Life was good and peaceful in Jos in the 1970s. And Solomon Daushep Lar was already a big name in the city on the plateau. There were other big names in Jos who helped Solomon Lar maintain the peace, in those good old days. Those that readily come to mind now due to their involvement later in politics are: Dr Alex Fom, Alhaji Yahaya Kwande, Alhaji Uba Ahmed and Mr. Paul Unongo. Inhabitants of Jos were at peace with one another and there was no fighting among indigenes and settlers. Everyone enjoyed the good weather and fruits that the beautiful city offered.
I arrived in Jos for the first time in February 1974 and joined the editorial department of The Nigeria Standard newspaper in December 1976, on return from a course in journalism at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Breadfruit Street Lagos. During my days in the newsroom of The Nigeria Standard where I worked as sub-editor, the name Solomon Lar reverberated but I never got to meet him until much later.
The death of Pa Solomon Lar reminds me of the good old days and the exciting moments I had working in The Nigeria Standard Jos, under Dan Agbese who was then my Chief Sub-Editor, while Gideon Barde was the Editor. Dan Agbese was to edit the standard after he returned from America where he had gone to acquire a master’s degree, while Bagudu Hirse was the Sunday Editor.
Some of the members of The Nigeria Standard family of my time included: Yahuza Makongiji who succeeded Dan Agbese as Editor, El-Mamood Okereke, Celine Daniang, Danjuma Adamu, Saleh Iliya, Joel Pwol, late James Ikuve (succeeded Dan Agbese as Chief Sub-Editor) late Eddie Onyia (my friend) Obinwa Nnaji, Ezenwea Ogbonna, Usman Adams, David Balami (Features Editor), Innocent Okoye; Clement Oluwole (Sports Editor), late Luka Iyima, Emma Agbagir, Phil Osagie, Okey Azubuike, Hosea Ogar Danda, just to name but a few. David Attah joined from the Daily Times to become the General Manager. I cannot forget the oldest man in the newsroom, Obiora Okeke, who so reduced his age that the difference between his birthday and the date he left primary school was just six years. Then there was a certain gentleman called Ice Water who was a supervising composer and type-setter (I forget his real name now). Ice Water had information on every member of staff but the editor (Dan Agbese) dared not take his stories to press, to avoid libel. The last but not the least was Cyprian Ikyatema (Production Manager). The kind and jolly good fellow loved his drinks. He was an expert at his job but the Goss Community Printing Machine performed more efficiently once he was in high spirits. Cyprian got me into The Nigeria Standard as a matter of fact (may his soul rest in perfect peace).
Those were the early days of military rule and General Yakubu Gowon, a native of Pankshin, near Solomon Lar’s Langtang (all in Plateau State) had been toppled as Head of State of Nigeria and was replaced by General Murtala Mohammed. Murtala Mohammed was toppled and killed in a military Coup masterminded by a certain Colonel Dimka whose coup was unsuccessful and so Murtala’s Second-in-Command, General Olusegun Obasanjo took over. Obasanjo picked up the baton after Murtala Mohammed’s death on the 13th February 1976, the day of Dimka’s coup and finished the race to democracy by handing over to Shehu Shagari’s democratically elected government in October 1979.
Dimka’s aborted coup implicated several people including the then Police Commissioner Joseph Gomwalk who was Governor of Plateau State and was executed by firing squad for his alleged role in the coup. He was Governor of Benue – Plateau State before General Murtala Mohammed carved Benue out of Plateau State, shortly before the coup that consumed him (Murtala Mohammed).
I met Chief Solomon Lar for the first time in mid-1980, while I worked as correspondent of the newly established News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). I can say that I was close to being a foundation member of staff because the News Agency of Nigeria was founded in 1978 while I joined in 1980. In those days reporters or correspondents of the News Agency of Nigeria had an air around them: (1) they were all university or polytechnic graduates or equivalent, (2) they all came to cover news events or assignments in their personal or official cars; (3) they were well paid and so did not wait for the ‘brown envelope’. And news-makers knew and respected them. That was then, as Nigerian journalism has now gone through a metamorphosis, for good.
Chief Solomon Lar nick-named me NAN and that remained my name for him all through the period I was reporting Government House events, while he was Governor of Plateau State. On more than one occasion he had invited me for breakfast and those occasions left me with the impression that he was a modest and humble man. On those few occasions he would not only submit to sessions of prayers but would lead the prayers sometimes. He related to the reporter as though they were friends.
There was nothing ostentatious about his personality. He lived a simple life. No air of arrogance around him. Not even a quarter of that around a common reporter of the News Agency of Nigeria. His wife Mary was simple, no arrogance of a first-lady. She had the typical civil servant demeanour. She had not acquired a Master’s Degree then, how much more a Ph.D. Mary Lar did not convince anyone; not even herself; as she supervised the setting of the breakfast table in 1980; that she could ever earn a professorship in any university. Her appointment later in life as Nigerian ambassador to a foreign country, am sure was not fathomed in her wildest dreams.
I was quite amazed at Solomon Lar’s simplicity because during my newsroom days at the Nigerian Standard; and a short stint in Radio Nigeria Jos, where I met Solomon Ewuga and co.; before I left for the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in New Delhi; I was told that he was a big politician and lawyer who had been a member of parliament and Junior Minister in the First Republic. So I expected the air of a former minister and governor combined. I must confess that I was totally disarmed and deflated of my NAN-air by the humility displayed by Solomon Lar each time I encountered him during and out of office.
Chief Solomon Lar remained a good man to me until death. But one thing I could not come to terms with was how he could sustain a frosty relationship with his deputy – Danladi Yakubu, all through his first-term as governor. A gentleman from Keffi in now Nasarawa State; I once visited Danladi in his newly constructed bungalow in his native home. Some say it couldn’t have been Lar’s fault, while others say Danladi suffered the fate of all deputy governors in modern Nigeria. However, Danladi Yakubu was yet to suffer a worse fate when he died in a mysterious circumstance. Danladi was said to have parked his car near a river bank and vanished till this day. Back to Solomon Lar: a good man never really dies; he leaves in the hearts of men.
Nkire is National Chairman of P.P.A