HOW DAVID MARK BECAME A REPORTER
About two weeks ago, President of the Senate, David Mark kept aside his garvel and hosted members of the Senate Press Corps to an interactive session as part of events that marked the end of the Third Session of the Sixth Senate.
It was an event that took a different dimension as the President of the Senate first sought the understanding of the Correspondents. The request was for them not to write any story of the event if he was to talk freely. According to him, he learnt his lesson as a young Officer in the Nigerian Army.
He said a reporter published a story based on a discussion he had off the records. The Senate Press Corps correspondents resolved to prove to the President of the Senate that journalists could be trusted just like other professionals.
It did not stop at that as the Senate President went further to request that he be allowed to report the event.
Expectedly, the newly recruited Reporter without a medium put together the story below in this report titled, 'Reporting the Reporter'
The night was breezy and a bit cold. As I walked towards the canopy, I saw Adetutu Folashade-Koyi of Daily Independent Newspapers clutching the hand of Sufuyan Ojeifo of ThisDay Newspapers. 'What is happening, here Tutu?' I asked. 'He is my brother across the Niger', she replied chuckling. As we walked into the well-lit canopy arranged for the dinner, Oche Victor Elias, who anchored the event with my Information Officer, Datsu Tavershima, began a riddle.
According to his line, a man was halted at a check-point by security officials. 'Where are your particulars?' The security operatives asked him. 'Spirit dey come', he replied when he meant to say 'esprit de corps'.
As Oche winded up his jokes, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) photojournalist, Henry Chukwuedo, who is attached to my office, at first, I thought he wanted to make a comment but suddenly his voice came on air as he picked the microphone, began to sing, his camera hanging on his neck. Chukwuedo rendered highlife songs of Rex Lawson; Osita Osadebey et al and got all the gentlemen of the press wriggling on their chairs.
Gbade Ogunwale of The Nation, who could no longer absorb the sonority of the highlife music while sitting, rose from the chair and danced towards Chukwuedo. He did not stop at that. He scanned all his pockets for Naira notes and ended up dragging out N5 from the inner pocket of his jacket. He placed the note on Chukwuedo's forehead and danced back to his seat.
At the end of this drama, my Media Adviser, Kola Ologbondiyan, was invited to make his opening remarks. He commended members of the Senate Press Corps for their usually in-depth analysis. When the Chairman, Senate Committee on Information and Media, Senator Ayogu Eze, was invited for his remarks, he tried to key into his first constituency, by referring to members of the Senate Press Corps as 'My colleagues'. His membership of the pen profession was subjected to a voice vote and the 'nays' had it.
Again, Oche came with another rib-cracking joke. This time, he said; 'A pretty girl was begging for money on the street. She claimed to be a deaf and dumb. Then (Aliko) Dangote, who was walking on the street, sighted this beautiful deaf and dumb girl and muttered to himself saying, 'Oh! What a beautiful girl. If she were not deaf and dumb, I would have advised my younger brother who will soon be taking over my company with over N21billion asset base to marry her'.
But to Dangote's amazement, the girl responded, 'Oga, I can hear you o! In fact, God just healed me now'.
As we went into the night and dinner was served, it was time for comments which in journalism parlance is considered as free while facts are sacred and revered. I had also assured all members of the fourth estate of the realm present at the event that for once I will be the one to file the report of this event. Since I will be reporting on the reporters, my response to the questions should be expected in my story.
Then the questioning session began. Amos Dunia of The Sun Newspapers fired the first shot. He sought to know how I 'have successfully evaded the proverbial banana peel' of the Senate. I believe that there are no banana peels in the Senate. However, I believe that every presiding officer must be guided by the principles of justice and fairness. As a presiding officer in a parliament, you are first accountable to your conscience, then your colleagues and principally the nation.
Above all, there must always be mutual respects between the presiding officers and their colleagues.
Malachy Ukpong of the Radio Nigeria Network was transferred to the National Assembly a few months back. Before then, he had worked in the Aso Villa for no fewer than eight years. When he took the microphone, he disclosed that between the executive and the legislative arms of government, democracy is better practiced in the latter. According to him, the decision making process of lawmakers is very democratic and procedural.
Ben Agande of Vanguard Newspapers then picked the microphone to challenge Oche's mastery of jokes. He regaled the audience with the story of how a child asked the mother for a bicycle. The mother apparently tired of her child's tantrum asked him to write a letter to our Lord, Jesus Christ and request for a bicycle. The child proceeded to the Church and entered the sanctuary. He wrote a letter asking our Lord Jesus Christ to provide him a bicycle and left the note at the feet of Holy Mary's statute.
He returned to the church the following day expecting a bicycle. When he found only his note at the foot of Mother Mary, he removed the statute and took it home saying; 'Our Lord Jesus when you bring the bicycle, your mother dey here o!' As the audience laughed it off, to his journalistic duty, Agande returned. 'How do you relax? I mean how do you relax when you are neither presiding in the Senate nor playing golf at the IBB Golf Course?' He asked me.
My response to Agande's quest into my privacy is that; I relax when I'm reading or sleeping. I also play squash.
Oche, again took the baton from Agande. He told the joke of a graduating son of a very poor man. The man had accompanied his son to school for graduation ceremony. As soon as the programme started, prizes were being announced.
At each mention of a prize, the poor man's son would clap for his colleague that won a prize. But the father, out of pains, will whisper into his son's ear saying, 'See your mate.' When the event came to an end and the son walked his father home, waiting for motorcycles otherwise call Okada, the duo came across a man as old as his father driving a Prado 4X4 and the son said to his dad's ear too, 'see your mate.'
At this point, the erstwhile Chairman of the Senate Press Corps, Mallam Ismail Omipidan of The Sun Newspapers, who was visiting from Kaduna, declared that he knew me like the 'back of his hands' having been born and bred in my home-town, Otukpo, Benue State. He recalled how he was invited to 'strategic' meetings where issue of discussion centered on how I would be removed from Office. This, he said, happened before he was transferred to Kaduna. Expectedly, he would not name the people that invited him.
Omipidan also re-visited the activities of the Senate and urged me to continue to 'democratize largess' among my colleagues, prompting a sharp reaction from Senator Ayogu Eze as he cautioned Omipidan against foul language.
He also recalled how shortly before the Court of Appeal judgment, he was invited to work for a Senator that would succeed me in office as President of the Senate.
Astonished Omipidan claimed to have asked if the office was vacant. According to him, he assured the emissary that he would not be part of a battle that was doomed to fail. Cosmos Ekpunobi, the Senate Press Corps current Chairman, in his remarks, described me as 'a great political stabilizer', adding that he had told not a few Nigerians that Constitution Review exercise would be concluded under my leadership in the National Assembly.
He noted that among his professional peers he is dubbed a soothsayer of the Senate because his pronouncements on the Senate under my leadership always come to pass. As my most senior boss, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, raised the toast for a deepened democracy, the leader of the Senate, Teslim Folarin, Senators Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, Anyim Ude, Eme Ufot-Ekaette, Abubakar Gada and Danlami Ikenya were at hand to provide the necessary support.
For me, it was a fulfilling way of ending the third session of the 6th Senate.
•Mark is President of the Senate, Federal Republic of Nigeria