Since 2007, Senator David Mark has presided over the affairs in the Nigerian Senate, how much do Nigerians know of him? Realnews Magazine presents to you the quintessential David Mark
By Maureen Chigbo and Augustine Adah
WHEN James Moore, a journalist from Austin Texas, penned the foreword in the Family of Secrets written by Russ Baker, he did not have Senate President David Mark in mind. He was writing about George Bush, former President of the United States of America, whose businesses and family secrets were revealed in the book. But his reference to how the media shape the image of what the public knows about politicians could very well apply to Mark. Much of what Nigerians know about him is shaped by the media, which is also very different from his other side which people hardly know because it is shrouded in secrecy.
Mark’s business activities and the source of his wealth have never been known or particularly traced. And the popular belief is that he has tremendous wealth which he has used to fund his political activities which have been very well chronicled in the media. Mark’s surrogates willingly say that his business empire extends from telecommunications, media to oil and gas sectors. But they will never name the companies in question because they said that Mark does not deal directly with the companies in question. “Do not be surprised that he is one of the major shareholders in the two major telecommunications companies namely MTN and Globacom. But you can never trace it to him just like you can never trace any business directly to IBB, his former boss”, a surrogate who wishes anonymity because he was not the senate president’s official spokesman said.
Mark’s businesses include Joy FM Radio Station and Allgreen Golf Course in Otukpo. He built and handed over the National Open University in Otukpo to the federal government. Also, he is said to have invested 5.9 million pounds in an 18-hole St. Margaret’s Golf Course in Dublin, and owns bank accounts abroad contrary to the stipulations in the Code of Conduct Bureau that public officials should not have foreign accounts. He is also alleged to have dual citizenship of a foreign country (Belise) to enable him take care of his business interests in that country. One of his media aides denied these, saying he is not aware that he has a foreign account. According to him, when he travelled with the Senate president, he used his Naira denominated credit card to pay for goods and services. The media aide then asked Realnews to provide the passport number of the foreign country which Mark is a citizen if the reporter was sure of her facts.
Much of Mark’s secretive behavior is traceable to his military background, where he was retired as a brigadier general in 1993 by Late General Sani Abacha. Mark is a member of Course 3 in the Nigeria Defence Academy, NDA. There, he made friends with some of his military colleagues in the Course with whom they developed and internalised the attribute of secrecy. Some of them are Admiral Mike Akhigbe, Brigadier General Tunde Ogbeha, Brigadier Raji Rasaki, late Major-General Abulkareem Adisa, Col. Anthony Ochefu, Major-general Timothy Shelpidi, Brigadier-general Anthony Ukpo and Brigadier-general Olagunsoye Oyinola, present national secretary of PDP. All these military men’s wealth cannot easily be traced yet they live a life of affluence. Could their military retirement benefits be what are sustaining them?
This question has troubled the minds of many people prompting Realnews to do some checks which revealed that Mark could have accumulated most of his wealth while he was the military governor of Niger State and the communications minister during the regimes of General Muhammadu Buhari and General Ibrahim Babangida, respectively. Mark allegedly brokered a 77-million dollar telecommunications deal and procured two aircraft for the Nigerian Telecommunications, NITEL. It is believed that he netted $70 million profit from the deals which he shared with his bosses.
It is also alleged that he set aside six million dollars in “trust” for his family as well as invested in real estate businesses in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Contacted on phone to react on the allegations, Paul Mumeh, media aide to Mark, after trying to fob off Realnews enquiry, requested that the questions should be emailed to him. When he received the mail, Mumeh called Realnews editor by 9.15pm on Wednesday, November 28, and threateningly accused her of blackmail. Instead of providing answers to the questions sent to him, Mumeh said that Realnews was being paid to do a dirty job on Mark, adding: “I cannot dignify the questions with answers so that you can go and quote me.”
