Born on 4 September 1948 in Benue State, Dr. Barnabas Gemade is a chief from the Tiv ethnic minority. He holds the title of the Nom-I-Yange-I-Tiv. Gemade was the chief executive officer of the Benue Cement Company (BCC) from 1985 to 1992, and was said to have been highly effective in this position.
Gemade was a member of the 1994–1995 Constitutional Conference during the military regime of General Sani Abacha. He has held the positions of Secretary (Minister) of Works and National Chairman of the Congress of National Consensus party.
In the first national convention of the PDP after the April 1999 general elections, Gemade was elected National chairman after a tough competition with the party founder Chief Sunday Awoniyi. He succeeded Solomon Lar, the first chairman of the party. Gemade later became a member of the Board of Trustees of PDP.
In a January 2011 interview, he described the turbulence in the leadership of the PDP in the early years as healthy, showing competition between individuals rather than a power-sharing arrangement between the different groups.
Gemade was a strong supporter of Joseph Akaagerger when he was elected Senator for Benue North East in 2007. In the April 2011 elections, he decided to challenge Akaagerger for the Senate seat.
In the 9 April 2011 elections for Senator of Benue North East, Gemade ran on the PDP platform and won 229,682 votes, beating Akaagerger who had moved to the Action Congress of Nigeria and obtained 143,978 votes.
In the 2015 general election, Gemade ran under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) against the then incumbent governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam and won him in that election to represent the zone at the Senate.