By Paul Mumeh
“I will continue to contribute to the wellbeing and the development of our country. I will remain a peace ambassador both in Benue State and Nigeria at large. I will uphold the sanctity of peace and unity. More than anything, Nigeria needs peace and unity. We need to bond together as one people with a common destiny. Let us believe and have faith in our country. We should do our best to make the nation work because we have no other country to call ours”.
These were the inspiring words of a combatant soldier, distinguished parliamentarian and patriot, Senator David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark GCON, FNIM, FNIPR, President of the 6th and 7th Senate (2007 to 2015) in his avowed commitment to the unity, stability, development and prosperity of Nigeria.
This soldier cum politician, astute administrator and cerebral parliamentarian, still brimming with his smart salute and patriotic gait has turned 72 (Wednesday, April 8th, 2020). Expectedly, Senator Mark has been overwhelmed by the deluge of encomium, goodwill messages and prayers for his contributions to the development of the nation and humanity.
Through the formative years in his career as a Soldier, Military Governor of old Niger State, Minister of Communications and Member, Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), President of the Senate, 2019 Presidential aspirant and now as an elder statesman, Senator Mark has remained outstanding in his display of loyalty to national stability and cohesion.
At 72, Senator Mark stands tall as one of the brave and patriotic military officers who stood to be counted in the battle to secure the unity of the nation during the ill-fated 30 months old Nigeria/Biafra fratricidal civil war.
He holds the laurel as one military officer who proved, while serving as the Governor of Niger State as well as the Minister of Communications, that opportunities bestowed by military positions can be utilized in achieving peace, stability and national cohesion for the good of all.
As the Military Governor of Niger State (1984 to 1986), then Lt. Col. David Mark stood out with his articulation and prompt implementation of development-oriented polices and programmes that laid the solid foundation for infrastructural and human capital development in the State. Of particular reference is Mark’s introduction of the compulsory girl-child education, an initiative that earned Niger State the leading position in girl-child education among the States in northern Nigeria till date.
Today, beneficiaries of that programme have become high flyers and global competitors in their various chosen paths, where they are making immense contributions to the development of our nation and humanity.
Upon appointment as the Minister of Communications in 1988, Senator Mark brought in managerial discipline and strategic initiatives that laid the foundation for the modernization of the communication sector in Nigeria.
Among other initiatives, Mark reorganized the operations of NIPOST and NITEL, leading to the introduction of city coding system, construction of ultra-modern digital earth stations as well as laid the platform for mobile and digital telephone system in the country.
His irrepressible stance that those who own telephone lines must pay the bills or get disconnected earned him the wrath of many. But like a prophet who saw tomorrow, he ensured that NITEL became efficient and viable then. With the emergence of the Global System for mobile Communications (GSM) today , nobody can own a cell phone or enjoy the services without purchasing credit (prepaid). Unarguably, Senator Mark saw tomorrow.
Mark is one of the disciplined public officers whose actions have demonstrated that our nation can get it right if we apply ourselves to the good of the country.
His career in the military no doubt prepared him for various leadership roles which the nation reaped to the fullest with his ascendancy to the position of the President of the Senate. He left no one in doubt about his competence when his political dexterity, understanding of the Nigerian socio-political dynamics and sense of patriotism saved our nation from a riotous constitutional crisis in 2010 when he invoked the now famous “Doctrine of Necessity “ to solve an intractable political impasse.
Driven by patriotic zeal, Mark returned to Nigeria from self-exile in 1998 and immediately responded to the yearnings and promptings by his people, contested for the Senate, upon which he was elected as the Senator for Benue South Senatorial District in 1999 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). As evidence of the love his people have for him, he was re-elected in 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2016.
The nation witnessed a stable, purposeful and people-oriented Senate in June 2007, when Senator Mark was elected as the Senate President (making him the 12th President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria).
Mark’s tenure as Senate President (2007 to 2015) was characterized by parliamentary stability, harmonious relationship with the other arms of government, particularly the executive, without compromising its statutory powers of checks and balances as well as parliamentary interventions to complex national challenges. His survival as Senate President for eight uninterrupted years where others before him failed, and when he was not given a whiff of a chance to survive the murky political waters, is a study in political brinkmanship.
Of particular reference was Mark’s success in using the Senate in 2007 as a consultation platform to reach stakeholders in the crisis-ridden Niger Delta region and laid the grounds for the resolution of issues that led to armed struggles in the area.
The success of the Amnesty Programme by the President Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration to stabilize the oil bearing Niger Delta region was principally made possible by the successful interventions in the area on account of Mark’s led Senate Retreat in Port Harcourt, Rivers State in 2007.
