When he paid a courtesy visit to the corporate headquarters of LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group Limited recently, the Senate president, David Mark, was full of smiles and praises for the reporters and editors of the company. He repeatedly stressed that but for the doggedness of the paper’s pungent editorials, democracy, of which he was a major beneficiary, could not have been achieved. According to him, the paper was the first of its kind he would oblige the visit due to the high regards he had for it. He then went round the complex, commending the management for a job well done. Even when Danladi Ndayebo, one of the editors, jabbed him with a question about the legitimacy of his mandate, since it was widely believed that he stole it from his ANPP co-contestant Young Alhaji, Mark, a retired brigadier-general in the army, was all civil and calm as he brushed off the question, muttering something about the matter being at the tribunal.
His rather innocent and boyish mien did not suggest that, in the following months, Mark would be persecuting the company and threatening to arrest the editor of the daily title. None of the LEADERSHIP staff members, that day, could have predicted that their well- behaved august visitor would soon perfect a plan to deal with them.
But then, David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark has consistently remained a controversial figure in the nation’s history. A man with lowly roots was to become so wealthy that he once declared that the poor have no business owning telephones. It is widely believed that he has substantial investments in St. Margaret’s Golf Club, a few metres from the International Airport in Dublin. An internet search confirmed the existence of the golf course, but no mention is made of its ownership.
His current role as the Senate president also came under heavy criticism when Senator Joseph Waku took Mark to the cleaners. Waku, who was a senator from 1999 to 2003, dismissed Mark, calling him a puppet of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Waku did not mince words in calling Mark a lackey of the Ota farmer, Obasanjo. He noted further that Mark owes allegiance only to Obasanjo.
Mark’s personal life is also controversial. He is a stupendously rich man who has a rough history of failed marriages. In a legal tussle, in 2000, one of Mark’s many wives, Victoria Preye, a Bayelsa woman, won a case against her husband when the
House of Lords restrained Mark from touching six million pounds held in trust for their children. According to a reliable source: “The story of David Mark’s divorce has become a popular case study of sorts amongst students of immigration law in the UK and elsewhere because of the volume of lies, concoctions and hideousness with which he tried to con his estranged wife away from her entitlement. Court documents indicate that David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark and Victoria Preye solemnised their marriage according to native law and custom in 1979. Mark was at the time married to three other women.
Victoria Preye came to London in 1990 and has not returned to Nigeria since 1993. During the regime of General Sani Abacha, David Mark was forced into exile from 1993 to 1998. During this time, he obtained a work permit enabling him to reside in the UK as an employee of a construction company owned by him and which paid him £40,000 per annum. His wife was subsequently included in the permit, giving her leave to remain in England until April 1998. Mark was granted indefinite leave to remain after the expiry of the work permit in 1998, but his wife did not apply as she was in Florida for a Bible course, and her husband did not tell her about the application for indefinite leave to remain.
As a result, she became what UK immigration calls “an overstayer.” It was not until March 2002 that Victoria Preye obtained her own indefinite leave to remain. In her application, she argued that she had been continuously present in the UK since 1995 and that her only nationality and passport was Nigerian. These were lies since she and her husband as well their two youngest children had, in November 1996, acquired Belizean citizenship.
In July 2000, Victoria Preye petitioned for divorce in England. David Mark challenged the English court’s jurisdiction (even though it was he who earlier invited her to petition for divorce in the UK) on the basis that his wife was staying illegally in the UK. David Mark later fraudulently obtained two customary court judgements in Nigeria claiming that he had divorced his wife through customary law. The UK judges wouldn’t buy that!
The case went to the Court of Appeal to determine whether someone staying illegally could assert a domicile of choice or rely on habitual residence in the UK for the purposes of establishing jurisdiction under section 5(2) of the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1973. The court ruled in favour of Victoria Preye, granting her a right to pursue divorce in the UK.
Ruling in an application by the wife for permission to appeal the order allowing an offshore bank to transfer the funds to another bank, the Court of Appeal stated as follows: “The freezing order was not only in general terms but attached to specific assets including sums held in four bank accounts, namely, three accounts at the Northern Bank, Isle of Man, and one account at the Allied Irish Bank, Jersey. A total fund of about £6 million in those four accounts was frozen by an order dated October 4, 2000. That order was duly served not only on the husband (David Mark) but also on the company (Lincoln Trust Company, Jersey Ltd.) as being nominally or arguably in control of the four accounts and also on the two banks; and mirror orders were obtained by the wife in the Isle of Man and in Jersey.”
A family source who spoke anonymously told LEADERSHIP Sunday that this matter has since been settled out of court.
It is, however, still unclear how many wives Mark has as it is alleged that he has been married six times.
There are many theories about how Mark got his billions. One of such is that as chairman in charge of the abandoned properties in Port Harcourt after the civil war, Mark made a killing by defrauding many Igbos of their property. He got the job in the first place by warming himself into the hearts of his superiors for whom he was prepared to act as a pimp. He became fabulously wealthy to the extent that, even as a major, Mark reportedly could afford to send his children to highbrow schools in England.
Apart from the abandoned property loot, Mark made a fortune as a military administrator of Niger State. His style of governance in the state was rather outlandish. In one instance, he contemptuously threatened to jail some citizens he accused of embezzling bank loans.
A lonely road in Minna has been named after him. A colonial cemetery, a church and a police barracks are all one can find along the near-jinxed road, as most commuters prefer to take alternative routes.
His biggest loot obviously came during his days as minister of communications. Although it could not be independently verified, a source alleged that Mark’s tenure at the ministry was less than transparent. He said the Shomolu Exchange has remained analogue for a long time because Mark insisted on a 15 per cent bribe from the company that got the contract to digitalise it. According to the source, the company told the minister that if he insisted on that percentage the exchange would remain analogue and not digital. Mark allegedly shrugged his shoulder, insisting on his cut. All this is apart from the millions he allegedly stole from the ministry.
In Benue State, Mark’s claims of renovating the Oweto-Agatu road has been punctured by a source who told LEADERSHIP Sunday that the construction company handling the work (Rockbridge) had been paid over N800 million with nothing to show for it. Incidentally, Rockbridge also handled the construction of his golf courses.
As senator, David Mark gallantly fought for the actualisation of the extension ploy of Obasanjo. His reward, says an unconfirmed report, was N1 billion obtained from the N10 billion loot Andy Uba received from former Jigawa State governor Saminu Turaki. This is in addition to all the other bribes third term proponents enjoyed.
Attempts to reach Mark for comments proved abortive as he was out of Abuja on a condolence visit to Nasarawa State, where his special assistant. on political matters, Senator Okpede, is said to be bereaved.
When contacted, Mark’s SA on media matters Kola Ologbondiyan said he was not competent to comment on the Senate president’s private life.