Prof Kpamor JT Orkar, a Second Republic commissioner in Benue state, former national vice chairman of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and state deputy chairman of the All Progressives Congress shares his memories with HEMBADOON ORSAR
Where and when were you born?
I was born on 26 November 1940 at a village east of Apir, the village is called Ugbagir, and in fact, this is the month of my birth. I will be 78 years old on November 26.
How did you know when you were born? Is there any record to that effect?
Yes, there are records for my birth. My father was educated before I was born and he used to keep written records of birthdays and many other things. I even have some write-ups of my father before I was born.
How was growing up like?
My father left our village and worked with missionaries, first maybe as a houseboy and later on, he became a cook here in Makurdi and he left our mother in the village and only came to visit us in the village. We were growing up then. Later on he became a teacher. He attended the vernacular teachers training centre in Mkar in 1949. When he came there for the training, the missionaries insisted that anybody that was coming to stay there for the training should come along with his family and that was why my father took my mother there in 1949. And because my mother was nursing a child, I had to go along with her as a baby nurse. So from that time I was there, my father taught me how to read and write even before I started schooling. He completed that course came back and was a teacher and by this time we were brought to Apir where we settled.
But I actually started school in 1952 at Apir when I was 12 years. After my junior primary school there I proceeded to Mkar for senior primary school, after that I proceeded to the Commerce Department of the Government Technical Institute in Kaduna. Hence, I studied commercial subjects and graduated in 1960.
When did you start working?
I started working the following year 1961. What happened then was that those who graduated from school were like hot cake because there were many people that needed those with education. They came directly to our school and recruited and even attached all the benefits. The missionaries also came, only two of us were from the Tiv speaking area and I agreed to come and work with them and I was also recruited.
Where did you work?
I started work in January 1961, at Mkar in the Sudan United Nation Christian Reformed Branch Treasury, I was assisting one American who was a treasurer. I worked as a chief clerk and cashier.
Why did you choose the profession you practised?
When we took the common entrance examination and the result came out, I was admitted to go and read Commerce and at that time nobody understood what Commerce was all about. The only dictionary then, Michael West, defined commerce as having to do with trade. Even our teachers didn’t know what we were going to learn but we went. It was there that we were told what and what we would be taught. I enjoyed the studies and I remember that in the class we were told that we would be taught bookkeeping, accounts, shorthand, typing and a lot of other things.
One day we were in class and the teacher who came in to teach us book keeping asked us to define what we thought book keeping was. One student stood up and defined it as the art of keeping books in order. Another said it was the art of keeping books in order, smaller ones on top of big ones. This means we were all ignorant of what book keeping or accounts was. I worked with the missionaries for six years. In 1966 I left and went to Plateau to work briefly with Vom Veterinary. I discovered it was not a place for me to work. After that I was employed by the Amalgamated Tin Mines Nigeria as a cashier. I worked for them at Bukuru, Barkin Ladi and then finally I went to the Rayfield headquarters. There I was made the accountant. I worked for them for some years, then the Fibre Company was looking for an accountant and I employed as accountant of Fibre Factory in Jos. That was where I worked till the end of 1974 and I voluntarily withdrew from service to be on my own and also to get set for politics which was around the corner.
When did you get married?
I got married on 31 December 1964.
How did you meet your spouse?
In my last year in Kaduna, I was coming home for holidays and a friend of mine who also graduated from the same school before me and was working at Backlays Bank in Kaduna, Mr JI Abo, wrote a letter to his girlfriend and gave me the letter to deliver and bring the reply when I return to Kaduna. When I came that girl was at Uavande Girls School. I met my wife through her. Thus, I met her through her friend.
What endeared you to your wife?
I can simply tell you that it was love at first sight, nothing more. My prayer that God should give me a woman that I would love to marry was answered. The first time I saw her I fell in love with her and up till date I am in love with my wife. Her name is Mbaidoove Orkar from Ushongo local government area of Benue state.
How many children do you have?
Our marriage is blessed with six children: four girls and two boys. They are all graduates in various fields and all of them are married with children. Hence, I am a proud grandfather. I have seen the children of my children.
How would you describe life in service?
