The ongoing ordeal of the former President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, is a reminder of the controversy that trailed the federal governmentâ€™s monetisation policy, writes Damilola Oyedele
Senator David Markâ€™s sojourn in the eighth Senate is one where he has maintained a dignified silence, and sometimes seeming detachment from the ongoing legislative business. Save for his recent bill seeking the establishment of the Federal University of Health Science, Otukpo, Mark has not been very visible during plenary on the floor of the senate. It is however necessary to point out that the Senator, who was Senate President between 2007 and 2015 when his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in power, still commands the respect of his colleagues.
This was evident when in October he presented the university bill. On that day, the lawmakers extended their normal time at plenary to take his bill, and except for a few who spoke glowingly of the sponsor, the bill scaled through without any hitches or opposition. Some lawmakers even suggested that the proposed university be named after Mark.
But his ongoing ordeal with the EFCC seems to have thrust him back into limelight. First, it was the allegation that N2 billion was paid into the account of the National Assembly in 2010, a period when he held sway as the Senate President, for distribution among the 109 Senators.
Mark, in a statement issued on his behalf by his Media Assistant, Mr. Paul Mumeh, however confirmed that he was quizzed by the anti-graft agency, but said the invitation letter to him was based on the need to respond to some questions on the 2015 presidential election campaign funds as it concerned Benue State. The Senator honoured the invitation as a law abiding citizen, the statement said.
â€œCuriously, they also alleged that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) paid over N2 billion into the National Assemblyâ€™s account which he, as the then President of the Senate, allegedly shared among the 109 Senators (including PDP, ACN, and ANPP) in 2010.
â€œAgain, to the best of his knowledge, Senator Mark is not aware of such transaction. This simply did not make sense to any right thinking member of the society. Senator Mark wondered why anybody would think that PDP will pay money into National Assembly account. He however clarified all the issues raised before returning home.
â€œSenator Mark believes in due process and rule of law. He has maintained a clean record of public service over the years and will continue to uphold the highest standard of conduct expected of public servants,â€ the statement read.
The matter was however far from over as reports surfaced in the media on penultimate Tuesday, that Mark illegally acquired the residence of the Senate President, now a private property.
According to the reports, the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for Recovery of Public Property issued a 21-day notice to the former Senate President, in September 2017, to quit the property located at No. 1, Chuba Okadigbo Street, Apo Legislative Quarters in Abuja. The Panel is chaired by Mr. Okoi Obono Obla.
Sitting on 1.6 hectares of land, the property consists of structures which include the main house, guest chalet, boysâ€™ quarters, driver/servants quarters, ADC/Chief Security detailâ€™s house, security/generator house and chapel.
The panel alleged that Mark used his influential relationship with former President Goodluck Jonathan to acquire the property as it was excluded from the monetisation policy.
Mark has since filed a suit at the Federal High Court Abuja, seeking a declaration that he lawfully acquired the said property from the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) in April 2011. He is also seeking a declaration, that to forcefully evict him from the property without fair hearing is a violation of his fundamental human rights.
He had allegedly purchased the property at the â€˜reserved priceâ€™ of N673.2 million.
In a statement, he issued on the matter, Mark said the allegations against him are â€œspurious, contrived and baselessâ€, adding that the property was offered for sale, bided for and purchased â€œlike any other person would in line with federal governmentâ€™s monetisation policy that was started during the time of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
â€œI had the right of first refusal. Even if I did not purchase it, someone else would have. I am a law-abiding citizen. I did not flout any law. Curiously, four houses occupied by the then Presiding Officers of National Assembly were offered to the occupants.
â€œAll of us, me as the then President of the Senate, Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, and his Deputy Bayero Nafada were all given the same offer. I am at a loss as to why it is now a subject of contention,â€ he said.
Expectedly, the former Senate President has attributed his ordeal to his membership of the now opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the 2019 elections.
The Controversial Monetisation Policy
To be clear, this report is not saying Mark did, or did not acquire the property in question legally, because that is a matter for the Court to decide. But at the time of its inception, the monetisation policy, attracted diverse opinions on both sides of the divides.
While many Nigerians voiced support for the sale of houses to civil servants, to help them own homes, there was opposition to the sale of residences of tenured officers, and other residences considered essential properties. Such properties were the residences built for other principal officers of the National Assembly, and serving legislators, and political appointees such as ministers.
The argument was logical: if the homes built as official residences for tenured or likely tenured occupants are sold, what happens when there are new occupants of their offices?
For instance, if the official residence of a member of the House of Representatives is sold to the occupant, what happens when he loses elections and another representative emerges? Would the federal government pay rent for the new person, since he/she is entitled to accommodation?
There was more opposition to the idea for such officers, particularly because by perks accruing to their positions, they can afford to buy homes in the capital city, where properties are considered expensive. But eventually the FG excluded the residences of the leaders and principal officers of the National Assembly, and listed them as essential housing.
But under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, the essential statuses of the properties were removed as according to the then Minister of the FCT, Senator Bala Mohammed, all the houses in the Apo legislative quarters have been sold to the lawmakers occupying them, or the public, at the time of the policy in 2004.
Mohammed therefore noted that the sales had â€œaltered the general security provision for the area and by extension, the security of the leading principal officers of the National Assembly.â€
He therefore advised that the houses be sold, while new residences can be constructed for the principal officers in a more secure and conducive environment.
This argument, which eventually informed the construction of new residences for the main leaders of the National Assembly (a project which is still ongoing), buttresses initial opinions that the homes of all 409 legislators should not have been included in the monetisation policy in the first instance.