The Profile of a Living Legend
Gabriel Tamunobiebere George Toby hails from Opobo Town in Rivers State, Nigeria. He is a Knight of the Anglican Communion and he is simply known as Sir GTG Toby and was born on Sunday (Eke) 29th January 1939. Unlike many in his days, his father was a wealthy man thus he had a smooth primary education in the Eastern Region, at St Peter’s School Owerrinta Abia State between 1945 and1952. Although he lost his mother in 1948, the burden was not felt as much for he was comforted and enjoyed the protection of his father until he became an orphan seven years later, precisely, 1955. Fortunately, his late father had bequeathed some assets and with these, his step-mother harnessed them to see him through Okrika Grammar School, Okrika between 1953 and 1957 and St. Augustine’s Grammar School (SAGS) Nkwerre for HSC between 1958 and 1959.
Sir GTG Toby was one of the pioneer students of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka as he was admitted to study Economics in 1960. Being an exceptional scholar, he was awarded the Eastern Nigeria Government Scholarship through her Scholarship Board and that lasted until his graduation in 1963.
He was subsequently employed by that same government into the Eastern Nigeria Marketing Board. He married his wife years later in a relationship that lasted for six years for it took his wife three years to accept his marital proposal. Sir GTG Toby had met his wife, Christie many years earlier in Opobo Students Union as they both hail from Opobo and for three years of friendship he failed to propose to his wife and like a pay back, his wife assured him that since it took three year before he could propose to her, it would as well take her three years to decide on the marriage proposal. This promise was fulfilled as they got married on 29th January 1966 after a traditional marriage in 1965.
“Her father (Christie’s father) was an archdeacon in the Anglican Church. So she had a very solid Christian background. By the time I got to the university and started thinking about who to marry, she was my first and best choice. I tried to talk to her and it took me three years to make up my mind and when I eventually proposed, she said it would take her three years to respond since I was with her for three years and I did not propose. Eventually, she kept to her words.”
Sir GTG Toby does not believe in war and would never forget the impact of the Biafran war in his life. “Once you mention war to anybody who experienced war, the person will run far. I think those who are talking about war do not know what they are saying. Nobody wants to experience war because it disrupts the system.”
This newlywed lost his first child during the war. He was in Port Harcourt when the war started working as marketing officer but was forced to live in several shanties, halls and ended up at Imo State and in a single room apartment in a place called Eziama Osu. “My wife was pregnant and then she had to run away to stay with her father in Aba. Then Aba was threatened. We were separated because I was running around from one village to another until we eventually joined up.” Later on he had another child, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, who served as the commissioner for Information during the Rt. Hon. Chubuike Rotimi Amaechi leader.
After the Nigeria Civil War, Sir GTG Toby, was appointed Manger by the Rivers State Marketing Board in 1972 and headed the PABOD, He served as General Manager of the Rison Palm Plantation and was later elevated to Permanent Secretary and attained the rank of Director General before he retired in 1994. He once served as Tabara State electoral commissioner and upon his appointment as a manager; he was never demoted at all.
Sir GTG Toby believes that he was born in another generation as he once explained that in his days, people preferred to offer service in order to make a name for themselves rather than the quest for materialism. “The society has changed from our time. Sir Abubaka Tafawa Balewa, the former prime minister, died without building a mansion anywhere. Michael Okpara was the premier of the former Eastern Nigeria but he died without a mansion.”
He had no ambition to be the running mate to his friend, Sir Dr. Peter Odili who was nursing the ambition to govern the state. “On 25th December 1997 or 1998, a group of three men from the People’s Democratic Party said that they were considering me to be the running mate to Dr. Peter Odili, who was my friend then. The position had been zoned to my senatorial district and narrowed down to my town.” Sir GTG Toby was a consensus candidate of his people and would not be given more than about 24 hours to decide. Having been just elected to be the District Governor of Rotary for 11 states and had completed the first training in Durban, South Africa only awaiting the final training in February 1999, he quickly consulted his wife, accepted the offer for he could not afford to disappoint those trusted friends and his people who had confidence in him. Thus he was sworn in with Sir Dr. Peter Odili on 29th May 1999 as the Deputy Governor of Rivers State, a position held until 2007 for their candidacy was revalidated after the 2003 general elections for a second term.
At a time when many former governors and deputy governors were being chased around by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Sir GTG Toby has always relished peace of mind because of his integrity. In fact, he got more appointments in Government. Some of the offices he served include:
Pro-Chancellor, University of Benin
Chairman of Council, Rivers State Polytechnic, Bori
In 2006 he became the first Nigerian to earn the National Merit Award of Accomplished and most Outstanding Deputy Governor in the country.
It was said that while in office, whenever the Governor, Dr. Peter Odili travelled out of the country as may be required of him and Sir GTG Toby was saddled with the responsibility of running the state as guaranteed by the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria, he was never found wanting. In fact, he did it so well that rather than expending all the resources given to him to run the affairs of the state as is common these days with many selfish politicians, he would judiciously run the state and handover virtually all the funds back to his boss on his return, to his astonishment. He once served as the Sole Administrator Okrika/Oyigbo/Tai/Eleme LGA.
References: Chukwuid Askasike (2020, Feb. 8) Punch Newspaper, Blerf.org (2021, Oct. 29)and Wikipedia (2021, Oct. 29)