From Gyang Bere, Jos
Former Nigeria Ambassador to the Netherlands and wife of late Solomon Lar, who was the Pioneer National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prof. Mary Lar said Nigeria was not united for wrong reasons but lamented that the country has abandoned the culture of inclusiveness in government. Prof. Lar, who introduced Nomadi education in Plateau in 1979 when she was the First Lady, said late Chief Lar won’t be happy anywhere he is seeing the insecurity in the land and the agitation to divide the country.
You are celebrating your 86th birthday; how do you feel celebrating without your companion?
I feel joy seeing all of you. You are Baba Lar’s children. He usually spent time with journalists when he was alive. I am clocking 86 years and it is the years that God has blessed me with. Keep telling people that God has been gathering years for me and I don’t know for what purpose but I believe that he has a purpose for keeping me alive. I really want to give Him thanks because as an elderly person now, I have been able to observe what the Lord is doing in my life. My years of journey to 86 have been very eventful. They are years that I have seen God’s power; how He moves in the world. I have been through clouds, joy and everything, but certainly, God in his mighty power has seen me through. As a child, I wasn’t supposed to be educated because my parents didn’t believe in female education. They believed that somebody like me should go and get married and that is all. I was eager to have some education so I could solve my problem, yet they didn’t understand why a female child should be educated but I insisted. I had to follow my family members from uncles to aunts to please do something to let me finish my school career. It was then that God provided an uncle for me who was able to pay my last school fees. I took the money to the Missionary and they were very happy. She said they would allow me to finish from that school, so that when I start work, they will deduct from my salary because work was not a problem in those days. If you finished your education, the work was already there for you. It is not the same today. You have to suffer, and even with a PhD, there is no work to do. I have seen a situation where they said people with PhD are making bean cake (akara) just to make ends meet; life is so different now. As I grew into maturity, I saw the hand of God in my life. I was happy to marry the man I married. He was so good that he allowed me to get to the peak of my education. I went abroad to study as a teacher, came back and I was to go and work in the office, but I said no, my interest is in the life of children. I wanted to impact the life of people, so he was disappointed I didn’t want any administrative work. At that time, there were just few people who were educated and who could launch educational institutions. I disappointed them by going into the classroom to teach, not too long they made me the Principal. I was still seeing people and impacting their lives. God took me to the peak of my career. This is somebody that wasn’t supposed to be educated but have now turned out as a Professor of Education, and I said the Lord is good. When my career started, I worked as a teacher, and an admin person. The experience I gathered was something else. It is expected that when you are doing well, some people will not be happy but when you are not doing well, they will be happy because sometimes, people prefer the wrong to the right. There are those that will accuse you for nothing. They felt that some of us who have been trained should be presenting micro-teaching on television on UPE, and I was getting on and enjoying my life and somebody that we finished together saw this and went to the Ministry and said this woman we finished together and she is just interested in popularity. She always wanted to be on television. There are people that don’t want you to make progress; this is the life I have seen but God saw me through all that. Then, I became a pensioner at the end of my profession when I was 60, but I was still very active, and I went on contract to lecture in the University until I was almost 70 years. It was when I retired finally that I realized what the pensioners are going through. When pensioners cry out, they are the only people who know what they are passing through because they have worked. The government has succeeded in telling us to pay some part of our money for pension so that when we are retired and not strong enough, we can use it, but they don’t pay our allowances completely. It becomes a big problem for you to get your pension. That was the reason why I said it is better to cancel the whole idea of pension. For nine months now, I haven’t received any pension and when I asked why, some people said when they called out for verification, I wasn’t around. And when they stated the month I was not around, I was sick and I was receiving medical attention abroad. When I came back, nobody told me there was anything like that, so I didn’t know and I explained, but still there was no sign of anything. I don’t know whether they will pay or not. I know many that died of frustration trying to bring one document or the other.
How will you describe your political journey with Baba Lar as the first civilian governor of Plateau State and pioneer national chairman of the PDP?
We got on very well. He was very busy and I was busy in my own way too. I was busy with school. Some people used to complain to him that if his wife was not helping him and that if she wasn’t going out to campaign with him, he needed a wife that would help him; a wife that could go out to campaign with him. His answer was that what his wife was doing was equally very important. He told them that what I was doing, impacting life even as a teacher, was equally important. He used to appreciate what I was doing. But I had joy in the job that I was doing, helping others to become literate. Nomadic education was part of what we went into. I encouraged women to be together in unity. We used to keep people together from different parts of the country, irrespective of their tribes, religion and whatever and we all worked together. What a joy but these days, not at all but the memories of those days keep me happy.
