By Adeniyi Ifetayo
Eminent and erudite Professor of English Literature, Niyi Osundare, in his unforgettable tribute to the late famous American poet and playwright Maya Angelous said the following immortal observation on marble.
“Drawbacks and adversities and sometimes the building blocks of glory; for life without its vicissitudes is like Christianity without the cross”.
Niyi Osundare’s observation is very relevant while embarking on a historical excursion into the life of the living legend and icon of entrepreneurial endeavours of Sir (Dr.) Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, CFR, Esama of Benin Kingdom; aka the Lion of Okada: Esama of the Universe.
Born in the year 1934 in the obscure farming community of Okada, now a university town and headquarters of Ovia North-East Local Government, Edo State of Nigeria, to the late road overseer and iconic community leader Josiah Agharagbon Igbinedion (of the famous Okada town) and his amiable wife the late Madam Okunozee Igbinedion (of the famous Ihaza Chieftaincy Family of Usen, Ovia South West Local Government Area of Edo State), the little boy, who was named Gabriel Osawaru at birth, lost his enterprising father to death one afternoon in the year1942 only two years after his father enrolled him at the Catholic Primary School Okada.
His father died when Gabriel was only eight (8) years old. From that time onwards, Madam Okunozee was saddled, like all single-mothers in the world, with the responsibility of Igbinedion’s education and upbringing.
It is pertinent to mention that Josiah Agharagbon’s father, Pa Igbinedion also died in the prime of his life. If this fate of dying in the prime of life is presumably a family jinx, keen observers of Igbinedion family history would have expected Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion to depart this earthly abode in the prime of his life. However, to the glory of God, Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion has journeyed on in life in peace and good health and attained the age 85 (eighty five) years. His family, friends and well wishers are now prayerfully and hopefully looking forward to joining him in ecstatically celebrating the centenary anniversary of his birth. Sir (Dr.) Chief Gabriel (God’s Messenger to the world), Osawaru (a person who acts on God’s instruction) Agharagbon Oviawe Igbinedion is the man with God’s spectacular anointing, who was given the permission and authority of the trinity to come to the world to break a jinx that crept into his paternal family in Okada several decades before his birth.
The life story of Chief Igbinedion has been written by several authors, several times in several languages that any new effort by adventurous writers may bear the risk of being considered ad nauseam (repeatedly) unless a gifted writer with the right professional initiatives, who can write the story from a yet unexpected angle, injecting new freshness into its fabric picks up the gauntlet.
It suffices therefore, to merely inform the reader that Chief Igbinedion left Okada village to live with one Samson Aiwekhoe, who was a forest guard in Benin City as a domestic servant after the death of his father in the year 1942 in order to continue his primary school education. That period in his life is to be remembered more for the cruelty meted out to him by Aiwekhoe and his senior wife and the hardship and adversity he suffered doing menial jobs to survive as he attended Benin Baptist Primary School, Mission Road, Benin City, than for any other experience he had.
It is in periods of adversities and extra-ordinary challenges that a man’s natural endowments, strengths and dormant initiatives find self-expression for his ultimate survival and triumph in life.
When Gabriel Igbinedion left the home of Mr. Samson Aiwekhoe, he teamed up with two other colleagues of his to use the money he was making from performing menial jobs in Benin City.
He also had a league of friends and hangers-on, who depended on him for free lunch of “Ikpowo” during break time at school.
It was whilst he was still in primary school that his endowment as a leader of men started to be noticed. When a teacher, one Mr. Omoregiea, native of Usen became so jealous of him because of his popularity and openly victimized him by thrashing him mercilessly in full view of his classmates, he easily mobilized his friends and classmates to embark on a revenge mission the following day. The warring party did not only hurt Mr. Omoregie with pebbles from catapults, it also punctured and sliced to pieces, the two tyres of his bicycle. His popularity and leadership qualities were so noticeable that his teacher at the school at the period, the late Revd. S.I. Usunalele nicknamed him “Exemption”.
