KOTA KINABALU: Tan Sri Ghani Gilong, the man who initiated the road links between the east and west coasts of Sabah, has turned 80.
His birthday was celebrated in style with family and friends, including state leaders such as former Sabah Chief Minister Tan Sri Harris Salleh and former state Attorney General Tan Sri Herman Luping at a leading hotel here on Sunday night.
Also present were elected representatives for Ranau, Datuk Masidi Manjun, Datuk Ewon Ebin, Dr Joachim Gunsalam as well as Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Dr Yee Moh Chai, Mayor Datuk Abidin Madingkir, Nabawan assemblyman Datuk Bobbey Suan, Sabah Justices of Peace Council president Datuk Seri Panglima Clarence Bongkos Malakun and Sabah’s pioneer woman politician, Toh Puan Rahimah Stephens.
Both Harris and Herman, as well as Ghani’s eldest son Anuar gave very touching speeches about him, his life, upbringing, foray into politics and what he had done for his beloved state as well as hometown, Ranau.
Ghani was born on May 30, 1932 to Gilong Rantau, a prominent trader in Ranau, and Bonggo Dumaring. He had five siblings, four are now deceased.
Ghani started his tertiary education in an attap school in Ranau in 1938. During the Second World War, he attended Japanese school and later, a primary school ran by the British, before continuing his education at Sacred Heart School in Primary One again.
He attended school up to Form Four, and did not sit for the Form Five examination as he thought that at 23 years old, he was too old.
In 1955, he returned to Ranau to help his parents, and the exposure to the hardship of walking four days from Ranau to Kota Kinabalu made him resolve to find ways to alleviate this problem.
During his time in Ranau, he was very active in business and volunteerism. He was also the first agent to look after visitors and climbers to Mount Kinabalu. Ghani became a Ranau district councilor and was in residency team to represent Ranau.
The start of his political career was through a chance meeting with the late Tun Fuad when Ghani was doing some grass-cutting in Likas, near his current family home.
He was thirsty and asked the late Tun Fuad for a glass of water and the two struck up a friendship which led to his involvement in the formation of Malaysia,
Tun Fuad also encouraged Ghani to write short articles in North Borneo News and Sabah Times. Thus, politics started for him. He was involved in the formation of UNKO in 1961, and was elected as deputy president.
When formation of Malaysia was mooted by Tunku Abdul Rahman, everyone took part in the discussion where some were pro and some against joining Malaysia but they were not privy to the details of the participation of the state.
Ghani and a team from UNKO went to Kuala Lumpur to see the situation in Peninsular Malaysia and came back convinced that the union was a good idea and decided to support it. During the Cobbold Commission, Ghani met a small team from the United Nations who asked him whether he was for or against Malaysia, and he said he was for Malaysia and campaigned hard throughout Sabah to persuade people to agree to the formation.
They left it to Tun Fuad to present the 20 Points for discussion with the leaders from Malaya, Singapore and Sarawak. In 1962, after returning from New Zealand from a six-month leadership course, Ghani was appointed to the legislative assembly by Sir William Goode to represent Ranau.
He was a legislative assembly member until he resigned to take up his federal ministerial post in 1968. When UNKO and Pasok Momogun merged into UPKO in 1964, Ghani was elected deputy president of UPKO.
In 1967, he stood and won as a candidate for UPKO. In 1967, UPKO was dissolved and all members were absorbed into USNO during which Ghani became a vice president of USNO.
In 1968, Ghani was appointed to the federal cabinet by Tunku Abdul Rahman to the post of Minister of Sabah Affairs and Civil Defence. At that time at the age of 36, he was among the youngest cabinet members to be appointed.
He served in the federal cabinet from 1968 to 1978 holding the portfolios of Minister of Justice, Minister of Transport, acting Minister of Health and Agriculture, Minister of Works and Utilities (longest portfolio for seven years).
As Minister of Works and Utilities, he was in charge of road development and he used this portfolio to hasten the linking up of the major towns in Sabah. He served under three prime ministers, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak and Tun Hussein Onn.
Ghani was re-elected to parliament in 1974 and became involved in the formation of Berjaya with Tun Fuad and Harris at the encouragement of Tun Razak.
He however left Berjaya before the election in 1976 and later lost in the 1978 election.
In the mid 80’s, Ghani held the post of chairman of Sabah Tea and was the chairman of IDS from 1991 to 1994.
As his passion is agriculture, Ghani was responsible for starting the cultivation of cabbages in Kundasang with Sikodol Magunting in 1956/1957. This was despite local resistance. Now Kundasang is a major producer of temperate and tropical vegetables in Malaysia.
He also introduced a durian clone from West Malaysia to Ranau and the district is now one of the largest producers of durian in Sabah.
For all his contributions to the state, Ghani was made Luguan Siou Kaamatan (Tokoh Kaamatan) in 2010, and on 16th September the same year, he was awarded Tokoh Malaysia by Prime Minister Datuk Najib Razak for his contribution to the formation of Malaysia.
Ghani is married to two wives; Puan Sri Halimah Ginsos with eight children, Celia, Anuar, Mustapha, Yassin, Mohd Mengoyo, Affendy, Tina and Hasnah.
His has four children, Masnah, Azmi (deceased), Masneh and Redza with his other spouse, Puan Sri Amisah Ibrahim.
Ghani, who shares his life with 30 grandchildren and two great grandchildren, spends his time travelling between Kota Kinabalu and his farms in Ranau.