Monday, April 10, 2017 1:13 pm
By Richard Elesho
Age, they say is like wine. The older, the better. Nothing exemplifies this saying better than the life of Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, (CON)aka Ibro, former Governor of Kogi State, astute businessman and elder statesman. This week he niches closer to the age of wisdom (he will be 68). In and out of public office, Ibro’s (as Idris is popularly known) has been a life committed to prudence, munificence and the pursuit of truth.
In public office, as the then first citizen of Kogi State, Ibro’s simplicity was disarming. Almost as a rule, he always initiated a handshake. Irrespective of the social standing of his visitor. Ibro would not only normally pick his calls at first dial, he is sure to return any missed call, even if the caller is not registered in his contact list. Usually dressed in his trademark babanringa, cap and sandals, he was not given to the frivolities and vanities of many of his peers. He believes that ‘it is not the hood that makes a monk’ and as such a man should not be judged by the quantity of his apparels but rather by the finer qualities of his mind. Thus, one would see qualities of kindness, (his traducers call it sign of weakness) even in his activities as a former governor.
A ready example is in the several housing estates his administration constructed in Lokoja and across the 21 local governments of the state. In Lokoja alone, he constructed three estates, namely Otokiti estate, 500 units estate Ganaja and 50 units mansion as Assembly quarters. In all instances, he was careful not to unduly rupture the lives of people living in those areas. Unlike some governors that would demolish houses within the vicinity of the land acquired by government, his administration only required that owners of older titles shouldn’t build sub-standard houses that could disfigure the landscape.
His reason? “I disagree with people who think power must be used to oppress people and make life more difficult for them. When people have struggled genuinely to buy land and build houses, why must you demolish and not compensate them?” As a first rule therefore, his administration avoided undue and hasty demolition of properties on lands acquired by government. And where or when demolition is inevitable, compensations are adequately and generously offered to the owners.
As governor, he was completely untainted by the enormous power and aura of his office. Nor has his stupendous wealth diminished other people’s worth in his presence. Affable as ever, Ibro does not waste time to wave at people wherever an opportunity presented itself. He is also ever down to earth and lives to the fullest. He does not hesitate to stop his convoy either to answer the call of nature or to buy his favorite succulent banana, fresh mango or corn from the many vendors that line Nigerian roads.
Ibro’s leadership touched where it mattered most. For the years he was governor, he introduced the payment of NECO and WAEC fees for all final year students in public secondary schools in the state. The policy which he pursued to the end of his Nine year tenure, shifted the burden of paying for the exams from indigent parents. The initiative was without prejudice to the payment of bursaries and scholarships to Kogi indigenes who were students of tertiary institutions across the country.
His concerns for youths and women empowerment struck at the heart of the matter. Himself a furniture maker, hotelier and real estate developer, Ibro encouraged young persons to go into agriculture and apprenticeship in other key sectors of the economy. He once gave an insight into this policy during a chat with some media men. “I see youths as a time bomb which can explode at any time if we are not careful. If you are a leader and you are not bothered about the future of our young ones, then something is wrong. They are watching us and the day they decide to use their energy against us, they can bring down everything. If you don’t want that to happen, you must identify with the youths.” For those who may not know him very well, Ibro has uncanny ability to disguise his strength. In virtually every battle he went into, the opposition almost always underrated his capacity. This was especially true of his political trajectories.
When he ventured into politics as a governorship aspirant in late 2002, not many people gave him a chance against more experienced and better known politicians. Yet, against all odds he won the People’s Democratic Party, PDP ticket and proceeded to win the general election, leaving a major casualty in the late Abubakar Audu, then an incumbent who had only few months before, boasted that his party would govern Kogi State for Fifty years. It is fascinating to note further that Ibro did not only win the myriads of political, civil and criminal litigations that mined his path and led the state for Nine years, (longer than any other man in the history of Nigeria’s democracy) he also successfully anointed his friend, in the person of the aviator, Capt. Idris Wada as his successor.
