This morning at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Otukpo, Benue State, Governor Samuel Ortom will take the front row as Special Guest of Honour at a Thanksgiving Mass being held for another distinguished son of the soil: Senator David Bonaventure Mark.
The event will conclude the former Senate President’s victory lap around his Benue South Senatorial constituency that began last week in honour of his 20 years in the upper chamber.
He was also scheduled to travel with the man who will take over his lucrative seat in a couple of weeks: Abba Moro, who was the Minister of the Interior in 2014 when 20 persons died in a stampede during a botched employment exercise of the Ministry.
I don’t know what the officiating priest at St. Augustine will be saying about Mark at the Mass, but the former soldier is certainly not departing the Senate in a blaze of glory.
If the Church is to be a force for service in the spirit of Jesus Christ, it ought to conduct today’s event as the conclusion of its Mass three years ago when Mark, at his 68th birthday, claimed he would dedicate the rest of his life to God and the interest of the less privileged. He should now provide an account.
Unless the Church takes this attitude, it denies that Christ was born in a manger, not a hotel; and denies his Crucifixion. Unless the Church can find this strength, it loans itself to the manufacture and perpetuation of falsehood, and places itself in the service of the powerful and privileged.
The truth is that Mark, like most “top” Nigerian politicians, will not be remembered for true service, but for the contempt in which he held the people and the arrogance with which he treated his office.
The Church must be truthful, because as the saying goes, only the truth—not convenient fragments or perfumed slices of it—can set us all free.
Mark entered politics with experience as a state governor and federal minister, where he perfected his haughtiness and disdain for democracy and accountability.
Among others, he advocated that you had to have been a soldier to lead Nigeria. “If I have my way, I will say whoever does not have military background should not be made president,” he told a newspaper. “You civilians don’t have the requisite training.”
Let us take a casual look, then, at the Nigerian political terrain since Mark was governor. Five men fulfilling his “requisite training” criteria have begged, borrowed or stolen the opportunity to lead Nigeria: Babangida, Sani Abacha, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari, the last two each receiving a second crack at the job in 1999 and 2015.
A simple summary of what these men have achieved in leadership in the past generation is that through their arrant incompetence, corruption, arrogance, duplicity and impunity, they exposed and demystified the Nigerian Army. They drained it of so much respect that if I did not know any respected former military figures, I would think that everyone who passed through the army was sadly like them.
Add to that the growing list of former army chieftains being sued and dragged around on filthy financial crimes, trials and serving chieftains with undischarged allegations—alongside the embarrassing performance of the army in confronting Boko Haram—and the depth of the cesspit is obvious.
So thorough and so profound have these leaders performed that it is evident that after Buhari, it will take a very long time for anyone associated with the army uniform to win a national election in Nigeria.
And what character and quality has Mark’s performance in the Senate been? Clearly, his work in Abuja has been for personal profit. There is nobody who has sat in the Upper House in the Fourth Republic, 15 of them being PDP years, who has benefitted from the prevailing greed and profligacy than Mark: not one. There is no known dollar that Mark is on record as having refused to accept in a legislative chamber that is recognised as the world’s capital of organised fleecing.
Senator Shehu Sani (Kaduna Central) confirmed in 2018 that the monthly Senatorial package—in Nigeria, the poverty capital of the world—now totals N14.25m: about $480,000 per year.
Mark takes every kobo. Beyond that, how many official cars has he collected in these 20 years?
As senator, there is hardly any occasion in which—beyond lip service—he has advocated the national interest. Oh, there was that one, in 2007, when he openly criticised the executive branch about the collapse of NITEL and NIPOST, describing both parastatals as having “simply died and nobody is saying anything about it…tax payers’ money that has gone down the drain and nobody is doing anything and we will just fold our hands and people will still talk nonsense.”
Lip. Service. O’clock.
Outside of the Senate, Mark has for years been followed around like a menacing sosorobiaperfume by allegations of corrupt enrichment, including allegations of bank accounts in Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Jersey, Cayman Islands and the Caribbean. In 2007 when he became Senate President, I urged him to dispel the reports by declaring his assets. He didn’t.
In a story in June of that year, SaharaReportersrevealed a lifestyle of limousines, private jets and golf courses. It disclosed that as a result of his divorce in 2000 from his fourth wife, Victoria, a London Family Division froze one of his accounts, which held six million pounds (£6,000.000.00).
And how has Mark supported the evolution of Nigerian democracy? Here are a few ways:
— In 2007, he led the filthy third term bid of the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo.
— In 2009, he demanded of the PDP automatic tickets for all 80 senators in the 2011 elections.
— In his “Senatorial District Page” at the National Assembly website, he first declared his interests to be “Foreign and National Security,” whatever that meant, and his “Target Achievement” to be “Legislation on Improved Image For Nigeria.” But after a while, he simply scrubbed the page clean: no interests, no targets, no phone numbers, no addresses.
— In 2014, following the cash-for-arms arrest of a Nigerian jet in South Africa, he declared there would be no election in 2015 because, “We are in a state of war.”
— In March 2015, he stage-managed the confirmation of Musiliu Obanikoro as minister, after dozens of senators had repeatedly rejected it over his involvement in the rigging of the 2014 Ekiti governorship election.
But then, in 2017, with a different animal in control of the executive, it turned out that in 2010 when he was Senate President, Mark had found a way to privatise his official residence after reportedly obtaining the approval of President Goodluck Jonathan to “buy” it.
No, I am not against celebrations of this nature. As long as it is of time or longevity, not service or achievement.
Give me a servant of the people to cheer, and I will be the first in line.
But don’t ask me to enshrine false gods before God, or our children.