By Sufuyan Ojeifo and Ariyo Dare-Atoye
The ship of the Nigerian State is drifting aimlessly on stormy waters. More than ever before, since Independence in 1960, our fault lines have become more pronounced, widened and unfortunately worsened by sharp parochialism and avoidable crises while the people are now more badly divided. The centrifugal forces have returned with greater ferocity, undermining whatever is left of our national unity.
Nigeria is at a crossroads. Our democracy is under real threat due to intractable executive-legislature bickering with uncertainties beclouding the political atmosphere. In all of this, there is a seeming lack of purposeful leadership to intervene and pilot our troubled ship away from sailing deep into the wild coast, where the tempestuous “Cyclone Change” could tear it apart.
Former Senate President, David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark, saw ahead of these threatening disasters before Nigeria wobbled into economic recession when, on May 21, 2016 at a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) convention in Port Harcourt, he tasked Nigerians to “change the change,” before the change ruins Nigeria.
Recently, Mark, the longest serving Senator in the Fourth Republic and a two-time president of the Senate took a jolly good train ride on Nigeria’s first standard rail gauge built by former President Goodluck Jonathan from Abuja to Kaduna and back to Abuja with his longtime friend, Senator Tunde Ogbeha.
The pictures of that train ride managed to go viral and it received several positive comments from Nigerians who saw the Mark ride as a special move to express a sense of belonging. Of course, Nigerians would always recall how the Mark leadership profoundly piloted and stabilised the affairs of the once troubled Senate of Nigeria for eight years, earning himself the merited sobriquet of “Mr Stability.”
Nigerians love to see their leaders sharing the same space with them and interacting with them regularly. That is the beauty of democracy. Unfortunately, this is one major failing of the present administration, which has been unable to harvest the goodwill that propelled it into office on May 29, 2015.
President Muhammadu Buhari, until he became marooned in the Aso-Rock Presidential Villa due to health-related issues, had practically found it difficult to create that ambience that could afford him some good opportunities to relate very well with Nigerians. Yet, Nigerians are eager to have that sense of longing and belonging from Aso Rock Presidential Villa, such that they would gladly express their part-ownership of the government.
The confidence and hope of Nigerians must be rekindled in their nation and government. Unfortunately, the nation is in a state of uncertainty and the government is vacillating. There is therefore an urgent need for men and women of goodwill like Mark, beyond partisanship, to make their influence and experience available in the collective effort to rescue a sinking nation.
There is no politician with a bipartisan mindset that is better placed than Mark to lead a national healing process. He could be quietly tapped to bring his influence and experience to bear in forging a robust relationship between the legislature and the executive arms of government.
But as Mark clocks 69 today, many Nigerians would not mind if he decides to take steps to assume a leading role ahead of 2019 along the line of national political stability. That will be a good political contemplation. After all, he is a northerner of the middle belt extraction. Unfortunately, bitter politics and narrow-mindedness of the present administration are stifling a culture of political liberalism that flourished before now.
Mark’s wealth of political experience is not in doubt. In ideal situations, the system and institutions of government would perpetually draw from such a rare repository of experience for as long as possible. The stability of a nation is dependent on and strengthened by the pot-pourri of wisdom and experience at its beck and call.
Recently, the Buhari-led government had a unique opportunity to utilise the leadership sense of Mark in addressing the raging executive-legislature face off, but it faltered. Instead of constituting a bipartisan committee to address the controversy, it elected to constitute a narrow partisan team of former lawmakers of All Progressives Congress (APC) in his cabinet and led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
To political pundits, such intervention is arguably weak and ineffectual because the opposition party in the Senate in which Mark is a leading figure and a respected member should have been factored into the peace parley. The opposition could actually threaten to undo whatever peace initiative that is forged by the reconciliation committee. There is wisdom in reaching out to strategic and influential forces.
With 2019 fast approaching, it has become unfashionable for Mark to continue to adopt a tactical “siddon look” approach (apologies to the late Cicero of Esa Oke, Bola Ige), while the ship of the state seemingly grinds to a halt. God has not given him this rare leadership experience from the military to the political enclaves just to watch at this stage when national despondency is leading to an unprecedented number of suicide cases. He must therefore resolve now to begin to intervene in a very utilitarian manner to help to save the polity from collective immolation.
Mark must engage in obligatory introspection with a view to taking another innovative ride for a personal course of action by setting up the much-needed David Mark’s Leadership and Policy Centre with the main thrust of stimulating and promoting constructive conversations aimed at ensuring national stability through peace and development. The people of Nigeria, Africa and the world would have something to learn from him along the line of investment in that intellectual enterprise.
Recently, Mark who is committed to charity, was inducted as the Global Ambassador for “I Will Give Charity.” He took it in his stride to help the organisation to raise some good money and also to secure the commitment of some top members of the political class for yearly donations. That is just an instance of how influential the Okpokpowulu K’Idoma (the field marshal of Idoma) is.
But this is not the time for stocktaking or back-slapping; otherwise, we would have regaled you with the narratives of students who have benefited from his yearly scholarship scheme as well as Nigerians who have benefitted from his eleemosynary, political goodwill and financial interventions, among others. All those have become for Mark a way of life.
However, this is the most auspicious time for him to appreciate the Grace of God upon his life. This is because the fable has been deeply shattered about his not winning elections through the ballot boxes but by deploying the influence of federal might to announce results. This mumbo-jumbo political annotation was, however, settled last year in three fashions: he did not campaign for the re-run poll after his election of 2015 was annulled and he won; he won under a state controlled by another party, which deployed state arsenals against his return to the Senate; he won as a leading member of opposition to the party at the centre. There is no better way to clean a bad label than to thrash your traducers in an open competition when in a disadvantaged situation. That was exactly what Mark did on February 20, 2016.
It is therefore expected that when Mark would be celebrating his 70th birthday on April 8, 2018, it would be a good time to properly assess his many rides including the quiet pressure being mounted on him to consider taking a shot at the presidency on the PDP platform. Although, his attitude to the presidential contest is not yet known, our well-considered view is that Mark is eminently qualified to run for the coveted seat.
If many who believe in him feel strongly that our national redemption would be better achieved by electing him as president in 2019, all well and good. His outstanding leadership qualities speak for him. There will be more to write about if and when his political trajectory ahead of 2019 becomes clearer.
Meantime, as Mark and family members converge on Otukpo to celebrate and appreciate the goodness of God, it is our candid prayers that the Almighty God will grant him good health, abundant strength and more wisdom to do more for Benue South senatorial zone, Nigeria and humanity.
- Messrs Ojeifo and Dare-Atoye sent in this piece from Abuja.