Gabriel’s next destination on completion of his primary school education in Benin City was Lagos, where he was admitted into Eko Boys High School. His education in Lagos was truncated by lack of money to pay for his education whilst he was in class three. He returned home to Okada to take up teaching appointment in a primary school at Okoro II in the defunct Iyeke-Ovia Divisional Council. His landlord at Okoro II wanted him to marry his daughter, a girl that had been betrothed to his late father Josiah Agharagbon and when the young Gabriel refused to marry his daughter, he threatened to make his life very difficult for Gabriel in Okoro II. Consequently, Gabriel resigned his appointment as a teacher after consultation with his mother and travelled to Benin City where he got a new appointment as a Messenger in the Benin Divisional Council.
He was outstanding as a messenger because his brain was bursting with ideas and initiatives. A versatile and very resourceful young man, he soon was able to ride a motor cycle, even though he did not own one at the beginning of his employment.
He was able to carry colleagues who owned motor cycles from one location to another to market “Ukpa-Alaghofaro” a literacy publication by the Western Region Ministry of Education. As a result of his remarkable efforts and commitment, Benin Divisional Council earned the first position amongst all Council in the defunct Western Region in the sale and distribution of the literacy promotion publication.
Whilst working in Benin City. He successfully penetrated the higher echelon of the city’s social circle and made friends with prominent civil servants such as Mr. E.K. Kizor, a Superintendent of Police and Justice Stephen Peter Thomas of the High Court. He was able to successfully join exclusion clubs of authority and influence because he enjoyed confidence of the rich and powerful of the period.
Chief Igbinedion like the hydra-headed octopus quickly spread his magical hands across the nation’s economic terrain establishing the following companies: Gabdion Motors Limited (1973); Nedac (Nigeria) Limited,(1975); Okada Export and Import Company Limited (1975); Cable and Rods Company (Nigeria) Limited, (1975); I.B.W. Enterprises (Nigeria)Limited (1975); Okunozee and lgbinedion (Holdings) Limited (1975);Day and Zimmermann (Nigeria) Limited (now Ovia Farms) (Nigeria) Limited (1980); Mako Bottling Plant (Nigeria) Limited (1980); Bala Bottling Plant (Nigeria) Limited (1980); Okada Brewery Limited(1980); Moncrief Oil International Limited (1981); Swede Water (Nigeria) Limited (1986); Okada Wonderland Limited (1980; Okada Tours Limited (1987); La Phamachin (Nigeria) Limited (1988); Crown Corks; Crown Estate Limited, Nigeria Salt Factory, The Telegraph Newspaper and The Speaker Newspaper.
Chief lgbinedion’ numerous achievements have not gone without recognition from individuals, institutions organization (governmental and non-governmental), nation and continents. In the course of his illustrious journey through life, he has garnered over sixty (60) titles, awards and honours from various bodies and authorities.
He is the Esama of Benin Kingdom (a prominent chief among the Eghavbo N’Ore Palace Society and 5th in rank in the Benin chieftaincy hierarchy). He was honoured and invested a Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON)by the Federal Government of Nigeria on the historic occasion of his70th birthday in 2004. Chief Igbinedion is a Grand Commander of the Knights of the Order of St. Benedict (GCKB). He is the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Romania for Edo and Delta States of Nigeria. In December 2010, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award in African Chieftaincy Institutions from Ghana and also bagged an honorary Doctorate Degree in law from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Technology, Kumasi, Ghana in November, 2011.
Between 1988 and 1991, he bagged honorary Doctorate Degrees in Philosophy from Rust College, Holy Springs, Mississippi, Jackson State University, Mississippi and Oral Roberts University, Tulsa Oklahoma, all in the U.S.A. He is a proud recipient of the key to the City of Holly Springs, U.S.A. and the Key to the City of Montego Bay, Jamaica. Early in 2012, he received along with four other eminent Nigerians, the Zik’s Prize for Leadership in Africa.
Chief lgbinedion is an honorary Rotarian and a Five-Star Paul Harris Fellow. He has been honoured with Honorary Doctorate Degrees by not less than eight (8) Nigerian Universities among which are; University of Benin, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Imo State University, Okigwe, University of Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, University of Calabar, Cross River State, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State and several other academic institutions and professional bodies.
At the height of preparations for his 78th birthday in 2012,the Federal Government of Nigeria awarded the Esama the national honour of Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR). He received an Episcopal Award from Anglican Diocese of Uromi in 2014 in recognition of his unparalleled contributions to the cause of Christianity globally.