He is a retired thoroughbred officer and gentleman of the Nigerian Army. He is austere, spartan and disciplined. In spite of his incredible simplicity and modesty, he has this stern look about him that immediately frightens a newcomer. His sonorous metallic voice is fearsome. But he laughs a lot, occasionally with a guffaw. His disciplinary stance on issues is legendary. His house in Maitama, Abuja, virtually bare, is completely stripped of any sign of opulence and luxury. No sign of modernity. Very ordinary; just like a house belonging to a middle cadre retiree. It is difficult to comprehend that this was a whole former Military Administrator (Governor) of old Oyo State who succeeded Col. David Medaiyese Jemibewon, the then Military Governor of Old Western State that was later split into Oyo, Ondo and Ogun states. He was himself succeeded by Chief Bola Ige, SAN, the Second Republic democratically elected governor, with Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari as President. No one can ever imagine that this was a man who literally bestrode the Nigerian Army space like colossus. Yet, he lives a very quiet, near solitary life, caring for the less privileged. He is at present the chairman of the North East Development Commission (NEDC). He is uncorrupt and incorruptible. As a pan-Nigerian patriot, he believes that there is more that unites, rather than divides, Nigerians. If you still have not guessed whom this cap fits, I will tell you. We are here talking about Major General Paul Chabri Tarfa, the Yerima of Garkida. He just turned 80.
Tarfa’s first incursion into national limelight
Tarfa’s disciplined and regimented nature came to national limelight during the Buhari regime when he was nicknamed “Colonel Koboko” in Lagos. The lawless Lagos commercial bus drivers (popularly called Molue and Bolekaja) that were in the habit of violating all known traffic rules had given him that sobriquet. They were joyfully joined by their anarchic private car owners and drivers (those who were derisively nick-named in those days as “I-go-drive-myself”). They were lawless and ungovernable. And Tarfa and his men wielded the koboko (bulala) on them.
I was then a young fledgling rookie lawyer, sweating it out in a legal furnace of fire called Chambers. It was owned by unforgettable legal prodigy and indefatigable national icon, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, SAM. Gani was my mentor. I rose gradually from the position of a junior lawyer to become his Deputy Head of Chambers by 1985. He famously nicknamed me “Ozekbaba”, “Mobile Dictionary” or “Mobile Library”. I will never forget his mentorship and uncommon guardianship. Before Gani, Chief Kanmi Isola-Osobu (People’s Lawyer) had taken me through the excruciating externship kindergarten rungs of the legal profession as a Law student of the University of Ife (now OAU). So, in 1984, I could not understand why people would be flogged on their bare buttocks on the road. However, later experience told me about the putrefying rot and the gross and reckless indiscipline suffocating the system. Only a psychiatric vehicle driver would drive directly against traffic, thereby causing traffic glitches, gridlock, accidents and deaths. Yet, such a driver would still come out smoking, insulting and abusing all and every other victim of his/her madness. However, I still do not, till date, agree with the physical bulala corporal treatment that was meted out to those road beasts. Rather, I believe such mental people deserved to be sent to where they rightly belonged, rehabilitation centres in either Yaba psychiatric hospital, Aro Mental Home; or immediately handed over to law enforcement agencies. But, this octogenarian disciplinarian brooded none of such psychotic derangement.
Gen. Tarfa’s trajectory
Tarfa was appointed Commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna. During the military rule of General Murtala Muhammed (July 1975 to February 1976). Lieutenant-Colonel Tarfa (as he then was) became Provost Marshal-General of the Nigerian Army. He was reporting directly to General Theophilus Danjuma, the then Chief of Army Staff, for the clean-up campaign embarked upon in the four divisions of the army. He was then given the near impossible task of reducing the ever-present traffic congestion in Lagos.
January 15, 1966, Military Coup
Tarfa is as brave as he is audacious. This daring bravado had nudged him, for the second time, into our national consciousness. He displayed this as a Second Lieutenant during the January 15, 1966, Major Kaduna Nzeogwu Chukwuma-led military coup. As one of the then five officers in his unit under Danjuma when the coup took place, Tarfa experienced firsthand pandemonium and national upheaval, which the coup caused. The Officer Commanding and the other officers in his unit had quickly joined the coup plotting crew. Not for Tarfa!
Ever loyal, Tarfa acted swiftly and courageously on the side of loyalty to the government of Nigeria. He immediately took up complete control of the situation. He ordered the Federal Guards to fiercely resist the coup.
Tarfa promptly arrested the coup plotters at Dodan Barracks, Lagos. With the help of loyal soldiers, he resisted and rebuffed the counterpart superior orders from the high command of the rebels to consummate the coup.
Indeed, Tarfa’s bold, gallant and prompt action in quelling the coup was the greatest factor that led to the total collapse of the coup in Lagos.
Growing up: The morning tells the day
Gen. Tarfa was born in 1941, in Garkida, Adamawa State. While growing up as a kid and youth, Tarfa had, early in life, been saddled with positions of leadership. These eventually propelled him to taking up a career in the army. And he distinguished himself.