Ibro’s analysis on issues can be humbling. A man considered to be of scanty formal learning, what he lacked in octane western education, he generously makes up in traditional wisdom. During a discussion on the desirability of science education in tertiary institutions in Kogi State, Ibro summed up his views thus: “Science owns the world today. The social sciences and arts are good. But, must we continue to teach our children how to go to the market while others are teaching their own children on how to go to the moon and space? It is not about how we used to do it. It should, what is the best way to do it?”
It is such dogged determination to actualize new thinking that propelled the construction of the greater Lokoja Water Scheme, a fifty million gallons per day capacity enterprise that supply water to the state capital. Today, about Six years after leaving office, Ibro water is perhaps, the most enduring insignia of that era. “When I came in, I was always having sleepless nights about the perennial water shortage in the state. Luckily, Lokoja is the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue. So, I said I will not forgive my self, if I leave office without solving the water problem.”
Ibro’s tenure as Governor of Kogi State has remained a watershed in development of the State. His was a harvest of democracy dividends. Among his other legacies were the International Market, Confluence Stadium, Meme bridge, turning major roads in Lokoja to dual carriage ways complete with street lights, state secretariat Phase II, construction of about 2,000 primary school blocks of Four classrooms and offices each, construction of new governor’s and deputy governor’s offices, rehabilitation of all ministries, parastatals and other government offices, establishment of Specialist Hospital, Lokoja and Confluence fertilizer company Agbeji. He also established the College of Education (Technical) Kabba and gave generous funding support to the State University, Anyigba, which enabled it to achieve 100 percent accreditation of all its 29 Courses in 29 months. By the time Ibro left office in January 2012, the University was holding the light as the best state owned University in the country.
Whereas his achievements are too numerous to mention here, it is noteworthy that Ibro recorded all the transformations without borrowing a dime from anywhere or pushing the State into debt burdens. In fact, his clean records and prudent management of resources enabled the State to approach the Capital Market for a bond of N26b, which his immediate successor, Capt. Idris Wada, collected. The Debt Management Office, DMO, Ministry of Finance, and then Minister of Finance, Dr (Mrs) Konjo Iweala still hold his records in awe for his commitment to due process.
Since leaving office as governor in January, 2012, Ibro has continued to ventilate his public service agenda thorough private means. In both his office at Ibro Hotels and his Asokoro residence, he receives and attend to the needs of scores of visitors who daily pour their minds to him. He also gives generously to the needs of religious bodies notably mosques and churches across the country. His munificence has greatly assisted in the construction of modern worship centers in mmany towns and villages. For instance single handedly built Ejule Central Mosque before he became Gvernor. After his tenure, he has built a befitting Central Mosque in Idah, the ancestral headquarters of all Igala sons and daughters and Abejukolo, headquarter of Omala, his Local Local Government. His religious philanthropy is without borders. Even before he became Governor, he would normally give out spaces to churches in his hotel for half the price and does not hesitate to donate to churches whenever an opportunity opened.
Little wonder that even long after he had left office as Chief Servant of the Cnfluence State, there is no love lost between the people and their former Governor. Till date, any time he visits Kogi, the people mill around him in display of their affection for his leadership style. “If not for the law, they should have allwed Ibro to continue as Governor. I don’t think we can have any leader like him again in this State.” A resident of Lokoja enthused.
Now in retirement and in complete control of his Grand Ibro Hotels, the first five star hotel in the FCT, Ibro commits to the service of others. He takes enormous pleasure in playing with children. He spends quality time with his many grand children every weekend. Ibro also cherish his favorite game, gulf. He does not miss a training session. And he hardly miss a shot.
Ibro is a politician who is in touch and in tune with the grassroots. When people are happy, he associates with their victories. Thus, his face is not scarce at weddings, naming ceremonies, coronations and such other joyous occasions. But, he is not just a fair weather friend. He will hardly miss any opportunity to also pay the last respect to an old associate, friend or acquaintance. Usually, when he attends a ceremony, he stays the duration of the programme.
As the University of Abuja graduate of Law, marks his birthday this week, it is 68 happy cheers to a workaholic, disciplinarian and jolly good boss.
Elesho was Cheif Press Secretary to the former Governor.