Perhaps, the most heartbreaking image from the funeral of late Tunde Jonathan Mark, first son of my benefactor and former President of the Nigerian Senate, Senator David Mark, was that of Senator Tunde Jonathan Ogbeha standing behind a lectern on that elevated platform in the solemnity of the garden of the Mark Otukpo country home, a microphone in his right hand, and unsuccessfully fighting back tears as he bade his namesake and young protege the final goodbye.
As he spoke, amid quivering lips, only the younger Tunde’s mahogany casket separated the shattered General from his inconsolable friend and Tunde’s father, the inimitable David Mark, who was flanked by his immediate family, including his departed son’s widow and daughter. In an incomparable friendship that has spanned almost sixty years, re-enacting the biblically storied friendship between David and Jonathan, this must have been the only time that anything of significance stood between these two remarkable men.
Ogbeha was one of the first persons to see the younger Tunde after his birth in 1971. And the comely lad was named by his young father after his steely and faithful friend – as a testament to a friendship so pure and true. And what a phenomenal soul the younger Tunde Jonathan grew to become.
I met him for the first time in 2007 in the guesthouse of their sprawling Otukpo country home, where my team and I were sequestered, preparing to defend his illustrious father in a senatorial election petition that had been brought against him shortly after the elections of that year. As Tunde approached us, a broad smile flashing across his face, there was no mistaking who he was. One of the most remarkable physical attributes of the older Mark, apart from his evident bonhomie, is the almost lyrical way in which he walks. And the beaming adonis approaching us had exactly the same gait and walk. He was a more perfect version of his father: towering, comely and ruddy.
He introduced himself and instantly electrified our workroom with his unaffected simplicity and charisma.
What followed was an animated conversation that didn’t end until the big man himself walked in and told Tunde to “leave Ken alone to face his work!” Tunde was one of the greatest conversationalists I ever knew. He was at home in law, economics, diplomacy, history, warfare, politics, astronomy, philosophy, geography, humorous repartee – and even the cosmology and history of world terrorism. So prodigious and penetrating was his intellect. It was, therefore, inevitable that a robust intellectual relationship was to ensue between us, cemented by the long nights we worked together as members of his father’s kitchen cabinet during his presidency of the Senate.
Yet, intellectualism and good looks, both of which he abundantly possessed, were not even Tunde’s most outstanding qualities. His most abiding qualities were his startling generosity and compassion, his intense humanism and disarming humility. Tunde was absolutely without airs, and made no fuss about his privileged circumstances. It was even only after his passing that I came to learn that he was a distinguished Harvard alumnus who had accomplished great things internationally, without riding on his illustrious father’s coattails.
These were the irreplaceable qualities that were General Ogbeha’s lot to inter on this black Friday. He had borne the infant Tunde in his steely hands, shortly after birth, had watched him become the phenomenal and truly sensitive man he grew to become. He was also beside him at that London hospital when his younger namesake drew his last breathe.
And now, as he led the funeral motorcade to Tunde’s final resting place, amid the grieving tumult and searing wails, we turned and followed Tunde’s stoic natural father to the bowel of the family residence, to await the return of this truest of friends from his last duty to a surrogate son. And upon his return from that wrenching task, these two friends, bonded by time, triumphs and perils – and now indescribable grief – retreated briefly upstairs, to grieve and mourn in dignified solitude and to console each other.
May the Good Lord heal and console the Mark family. And in our time of imponderable peril and adversity, may the Good Lord provide each of us their own General Ogbeha.
May your noble soul find sweet repose in our Lord’s bosom.