His secondary school principal, discovering his great potential, encouraged him to enlist in the army. As commander in various sectors, Tarfa was never found wanting in the discharge of his duties. This has since inspired and led many others to emulate his sterling qualities.
Tarfa’s military and professional oddysey
A member of the Nigerian Military Training Course 5, and commissioned into the Nigerian Army as second lieutenant in October 1963. Tarfa had served as Commander and Staff Officer in the Nigerian Army. He was in the 1st Battalion, Enugu, the very unit which was a United Nations Peacekeeping Contingent in the Congo.
Tarfa had also served as Battalion and Brigade Commander during the civil war. He became Assistant Adjutant General, and Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army.
Later, he was posted to Oyo State as Military Administrator, prior to the October 1979 handover to civilian regime by the General Olusegun Obasanjo military junta.
Thereafter, Tarfa became director, Army Faculty, Command and Staff College, Jaji, and Commandant, Nigerian Defence Academy, until his retirement in 1988, after 26 years of meritorious service to his fatherland. He was thereafter appointed the chairman, Nigerian Railway Corporation.
As commander, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Nigerian Army, Major General Tarfa took over command in Minna, Niger State.
He was then the immediate past Commandant, Martin Luther Agwai Peacekeeping Centre, Jaji. He was also commander, Artillery Corps, and also a director of Military Intelligence at Army Headquarters. Tarfa is an army czar round and round.
Prior to Tarfa’s appointment as Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army Corps (alternatively called Military Police, MP), the MP was barely of a battalion’s strength. It only consisted of general military police duties and a Special Investigation Branch (SIB).
It was under Tarfa that the MP Corps acquired the good image that it is still known for till date. Tarfa expanded the corps, promoting the capacity building of its officers and men to meet the ever-increasing and challenging duties of modern corps.
As Provost Marshal, Tarfa instilled and reinforced sanity and order in the Nigerian Army. Indeed, after the civil war, the army went through major reorganisation and reconstruction. As the chairman of the panel assessing the quality of work done by field commanders, Tarfa accomplished the nationwide clean-up assignment without any compromise, fear, favour, affection or ill will.
To curb corruption, Tarfa and his panel apprehended many defaulting officers and recommended appropriate sanctions. Though not an engineer, Tarfa reached out to experts who helped him perform creditably.
In 1994, Tarfa was appointed the chairman of a panel to reorganise, restructure and reposition the Nigeria Customs Service. In this appointment, the general proved himself extraordinarily competent, diligent, incorruptible and transparent. That was when I first met and knew him. I worked closely with him on the panel. He brooded no lateness to meetings or non-performance of assignments. He treated the members like his own brothers, sisters and children. But his love never extirpated nor overshadowed his disciplinary self.
After the panel’s Customs re-organisation exercise, Tarfa wrote to me a most memorable letter, extolling my uncommon virtues of incorruptibility, hard work, diligence, creativity, brilliance and pro-active stance that he said greatly enhanced his work and enabled the panel to achieve its objectives and loud successes. But I had lost this letter, which I wanted to frame as a precious plaque. In November 2020, I visited the general at his modest Abuja home. I told him I had misplaced or lost the letter and expressed my regrets.
To my surprise, nay, shock, Tarfa, the ever-meticulous archivist and historian, said, “Mike, give me five minutes and I will get you a copy of the letter.”
He walked up the stairs of his old home, not groggily as would an octogenarian like him, but spritely and briskly. He displayed the bouncing steps of a young officer. He fetched a copy of the letter he had given to me 26 years earlier. My mouth was agape. He simply chuckled.
Where is Gen. Tarfa now?
Even in retirement, Tarfa’s enviable track record will not allow him to have his well-deserved rest. In January 2019, President Buhari pulled Tarfa out from his retirement and made him chairman of the North-East Development Commission (NEDC). This is the equivalent of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) that daily reeks of putrefying corruption and embezzlement stench. Have you heard a wimp of this in NEDC? No. And you would never hear any, because the man who heads it will never permit it. Thank you, sir, General. Continue to enjoy your golf and the company of your grandchildren. Go ahead tending your poultry and citrus farms in Kaduna.
I will not forget my stay with you, sir, in 1994, in company with my then very young wife of three years marriage. This was while you took your traditional title of Yeriman Garkida. While taking this title, you had hosted me in Garkida, Adamawa State. The outpouring of love for you by your people was infectious and emotive. I can never forget it.
Though retired, Tarfa is not tired. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement, sir. Your case is one of vini, vidi, vici. Accept Gen. 6:3. Happy birthday, sir.
Sounds and bites
There are two sides to every coin. Life itself contains not only the good, but also the bad and the ugly. Let us now explore these.
“Get a lawyer, you refused, you don’t want to pay. Now the court asked you, Defendant, where is your written address? You replied, No. 5, Njoku Street.
“When you drink, you get high. When you read, you get educated. When you drink while reading, you get highly educated.”
Thought for the week
“Everyone in society should be a role model, not only for their own self-respect, but for respect from others.” (Barry Bonds)