What Nigerians need is attitudinal change, not restructuring, says David Mark
Former Senate President, Dr. David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark, has walked through the various epochs of independent Nigeria. Disregarding the stabilizing roles he played and continues to play in Nigeria’s democratic dispensation, Senator Mark is a prominent member of the Nigeria military.
On the trending issue of restructuring, the immediate past President of Senate’s voice could bear out the objective assessment of where the cookie crumbled in the effort to nurture a harmonious state out of the British creation called Nigeria. As a military man, Mark may not easily concede that Nigeria is a mere geographical expression.
Yet as a politician, he will readily buy into the refrain that the unity of the country has gone beyond question in the belief that the bigger the better. But pinning down the senator representing Benue South in the Senate for the past sixteen years to a press interview was not an easy quest.
After many back and forth trying to fix a convenient date for the expected interaction, Mark exposed the discipline of Golf as an endurance sport: it takes a combination of strength, mental acuity and focus to get an inning. Nearness to the hole does not guarantee easy inning.
That was exactly what The Guardian editorial team found out when at exactly 3.45pm; the Senator strolled into the expansive living room at his Apo Legislative Quarters residence. Seeing other guests seated, he chose an inner sitting room for the interaction, even as he announced in what sounded like a teaser, that he was not prepared to grant an elaborate interview.
That statement dragged the mind to the military accoutrement that stood sentry at the entrance gate. The past sixteen years of active politics in the democratic setting has not washed away the military admonition to its officers to open your eyes, open your ears, but close your mouth.
How can a former President of Senate refrain to share his thoughts at a period such as the 57th independence anniversary celebration of Nigeria? 57, he said, is not a landmark. Trying to retain the lead as bait to make him talk, The Guardian noted that now, three years to the age of full adulthood, was the best moment to x-ray Nigeria’s journey so far and prepare the country against making adolescent mistakes in adulthood.
Exposing the charm and grace that helped him hold together the Senate for eight years, the Senator managed a smile, saying: “Mouthing restructuring has become the easiest way to attract media attention.”
Not even the allusion to his massive acreage of maize farm lying between Uthonkom and Otobi, could draw Senator Mark out to talk. But it was at that point that it became clear the Brigadier General in Mark has placed a big burden on the shoulders of Senator David Mark.
Listening to the retired soldier gently excusing himself from an elaborate media interview, one could not fail to understand the dilemma he faces. As a military man, fielding questions from journalists on the plaintive issue of restructuring would without doubt, put him on the spot to take shots reserved for the military.
This is because a comprehensive evaluation of arguments for restructuring gives the impression that the military pushed the country out of the path of purposeful leadership and subjected it to plundering as a cow fit alone for milking.
What is more, the call for a return to the post independence constitution of 1963 is also an indictment of the Nigeria Army, which subdued and subjected the country to a unitary system of government. Or, still the unconscionable serial creation of multiplicity of states without regard to viability or sustainability. Those are indeed weighty puzzles too hard for a retired Brigadier General to hazard answers.
Then again, having just left office as President of Senate, Mark may have chosen to remain in the background so as not to fluster a few feathers and hence be seen as making haste to hug the headlines. But here the emeritus President of Senate offered some glimpses saying that most of the suggestions for restructuring could only be attained through constitutional amendment.
On the issue of spat between President Donald Trump of the United States and the North Korean leader, Mark recalled his warning about the dangers of unbridled use of the internet, stressing that barely two weeks of mouthing his concerns, the Cynthia Osokogu tragedy happened.
Siding the North Korean leader for enforcing discipline in the use of the social media, Mark noted with evident glee, “When the North Korean president speaks, the world listens.” So saying, the onetime Minister of Communications revealed his aversion to intemperate language.
Mark is in love with discipline. That may be why he maintained that it is not easy to force an adult do what he says he will not do.
Despite his insistence not to grant interview The Guardian team however craved his indulgence to have interactions with him on tape for publication to which he gave his nod giving us an opportunity to extract enough information and read his lips to draw conclusions.
Lack of development fuelling agitations
The Senator said he does not subscribe to the position of those agitating for restructuring of the Nigerian federation, because according to him, problems facing the country are beyond the rhetoric of restructuring.
