By Nathaniel Ikyur
His father loved him exceptionally. And it showed in how they related in public and private. Looking at their physical features, they were so similar in built and manner that many people sometimes mistook them for brothers. They both had red lips. They smiled infectiously. Interestingly, Joseph Sarwuan Tarka was 20 years older than his son Simeon Mbakorkaa. But the bond between both of them was compelling.
At the return of democracy in 1979, they were elected into the National Assembly. The father, a political icon from the first republic who championed the rights for the political independence of the minority tribes under the defunct United Middle Belt Congress, UMBC was elected a senator why Simeon the son went to the House of Representatives. This was the first time in the political history of Nigeria that a father and son will so occupy such positions. That has been altered significantly since then.
At that time, Simeon was barely 26 years old and the youngest member of the House of Representatives. This gesture was courtesy of the tremendous goodwill his father enjoyed across Benue, within the Middle Belt region and particularly in Tiv land. Infact, Simeon had never held any public office before that time. And with his emergence on the political landscape of the nation, many began to whisper ariund that the late icon was already building a political dynasty. His father too admitted to a journalist in an interview quoted by New York Times edition of October 28, 1979.
Hear JS as he was fondly called. He said he was “a politician, a political animal in a hurry, and I suppose that my son is too. As a father, I feel very proud of him. This is the right time to get into politics. He does remind me of the days when I was some sort of fire-eater and yet tried to be unfailingly polite and deferential to my elders. I know Simeon is excited now but he will soon learn that politics is not easy as he thinks.”
Simeon was indeed as excited as his father attested. In an interview, the young parliamentarian collaborated his father’s words. He acknowledged of being ambitious. Said he, “why not ambitious? This is certainly the time to be ambitious in Nigeria. This is a time of great change in our country – new president, a new constitution, a new legislature. This is the time to make impact and the sky is the limit.”
Simeon disclosed then that the idea to run for the House of Representatives occurred to him a year before when he was a student of International Relations and Journalism at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. He returned to Nigeria early in 1979 to prepare for the national campaigns and contest for the House of Representatives without any prior political experience. But of course given his father’s political pedigree and goodwill, victory was certain.
The years that followed after the demise of his father in March 1980 proved that the fervency in Simeon’s ambitions were slowed down drastically. No one can point to what may have caused this. Nevertheless, the aura around his father’s persona followed him and that of all his siblings everywhere they went. That aura has defined much of Benue politics and it still does now because of the position the name Tarka exudes. Simeon would only feature from the back end in subsequent political dispensations but with some level of influence. By the turn of events in 1999 when the military handed over power, Simeon, smooth talking, ever smiling and a very sociable personality was prominent in most political gatherings but ended up staying behind the throne. Infact, many argue that the election of George Akume as governor of Benue state in 1999 was Simeon’s slot. But again, he chose to play from the background. Thereafter, Akume appointed him his Special Adviser on Legislative Matters between 1999 to 2007.
Unlike many Nigerian politicians, Simeon continued on a straight line, never wavering. From 1999 till he passed away on May 9th, 2019, Simeon was one of the very few Nigerians who remained on one track, following only one political thought: the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. He was not known to be a politician with destructive tendencies against other interests. That may have accounted for his acceptability across all circles. The late political leader was mindful of the name he bears. Never indulging in anything that may injure that name. His demise at age 65 is painful because he’s been a stabilising force in and around Mbakor district and every political gathering he’s associated with.
Hopefully, the Tarka political dynasty can still be powered to life again. The offshoots abound. There’s Hon Joseph Tarka Jnr who took over from late Baver Dzeremo at the State House of Assembly, Chris Tarka and the children of the late Simeon can still tap from the goodwill and build from there.
We’ll miss you sir. Your wife and children will miss your warmth and counsel. Your political associates and those who worked closely with your father and are still around will miss you. Mbakor miss you.
Rest in Peace, Sir.
Ikyur is a journalist and writes from Makurdi, Benue State