|Senator David Mark|
By SKC Ogbonnia, Ph.D
The prevailing pattern where state governors dictate who assume positions of power in Nigeria is ruining the nation’s nascent democracy and must be confronted head on. But a recent threat by a brigade of PDP senators to impeach President Goodluck Jonathan or frustrate his policies simply because of a fear of being denied automatic return ticket to the National Assembly is an impunity gone too far. Not only is this Senate the most inept in national memory, its knack for despotism revolves around no other person than General David Mark (rtd)—a henchman infamous for crippling any system he passes through—and should go away.
David Mark is the official president of the Senate and should need no introduction. But regardless of the attempts to appease the Igbos towards his presidential run in 2019 by camouflaging with redcaps and Christian religion, Mark remains the same military bane whose first major outbreak occurred during the time he spearheaded the Abandoned Property ruse that saw the wanton confiscation immediately after the civil war of hard-earned Igbo properties in some parts of Nigeria. Studies after studies have shown that the insensitive manner Mr. Mark implemented the unjust policy tainted Gowon’s reconciliation program and also poured the fuel that ignited postwar tribalism and consequently a continuous Igbo marginalization.
Nigeria recorded another Mark symptom while he doubled as the Minister of Communication under Babangida’s military regime. Apart from looting the ministry dry, Mark’s belief that telephone is not for the poor is not old. But that is nothing to compare with another indelible mark he left behind during that era: How could fellow Nigerians continue to hope for a true democracy while ignoring the fact that there is a big mole in the system? That is, how do we dare forget so soon that General David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark (rtd), now President of the Senate, once inflicted Nigeria to a state of coma when he infiltrated a clique of military officers to dragoon General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) to annul a widely acclaimed free and fair presidential election of June 12th 1993? Be that as it may, ask IBB himself, that epidemic has for long placed the former military president in political hospice and he is not expected to recover.
When there are no consequences for bad behavior, the bad behavior usually worsens.
As if he is any missing recipe for every postwar government, General Mark was marshaled into the Senate as the country returned to democratic power in 1999. After over fifteen years in the Senate, Mark’s legislative record has been largely dishonorable. If he is not blackmailing progressive senators or the Executive arm of the government for selfish interests, Mark is busy prosecuting other clandestine agenda consistent with his vision statement that, “whoever does not have a military background should not be made president." It was not surprising then when he plagued the entire nation once again as an arrowhead senator for the failed Third Term plot to perpetuate his military colleague President Olusegun Obasanjo in power. While Nigeria is yet to fully recover from the effects of the attempted coup, Obasanjo’s political condition since then can only be equated to a forlorn wrecked by an unknown disease.
Instead of voting him out in the 2007 elections, David Mark was rigged back to the Senate. To make matters worse, as a compensation for the shameless role in the Third Term plot, Obasanjo still commandeered his helpless successor, President Umaru Yar’Adua, to anoint the same Mark to head the Legislature. Once the Senate President and having padded its leadership with his fellow lackeys in the Third Term agenda, Mark’s sole aim has been to maintain blind loyalty with the Executive so as to safeguard corrupt interests, particularly those of the military cabal. Today, the Senate lacks the political equipoise needed for the checks and balances central to a true democratic culture. The result is that the country’s hallowed chamber has been reduced to a mere rubber stamp readily inked by infected members who prey on filthy lucre from the government more than they pray for good governance. In addition to brazen bribery and kickbacks, which have become the most important order of their days, these senators have attained the dubious distinction of being the highest paid legislators in the whole wide world. This is not a good…
Not to be outdone, as the head of the Legislature, David Mark would further infect the Executive to balloon the constituency projects scheme, with legislators as pseudo executives, inflating contracts, and conniving with the contractors to loot funds earmarked for public projects, most of which are found to be either phantom, poorly executed, or totally abandoned. To create an image of law-making, the Mark senators embarked on a fruitless but endless review of Nigeria ’s Constitution, squandering billions, with little or nothing to show besides a severe case of logorrhea. It is clear the virus in this red chamber has become full grown and systemic, attacking every tissue and organ of the law-making body, and thence flaring into the entire society. The point here is that the Mark Senate has finally lost its corporate relevance and only exists by mouth. A common symptom of this disorder is the prevailing culture of impunity, gross abuse of office, a rising tide of despotism, and apparent indifference to endemic corruption.
