By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor & Dapo Akinrefon
THE nearly universal acclamation of Senator David Mark’s stable steering of the Senate in the last four years was a departure from the tale of anarchy that was characteristic of previous Senates.
Also remarkable in the last four years was the sense of unity in the top leadership between the two presiding officers, Senator Mark and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
Hitherto, other presiding officers of the Senate did not have the sense of unity that was shown by the pair of Mark and Ekweremadu.
The first presiding officer of the Senate was Senator Evan Enwerem who had the popular, wealthy and scheming deputy in the person of the late Senator Haruna Abubakar. While Enwerem sought to play the statesman, Abubakar played the politics and built a power base for himself. He saw out Enwerem and helped to usher in the late Senator Chuba Okadigbo as Senate President.
Okadigbo like Enwerem before him also sought to play a statesman. Abubakar who remained as deputy, however, continued with servicing his power base and was reportedly involved in the last minute political scheming that edged out Okadigbo. His decision to resign his office with the gentle agreement with the anti-Okadigbo elements to be reinstated was the final lever that pushed out Okadigbo.
Abubakar’s bid to return was blocked by other schemers in the Senate, making way for the remarkable Senator Ibrahim Mantu to take over as deputy Senate President.
Mantu was a politician’s politician in the Senate. He was elected deputy President Senate at the same time Anyim Pius Anyim was elected the President of the Senate.
Mantu was able to play a survival politics walking a tight rope between President Olusegun Obasanjo and his enemies in the Anyim Senate. He survived becoming the only presiding officer in either chamber to win re-election and return to his office after the 2003 elections.
He, however, had the former diplomat, Adolphus Wabara as Senate President. While Wabara played and some claimed enjoyed himself, Mantu built up his power base to become one of the most influential Senators in the chamber. His key was his access and willingness to play Obasanjo’s game.
It was a game that was to devour him in future.
Mantu survived the turmoil against Wabara and saw him out of office and was around to receive Senator Ken Nnamani as his immediate boss as Senate President in April 2005.
Senator Nnamani, however, proved a tough one for Mantu. It was perhaps, Nnamani’s hardened stance that stopped Mantu’s reported schemes to push the third term amendment to the constitution that would have allowed President Obasanjo serve a third term in office.
For that failure, Mantu was reportedly punished with a denial of support in his bid to return to the Senate for a third term.
The absence of Mantu paved way for the emergence of Mark as Senate President. Had Mantu won his election in 2007 the challenge against Mark for the Senate presidency would have been stiffer.
Indeed there are insinuations that Mark and Mantu worked against one another in the general elections with the aim of stopping each other from returning to the Senate. The purpose was reportedly to ensure that whoever was successful in the scheme would have an easier task in the leadership election.
In June 2007 for the first time during a Senate leadership contest, two Senators entered the contest as a team: Mark for Senate President and Ekweremadu for Deputy Senate President.
In the thick of that contest which pitched Mark against George Akume for Senate President, there were reports of moves by the Akume group to winch Ekweremadu from the Mark camp with the assurance of preserving his position as a deputy under Akume. Ekweremadu was said to have flatly rejected the offer.
Indeed on the eve of the 2007 leadership contest when a national leader of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP from Edo State reportedly moved to decimate the Mark camp and hope for Mark was almost fading, Ekweremadu and Senator Iyiola Omisore were said to have rallied round using the then chairman of the PDP, Col. Ahmadu Ali (rtd.) to fence off the threat from the Akume camp that was masterminded by the leader.
One top Senate source affirmed that it was not for nothing that Omisore was appointed chairman of the powerful Senate committee on Appropriation.
“Omisore proved to be a loyal and committed follower of Mark and when many people were deserting, Omisore remained faithful,” the source said in acknowledgment of the faithfulness of the outgoing chairman of the appropriation committee.
The enthronement of the Mark-Ekweremadu leadership has, however, paid off with the achievement of some legislative initiatives that were abandoned by preceding leaderships.
Foremost of the legislative attainments is the amendment of the 1999 constitution,
The far reaching amendments to the constitution articulated by the Ekweremadu led Senate Committee on Constitution Review, SCCR undoubtedly paved way for the relative successes achieved during the recent general elections.
Ekweremadu, unlike his predecessors was challenged in his efforts to review the constitution by the instigation of rebellion among members of the House of Representatives who were supposed to be partners in a joint exercise in the review of the constitution. The House members who in the past had quietly ceded leadership of the joint constitution committee to the Deputy President of the Senate, instigated a rebellion in the first outing of the committee in Minna in January 2008, when they sought for the co-chairmanship of the joint committee between Ekweremadu and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Senators peeved by the seeming intransigence rebuffed them leading to a walkout by the House members.
The whole episode was by some accounts a staged effort by some top presidency officials who were opposed to a review of the constitution at that time.
It took sheer guts from Ekweremadu and other Senators to sustain the effort in constitution review which was achieved after the demise of the former President, Alhaji Umar Yar‘Adua.
The approach of the Senate committee in reviewing the constitution was equally a departure from the lump efforts by preceding constitution review committees. The Ekweremadu led committee’s decision to adopt a piecemeal exercise undoubtedly helped in achieving the fundamental reviews concluded by the committee last year.
Among the highlights of the constitution review as achieved by the committee were electoral reforms, and the establishment of autonomy for the Independent National Electoral Commission and the National Assembly.
Unarguably, the successes of the Mark Senate were helped by the relative peace among Senators. That peace was primarily achieved by the absence of greed in the pair of Mark and Ekweremadu in the sharing of the common purse.
Most of the preceding tumults in the Senate leadership were instigated by the disproportionate sharing of money. Indeed, many of the insurrections were reportedly led by Mark, even if he may not have instigated the insurrections, he was reportedly recruited to lead the Senators in their crusades.
As one who knew where the banana peels were placed, Mark carefully avoided them.
Mark was also helped by the fact that he did not like many of his predecessors have to look back continually to watch the actions and plots of their deputies.