial) resources, which is critical in a determined battle to unseat the senate president, before proceeding on a gambit to negatively profile Mark as a “disconnected” politician who is “extremely weak” when it comes to mobilisational politics.
I am not interested in the “if his (Mark) opponent is someone who knows one or two things about power” proposition in Adagbo’s effort to accentuate what he considered as Mark’s vulnerability. Even the politically naïve would know that nobody in Idomaland has knowledge and experience in power politics whether within the military or political spheres that is superior to Mark’s. This, anyhow, is a moot point.
Now this: I am not an Idoma man. Adagbo is. He should be well at home with the sociological condition in his native land that has created the impression that the deficit in Mark’s politicking might not be his (perceived) conceit (arrogance) but mobilisational politics, which, he (Adagbo) claimed is not his (Mark’s) forte. My quick take on this, however, is: how could he (Mark) have continued to win elections to the senate and even to the position of senate president if he has not been able to mobilise support or deploy deft mobilisational politics? Therefore, to magisterially declare that Mark is wont to retreat into conspiratorial tactics to win election instead of mobiilising support is simply reductionist and unfair.
For me, the best way to mobilise support of the people in politics as a public office holder is to deliver on campaign promises. It is to facilitate infrastructure transformation and human capital development. Has Mark been able to mobilise democracy dividends to his people on which he can latch his fifth term bid to the senate? Yes! I believe Mark’s imprimaturs in these areas are quite evident in Idomaland. People can do their reality checks and interrogate Mark’s contributions to the development of Idomaland. I think Adagbo has begun a good conversation, which should elicit different perspectives.
Ojeifo, Editor-in-Chief of The Congresswatch magazine, sent this piece from Abuja.