Tuesday, April 6, 2021 9:06 am
On Monday, 15th February, a day after this year’s St. Valentine’s Day celebrations, my phone rang with a din. I stepped aside from my visitor to pick it. The caller tried to be calm. But I could perceive the nervousness in her tone.
“What did they say happened in Kogi?” Since I had remained indoor working from home on that day, I replied I had not heard anything. ‘Tor’ she said. “But what of your Oga?” I wanted to confirm which Oga when she interjected. “What did they say has happened to Ibro? Is it true that he is dead…?” So many questions. She sounded truly worried or exasperated to the point of sobs. I told her I had not heard or read anything like that. I also assured her I would cross-check the information and get back to her.
To say I was downcast would be an understatement. But my curiosity was stronger than my melancholy. Since meeting his acquaintance in 2004 about a year after he became Governor of Kogi, my dear home State, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, aka Ibro had become a ‘destiny helper’ to me. Someone under whom I had shared so much first as ‘Oga’, then ‘Attai’ and now as ‘Baba.’
Could it be true? Although, I was in touch with one of his children a week earlier, I had not spoken with Baba for sometime. I ignored my visitor who had taken a seat beside my uncle in front of our house where we were both enjoying some succour from the horrible Lokoja heat. Without considering other options, I called Baba. The trauma did not last.
It was as if he was expecting the call. At the third ring, when it connected, he picked. Then I heard his trademark opening compliments “Hellooo Richard… How are you my dear.” I was glad to find him alive. My eclat knew no bounds at this discovery. It was fake news and I didn’t bother him further.
I returned to my visitor only to discover that the offending information was also known to him. He had seen the headline and heard a conversation on the death of one Ibrahim Idris. He thought he should crosscheck with me. I assured him I just spoke with the former Governor. The information was a still birth. Dead on arrival.
It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. Yes, a Sudanese of the same name and former detainee at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, had died in mid- February. Apparently it was this passage that some people either erroneously or mischievously domesticated.
Very few people, big or small live through the privilege of reading their own obituary. Dr. Nnamidi Azikiwe, the late Owelle of Onitsha did. In November 1989, both print and electronic media had announced Zik’s death with screaming headlines. In fact, the former Nationalist and first indigenous Governor General of Nigeria had read the announcement of his death on national newspaper. He laughed it off. Of course he did not die until 1996 at the ripe age of 91.
It is a strong fortuity that Ibrahim shared other things with the great Zik of Africa. Azikiwe was among the pioneer students of Holy Trinity School, Onitsha which Ibrahim would also attend decades later for his primary education.
In his adolescent years in Onitsha where he grew up, Ibrahim was a regular visitor to Azikiwe’s country home. He had voluntarily cultivated the habit of a herdsman cutting grasses and leafs for his mentor’s growing livestock. The great man took notice of the boy’s diligence. In appreciation, he dashed Ibrahim five shillings. It was the boy’s biggest cash gift then. That was in about late 50s.
Indeed, outside his parents, the strongest influence on Ibrahim was a Zik devotee and apologist, Mr James Nwanne. The native of Ubulu Uku who was the custodian of Ziks property in Onitsha, happened to be living in the same compound with Ibrahim’s parents. He was Ibrahim’s self appointed guardian-angel who identified his talents early in life and kept him on the path of discipline. “You are different from other children.” He would remind Ibrahim whenever he applied the cane on him.
Later in life, the statement turned out to be prophetic. In his business and public service career, Ibrahim’s humility, diligence and devotion to truth have set him ways ahead of his contemporaries.
Before his shepherd experience, he had been a scavenger collecting and repackaging old small bottles for sale in hospitals around Onitsha. He saved Mama Igonoh, his mother from financial embarrassments through the ingenious practice. His stint at King’s College of Commerce, Buguma Rivers State was not less eventful. From eating on the table of Barango Tariah, the then Principal, to following the senior prefect nicknamed Pasota Minisota home in the countryside for short holidays, his was a life of love, love and more love from people.
The same characterised his business exploits. After dropping out of college for lack of funds, he successfuly ventured into furniture making. So outstanding were his exploits that at the age of 18 years he bought his first car, a Volkswagen Beetle 1200 brand new. He also got married at that age. He has since gone ahead to establish Grand Ibro Hotels, a sprouting 5-star conglomerate in Abuja and Sokoto.
But it was during his nine-year elongated tenure as Governor of Kogi State that his finer qualities came to the fore. When Ibrahim Idris assumed office in May 2003 at the age of 54 he was poorly rated as an ill equipped country carpenter with little or no education. However, he so utilised the mandate in the people’s interest that he effortlessly won reelection and rerun election. More than anyone else, Ibrahim brought peace, prosperity, development and unity to the Confluence people. Let’s do a quick reference.
His legacy projects include 400-bed capacity Specialist Hospital, several General Hospitals and Primary Health Centres; Olympic standard Confluence Stadium, about 2,000 units of houses in Otokiti estate, Ganaja estate, Assembly quarters, staff quarters at the State University Anyigba and in all 21 Local Government headquarters, dualisation of all major roads in Lokoja, construction of Meme bridge, Owowo bridge in Takete-Ide, Buddon-Eggon bridge, Obehira-Ihima road, Ijowa-Ejuku-Jege road, Ganaja-Ajaokuta highway and Ida-Onyedega road among scores of others.
He also established Confluence International Market; Neem based fertilizer company Agbeji; construction of Phase II State Secretariat, offices for all ministries, about 2,000 primary school blocks of four classroom each; accreditation of all courses at Kogi State University and making the institution the best among state universities in the country and establishment of 50 million gallons per day Greater Lokoja Water Scheme.
For his nine year service he did not even for once default in salary payment. Indeed, his greatest asset was in developing people. Under him, government paid WAEC/ NECO fees for final year secondary school students in the State. In addition, Kogi students enjoyed Scholarship and bursary awards under his watch. Yet, for all these and many more, Kogi did not borrow a dime from any financial institution or capital market at home and abroad. The State lived and succeeded within its limits. Also projects and appointments were on the basis of need and equity. This explained why he did not appoint a Commissioner from Omaha, his Local Government Area, throughout his stewardship.
Ibrahim left government in 2012. He has since returned to his first love of philanthropy and community service. Today, the elder statesman occupies himself building churches, mosques and giving back to society in anyways possible. What else for a man who has survived many accidents and whose three daughters were miraculously among five survivors in an ADC aircrash that claimed 103 lives n 2006? Little wonder, that even at 72, anywhere he goes, he attracts people the way sugar attracts ants.
He was born on the 6th day of April, 1949. Join me in wishing him 72 garlands and many more years in the service of humanity.
Happy birthday to the man whose chieftaincy titles include Ogbomachi Attach Igala, Fagachi of Lokoja, Mayedero of Owo kingdom, Atuluse of Takete-Ide, Bobajoko of Ogidi, Ocheimendo Ukeosisi, Sardauna of Nupe land and Jakardan of Sokoto. The pan-Nigerian leader who speaks fluent Hausa, Igbo and passable Yoruba.
Elesho was Chief Press Secretary, CPS, to the former Governor.