Don’t Diminish David Mark in the North By Adagbo Onoja

The role of the Middle Belt as the balancer in Nigerian politics rests on qualitative and demonstrated commitment and sacrifice for Nigeria rather than on a chauvinistic calculus. It is, therefore, a progressive duty to combat the Middle Belt chauvinism creeping into the politics of the region in the current defence of Senate President, David Mark against his critics when he said northern leaders are not sufficiently forthcoming against Boko Haram.

Once a very senior person in government like David Mark speaks, someone out there is bound to respond to him either in approval or disapproval. Such responses enrich the debate and I am sure that Mark himself would have no objections to that culture. Why then do local supporters of Mark in the Middle Belt Youth Forum and in the Idoma Professionals have to emerge to present such contributors and their position as people who had committed something like a crime? Are they serving the interests of David Mark or unconsciously diminishing his stature?

Before he became a politician and the Senate President, he was a military man. The national security psychology of the average military man is the nation, the nation state. Soldiers don’t accept fractioning of the nation. I understand the soldiers were almost crying the day Bakassi was formally handed over to Cameron but by the doctrine of civilian control of the military, they had to obey the last order and probably complain quietly later, if at all.

Even if that nationalist psychological canvass is the only thing the soldiers we have in politics have imbued our democracy with, that is great enough. So, no matter how David Mark’s position might have been viciously and even maliciously attacked, it would have been better if the self proclaimed defenders responding to such challenge came from say, Ebonyi, Osun, Sokoto or Yobe but not the Middle Belt and certainly not Idomaland. This is not playing to any gallery. It is symbolically potent for it to be so, particularly at a time when the signals of a descent to Somalia are real and the nation is in great need of individuals who can serve as beacons and symbols of hope and oneness. In such situations, it is those in high offices who are likely to emerge to play such role, either as products of circumstance or by choice.

It is very tempting to read what is going on in the country in strictly religious and geo-political terms and to resort to chauvinistic/supremacist responses. But if we do, we should not infect the leaders with that virus. Probably based on information available to him or based on gut feeling, David Mark said northern leaders are not forthcoming enough on Boko Haram. Someone somewhere says he is wrong to say so because, as a northerner and a person in his own position, he should know better. Someone else like the publisher of Leadership newspapers, Nda Isaiah says what Mark is saying is not possible as it would be mere fool hardiness for individual northern leaders to stand up to Boko Haram in the name of courage. This is a very healthy debate which only turned towards the unhealthy when my brothers in Middle Belt Youth Forum and the Idoma professionals joined, not with counter analysis but with anger and demonization. Haba! The fact that the politician in Mark may not make it advisable for him to chase away some of the people shouting Hosanna around him does not make everything such shouters are doing valuable to him or dignifying of his office.

The Middle Belt as a geo-political and cultural reality in Nigeria is not open to question. It does not have to be justified by anybody. But that reality has to reckon with another reality which is the collegial nature of leadership and power in Nigeria.  In other words, Nigeria is not a country held hostage in leadership by any family, clan or even ethnic group. Even under the military, power was still a cocktail of ethno-regional and religious ambassadors. (Class is not yet considered even though it should have been the most important).

In that case, it makes senses to reckon with David Mark as, first and foremost, the ambassador of the Middle Belt at the centre today and political actors of Middle Belt origin would naturally want to solidarise with him, including those from opposition since his position covers everyone. But it shouldn’t be that this solidarity must come in a tasteless, sycophantic and chauvinistic manner. It can equally come by way of strategically thought out inputs.

For example, David Mark is in a position to almost single handedly restore the north, something worth doing because the north is not just the querulous Christians and Muslims or Caliphate and non Caliphate identities. The north is also Nigeria, Africa and the long suffering Black world. Two, the legislature he heads is a key theatre for reifying the Nigerian State which, so far, is very abstract and meaningless to majority of the citizens. He can make a historical point there. Why is Middle Belt solidarity not about pushing the Senate President along such lines but about unproductive checkmating politics?

The history of Middle Belt leadership of Nigeria is, as I said earlier, the history of the balancer at work. In other words, the Middle Belter in power is a unifier because he is in the middle. In General Yakubu Gowon, both the north and Nigeria found a unifier and he remains so. It is the same thing with T. Y. Danjuma. In fact, if Danjuma had accepted to take the Presidency after Obasanjo, the instability of today would certainly not have been our portion because there wouldn’t have been the subsequent elite fragmentation and the current transition anarchy. Above all, he has that elusive thing called mystique. That was also the cutting edge of Joe Garba’s Foreign Affairs Ministership. If one leaves the military circle, Joseph Tarka was a Middle Belt political player. He kicked and the establishment fought him but, by and large, they fought as brothers because, in the end, they came back together. Today, even as a foremost fisher of men for Christ and Christianity, Bishop Mathew Kukah, the quintessential Mustard Seed in whichever sense one look at it, speaks for humanity in the north, not for Christians and Muslims or Caliphate and non Caliphate even though he is not ignorant of the identity configuration involved. So, amplifying little quarrels and encouraging David Mark away from playing the unifier is not the option. This is because the models on the ground do not support that option.

David Mark is not a practiced populist. He doesn’t have that spontaneity. But that is even good for him because it then means he is technocratic. And Nda Isaiah suggested that in his column last Monday. All those who wish him well, either in the name of Middle Belt or Idoma nationalism or professional or political affiliation can help by pushing the technocracy in him towards that single pronouncement or single action that can become a turning point for him and for Nigeria as well. This would be necessary and urgent because, at the end of the day, David Mark’s ethnic or geo-political identity will not be part of the parameters by which his leadership will be assessed. It will still be the question of what value did he add to Nigeria. Since the history will not be written by ethnic hand clappers and geo-political jingoists, why don’t these ones clear yet and allow Mark to raise the stakes?

Their day will come when David Mark has exhausted his personal and regional quota of power and is returning to base. It is on that day that anybody who tries to obstruct or disturb all the Middle Belt cadres and Oglinye warrior dancers of Idomaland from blocking the entire stretch from Abuja to Otukpo will have him or herself to blame. For now, Mark and others in position of leadership should be saved from impoverished followership clustering the view of power to the point of being a threat to national security. The Senate President can only be a case study. Other political office holders might be suffering worse cases of impoverished followership, silently.

Onoja is an Abuja resident