Ishaku and Ishaya Pam were barely two
years old when their father, Lt. Col James
Yakubu Pam was abducted by soldiers in
the early hours of January 15, 1966. In this
heart-rending interview with our Plateau
correspondent, Golok Nanmwa, Ishaya,
a former two-term Chief Medical Director
of Jos University Teaching Hospital
and Associate Professor of Obstetrics &
Gynaecology; and his twin brother, Ishaku,
a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians
and Royal Society of Medicine as well as
a Clinical Director in the British National
Health Service, tell the story of how
they weathered the storm created by the
unfortunate event of that day
As kids, what were your impressions of
the events of January 15, 1966?
At the age of one year nine months
we were too young to understand what
was happening to us. Our older ones,
Kaneng (8years), Jummai (6 years on Jan
16 1966) and Yusufu (4 years) have better
recollections. We have had to piece together
Ishaku and Ishaya Pam
The Pam twins decades ago 30
the catastrophic event from accounts by our
mother, siblings and books we came across.
Because of the severity of the trauma we never
discussed Jan 15 1966 between ourselves
until more than three decades had elapsed
and even so, hardly with our late mother.
The pain was, and is, still quite intense. In
Nigerian culture children are shielded from
the death of someone close. While this is
well-intentioned it means the death is never
quite resolved and each child has to develop
their own coping mechanisms. Our home was
attacked by soldiers led by Major Humphrey
Chukwuka, our father’s deputy Adjutant
General and included 2nd Lt G.Onyefuru,
Sargeants NN Ugongene, H.Okibe, B.
Anyanwu, L.Egbukichi and P.Iwueke. We
got to understand what happened when we
were about four years old. It was a shock and
we really didn’t believe he was gone forever.
Our mother narrated how some soldiers came
and took him away and he never came back.
Initially, we were perplexed that he didn’t
resist as a soldier, but she explained that we
would all have been killed had he returned fire. I thought it was a wicked, dastardly act
that had imposed emotional and physical
deprivation on our family.
Did you have an inkling of what was
happened and were the events explained to
you later?
Not much was explained to us. We had to
do a lot of reading when we got to secondary
school. Luckily, we found a copy of John St
Jorre’s book “Crisis and conflict volumes
1 and2” in the school library .At 12 years,
we read the gory details. Armed with this
information, we started asking questions.
What impressions did you have of your
father since you were not really old enough
to experience his love?
We heard his voice on recorded tape a
few times. The occasion was the birth of the
youngest member of the family, Ibrahim
Gambo. Our elder sisters were hoping for a
girl, so Dada was consoling them. He was an
avid photographer so there were quite a few
pictures of him. We’ve had lots of positive
stories about him from loved ones. What
we’ve read also makes us proud . A few were
obvious lies and driven by a need to paint
him black, to justify his murder.
As you grew up and the reality began
to dawn on you that your father was no
more, how did you take it, especially the
circumstances under which he died?
Living without a father was tough, given
that our mum had to take on both roles. She
had to bring up six children. We lived frugally,
mostly in 3 bedroom flats. She worked most
of the time and our two elder sisters had to
mother us. We were fortunate to also have
some dedicated nannies who became alternate
mothers. We remember Laraba, Elizabeth,
and Mary Sura who still lives with us! It was
painful seeing our friends with their fathers.
We always wondered about what might have
been, had we not been forced to travel down a
bitter road. We also acknowledge the support
of many of his colleagues, friends and our
What were your experiences living
without a father figure? Was your mother
able to provide the fillip?
Our mother, Ngwo, was literally
superhuman. She was able to provide us with
a good upbringing and solid education, and
still make an appreciable impact on Nigerian
How close were you to your other siblings?
