From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Benue State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Hon. Lawrence Onoja Jr. is the third son of Major General Lawrence Anebi Onoja (retired). His father was the military governor of Plateau State from 1986 to July 1988 and then of Katsina State until December 1989, during the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. In this interview, he talks about his father and what he learnt from him, why he was named after him despite being the third son.
Please give us a an insight into yourself
I am the sixth child out of the 10 children of my parents, but the third son. Primarily because of my father military career and the way he moved about a lot and he wanted his family to always be around him, we also moved around a lot. Hence, I attended different primary schools. I attended Pluto Primary School in Cairo, Egypt. I attended Air Force Primary School in Jos. I attended Alama Private School, also in Jos. I attended Omoleye Children School in Lagos.
I attended Aunty Ramatu Children School in Katsina State. At the secondary level, I was at Nigerian Navy Secondary School, Ojo, but from there, we were shifted to the Navy Military School in Abeokuta where I was until when I go to SS2, when my Dad was made the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 3 Armoured Division, Rukuba Barracks in Plateau State. I finished my secondary school education at the College of St. Joseph’s (CSG), Vom, in Jos. From there, I proceeded to the University of Abuja for my first degree in Economics. After that, I also did a postgraduate degree programme in Business Finance and took other major courses.
What was growing up like?
Growing up with a military dad was quite interesting. Because of his movements, there were periods when we hardly saw him. Even when he was military administrator in the same government house where we lived, it was a different ball game from this civilian rule today. There were times that for two weeks straight, you might not even see the old man. But in a way, it was also good because we also looked forward to seeing him. Whenever he was coming home it was always a thing of delight.
As a child, were you an extrovert or an introvert?
As a child, I was an extrovert. I loved mixing with people older than me and it made me dream dreams, it made me ambitious and then, it made me have plans.
And the good thing about it was that I was a child who was taught from the beginning to be self-reliant, and never adopt follow-the-crowd mentality. I was taught to have an analytical mind for myself and decide what I want to do.
That upbringing helped me in so many ways. I have never been forced into what I don’t want to do and I’m always planning ahead, always thinking of how to better myself and my environment.
And so, I know there is sphere of concern but I love to dwell more on my sphere of influence and trying to expand my sphere of influence to eventually cover things that I’m concerned about to see what I can now influence later in future. But God has really been faithful.
What is your relationship with your father like; are you very close or not?
It was wonderful. We were very close. And we are still very close. I’m his third son but I don’t know why I was the one that was called Junior. I have no idea but we were very close while I was growing up. But of course, there are always points when teenagers can get rebellious. We always have our fair share of that but my dad and I have always been very close.
What makes him happy?
Discipline. He loves discipline. Like he would always say to us, anything you are doing in life or anywhere you find yourself, especially in positions of leadership, make sure that your principles and policies are always people-oriented. Never help people because you want something back but do it because you have the ability to do it. Because you have the ability to do something does not necessarily mean that you have to do it but you must always look up to God, pray and humble yourself. He also taught me never to indulge in three things which are: never look at another man’s wife, never fight for land and never be envious of any person. Whatever anyone has, if it is something you would like to have, let it encourage you to work harder to get it because whatever you see anybody having is what God has given to him. Pray to God to give you your own.
What makes him sad?
Seeing people treated unfairly makes my dad very sad. He hates people being treated unfairly. He hates greed. He is a kind of person that even when it comes to politics at home, he’s always the first person to insist on zoning and the point is everybody should have fair opportunity of aspiring for what they want to be. So, he hates people being treated poorly.
What special name does your father call you?
He calls me Ekpo, which means something that stands out or shines. And he gave me that name after one of his friends, Pa Ekpo Omudu, who was extremely helpful to him in his early years. If not for the likes of Prof. Omudu’s father, my dad would never have completed his education. So, my dad said I remind him of him and that was why he gave me that name.
What is the best advice your father has ever given to you that you cherish?
My dad had always advised us to put God first and be content.
Was he a very strict dad?
He wasn’t strict but very firm. There were things that you would do and all it would take was one look. Yes, there were times that my dad actually flogged my elder ones but for me, my dad never touched me with the canes. Not even a knock on the head. My dad never touched me but he was always very firm with me. He never failed to call me and talk to me if I went wrong in any way.
Tell us about a memorable sacrifice he made for you as a child
Wow! I think everything that man did for us was a big sacrifice. I remember one incident when he was military administrator in Kastina State.
A contractor brought money for him and I remember my dad telling the man that he didn’t need the money.
When the contractor left, my elder brother, Cyril and I asked him why he rejected such money and he wwasked us, “Do you eat three square meals a day? And we said, yes sir. He asked, do you have a roof over your head and a bed to sleep and we said yes sir. He asked again, are you going to school? And we said yes sir.
Has there ever been a day that your school fees were not paid? We said, no sir. He then said that he was satisfied. I think that was in 1988 and I would never forget that statement.