An attempt to get him to be reasonable got him more angry leading to a very hot exchange with Mumeh who rudely hung up the phone. However, another mature and reasonable official, who works for Mark called very early in the morning of Thursday, November 29, trying to explain issues raised. The official roundly dismissed all the allegations against Mark as innuendoes which cannot be substantiated. “Nothing can be empirically proven by anybody on earth against Mark. Even if he made money as a minister, how can anybody prove it? If we assume that you have your facts and you write what will bring Mark down, who will remember it after a while? I will be stupid to walk up to him and ask him whether he has an account in London. People sit down in beer palours and concoct stories. I have no reaction to what you are saying. I will be reacting to a lie,” the official said. The official posited that Mark could not really come out to deny that he was not as rich as people painted him because of his political opponents. Mark was quoted as saying privately: “How can I dispute openly that I am not rich? How do you want my political opponents to fear me? They will be scared if they believe that I have a financial war chest stashed somewhere.”
The senate president may be right in letting people think he is very wealthy if he will have any chance of fulfilling his ambition to become the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in 2015. Although he has publicly denied any political ambition of such, Mark is actually positioning himself for a battle royale with other contestants in the PDP should Jonathan fail to run. There are many behind-the-scene maneuvers and schemings in the North Central geo-political zone where he comes from to place him in a vantage position to clinch the PDP ticket when the time comes. He has also reached out to most of the top brass in the military establishment from the North Central zone including his colleagues in Course 3 at the NDA. They are believed to be working underground gingerly to enthrone Mark come 2015. The big names involved in the scheme include Lt. General T.Y. Danjuma, Lt. General Domkat Bali, and General Yakubu Gowon. Governors of the North Central including Gabriel Suswan of Benue, Mark’s home state, Jonah Jang of Plateau and all the senators from the region are believed to be working for Mark. Realnews learnt that Mark has no real structures on the ground in his region but the existing structures like the Middle Belt forum and Idoma League of Professionals, ILP, will key into the scheme when the time comes to support Mark’s ambition, especially as there is no other serious contender from that region. Owoicho Akpa, professor and president, ILP, has urged Mark to come out to contest the next presidential election assuring that the group would support him because of what he has done for the people of his constituency especially the scholarship scheme that many indigenes of constituency have benefitted. “The entire Idoma people and Nigeria would support your ambition in 2015,” he said. Mark has the support of his people because he has master minded the building of Oweto Bridge, a multi-purpose dam in Otukpo and instituted a scholarship fund which has benefitted about 4,000 people from Idoma.
It is not only Idoma people that are rooting for Mark. Arewa Youth Alliance for Democracy is also pressuring Mark to contest in 2015. At a meeting in Kaduna last month, the Youth group urged Mark to contest the 2015 presidential election and premised their support on the mature way he has been handling the affairs of the Senate since he assumed the responsibility in 2007. Mark is also burnishing his image preparatory to 2015. He is positioning himself as someone who listens to the masses with his positive disposition to state creation.
The Otukpo politician has never hidden his support for the creation of new states in the ongoing constitutional amendment as a means of gaining support from different parts of the country. This may also not work for him as many Nigerians think that creating more states will cause more problems for the country. The Senate president who has been criticised for his ardent interest in the creation of new states especially Apa State out of the present Benue State, has replied his critics that agitation for state creation is a legitimate right of every part of the country. The creation of Apa State was part of the campaign promise he made to Idoma people of Benue South senatorial district during the last general elections. Idoma, the second largest ethnic group in Benue State, have complained of being marginalised and therefore want a state of their own. The creation of a separate state for Idoma people would give him more support at home.
Apart from the North, Mark is also banking on the support of President Goodluck Jonathan to succeed in becoming a presidential candidate of the PDP if the president decides not to run. For Mark, it will be time for Jonathan to pay him back for masterminding the “Doctrine of Necessity” which made it possible for him to be sworn in as president during the tenuous days of Late President Musa Yar’Adua who was on a medical leave abroad and the ship of the country was tottering without any leader to steer its course.
Mark and Jonathan have had relatively good relationship devoid of bickering that characterised that of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the National Assembly. And it is expected that Jonathan would most likely support a friend who works well with him and can sustain his programmes. With Jonathan backing Mark, he may rally all the governors of the region and the people to support him, making him a formidable opponent to beat.
