May 23, 2016

S. B. Gyel Dies at 96

Late S. B. Gyel

The Berom tribe of Plateau State has again lost one of its prominent sons. Sambo Bashi Gyel, most known as S.B. Gyel, died on Friday 20th May, 2016, after a long battle with a combination of high blood pressure and Cancer.

Sambo, according to sources, was born sometime in 1920, in Gura Riyom, Gyel District of the present Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State. He went to the Native Authority (NA) Primary School Gyel, later becaming a teacher in the same school, having finished as an exceptional student. He did go around helping out with adult education in the villages around. It was his involvement with education that earned him the title of mallam, which, in Hausa, means “teacher.”

Sambo later left the teaching service and ventured into mining, buying from petty miners and selling to other buyers higher in the hierarchy. Since he didn’t have a lease of his own, the business was not flourishing the way he wanted it to. It was the reason why he took up a job with the wealthy and famous D. B. Zang (late). As the Chief Security Officer, he went around the mining leases of his employer, ensuring that whatever was mined from those leases were not diverted and sold to other buyers other than the lease owner. After working for a good number of years for D B Zang, he felt the need to move on but thought it wise to discuss it with his employer, to ensure a harmonious break up. D. B. Zang eventually granted Sambo’s request, but not after two rejections. The break up worked the way Sambo had wanted it, amicably, with his boss rewarding him with a Mercedes with a famous number plate of “8888” that had become part of Zang’s identity.

Sambo went into business with a weak financial base, buying construction materials on credit from his suppliers and paying back only after he himself had been paid by his patron.  Eventually, he grew and started bidding for the big contracts, too. He won bids to construct public buildings, feeder roads, and the bridges connecting them. Some of the most notable contracts he won from the government and executed them included the Bukuru Abattoir, along Shen Road, in Jos South, the Ganawuri Market, and the Bachit Bridge. The climax of his work as a contractor came with his election as the Chairman of Plateau State Association of Contractors.
For six years, he supplied the nutritional needs of the animals at the Jos Wild Life Park. At times, he supplied for months to be paid in arrears. He also pushed his way to become the auctioneer of government vehicles to the public. That was sometimes in the early nineties. Sambo was also associated with kerosene and petroleum distribution. 

The keen investor from Gurah Riyom believed so much in investing his money on land and tenements. This he did in the form of long term investments, buying his lands and erecting his properties in the outskirts of town and playing up his patience until development crawled to such locations. The conflict in Plateau State did become his silver lining, suddenly pushing people from the heart of towns to the outskirts and ensuring that he never waited as long as he had envisaged for his investments to appreciate.  The buildings always had “S. B. Gyel” inscribed in dripping red paint. These inscriptions helped in building his reputation as an avid land developer. 

Politics eventually became one of Sambo’s passions. He did participated in the politics of the First Republic (1960 to 1966), but his political ripples started becoming perceptible during the second Republic (1979 to 1984). With the coming of the Second Republic, and the emergence of Zang, his erstwhile boss, as the Chairman of the Nigeria’s People’s Party (NPP), Zang drew Sambo closer again. The two men drove in the same vehicle during political campaigns. Driving in the same vehicle was designed to tell the world that the end of their working relationship wasn’t a result of a dispute, and that they were still faithful friends. Having made their point, Sambo bought a brand new car in which he was driven behind Zang, each time they went out on their vigorous political campaigns that heralded the Second Republic. Eventually, the NPP won the gubernatorial election, setting up a government, with Late Solomon Daushep Lar as the most powerful man in Plateau State. 

While the Second Republic lasted, Sambo served as the NPP Chairman in Gyel District. Decades later, he became the Plateau State Chairman of the All Nigeria’s People Party (ANPP). His political principles were endearing, ensuring he was chosen as the Northern Senatorial District Chairman of the Berom Tribe on political matters. Under this role, he helped to ensure the Berom brought out a single candidate to contest the seat of the Plateau State Governor. The result was the presentation of Jonah David Jang, who eventually became the first Berom man to become the Governor of Plateau State since the creation of the state in 1976. 

His children insist that their dad never benefitted financially from politics, but the public argue that political benefits are, usually, not handed out in raw cash. Rather, they are given in the form of contracts, something that made their father wealthy and prominent. The most powerful Berom body is the Berom Cultural Organization, BECO. Its leader is usually powerful and respected among the Berom tribe, but Sambo’s son, Honorable Davou, contested against Chris Mancha, a serving BECO Chairman, and won. People say that Davou was voted to reward his father for his role in the politics of Plateau State.

The long Sambo died, leaving behind a scary number of land titles, tenements, and other investments. He also left behind a widow and nine children to inherit his properties.

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