What would you say about the Nigeria you made and the Nigeria of today in view of what is happening in the country at the moment?
I am sure you know that the Nigeria of the past is not the same as Nigeria of the present. There is so much bitterness. Nigerians suddenly decided to abandon what is right and picked up what is wrong. If people don’t care about what they do, certainly things will not go well. We need to understand why we are here on earth. We have a creator that created us. We are all made in the image of God, and if we are made in the image of God, then we must respect God by honouring all human beings. I believe that there is no human being made in the image of God that doesn’t know what is right or wrong. Even young children know. If they see the wrong thing they know; if they see the right thing they know. You too can judge by yourself; are we doing what is right? We have spent time blaming this one and that one but we are not doing the right thing. Truly, it is a sad thing, and sometimes, I shed tears when I see what is happening; knowing God makes all the difference. Knowing God will make you respect human beings whether rich or poor. All our religious practices will end in zero if we are discriminating. Our ethnicity is supposed to bring us together. Everybody belongs to an ethnic group and we are supposed to embrace one another as Nigerians.
Being an educationist, are you satisfied with what is happening in the educational sector in Nigeria?
One obvious thing is that we make all efforts to train our young ones and at the end of it all, there is nothing to show. There is absolutely nothing to show because there are no jobs, and people turn into something they were not trained for. As I told you, during our days, before you finished, people would come waiting for you with jobs. At the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, before I finished, about three institutions had come requesting for me to work with them. But now, you can see that our children are just roaming around with nothing to do. They will say, let’s go and add more knowledge. They will get every degree under the sun; they will even get a PhD, but they will have nothing to do. What is wrong? It is the education system. Something should be fixed so that people will be engaged at graduation.
There appears to be an onslaught on the education system by kidnappers and bandits, such that parents are afraid to take their children to school; what do we make of this as a nation?
As a mother and someone that has seen it all, one will just have high blood pressure. Like I said earlier, things will continue to go wrong when people suppress good things and do the wrong things. Things will go wrong because we have chosen to do the wrong thing. There is no amount of cohesion that will put our society in order apart from us learning to respect our God and doing the right thing to avoid challenges. I was wandering and I said, is there no record in our country where there is history of events that each government will fall back to and avoid making mistakes. We are making mistakes and we enjoy it; that is what I cannot understand. We are here for a purpose and if we don’t do things right, we are answerable to the God that created us.
Nigeria is leading with the highest population of out-of-school children. As an educationist, what do you think can be done?
The challenge I have is that they know what they are supposed to do to come out of the situation but they won’t do it. Nobody is ignorant of what is happening. I don’t want to waste my energy talking about some of these things because the people are aware. I believe God will bring answers to these problems.
How will you assess the present political system compared to when your husband was alive?
In those days, people who were chosen as leaders were concerned about the citizens, and always asked, what can I do to better the lots of my people? They tried to keep to the promises they made when elected into office. When Baba was governor of the then Plateau State, he appointed everybody into his cabinet. Whether you are Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa, you had somebody who was either a commissioner or a special adviser and so on. These people were not citizens of Plateau but he embraced every single Nigerian. I don’t know about these days; you know better than I do.
Solomon Lar ran an all inclusive government through his emancipation programme; do you think he would have been happy if he was alive with the current security problems that are causing division in the country?
I wouldn’t know because God has decided to take him home to rest but one thing I know is that he would not have been happy seeing all these segregations, nor would he have been happy seeing that the government is not as inclusive as his own. His emancipation programme brought in so many things and people, including the nomads. We started with nomadic people and we moved on to become fishers of men and provided education for them. He emancipated people who were not opportune to benefit from the government’s projects. I don’t think somebody who has done that will be happy to see what is happening now.
You introduced nomadic education when you were first lady of Plateau State and now the programme is no more, how do you feel about that?
It is no more? I don’t know. I spent my full time bringing that to bear and so many nomads were trained. Some of them are doctors in our hospitals here. Some are veterinary doctors and some of them are working as administrators in places like Bauchi and they are doing very well. I am sad that nomadic education is no more, but maybe, they prefer to have a joint educational system.