Mark is also reaching out to the south east. He has friends who are working hard to sell him positively to the Igbo. He has a chieftaincy title from the Nri clan, believed to be the cradle of Igbo land. He is also counting on the fact that Igbos and Idomas are neighbours with a common boundary. But his statement calling for a state of emergency in the South-east at the height of kidnapping activities could work against him in the zone. The Igbo’s apex socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, has described the Senate President, as a hater of Ndigbo for calling for a state of emergency to be declared in the South East. Arising from an emergency meeting in Lagos, July 2010, Oliver Akubueze, the president of the Lagos State Chapter of the organisation, said that declaring a state of emergency in the region was unnecessary as there was no breakdown of law and order. “We, the members of Ohanaeze condemn, in its entirety, the statement by Senate President that a state of emergency should be declared in the South East geo-political zone because of the issue of kidnapping. While we strongly condemn the spate of kidnapping, we reject the call by David Mark because there is certainly no reason for that. There is no breakdown of law and order in the region. There is no violence. Then what is the reason for the call for a state of emergency? As a statesman, David Mark should be above playing to the gallery or making statements that have the capacity to provoke anger in a people that have been managing themselves with fortitude.”
The Igbo may also reject Mark based on the role he played in the implementation of the government white paper on abandoned properties during the civil war. Most Igbos lost the houses they suffered to build in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, before the civil war and which were declared as abandoned properties after the war ended. It is believed that the federal government declared the houses abandoned to permanently create enmity between the Igbos and their neighbours in Port Harcourt.
The South West states are not left out in the behind- the-scene outreach by Mark. It is believed that he may succeed in winning the southwest to his side because he has, over the years, built an alliance with the Yoruba, especially during the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, era. He has a good relationship with prominent sons of Yoruba including Obasanjo and Oyinola, his course 3 colleague.
Mark’s chances of succeeding should he run could be helped by the fact that he is a Northern Christian and a Catholic whose members have suffered immensely in the wake of the Boko Haram debacle. But some factors may also work against him if he decide to contest the presidential election. The Northern-axis where Mark comes from may be his greatest battle field. His comment last July that Northern leaders have not done enough to control Boko Haram insurgency did not go down well with many of them. Some of them criticised him for such a comment and may want to truncate any ambition he has to be president. Also, Northern Muslims who want to return to power after Jonathan, a Christian, may not welcome the idea of another Christian president.
Besides, Mark’s remark in 2006, that only a military man should be the president of Nigeria could make “bloody civilians” all over the country and in PDP, in particular, to work against him. Again, many Nigerians remember Mark’s unpopular statement when he was the communications minister that telephone was not for the poor even though he has said he was quoted out of context.
If the Otukpo-born politician decides to vie for the number one position, he may have to contend with people like Nnamadi Sambo, vice president, Atiku Abubakar, former vice president and Turaki Adamawa as well as Sule Lamido, governor of Jigawa State. Abubakar, who contested the presidential election on the platform of Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, in 2007, made a similar attempt under the PDP in 2011, but failed to get the ticket. The man, who fought many judicial battles to retain his position as vice-president during Obasanjo era, has not dumped his political ambition of becoming president of the country and may want to come out again in 2015.
Lamido, who’s ambition has caused ripples in the presidency, may get the support of Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, He is regarded as a disciple of late Aminu Kano, leader of the People’s Redemption Party, PRP, who was known for fighting for the interest of the masses. All the assumptions are based on the fact that Jonathan would not contest the 2015 presidential election, either as a result of constitutional limitation or yielding to pressures to stay away.
But if it does not happen that way, it would be difficult for Mark to contest against him and win because of incumbency factor. In addition, most of the party executives, both at the national and states level are loyal to Jonathan. It is believed that Jonathan’s preference for Bamanga Tukur as the PDP national chairman against all others, who contested with him, was part of his game plan for 2015.
But some people didn’t believe Mark would contest the presidential election against Jonathan in 2015. Comfort Obi, a journalist and publisher, who has praised Mark in her weekly column in The Source magazine, expressed doubt over his intention to vie for the office of the president in 2015 against Jonathan. She said, currently, the relationship between the two is robust. “It is a common thing for Nigerians to sit down and begin to insinuate things that are not true, I don’t think Mark would contest against President Jonathan”, she said.
*** This story was first published in Realnews on December 10, 2012
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