By Tonnie Iredia
The only thing happening in Nigeria these days is politics and electioneering which now serves as cheap source of materials for the media. Painfully, the game of politics is being played for its own sake rather than as a means for societal development. Its contradictions are legion. Last week, our ruling party approved indirect party primaries for its state chapters where it is cumbersome for them to hold direct primaries; yet, the party is set for direct presidential primaries at the federal level consisting of ALL the states combined.
Indeed, consensus candidates are emerging from irreconcilable factional groups in some of the states just as the main opposition party seeking to oust an incumbent has more candidates than the number of our Lord’s Apostles. For these irrational narratives, well-meaning citizens now look out not for politicians but for those who have made and are still making genuine contributions to community development. One citizen who stands out above others in this regard is His Excellency, Sir, Chief, Dr, Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, CON, CFR, Esama of Benin who celebrated his 84th birthday anniversary last Tuesday.
The highlight of the celebration was a morning dew interdenominational thanksgiving service held at God’s Historic Chapel of the House of Igbinedion in Benin City. In an address presented by Dr Osagie Ehanire, Minister of state (Health), President Muhammadu Buhari eulogised the Esama for making Nigeria his focus of investment. In his own speech, Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki probably astonished those who saw him and the celebrant in two political divides when he openly thanked the Esama for his invaluable guidance and constant encouragement in his tedious task of governance. The service was well attended by a galaxy of clergy men and well-wishers from far and wide. Glowing tributes were paid to the Esama’s transparent philanthropy across the globe which explains the well-attended service notwithstanding that it was held on a working day beginning from as early as 6 o’clock in the morning.
A cursory look at Igbinedion’s activities which are richly documented easily reveals many significant processes and lessons. First, anyone seeking to set up businesses as the Esama has done, must recognise that every venture has to be prosecuted with a commercial mind set that can put a mark on each venture; such that at the end, a special feature is left in the sub consciousness of all. Thus, all through the nation, the ‘motor-bike’ that meanders its way through all routes to arrive promptly and safely to any type of journey is involuntary called Okada in memory of Esama’s ubiquitous Okada air which in its days landed on time and safely too, at all locations including where others couldn’t dare.
Stupendous appetite for adventure, amazing spirit of innovativeness, capacity to function, the will and determination to succeed as well as the recognition of the expedience of delegating operations to specialists and professionals are all discernible in each and every endeavour of the Esama. For example, the greatness of Igbinedion University does not lie on only its pioneering role as Nigeria’s first private university, more of the success of that institution is attributable to the superb hands of those picked to manage it. For instance, world renown social scientist, Eghosa Osaghae held the forte as Vice Chancellor for over a decade thereby building a strong foundation that can hold the school for all times. The same is true of the Igbinedion Education Centre consisting of Nursery, Primary and secondary Schools whose products automatically obtain students’ visas to highly rated developed world institutions only because they are Igbinedion’s alumni.
For obvious professional reasons, Chief Igbinedion’s contribution to the growth of the nation’s broadcasting sector cannot go unnoticed. His Independent radio and television stations are by far more independent than our public stations. During elections, Edo listeners and viewers are only able to hear the voice of the opposition parties through the stations. It is to the eternal credit of the Esama that opposition parties and their candidates were known and heard during the last Edo Governorship election of 2016. The state-owned Edo Broadcasting Service through ownership control, was under strict instructions to grant access to only the candidate of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC. An attempt by the federal station, the Nigerian Television Authority NTA to cover the campaigns of the opposition party led to the summary removal of the Benin Zonal Director, the Head of News and two reporters of the station. Yet Igbinedion’s stations were allowed by their PDP owner to follow the dictates of the Electoral Act to give equal opportunities to all parties and their candidates including those of the politically intolerant ruling party.
One dark spot in the profile of the Esama is that he appears to have lived in envy since he came to limelight as the Esama of Benin in 1974. Through gossips by less endowed citizens, he was always pitched against the authorities both government and traditional. Each military governor posted to the state during the military era related with him at arms-length on arrival due to local briefings only to find the Esama an inevitable ally in due course. His toughest days were periods when he attracted the abominable title of Oba’s enemy for allegedly seeking to over-shadow our revered monarch. In an interview with this writer many years back, his answers to two of my questions were clearly instructives. First, as a known achiever, I wanted to know what he thought was impossible for him to achieve. He explained that as a Benin citizen who is conversant with the history of our people, he would never be foolish to aspire to be Oba of Benin in the face of the immutable cultural principle of primogeniture. On why his Soft Drink staff were once not paid their salaries, when he always donated more than the needed amount to charity, he said workers ought to appreciate the implications of a limited liability company that becomes unviable through staff lethargy.
In my days as Director-General of the NTA, it was always with pride that I announced my station as the largest in Africa, with 68 stations at the time and 9,000 staff. Getting to know later that the work-force of Chief Igbinedion’s organizations was slightly above11, 000 convinced me that the man richly deserves more honours for his robust contributions to the growth of Nigeria as a whole and Edo state in particular. Here is hoping Governor Obaseki would shortly name a major state project after him and also lead the request for Esama’s award as Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, GCON.