POPULARLY called ‘The Peoples General’ by his political followers and even a great many of his opponents for his principled stance against bad governance, Chief Great OvedjeOgboru is a business and political leadership icon to many. He was born on the 10th day of April, 1958 in Port Harcourt to the famous Ogboru Dynasty of Abrakaof Urhobo and the Okolocha family of Umukuata in Anioma, both in Delta State. A Christian, Ogboruis married to Stella EbiOgboru, a virtuous Ijaw amazon. They have four children.
Great Ogboru had his elementary education at Municipal Primary School, Port Harcourt, Christian Missionaries Society (CMS) Primary School, Abraka and Local Authority (LA) (now Oharisi) Primary School, Ughelli from 1966 to 1971. He was admitted into the prestigious Government College, Ughelli (GCU) in 1971 and finished in 1975. Immediately thereafter, he worked for four years as a primary school teacher at Owodoawanre Primary School, Ughelli. Within this period, he obtained his Advanced Levels result.
In 1980, young Great was faced with serious challenges of life. Fourth in a family of 16 children, Great appreciated the full financial burden on his low-income civil servant father. He chose therefore to momentarily sacrifice higher education in the hope that decision would in the future be a positive turning point in the destiny of his family. Consequently, in January 1978, he left home, clutching a bag that contained only four shirts and three trousers, and headed to Lagos in search of ‘greatness’ – a bold step of faith that would later transform so many lives beyond imagination. And so, his sojourn in corporate Nigeriastarted as a Marketing Officer in Exchange Fisheries, a small Lagos fishing company. Exchange Fisheries became a “necessary apprenticeship opportunity”.
For greater effectiveness in his marketing role, he enrolled into the Chartered Institute of Marketing, London.
Just aged 25, Ogboru left paid employment and started his own business in 1983. Banking on his rare sense of personal integrity and divine grace, he established Fiogret Limited, a frozen fish trading company. Fiogret grew rapidly into a global fishing conglomerate with fishing licenses around the world. Within three years, Ogboruestablished many successful subsidiaries of Fiogret in quick succession including, Grato – a foremost furniture production company; GLE Finance, a finance company with bureau de change operations; Sofimar Fisheries – a USD 5 Million capitalised, USD25 Million assets base Joint Venture with the former Union Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) Government; Abraka Rubber Industries; Ajalomi Shipping Company; West Coast Publicity Company; and Fiogret Express. He also got a banking licence from the Central Bank of Nigeria.
With these businesses, Ogboru’s name became registered in global corporate consciousness as arguably then Nigeria’s youngest and richest business mogul and billionaire. On August 10, 1989, he took the world stage by storm as the youngest and highest Nigerian donor to the Namibia Solidarity Fund (NSF) in the ancient city of Benin. A firm believer in humanity and its preservation, he stood with the people of Namibia in their struggle for freedom because for him, “Humanity is one.” His philanthropic works are rooted in uncommon humility. Once asked about what he does for society with his wealth, he simply answered, “Ask the people. I am just favoured by grace to be an instrument in God’s hands.”
It has been said that Great Ogboru is “unapologetically democratic” and a “natural hater and fighter of any form of socio-political dictatorship, tyranny or hegemonic misrule.” In 1990, it was alleged that he supported an attempt to remove the military dictatorship of Ibrahim Babangida although he was later cleared of any wrongdoing in the matter in 1999 by the Federal Government of Nigeria under then Head of State, General Abdulsalam Abuba-kar. This allegation led to his self-exile in the United Kingdom from 1990 to 2000. With this, his business empire in Nigeria suffered setbacks in the hands of successive military governments during this period. Upon his return from exile, Ogboru’s businesses initiated bold legal actions for wholeness against the Federal Government on various grounds including assets stripping, balkanization, and ‘continuous violation’. Ogboru won.