I only served in government when I was appointed a commissioner; otherwise, I didn’t work with or for the government at all. I worked with missionaries then private firms. What happened was that when I withdrew from normal appointment, I came home and two years after, Benue state was created. There was this local government elections on non-party platform which individuals contested and I was one of the first councillors in Gwer local government area. Later I contested and won election into the state House of Assembly on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). I was in the state house of assembly just for nine days. It was from the assembly that the late Governor Aper Aku appointed me commissioner for Works and Transport.
Then I moved to Agriculture and ended in Water and Electricity. I resigned from there too because there was vacant position for the state secretary of the NPN and I had discovered that after we worked for the party and we got into government, we abandoned the party. Hence, I decided to go back and I contested. I won and became the state secretary of the party. Even at that, somehow the position of the state secretary was zoned out of my area and by that same analogy the position of the national vice chairman of the party was zoned to my area and I became the party’s national vice chairman. I was in that position when the military overthrew our government.
I was one of those who were sent to detention. I was in prison for one year and eight months and the military were busy looking into what we did and they found nothing. In fact, one of the members of the investigating panel was surprised that I developed property more, when I was not a commissioner. As a commissioner the only property I developed was where we are sitting now, and we borrowed money from the banks to develop our properties.
When I was detained and I was not able to pay the bank the loan. When I came out of prison the bank sued me that I was owing them and won the case. This was the only property I developed as a commissioner.
How would you describe life in retirement?
While in prison, I thought about writing books so that books in Tiv language would be available. When I started writing, I had topics and I discovered that there were discrepancies or inadequacies in the Tiv orthography. I also thought of opening evening class to teach the Tiv people who could neither speak or the Tiv language or speak but could not write. Then when I discovered that I had no book which I would use in teaching, I decided to research and write the books myself. That has kept me busy and that is where the University of Panama honoured me with doctor of letters. A university in America saw all that I had done and appointed me a professor. I have written over 20 books and I still have many that I am working on. But let me add here that when I voluntarily resigned from active service the Benue Plateau government appointed me a member of the Benue Printing and Publishing Corporation and when Benue state was created, I was also made a member of Benue state Hotels Board and then chairman, Benue Transport Service. Thus, in my retirement I have been busy all along hence I don’t feel idle at all.
How would you compare life in your younger days with what obtains now?
Life has changed a lot. My Tiv name is Targema, meaning, the world has changed. Somebody once asked me how did my father know that the world had changed at that time and given me the name Targema? I told the man the world had changed at that time according to what my father had seen. But now the world has not changed ‘the world has spoilt’ (Tarvihi). The reason is that things are not being done the way we believed they should. Even we no longer play politics the way it should be. Just imagine now we have 93 registered political parties. This is rubbish that has no meaning. What INEC has succeeded indoing is to register political and social clubs and people should go and get themselves registered elsewhere not with INEC. INEC should only register political parties and by this I mean political parties are formed based on ideologies. By that there wouldn’t be as many political parties as we have now. By the way, what is the difference between one party and another?
In the Second Republic, there were only five political parties and the umpire wrote samples of ballot papers which we too could duplicate and show people so that they would know the position of political parties on the ballot papers before going into any election. Nowadays they prepare something like tape and call it ballot papers; even the electorate have problems identifying their political parties. They go through the long list and most of these political parties are not known. It is INEC who advertised them on ballot papers, otherwise they are not known, for example, let’s take the case of Benue here. All these years we can only talk about APC, PDP, Labour Party, even this Labour Party; where is it? Nowadays you find people bringing up parties like PRP, using such parties as a platform to contest elections. I advise that there should be political parties based on ideologies on the left, centre and right and if the people on the left or right wants to go further left or right then you can have several parties, but not many. This will be meaningful. That is why you have people jumping from one political party to the other.
All that they are after is where they will be accommodated so this is not right it makes the whole thing ridiculous. So those of us who are still alive we thank God for keeping us alive, because most of my colleagues who were councillors, state assembly members and commissioners had died, but God has blessed me I am still alive to see all these kinds of rubbish.
Where were you during the country’s independence in 1960?
I was still in school in Kaduna and that was my final year in school.
Have your hope of independence been met?
I want to sell this idea, that instead of celebrating independence we should have a national day celebration; we should be celebrating our national day. We shouldn’t be talking about independence at all. The British came and colonized us, leaving us and that shouldn’t be what we should be celebrating. We should have a national day. I always wonder when people sometimes criticise the British who colonized us as if they retarded our progress. If the people never came, may be we wouldn’t have been where we are because since we got independence it seems we are not bothered. People only think of sharing the national cake.
