Matthew Attah Akwe a former chairman of Awe Local Government and erstwhile Deputy Speaker Plateau State House of Assembly is a retired teacher. The septuagenarian shares his life experience with JULIET KUYET BULUS
When and where were you born?
I was born in Doma on 7 July, 1945 and I am from Doma, Nasarawa State.
How are you able to tell the exact date?
In those days our parents calculated our age based on the number of years a chief reigned, his reign or when he came to the throne. I was born during the reign of a chief called Andoma Omaku.
Which institutions and or schools did you attend?
I started my educational career at St. Michael Primary School Gudi in 1956 and I was there until 1961 when I proceeded from to St. Augustine School. Lafia. I was in that school from 1962 through 1964 when I was employed as where I worked for two years. In 1967 I went back to St. Augustine’s College to complete my Grade Two teachers’ certificate course. Then I worked as a class teacher, head master, and administrative headmaster. I was appointed director of schools in 1969.
In 1975 I went to Head Master Institute in Benin for a year course as it is a school mainly for teachers. By 1977 I was elected unopposed to be the First Chairman of Awe Local Government where I stayed for three years. In 1979 I was elected to Plateau State House of Assembly and before the end of same year I was elected the Deputy Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly. I was there for four years. By 1984 my tenure was completed and I came back home and established myself from 1984 as a farmer. Since then I have continued to remain a farmer.
Within the period of my farming I was appointed to one institution or the other, from been the Chairman of All Farmers Association in Plateau State 1986-1990 then Chairman of Supplies Company for Plateau State to Chairman of Christian Pilgrims Board. In 1996 states were created and we relocated to Nasarawa State where I was appointed Chairman of All Farmers Association and I held this post for 11 years, helping interaction between farmers and the government and making sure the farmers get benefits they are entitled to get from the government or any organisation.
Within that period I was also appointed as a member of Governing Council Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, a council member of Auchi Polytechnic and at the locality I continued to be the political leader of our people especially people who belonged to the People’s Democratic Party. I was the Director General Campaign Organisation for gubernatorial candidate Abdullahi Adamu in 1998-1999 then I took the same position for the Obasanjo Campaign Organisation when he came in for his first term as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I also became the Chairman of Ethnic Nationalities of Nasarawa State and I am being addressed as a leader till date as I hold the same position. Atiku Abubakar has appointed me his coordinator for Nasarawa State.
How was growing up like?
My life as a young person was quite an enjoyable one because I interacted with any group of people I met. Back in the days, we grew up together, became each other’s keeper and we tried as much as possible to promote our image wherever we went and to ensure that in all organisations or associations we belonged to it was properly taken care of for the good of the society, especially in my church where I have been a practising Catholic. And since then I have done a lot in promoting Christianity within my community. In doing so, I offered a plot of land to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) where they built their headquarters, another land to the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) where they bury their people, a plot of land to the Anglican community to build their church, and yet another one to the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) for building of their church. Presently there is a church named after me called St. Matthew’s Catholic Church Doma and I donated the plot of land for the building. In addition, I have given them plots in different locations because I believe in the growth of the Church alongside the town. Wherever the people need help as the town develops, and I have a land there I give it to the Church to develop and use.
When did you start work?
I started work in 1965 after I had completed my Teachers Certificate Grade III programme. I came out to work as a class teacher in a place called Assakio and after two years I went in for my Grade II and completed it and was posted back to Assakio again where I stayed for about two years. From there to Barkin Abdullahi abbreviated as BAD back in the days, then I was transferred to Agbashi where I served as a Class Teacher. When I returned from Agbashi I was appointed the Administrative Head Master of the biggest school in the then Lafia Division which was called, Catholic School Lafia where I taught for about three to four years before moving to the Head Master Institute in Benin. When I got back I was appointed Supervisor of Schools then got elected and became a Chairman of a Local Government. These are the major work I did in my life in addition to other appointments. I also served as Adviser to the Deputy Senate President between 1999-2000.
