By Paul Mumeh.
David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark, a retired Army General and President of the 6th and 7th Senate (2007-2011 & 2011-2015), Federal Republic of Nigeria is 75, (April 8, 2023). He is unarguably an accomplished soldier and a successful politician.
As a soldier, he rose to the commanding height of his profession; a Brigadier General and Director of Signals, Nigerian Army and as a politician, he rose to the position of President of the Senate; ranking number three citizen in Nigeria then.
They are very few men and women in Nigeria who arguably fits into the double successful sojourn of Senator David Mark in public service.
Though he is no more in active partisan politics, he pledged to continued to be a bridge builder across the federation. For him, what makes for peace, unity and progress of Nigeria will always be his mission and purpose.
He has also decided to remain a mentor to the younger generation on leadership, teaching core national values of patriotism, democratic tenets and principles, good governance and rule of law through the David Mark School of Political Mentorship.
Born on the 8th day of April 1948 in the rural Otukpo Local Government Area of 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 and in the process set off for achieving his ambition for a military career. Young David Mark 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 from the Military College of Telecommunication Engineering Mhow (India). 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, now the South South (Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers) and South Eastern States (Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo).
As a Lieutenant Colonel, he was appointed Military Governor of Niger State in 1984. His tenure was characterized by the conceptualization and implementation of brilliant ideas, bold actions and courageous initiatives which set Niger State on the path of development. Pertinent to note, is the introduction of the compulsory girl-child education, an initiative that earned Niger state the Number one position in the promotion of the girl-child education. Till date, Niger State has the highest number of Educated females among the 19 Northern States of Nigeria on the account of the education policy introduced by Mark.
Appointed Minister of Communications in 1988, Senator Mark set the tone for the modernization of the communications sector in Nigeria by introducing mobile phones and digital telephone system in the country. He also reorganized NIPOST and started the city coding system. The Nigeria Telecommunications (NITEL) was removed from the Civil Service Structure and staff welfare package was improved significantly. He also built two ultra-modern digital earth stations in Lagos and Enugu from internally generated revenue without recourse to Federal Government allocation.
It is pertinent to note that during Mark’s stint as Communications Minister, there was a remarkable revolution in the sector. Mark had sought the permission of then Commander-In-Chief, General Ibrahim Babangida to disconnect subscribers indebted to the NITEL because of the huge debt bedeviling the services. He wanted an efficient and sustainable telephone services for the country.
He had warned that those who own lines must pay bills or get disconnected. He kept faith with that promise and debtors had their lines disconnected. His efforts to explain the issue that telephone is not for charity was misconstrued that “telephone is not for the poor.” No, he wanted a viable NITEL capable of providing good services. But decades later in the era of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) where subscribers prepay for services would appreciate and give kudos to Mark as a man who saw tomorrow.
Senator Mark’s pet project has been on Education. For him, Education liberates the people and open doors for prosperity and development. In his quest to give education to his constituents, he awards scholarships to students from post primary to tertiary institutions. Since 2005 when he floated the scholarship scheme, over 30,000 persons through his David Mark Scholarship Foundation (DMSF) have benefited. Most of the beneficiaries were indigents, orphans and people with special needs who may have been denied access to education.
For his commitment towards bringing education to the doorstep of his people, Senator Mark built and donated an edifice for the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) study centre in Otukpo, Benue State. He had built and renovated many classroom blocks across the nine local government areas of his Benue South Senatorial District.
While in the senate, Senator Mark sponsored many bills, chief of which included an Act for the Establishment of the Federal University of Health Sciences, Otukpo (FUHSO). This bill eventually, led to the establishment of the university when President Muhammadu Buhari assented to it. The institution is first of its kind in Nigeria and it is turning Otukpo into a medical hub.
He has always believed that the best investment is human capital development. He established Skills Acquisition Centres across the nine local government areas of his constituency to train scores of women and youths in various trades. On several occasions, Mark empowered women and youths through the distribution of tools like Cars, Motorcycles, sewing machines, grinding machines, generator sets amongst others.
As a sports enthusiast, Mark has empowered many Nigerians through sports. He sponsors an annual Mark D’Ball basketball tournament which has changed the lives of many youths who now reside overseas pursuing their professional careers in the game. In the same vein, he also established the Apa United (Male) and Apa Queens (Female) football clubs. Similarly, trainees at the David Mark International Golf Academy have represented Nigeria in many international competitions. These young lads (fondly called The Lion Cubs) are given intense training by professional golfers and have shown total dominance at all the events they participated.
On infrastructure, Mark influenced the construction of Loko-Oweto bridge and road network linking Benue, Nasarawa and Abuja. This project is a link between the North and the Southern part of Nigeria.
Mark also influenced the construction of the multi billion naira Otobi Multi-purpose water dam which had the twin advantages of providing water and generating electricity to serve the entire Benue South and its neighbouring communities.
Senator Mark also donated several 300KVA Transformers to many communities in all the nine local government areas of Benue South under the Rural Electrification Projects. This he believed would facilitate the economic development of the people in the zone.
In communication, Mark built a radio station (Joy FM, 96.5), in Otukpo, Benue State. A platform for education, entertainment and information dissemination for the people. This FM remains the first privately owned radio station in the North Central Region of Nigeria.
Other infrastructure includes but not limited to, an 18 hole International Golf Course in Otukpo, donated free of charge to the community, International Standard Football Stadium (under construction) in Akpegede, Otukpo, Establishment of numerous Primary Healthcare Centres and Clinics, construction of roads and solar street lights.
During his stint as chairman of the National Assembly, he influenced the construction of the National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS) complex Abuja, designed for institutional capacity building of legislators and their aides in the country. This infrastructure is equipped with the State of art facilities which include ICT Centres, libraries, recreational Centres, clinics, lecture halls and a one thousand capacity event centre.
“Mr Stability” was his appellation while he was leading the National Assembly. This was orchestrated by his stewardship and team spirit towards his colleagues and ability to arrest pressing challenges to stabilize the polity.
Under his watch, the National Assembly broke the jinx by amending the 1999 constitution of Nigeria which has set the pace for growth and development of our democracy.
A visionary and purposeful Mark along with his colleagues set the pace for the establishment of the Amnesty Programme and the creation of the Ministry of Niger-Delta through the Senate retreat held in Port Harcourt back in 2007. This event was in a deft legislative master stroke where Mark provided the solution to a complex national problem.
The invocation of “Doctrine of Necessity” by the National Assembly under the chairmanship of Mark in February 2010, led to the swearing in of the then Vice President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as Acting President of Nigeria. This singular act earned Mark a place of honour in the hall of fame amongst the Nigeria’s greats.
Reflecting on the journey so far, Mark affirmed that he has been exceptionally favoured by God and will continue to serve God and humanity in the years ahead. Nigeria he said, has been fair to him, submitting that in or out of Government, he will continue to serve his fatherland.
In 2019 when he finally took a bow from the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly (after 20 years) just like King David in the Holy Bible, he built an edifice for St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, Otukpo, Benue State and dedicated it to the Almighty God in appreciation to God for his accomplishments in life.
Mark’s place as a patriot, true nationalist, detribalized Nigerian, social and political strategist of no mean standing is unarguably assured in the annals of Nigerian history.
And Mark, statesman per excellence, marches on @ 75 today.
Mumeh writes from Abuja.