Those who are in opposition and have looted the country’s treasury some of the keeps the money in the farms where the currency gets rotten , some build mansions, and others bought private jets, you won’t see them doing anything that will bring progress, they won’t inform people to do some research, there is nothing people just think of themselves, even those who go to assemblies now, whether state and national assembly they are all thinking of their pockets, they don’t think about where Nigeria should be, some of them don’t even think about what to do, sometimes they will go and download somebody else programme and bring it as if it is their thinking, you see, so this is the situation, recently they approved minimum wage of 30,000 ,I do agree that minimum wage would have been more than that but for the time being I wanted labour to accept because at least we have moved from somewhere up this way, from here we can move forward again so they should not think of rejecting it so that we will not continued endlessly discussing minimum wage,.
We should looked at the people in assembly, how much are they earning so they should find a way of reducing what they are earning and the number of their aides this can be checked and the surplus money be used in paying workers., so this is the way look at what happens now.
What was you favourite food then and now?
I don’t quite have any favourite food as a meal, then, it was whatever my mother give me that I used to eat and even now, whatever my wife gives me I eat, I eat everything, what I know is that my body needs food and when I eat, my body extract what its want, so I make sure that I eat balanced diet so that my body will continue to get what it want.
What is your relaxation like then and now?
Even during my younger days there is no much difference with what I do now. From time to time I go out for relaxation where I meet people, discuss with them and impact in them what they need to know, I don’t have any particular place I was fond of, I usually go from one place to the other.
What is your favourite music, artistes and dance steps?
I like music but I don’t necessarily go out to listen to it. I am in love with music. I even sing. In fact in my church I belong to the choir, and what I also do is to translate English hymns to Tiv to the NKST because I am a communicant with the NKST. My favourite music is gospel music and aside this is music of the yester years like Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Don Williams, Sunny Ade and a host of others. I enjoy all the old school tunes music’s and I go to get the collections anywhere available.
What are your hobbies?
I used to play football and I formed a football club. When we were in Mkar, we used to go and play football on Saturdays and a good number of young people were not given the opportunity to play because they were not known and the people who were to select team would only select people they knew and were sure that they would play well and win. I packed the other people from our football team and I coached them and most of them became good players. I was the goalkeeper of the team. I was also playing squash and scrabble. But now I am not into games again. I was doing roadwork but I have stopped due to continued knock down of people by hit and run drivers. I exercise myself somehow within the house.
What challenges did you face then and now?
I don’t have much challenges. I always enjoyed studying even when some of my friends went out to cinema halls to watch films I was not following them. I went there once to watch a film called “The Merchant of Venis” staged by prisoners at Kakuri Prisons in Kaduna.
No, I have no regrets. I only see God’s hand throughout my life. What I hated was that if I wanted to travel and either my wife or other people delayed me I used to be annoyed but something happened when the first speaker of Benue State House of Assembly, Hon Julius Ayua Nor, died after my release from detention. The political rivals accused me of killing him. They even told the woman who was in charge of the State Security that I was the one who killed Ayua Nor, and also told her that it had been planned that if I attended the burial I would see hell.
The woman invited and tried to dissuade me, but I was adamant, I went for the event. However, the burial did not take place eventually for some reasons involving casket meant to be used. The burial was pushed to Monday. Because of this I did not honour an appointment with the late Dr Olusola Saraki which I was to attend as I stayed put for the burial.
However, that was the very day my younger brother, born of the same father and mother. Gideon Gwaza Orkar, staged a military coup. Gideon was fifth in line from me in the family setup. If I had set out for Lagos that Monday, I could have been suspected of knowing about the coup and thereby got arrested. Hence, my failure to go to Lagos and hurry Ayua Nor saved me. Some people said I was part of the coup, some said I had been struggling in politics and when I could not get what I wanted I asked my brother to stage a coup. I knew nothing about the coup, but had it being that I left that Sunday to Lagos it would have been more difficult for me to exonerate myself from the coup.
Hence, nowadays, if there is anything delaying me, I don’t get annoyed. I take it that God’s time is the best.
Advice to the younger generation.
I have always said it that a good number of young people today are on the fast lane of life. They want to amass wealth quickly. They should not be in haste but work with time and as well be more serious with education, study hard to attain right positions in life.