Why did you choose to be a teacher and subsequently a politician?
First and foremost, teaching is a humble job. It is a job with lots of reward. One of the rewards I got was in the United States of America where we went for Legislative Tour in 1982. Little did I know that a boy whom I taught in Assakio was working there in the Embassy. I could not recall his face, it was he who saw me. He gave everyone I went with accommodation and left me behind and I was beginning to feel otherwise when he said ‘Sir, I have done this purposely because I want to give you the best accommodation.’ I asked his reason for the kind gesture and he replied ‘you were my Head Master in St. Francis Catholic School Assakio.’ The young man is known as Bernard. I embraced him and I really enjoyed my stay in the US. That is why I say teaching is a noble and honourable profession. I did not stay long in the teaching profession as I spent only 12 years before my people demanded I join politics where I became the first Chairman of Awe Local Government.
Was it deliberate or accidental?
My becoming a teacher was accidental but I came to enjoy it later and eventually believed God led me there for the benefit or services he knew I had the strength to provide the people. And I did it to my satisfaction before leaving.
When did you get married?
I got married in 1973 to my wife Bernadette Opane
How did you meet your spouse?
(He laughs) My spouse is also from Doma and was living with her uncle usually on holidays and on one of such occasions I saw her and admired her. I did not waste time as I directly went to her uncle and let him know my intention and he enlightened me on how it was being done. He asked if I had sought for her opinion and I let him know we had been meeting and discussing but I decided to let him know. He said the right thing to do if I was really interested was to tell my parents who would lead a delegation to them. After which they would know I am interested and if it were possible, they would give her to me. Her uncle was a teacher and my uncle who was a chief in my place met with them and made arrangements to join us in matrimony and it came to pass.
What endeared you to her?
She is a beautiful woman, humble and attractive. In fact so many men where after her and I joined the race for her heart to see the strongest and I defeated about five men and got married to her. My wife has been a nurse who schooled in Jos and Kaduna respectively. After the Nursing School she was appointed by the Plateau State Government as a nurse in one of the hospitals.
How many children do you have?
I am blessed with nine children who are all graduates. They are all working except one or two of them.
How was life in service?
It was encouraging because I was interested in my job and was not forced to do any job. Though coming across the job was accidental, after that it became interesting. Work could become interesting or uninteresting depending on how an individual approaches it. I picked interest in my teaching job and I enjoyed it. I picked interest in my job as a politician and I enjoyed it becoming a very popular person and I served my people honourably.
In what ways did your people benefit from your being in politics?
There are too many ways they benefitted but I will only tell you a few. I made sure they benefitted from me when I was deputy speaker and some of the achievements when I was deputy speaker included: elevating the chief of my town from being a Third Class Chief to a First Class Chief. I made sure local governments were created and Doma became a local government. I also made sure the Local Government Secretariat was built, a hospital in Doma was built and within some localities. Okpasha, Okpashi, Agirima and other places also have their own clinics. I joined an Agricultural Development Organisation which was then called Lafia Agric to grade the road leading to all the villages that were within my constituency. I contributed the much I could do and it is what people are now enjoying. For that, I am respected, honoured for doing such a great thing. They are now looking up to subsequent elected members and none has done anything tangible yet.
How is life in retirement?
I am not totally retired as I run a farm and politically I am engaged. I am presently organising delegates to elect Atiku Abubakar for President in Nasarawa State and I am seriously working towards achieving this. I believe this achievable as I did it when I became the Director General for Abdullahi Adamu’s election as governor of Nasarawa State and I succeeded. In my working life, whatever appointment I got I enjoyed because I do not believe in working alone as I believe in working with the people and this gives them a sense of belonging. Working together with people assures success.
How would you compare life during your time with what obtains now?