He regretted that some politicians are already latching onto the call for restructuring by making statements they believe many Nigerians would like to hear with the aim of feathering their selfish political nests.
Mark said the fact that the issue of restructuring has been reduced to avenue by politicians to scout for votes has diluted the genuineness of the debate and Nigerians should be wary of such antics.
Rather than dissipate energy on the restructuring debate, the former Senate President said Nigerians should change their attitude to doing things stressing, “The problem of Nigeria is the attitude of Nigerians.
“The problem of Nigeria is not that of restructuring as our people are saying. The way we are doing things, nothing is going to change. If we restructure and change the number of states by increasing or decreasing, is it not Nigerians that are going to be there?”
On whether the whole clamour is premised on the failure of the state to deliver dividends of democracy, he said, “The issue is attitudinal; we’ve got to change the way we do things.”
He also blamed the on-going agitations across the land and the request by many for a restructured polity on the failure of the state to bring human and physical development to the country.
According to him, “The cries and agitation for restructuring is going on because at the local and state levels, people are not satisfied with the pace of development. That is all.
“If things are going on as it should and development of infrastructure is going on, if the schools are running properly and medical services are alright, I am talking of basic facilities, nobody will be agitating for anything.”
Aside putting the agitation as direct fallout of Nigerians’ frustrations about the state of things in the country, Mark said as long as the country is not being run properly, there would not be end to the agitations stressing, “this agitation will be endless as long as there is no development.”
Describing the country’s need and the campaigns by pro-restructuring groups, Mark said what most campaigners were clamouring for are not what the country desires at this period of development.
“It is not a matter of restructuring by creating more states or merging others like creating more zones. These are not issues people should be worried about,” he stated.
When asked who should take the blame for the failure of the Nigerian State to rise up to the challenges of good governance, between the leaders and the led, Mark was quick to put the blame on everybody.
His words: “I mean every Nigerian, whether you are the leader or the led. We have to change our attitudes. No matter the way we go about it, we are going to come back to the same spot. The issue is let Nigerians change their attitude, the way they are doing things.
“I have seen many write-ups about whether we should have local government autonomy, state autonomy, devolution of power, independent candidacy, bicameral, unicameral legislatures, regionalism, all those things people discuss all the time. But if you put a Nigerian there and his attitude to doing business doesn’t change, there will not be any difference.”
He however disagreed completely with those calling for dismemberment of the nation saying that as a united country, Nigeria is capable of reaching its maximum potentials.
His words: “There is one fundamental issue; we must remain as one united country. Any agitation that says this and that should go their own way, in my own opinion, is not right. That one won’t solve the problem. As long as we remain one indivisible country, I think we can make progress. For how long are we continue to talk like this.”
On the call for constitutional review and amendment, Mark under whom the 7th National assembly attempted to review the constitution said, “All these we are saying are about constitutional review anyway, because you cannot make anything outside the constitution.”
He also preferred a solution to the seemingly endless review of the constitution without addressing the fundamental problems of the country saying, “We can revisit it from time to time if we see that there are issues in the constitution that are not meeting the current requirements. If we can do that, all will be well.”
On the call by a section of the country for a total rejection of the 1999 constitution for that of 1963, Mark asked, “So how are we going to drop it? Because dropping it is a process of the constitution. How do you do that? The legislature will always want to be independent of the executive.”
He admonished Nigerians to have trust in the unity of the country by looking beyond ethnic or regional considerations in responding to issues that concern the country and that the people should always be optimistic about the nation by looking at the brighter side of the commonwealth.
He said, “We should always try to see the bright side of every circumstance. No matter how lowly, there is always a bright side to it. Most times we always look at a problem without seeing the other side of it. Once you look at the bright side you will see that there is light there and that is the path to follow.
“As a nation, we should learn one or two things from this. We should start to teach our children the values of what the nation is about. They may look like little things but at the end of the day, those are the things that build a big nation. If I see you as a Yoruba person and not as a Nigerian, I will describe myself as being myopic. We must see every Nigerian as a Nigerian. Those are the fundamentals.”
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