Any comparison with the Senate under Mark—to the one immediately before it—is a stark juxtaposition and better sums this story. Ken Nnamani—a mere freshman at the time—was the Senate President. Justifying the role of the Legislature as envisioned by the framers of the Nigerian Constitution, Nnamani would demonstrate the desired leadership, creating the necessary legislative oversight needed to checkmate executive excesses and the activities of regulatory organs towards the greater good of the people. Nowhere was the potential for a true legislature more evident than in the crucial war against corruption between 2005 and 2007 when the Nnamani Senate rose up to the occasion, obligating the anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under Nuhu Ribadu, to expose many corrupt office holders (particularly governors) no matter their relationship to the president or the ruling party. Interestingly, that feat would become one of the brightest spots in Obasanjo’s eight year rule. But where has the EFCC been since General David Mark assumed the Presidency of the Senate? Your guess is as good as mine: in the mortuary! It is also pertinent to add that while the current Senate is capitalizing on the loophole in the Constitution to promote ‘Senators for Life’, the brief Senate under Ken Nnamani will forever be remembered for saving Nigeria’s democracy by thwarting Obasanjo’s fanatical drive to circumvent the same Constitution for tenure elongation.
Some will be quick to argue that the Mark Senate has shown a good measure of stability. Yes, it is obviously stable—but for the wrong causes and on the wrong course. The objective fact is that the Senate was not originally designed as a morgue. Leadership is a dynamic process and any process that produces lasting positive outcome usually encounters some form of challenges or resistance along the way. Put it this way: The excitement usually expressed by President Goodluck Jonathan about a seemingly comatose Senate which openly allows him to coolly aid and abet David Mark to perfect an archaic military style to ‘settle’ opposing senators only translates to a pyrrhic effort—and surely does both of them more harm than good. Unless he is beginning to push the luck beyond reason, Jonathan should remember that most political insiders (including two reliable barometers of military opinion in Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida) have never failed to quip that Nigeria’s history with weak opposition fundamentally led to past leadership crisis, from electoral irregularities, lack of checks and balances, mismanagement of resources, corruption, dictatorship, ineffective leaders to chances of takeover of government.
Others would shift to the other reigning notion that, like in America , senators can stay for life—for experience sake or what they call ranking. But it is time to quash the nonsense cliché! Leadership is contingent upon the environment. Nigeria is not America and not about to become one anytime soon. Unlike the United States of America where members of the Congress dutifully make laws and account for every penny that enters their pockets; the Nigerian Senate under David Mark has become a venal enterprise, where politicians go to get rich quick, utilize any means to cling on to power, and then continue to pollute the entire system.
By the records, everything about David Mark does nothing but evoke a choking nostalgia of the dreadful military era. As a dateless coupist, Mark has shown time after time that he is an antithesis of anything democracy, deadly contagious, a threat to civil society, and better compared to an Ebola disease on course to rupture the country’s bloodstream. Thus, President Jonathan should learn from the mistakes of past victims of the Mark infection or else he becomes the next major casualty. He should begin by calling the senators’ bluff on ‘automatic return tickets’. Automatic ticket is not only another name for imposition as well as dictatorship; it is also the only vessel by which the deadly virus can remain in the system. It is therefore incumbent upon the president to challenge the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to occasion free and fair process in the states. Then allow for General Mark and his badly infected lieutenants to be voted out by the masses and thereafter quarantined for permanent cure. But if the foregoing is not enough to relieve this man of the Senate leadership, and in event the PDP is to gain a majority again in the Senate after 2015 elections, the party might as well invoke its outdated zoning policy which suggests that the senate presidency is over due back to Southern Nigeria .
(Dr. Ogbonnia is the Executive Director, Patriots United for Transparency and Accountability in Nigeria (PUTAN)and writes from Houston, Texas)