We the siblings have been quite close. It’s
not surprising since we grew up sharing
many things. For example, Ngwo could only
afford to buy one chopper bicycle so we
rode it in turns! There was also a time when
all four boys slept on a single bed, when we
moved back to Jos in 1967 and 1977. The older
siblings Kaneng, Jummai and Yusufu looked
after the younger ones, Ishaku, myself and
Gambo. We have been blessed in spite of the
severe downturn in our lives after our father’s
murder. Kaneng is an administrator, later a
banker and now an entrepreneur; Jummai,
Justice of the Nigerian Court of Appeal;
Yusufu, ex-Attorney General Plateau State
and successful private legal practitioner;
Ishaku, Fellow of the Royal College of
Physicians and Royal Society of Medicine
as well as a Clinical Director in the
British National Health Service; Ishaya,
former two term Chief Medical Director
of Jos University Teaching Hospital
and Associate Professor of Obstetrics &
Gynaecology and Ibrahim Gambo, Head
of the UN Green Fund in South Korea. We
thank the Almighty for his mercies and
Knowing that your father was brutally
murdered as a young man, do you still
hold a grudge against the state or have
you forgiven those who killed him more
than 50 years after?
Hold a grudge? No. We have long since
forgiven his killers, even though a few
are still struggling to justify their actions.
Ben Gbulie, for instance, wrote about a
(non-existent) two-story Kaduna mansion
given to my father by Northern politicians.
They criticized his role in putting down
the Tiv insurgency in November 1964.
This was a riot that had gone beyond civil
disobedience to armed guerilla warfare
that had overwhelmed the Native Police
Authority, and the Nigeria Police force.
Major Christian Anuforo of the Recce
squadron, the man who fired the thirteen
shots that killed our dad, had been sent
away for insubordination and replaced
by Major Hassan Usman Katsina. Without
providing any evidence, the least being
casualty figures, they claimed that his
approach was heavy handed. Even
newspaper accounts of that era put a lie
to their stories. Monsignor Pedro Martins
in his book, “In the shadows…” praised
Lt. Col James Pam’s intelligent approach
to quelling the insurrection. The subject
has been researched by Jibo, Bem Audu,
Oravee and others. A bunch of brash,
young men driven by a misguided sense
of patriotism, ethnicity and personal
animosity, committed wholesale murder
and tried unsuccessfully to cast that as a
revolution. A straight line can be drawn
from their lop-sided actions to the May
riots, the genocide against the Ibos in
the North , the retaliation by Northern
Army Officers in July 1966, through to the
Civil war which accounted for the death
of more than a million innocent lives to
the marginalization of the Ibos from
National leadership and to the rise of Ibo
militancy in the shape of IPOB and similar
organisations. Also national development
was severely affected.
The memory of January 15 1966 may be
fading but the effects continue to resonate
in the affairs of the Nigerian State. We
have also forgiven the Ironsi government
for not putting our father’s killers on trial
and giving him the full military burial he
We do think, though, that some good
can still come out of those dark events if the promoters of January 15 1966 can look
objectively at their actions, retract their
wrong allegations that they have made
about men they murdered and take that
first step towards national reconciliation.
They will find that there will be others who
will be willing to join them in healing the
wounds of the past and bequeathing young
Nigerians a future based on truth and equity
among the peoples of Nigeria.
Looking at what you have achieved in
your life, would you say that you would
have done better with your father around?
Can you figure out what the future would
have been with him around your formative
Would we have done better with our father
around? Even though one is speculating,
we think we would have. He was a highly
trained professional, dedicated to duty,
responsible, disciplined and a family man.
Our mum had the same values too, and he
would have reinforced them.
It is ironic that despite the fact that your
father had been honoured elsewhere, his
state, Plateau, is yet to show any atom of
appreciation for the sacrifice your family
has made for the nation? Do you have any
regrets for this?
He has been honoured by the country.
He was the first trained artillery officer; the
first commissioned officer from the Middle
Belt. He received a post-humous award
(MFR). The Officers’ mess in Kalapanzin
Barracks, Kaduna, is named after him. The
road leading to National Hospital Abuja,
also bears his name. Many books refer to the
sacrificial role he played in crushing the Jan
15th 1966 coup. His role in peace keeping in
the Congo is well documented; He trained
the nascent Tangayikan (now Tanzanian)
Army and was honored with a lion skin and
traditional shield by President Nyerere; He
led the battalion that put down the Tiv riots.
He was the Adjutant-General at the time of
his death.
By honoring him, Plateau state would
be honoring itself. We regret that an
opportunity has been missed so far in
providing a role model for our youth.

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