By Olalekan Adetayo
There is no doubt that Senator David Mark was one of the most powerful persons in the last administration. The Peoples Democratic Party’s senator from Benue State remains the nation’s longest serving President of the Senate. He has won elections into the Red Chamber for a record five times.
During the last dispensation, Mark, being the President of the Senate, was a regular visitor to the Villa. When he was not holding meetings with former President Goodluck Jonathan on pressing national issues, he was attending strategic meetings of leaders of the then ruling PDP.
Immediately the All Progressives Congress ended the 16-year rule of the PDP with the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari as the winner of the 2015 presidential election, Mark recoiled into his shell despite winning re-election. He no longer visits the Villa as he was doing under Jonathan. Even on the floor of the Senate, he keeps his calm apparently in order not to be seen as intimidating the new leadership, therefore making some people to be jokingly referring to him as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Observation!
But on Monday, Mark made a surprise visit to the Villa. Since he is no longer the President of the Senate, his Monday’s visit was a clear departure from the numerous visits he paid to the seat of power during the previous administration. In the past, Mark would be driven straight to the forecourt of the President’s office through the Service Chiefs’ Gate in a convoy of cars. There were a few times he would decide to drive himself but with a retinue of aides running after him.
The Monday visit was different. He walked the long distance from where he came out from his car through the Briefing Room and the Council Chambers towards the President’s Office. State House correspondents were surprised to see him. We then quickly decided to lay ambush for him so that he would tell the world, through us, the purpose of the surprise visit on his way out.
As President of the Senate, Mark was not in the habit of answering journalists’ questions inside the Villa. He had a way of avoiding us and quickly jumping into his waiting car. I recall that there was a day I personally confronted him with the fact that he had never talked to us. I remember that he smiled, turned back and promised that he would talk to us one day.
That promise went the way of a similar promise made by Jonathan, he did not fulfil it until he left office. That was the same way we approached Jonathan for comments after he attended his last Good Friday Service inside the Aso Villa Chapel. He had lost the presidential election then. As we approached him, the former President smiled and said, “Don’t worry, I will talk to you at the appropriate time,” as he made his way from the chapel to his official residence. The time was not appropriate until he left.
Mark must have learnt from Jonathan. After the Monday meeting too, the former President of the Senate still refused to talk to us despite all entreaties. The President celebrated Mark’s visit on the social media when he posted the photograph they took together on his Twitter handle, recalling that he (Mark) was the military governor of Niger State when he (Buhari) was the Head of State.
It was however clear that that meeting had nothing to do with those their past roles. There is fire on the mountain in the Senate and the government surely needs experienced hands like Mark to handle it.
It would be recalled that he had been reported to have warned against a move to start an impeachment process against the President during an executive session last week. That showed that he is still a stabilising factor in the National Assembly, a role he played well during Jonathan’ s era.
Mark made life easy for Jonathan throughout the former President’s tenure and defended him even to a fault. He came under fire when he reportedly manipulated the screening process that ensured that Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, who was then accused of rigging the Ekiti State governorship election, was confirmed a minister. Besides getting Obanikoro confirmed, Mark never blocked any of Jonathan’s ministerial nominations.
At a point in the life of the administration, he convinced his colleagues not to pass a vote of no confidence in Jonathan over the former President’s failure to curb insecurity. In November 2014 specifically, he foiled a move by some senators to impeach Jonathan. In return, Jonathan gave him several benefits including the nomination of some ministers in his cabinet.
Jonathan’s defeat and the waning power of the PDP in the Senate have certainly relegated Mark to the background. But his visit seemed to point to the fact that the present administration was set to tap from his fountain of experience to smoothen the relation between the Executive and Legislature which has been roughened by the court cases that the Federal Government had instituted against Mark’s successor, Bukola Saraki, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu.
As if to confirm this, Saraki on Thursday reshuffled the leadership of Senate committees to accommodate some lawmakers believed to be against him. Can this be one of the fallouts of Mark’s intervention?
Buhari and the Rio Olympics Team
On Tuesday, the President officially handed over members of Team Nigeria that will participate in the Rio Olympics Games to the Nigerian Olympic Committee at a brief event held inside the old Banquet Hall of the Villa. To show the importance he attached to the event, Buhari who was also decorated as the Grand Patron of the NOC, was accompanied to the event by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.
The programme was scheduled to start by 2pm but as of about 20 minutes to the kick off time, the hall was still almost empty. Only athletes and officials of the NOC and Ministry of Youth and Sports were seated at the time.
Message was sent to the President to tarry a while before coming to allow more guests arrive. But Buhari would not hear that. He insisted that the programme must start at the scheduled time. So officials had to be begging the athletes and a few other people who were already seated at the back to change their positions and occupy the front seats that were earlier reserved.
One of the highlights of the programme was when some of the athletes were asked to come out and show the President the special attire that had been designed for them to be used for march-past during the games’ opening ceremony.
Not a few people held the opinion that the attire could be designed better. Those of the ladies looked more like choir robes while I overhead many people saying the men looked more like undertakers in their own attire that came with bowler hats. For a long time, Buhari and Osinbajo were seen talking to each other and laughing when the athletes took the stage.
I guess that if not for the additional money that may likely go into it, the President would have ordered that the attire be redesigned in a manner that would indeed portray the nation’s culture. Happy weekend.