By Sufuyan Ojeifo
“Paint my picture truly like me,” Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) told the artist about to paint his portrait, “pimples, warts, and everything as you see me.”
David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark, retired brigadier general, former senate president and longest serving senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, presents avant-garde views or perspectives to writers who indulge in the enterprise of questioning and contextualizing the essence or quintessence of grandees.
In such an enterprise, the subject matter becomes a captive in the fertile imagination of the writer who is at liberty to either build or dismantle primordial prejudices; or deconstruct or even reconstruct the persona of the subject on the writ large platform of conscionable journalistic interrogation.
Perceptions and perspectives assume free reins. That is the tragedy, so to speak, of heroes. They are subjected to the vagaries of characterisations that most times encapsulate both the sublime and the ridiculous; the garish and the outlandish; the profound and the jejune; the profane and the celestial.
Inevitably, Mark, who is now 70 (April 8, 2018), is one of the latest captives of this obligatory ritual which many crave and many others loathe. There is always the existential fear about the double-edged nature of good and bad that media hype breeds. The fear of the occasional collateral damage, yes, of the unintended consequences, is real and grisly.
Yet, it could be salutary, somewhat, to introspective self-assessment of how well one has fared whether rightly or wrongly in the domain of public perception, especially for those in public offices, who must be taken through the critical appraisal index. It is in this context that the essential David Mark cannot escape essential consideration.
Mark, without a doubt, means different things to different people. To some, he remains a gentleman officer even in retirement; to others, he is an astute politician and strategist with rare legerdemain; some more see him as a philanthropist with capacity for cornucopian eleemosynary while some perceive him as a passionate golfer.
These are not all to the variegated perspectives: some see him as a budding religious aficionado of the catholic hue while others see him as traditional for his receptiveness of the traditional title of Okpokpowulu K’Idoma (the leader of war or the bulldozer of Idoma) from his Royal Majesty, Agabaidu Elias Ikoyi Obekpa, the Och’Idoma IV of Idomaland, in 2009 or thereabout in recognition of his numerous contributions to the development of Idoma land.
But my preoccupation herein is to illuminate the philosophical underpinning of the activities, the life and times of a man whose entirety evokes, at once, multiple perspectives by admirers and traducers alike. I could have adapted the one-liner summation of the French philosopher, Rene Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” meaning “I think therefore I am” when he was asked who a man is, to answer the question as to who David Mark is.
Who is David Mark? And what are his essences? I could settle for one of the perspectives supra in a quick riposte and go ahead to adumbrate his essences within the narrow confine of just a perspective. But on the unique occasion of his 70th birthday, I cannot be unfair to him with a one-dimensional or one-liner appreciation.
Therefore, Mark is a fitting summation of all the perspectives and for a man to deserve this kind of approximation makes him a phenomenon. I take the opportunity of his 70thbirthday to celebrate a friend and mentor who chose, at a critical intersection in my coverage of the Senate as THISDAY politics editor in Abuja, to let me into his life by force of appreciation of my intellectual capital.
My reportage of the politicking of the race for the senate presidency in 2007 had been misconstrued as opposition to Mark’s senate presidency and that disposition had preponderated reportorial interactions until 2009 when Mark turned 61.
The Deputy Editor of THISDAY on Sunday, Mr. Collins Edomaruse, asked me to do a tribute on him (Mark) about the close of production, which I did under 40 minutes.
I did not even read through the piece for errors. I pressed the send key on my computer. It was after the piece titled: “Pomp, as Mark Turns 61 in the Saddle” was published in The Gavel-to-Gavel page that I read through and felt I had done a pretty good job. I later realised I had done a masterpiece on Mark when the then deputy minority leader, Senator Mohammed Mana from Adamawa state, called to commend me for what he called “a beautiful and brilliant piece”.
I had to go back to read through myself. By Thursday of that week, I got a message through an AIT cameraman that the senate president said he would like to see me. I went to see him in the office in company with his Chief of Staff and Special Adviser Media, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan. Mark said to me that he read through my piece and decided to call to commend me for it.
It was a particularly fulfilling encounter for me. The kind words were like a balm. If I remember vividly, he said: “You are a brilliant writer. You are not like some journalists who mix up their tenses. I read you always in THISDAY and I agree with many of the issues you have interrogated except for one or two which we will discuss later.”
That was how we struck a relationship that has endured so far. When I was redeployed by THISDAY from Senate to assume a new position as State House Bureau Chief, I had the privilege of being hosted to a dinner at the Apo Mansion, the official quarters of the senate president. Since then, he has not broken the line of communication between us.
That, to me, is the essence of the intercourse between greatness and humility. Mark is a great man. He is a humble man, regardless of his visage and poise, contoured by his disciplined military background, which tend to be misconstrued for meanness and arrogance.
Last year, when I jointly wrote a tribute in commemoration of his 69th birthday, some salient issues were woven around his politics and convictions. The motivation that drove the reinforcement of those issues is still as compelling as it was last year. The argument is unassailable that Mark remains one of the most influential politicians around.