This was in addition to series of highly strategic parliamentary interventions that led to resolution of myriads of industrial disputes such as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), their Polytechnic counterparts and the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) strike during the Ebola pandemic in 2014. Such methods established by Mark are still being used by the Senate to resolve disputes and fine-tune enabling legislations in critical sectors of the economy.
Worthy of note is the fact that Mark was able to reengineer the Senate and of course the National Assembly to its first successful amendment of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria since the return of democracy in 1999; the first successful amendment of the Constitution of the country in a democratic dispensation in 50 years.
His invocation of the Doctrine of Necessity saved the nation, doused tensions and led to seamless transmission of Presidential powers to the satisfaction of all interests across the country.
Senator Mark’s understanding of political exigencies, exceptional display of administrative dexterity earned him the soubriquet “Mr. Stability” for stabilizing the Senate and the National Assembly and making the legislature the epicenter for harmonious interplay among the three arms of governments.
As a great believer in education, Senator David Mark established a scholarship scheme under David Mark Scholarship Foundation (DMSF), which awards scholarships ranging from primary to university level. No fewer than 25, 000 students, most of them indigents, have benefitted from the annual scholarship scheme since its inception in 2005.
In addition, Mark single-handedly built and donated a multi-purpose complex to the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Otukpo study centre in 2010. To his credit, all the nine local government areas in his Benue South Senatorial District enjoys medical services via the Primary health care centres he facilitated.
He also runs an interest free revolving loan to small-scale enterprises for his constituents as well as a free Women Skills Acquisition programme for women and girls where no fewer than 15,000 have benefitted since its inception in 2007.
A promoter of grassroots communication, Senator Mark established the first private radio station in North Central Nigeria, Joy FM 96.5 in Otukpo; again promoting employment, enlightenment and competitive opportunities among the people.
As a passionate lover of the game of golf, Mark constructed an 18-hole green championship golf course in Otukpo, named Otukpo Golf and Country club and open to the public free of charge. The golf club also runs an academy, which has had junior players (age 18 and below) represent Nigeria in numerous international tournaments in Scotland, Ireland, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Kenya and Ghana among others.
Even at age 72 and out of government, Senator Mark had no oars to rest on. He has kept his words to continue to be at the forefront in contributing to the wellbeing and the development of the country.
Senator Mark has continued to provide direction for leaders on complex national issues. His recent campaign against the Coronavirus pandemic urging all hands to be on deck for a total battle against the COVID-19 further showcased his undying commitment towards the good of the nation.
He has remained constant like the proverbial Northern star. Recall that in 2015 when his party; the PDP lost at the federal level and virtually all the big wigs in the party decamped to the rival All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Mark against all promptings insisted that he will not leave PDP and that he will be the last man standing. He posited then that those who ran away on account of PDP’s misfortune would make U-turn when things turn around. Events afterwards preceding the 2019 general elections proved that Senator Mark like a prophet saw tomorrow.
Born on the 8th of April 1948 in Otukpo, Benue State of Nigeria, Senator Mark started his elementary education at St. Francis Catholic Practicing School, Otukpo from 1956-1961. He then proceeded to the prestigious Nigerian Military School (NMS), Zaria from 1962-1966. He was later admitted into the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) Regular Course 3 and was commissioned Second Lieutenant in 1970.
Senator Mark surged 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 between 1990 and 1991, he was at the National Defence University in Washington DC and later at Harvard University, Boston, USA from 1991-1992.
During a sterling military career, Senator Mark held various Staff, Command and Administrative appointments in the Nigerian Army.
Some of these include but not limited to Directing Staff, Command and Staff College, Commander Corps of Signals and Faculty Director, National War College (NWC), now National Defence College (NDC), Abuja.
Senator Mark also held extra-curricular appointments while in the military. He was appointed the Chairman of the very challenging Abandoned Properties Implementation Committee in 1976.
In his capacity as Chairman, he effectively supervised the implementation of the Federal Government White Paper on the controversial abandoned properties in the old Eastern Region.
He retired from the Army as a Brigadier General in 1993.
Indeed, Mark’s place as a patriot, a true nationalist and one of the most outstanding contemporary leading lights of our nation is unarguably secured in our national annals.
He remains a fine democrat and icon of parliamentary excellence; a man of patriotic vigor without vanity, strength without insolence and who has amply proven that the very essence of public office is using the privileges and opportunities therewith for the wellbeing of all.
Mumeh wrote from Abuja.