Fall of a chief and rising star

Tribute to the man who led negotiations towards a better deal for landowners of the Ok Tedi Mine
Martin Toby Yakuman at his graduation at Charles Darwin University in 1998.

FROM the remote village of Murusapa in the Almami electorate of Bogia in Madang, the name of Martin Toby Yakumani stands out. He was called the rising star of Murusapa during his funeral service in Madang recently.
Martin was the only person in his village and surrounding villages in the Tangu area of Bogia District in Madang to attain a master’s degree. This was echoed in sentiments shared by his very own tribesmen at the funeral. This rising star would have raised the flag of the whole area higher had he lived on.
A challenge was put forward to his three boys, Junior Toby Yakumani who graduated in 2014 from Divine Word University (DWU) with a degree in Environment Health and his two younger brothers and two daughters who also graduated from DWU.
Marsena Yakumani graduated in business management in 2017 and the baby of the family, Bethel Yakumani graduated with an accounting degree on March 11, 2022. His children have been also challenged by him when he was alive to attain qualifications that one step above what he had already achieved. God willing, one of them will carry on their late dad’s legacy and raise the flag higher than he had done.
Martin was born to late Chief Yakumani Sigerat Warambanai Sigeratigav of Murusapa Village and Maria Weivasu Taukit of Warel Village in Lumi District of West Sepik.
The late father Yakumani was a policeman who had served with distinction during World War 2 and afterwards. He met and married Martin’s late mum in West Sepik before transferring to the Southern Highlands where they were stationed. Martin was born in Kagua in Southern Highlands on May 17, 1967.
Martin did Grade 1 at the Wakwak Primary School in Mendi before the family moved from the Southern Highlands to Madang in 1972. The father by then had resigned and left the police force. Whilst they settled in Madang in what was notoriously known as the Bukbuk Settlement.
Martin continued his journey in education. He attended the Holy Spirit Primary School and completed Grade 1 to 6, always maintaining a spot among the top five in his class.
In 1980, he was chosen to attend the newly established St Michael’s Brahman High School. The Catholic high school had just started enrolling students, so other feeder primary schools from Madang were sending their students to it. From 1980 to 1983, he did his Grades 7-10. In 1984, having done well in the national Grade 10 examinations, he was selected to attend the school of excellence, Passam National High School.
His other two school mates from Brahman that were selected to attend Passam as well were Michael Nou (Smokie) and the late Dermot Ermot. This was also revealed during his funeral at Gerehu Stage 2 in Port Moresby. Michael Nou is still with Telikom PNG whilst both Dermot and Martin have since passed on.
At Passam, the characteristics and traits of leadership were visible in this rising star. He held several extracurricular leadership roles and one of them was being the chief of the seventh generation, First Taim Mangis (FTM). The school allowed for students to join social, cultural, provincial or other local groups.
The FTM Club, just like any other club, consisted of male students from the Morobe, Madang and Sepik provinces. Other students from other provinces joined the club as well. It had a mixture of students from all over the country.
Many of these students who were once in this FTM club now hold senior positions of responsibility. One such person is the current Lae Open MP, John Rosso, a very good and close friend of the the late Martin. Their relationship continued on after national high school. Infact the late Martin boasts that they were in the same dormitory during their national high school days.
Their leader is called the Chief and the male students have the generation names that they chose to be called apart from their very own names in the FTM circle. So for late Martin, he was also called the Chief, a fitting title he had until his passing.

Martin Yakumani and former Chief Secretary, the late Sir Manasupe Zurenuoc after the successful negotiation for the transfer of 33 per cent of Ok Tedi Mining Ltd shares to local landowners.

To date, many of the FTM’s are called by their generation names and those that have joined the club throughout their years at Passam knows who is who. For the late rising star, he is no exception.
Back to those school days; the final night before his Grade 12 economics exam, he got drunk with his peers. Not sober from the previous night, he went into the exam room the very next day, and scribbled on the economics exam paper. His hope of gaining entry into UPNG and becoming an economist was shattered when he did not receive an offer to pursue tertiary studies.
However, this did not deter this rising star and dampen his drive and motivation to persevere further in getting educated. He fronted up at the then Paramedical College in Madang (now part of DWU) with his Grade 12 certificate and after a lengthy discussion with the college principal, he secured a space at the college to do the Health Extension Officer course.
All students were normally selected by the college council or selection committee, but not in his case. He was offered a placing through God’s divine intervention as this was how he described his admission later in life.
After learning from his terrible experience at Passam, his attention and focus shifted as he did his best to attend all lectures and study hard in order to get good grades in all his examinations at the College of Allied Health Sciences. After three years at the college from 1986-1988, he graduated as a health extension officer with flying colours.
He would then need to prove to the Medical Board that in order to practise he must undergo the residency part of the programme. So for another year, he did his residency at the Angau General Hospital, the Kaiapit Health Centre, the Kimbe General Hospital and the Bialla Health Centre.
This all happened in the year 1989. Then the Division of Health in West New Britain advertised positions and he applied and was accepted to practice as a health extension officer. In 1990, he met and married his wife, Bonnie Dube. She was a year after him at Passam National High School from 1985 to 1986.
After a short stint with the Department of Health in West New Britain, he secured a job with the Baptist World Aid through AusAid to manage a women and children’s health project in the regions where the Baptist Church was operational. The headquarters was based in the Tinsley Hospital in Baiyer District of Western Highlands.
The family was stationed at the Kumbareta station and Martin managed a small team of experts comprising health and finance professionals together with the administration staff. There was a total of seven experts (all Australian) in the Watch project.
The group moved and travelled in between the Western Highlands, Enga and West Sepik provinces. They offered medical expertise, conducted trainings on women and children’s health and collected data for further review and analysis. In 1993, the project staff relocated to West Sepik and the family were stationed at the Telefomin station.
During the project period, the family relocated again to the Western Highlands. Whilst in the Western Highlands, the team secured some funding from the Baptist World Aid and built their head office at the Kimininga Baptist Church grounds. This office now houses some of the programmes run by the Baptist Church.
As the Watch project was nearing completion, the late Martin applied for an Ausaid scholarship and was successful. Without a first university degree he was accepted at the Charles Darwin University to do the Masters in International Management programme. He completed the course with distinction and in a span of a year only. The course work would have otherwise taken two years to complete.
After graduating in 1998, various jobs took him right around the country. The last one he held for about 11 years, was as the executive officer of the Mount Fubilan Resource Owners Association with the Ok Tedi Mine in Western.
Under his leadership, various business deals for the landowning companies were secured. Locals businesses had opportunities to invest locally and abroad and the volume of investments also grew.
The most significant milestone achieved by this rising star was the successful negotiation for a better deal for the people of the Western. They are now a major shareholder of the giant Ok Tedi Mine, owning 33 per cent of the shares. It would have cost them a fortune to pay him for his tireless efforts and services as the lead negotiator during former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s regime but the late Martin humbly and gladly received what was offered.
On Dec 20, 2021, he collapsed at home and was rushed to the Pacific International Hospital. After three admissions at PIH and with confirmations from doctors that he had stomach cancer, he finally succumbed to the illness at 8.30pm on Jan 31, 2022 at Port Moresby General Hospital.
He was laid to rest in Madang on Feb 19, 2022.
Rest in eternal peace till we meet on the beautiful shores.