During my time there was commitment but now none. People are so lackadaisical about their duty and instead of expecting quality in whatever they do it is now money they are interested in. They are anxious to gather money. As a chairman as far back as 1979 my salary was N500 and I worked well to my satisfaction. I was able to build a house for my father with the proceeds. But now, there is no more dedication; all they think of is grabbing money and this is unfortunate because the civil service is dwindling and services rendered are no longer satisfactory. The people are no more working for the benefit of the generality of the people but for their pockets.
Where were you during the country’s independence in 1960?
I was in Primary School, Class IV and as a school boy I was brilliant, sort of stubborn but not to a fault. I insisted too much on my right and most times I was right. Since I was always right, I felt no one should tamper with it. Life was okay. I interacted well with my friends to the extent that I began telling stories in Igbo language because of my interaction with the Igbos but I lost all when the civil war came in and all the Igbos had to leave the North for the South. Many people came my way, in primary school I used to be the monitor of my class and at college I related well with people.
Have your hopes at independence been met?
Nigerians’ hopes are dashed with the way our leaders are behaving. They are not working for the good of the people but rather for themselves and because of this corruption crept it making it difficult for people to enjoy life like before. Whatever the country has goes into some pockets and this is quite sad as it shows greed, selfish nature to ensure the people do not partake in basic things they are meant to enjoy. This is very unfair and that is why I feel the fight for corruption should not be one sided. Anyone guilty should be made to account for it but it should be an objective move. We still have hope that God will bring a God fearing person who will cater for all and Nigeria maintain its role of first among African Countries and the world.
How did you unwind during younger days?
I loved attending parties and in doing so, I made sure to maintain my integrity and I made sure to impact on people I meet, it had to be worth emulating. Interaction with people was also how I unwind thereby discussing issues that will promote life, unite people, make the society grow, issues that give people a sense of belonging. I joined so many societies as a result to promote us.
What challenges did you face while growing up, in your work life and now in retirement?
Everyone should know that this life is full of ups and down, at a certain time things will go well and at other times it goes off. Life is good and bad but the ability to go through it makes you a man of integrity. Life is not always sweet but we should be able to manage all sides because when we triumph people will sing our praises. The magic to not aging is doing the right thing at the right time with commitment. Challenges make me enjoy and appreciate my job more. It is an opportunity to move forward, make contacts with people, gain experience based on advice from the people. The challenges in retirement is that things are not happening the way it used to and to overcome one must be a man.
Has the present day National Assembly met the expectation of the people?
I don’t think so because if you hear about something’s they do it is appalling. These are people with fat salaries and some monies are made available to them but when you visit their constituency you don’t see what such money is been used for. They are instead involved in things to get rich for themselves and families. Unless there is a change in attitude I don’t think I will give them credit.
I don’t think I should have regrets, rather I should thank God for creating me, enabling my parents give birth to me and take care of me. My parents were very poor people but I enjoyed staying with them because I tried to participate in whatever they did for our livelihood. On Saturdays when there was no school I assisted in the farm with my father and sometime rendered help to my mother who sold things in the market. On the market days I carried salt for her and brought back the money, did some chores to ensure things moved smoothly. With this I was able to take care of my younger ones by giving them food, ensuring they had their bath and delegating responsibilities to be taken seriously. I have been moving forward and giving the best opportunity to make use of the time I have. I live as a happy man.
What would you have done differently?
I played my role in the various places I was opportune to work because I made sure to do what was to be done for the people but unfortunately most of the members we have today don’t bother about the people and constituency. Development back then was based on constituencies and that was how I was able to get a hospital for my place and other things. It promoted quick development within an area.
Advice to younger generation
The younger generation should wait for their time and when it comes, they should face all challenges and become committed and dedicated members of the society. Also, they should work hard for the good and development of Nigeria. Selfless and readily available for anything that will unite and develop Nigeria. They should work towards building Nigeria as a solid entity in Africa in particular and the World in general.
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