Exile afforded Great Ogboru a break from intense business pressures for personal academic development. With less busy corporate schedules, he returned to the Chartered Institute of Marketing, London and completed his studies there. Thereafter, he attended Huron University of South Dakota, London Campus where he obtained a Master of Business Administration degree. He went on to study for and obtained a Master Degree in International Relations at the University of Kent in Canterbury. His research work at Kent on the effects of IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) on the economies of Ghana and Nigeria still stands out there.
Great Ogboru is a member of the Nigeria Policy Group (NPG) – an august body that financed and supported democratic struggles from abroad to return Nigeria to democracy in the heyday of military dictatorship. He is a respected grassroots political leader in Delta where he is the nemesis of bad governance and misrule. Convinced about his ‘Equal Opportunities Development Initiative (EODI)’ – a well-articulated governance agenda to transform Delta State to a modern economy and society, he has remained passionately consistent about leading his people to turn the fortunes of Delta around. His patience and consistency on the Delta Project derives from Ogboru’s core as a leader.
Ogboru has a marathoner’s mindset to necessary change. For him it requires courage, endurance, vision, and a constancy of purpose. He believes real change does not come on a platter of gold. For him, obstacles are enemies of change that must be successfully challenged. As the great writer OgMadino put it in his bestseller ‘The Greatest Salesman in the World’, “… victory comes only after many struggles and countless defeats. Yet each struggle, each defeat, sharpens your skills and strengths, your courage and your endurance, your ability and your confidence and thus each obstacles is a comrade-in-arms forcing you to become better … or quit.” So Ogboru knows that the possibility of a better future is often lost when people fear or turn away from challenges. For him, they are to be confronted.
For Delta, Ogboru holds the firm view that the state is in a needlessly pitiable state and this must change for sustainable development. For him, “Ours is a rescue mission for the good of all. Like the Asian Tigers, we must make deliberate haste to create a modern economy in Delta for our people. The more time we waste, the more harm they cause us all – whether Urhobo, Kwale, Ika, Aniocha, Ndo-Oshimili, Itsekiri, Isoko, or Ijaw. Partisan sentiments aside, is there any sustainable progress in Delta? Where are the businesses? Where are the jobs? Do they know the danger of ignoring the youths? … We are better than this mediocrity. Something has to give way.” This is the essential Ogboru. Our people overwhelmingly agree with him that anything other than good governance that leads our people on a clear visionary path of undoubted excellence is a waste of time.
Ogboru’s personality, political philosophy and governance agenda resonate with Deltans for good and obvious reasons. He is a visionary with immense capacity to create wealth and do things right. Principled and incorruptible, many rightly see in Ogboru the much-needed answer to Delta’s unpardonable governance decadence. Very kind at heart and soft in appearance, Ogboru is nonetheless generally known to be very tough against lawlessness and whatever that is corrupt. Also, his unique perspective to the purpose of wealth endears the people to him. It is probably to this end that Comrade Emeka Nwaola, Labour Party Chairman in Delta State, recently noted that: “If every rich man behaves like Chief Ogboru who sees wealth as nothing, then the madness of looting the treasury will be minimal. I commend his simplicity to affluence. Though he left our party LP, I still respect and love him.” That probably summarizes the Ogboru persona with regards to affluence and public leadership and how it connects seamlessly with the people.
Today is Olorogun Great Ovedje Ogboru’s 60th birthday! How time flies! Ever handsome like a beauty queen and effervescent but humble in all his ways, this champion whom grace raised from the rustic village of Ajalomi in Abraka is now 60 years in his wonderful earthly journey. For this wealthy captain of industry, quiet philanthropist and credible political leader, life has no doubt been both beautiful and challenging but through it all, God has been specially gracious and faithful to him. Blessed by God with an amazingly simple life, humane values and with his principled struggles for a better society for all, Ogboru is a “bright point of light” shining for many to see. For a leader who gives his all, this is a rare moment to give him the best of our heart’s content. Therefore, one must say, ‘Happy Birthday and Many Happy Returns’ to the People’s General. May the good Lord continue to shower you with His grace, loving kindness, and mercies.
*Prince Efe Duku, a Senior Legislative Aide in the Senate and former Executive Assistant to Chief Great Ogboru, wrote from Abuja.