By Richard Elesho
He means different things to different people. Many easily remember Alh. Ibrahim Idris, CON, as a successful industrialist, a giver and a politician of note. But his detractors think of him as a selfish and foxy old man that must be kept at bay.
Whereas fans venerate him, his critics will stop at nothing, including incitement and falsehood, to bring him to oddity, public opprobrium and ridicule. However, love or hate him, Ibrahim has a long history of resilience, trials and divine favour in his trail all the way. Indeed, his is a lullaby echoing scenes from rags to riches.
In this month in 1949, (April 6th), he was born at 7, Veinro North Street in the commercial town of Onitsha to Igala parents. He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His parents were working class traders. In fact, it is fortuitous that Ibrahim would, by a tinge of hard work, selflessness and divine favour exit the poverty radius. His maiden commercial endeavour was as a child and mandated by circumstance. Let us see how.
In an effort to meet some of his basic needs without always running to Mama, Ibrahim went into scavenging. In both friendly and stormy weather of those days, he would walk the streets of Onitsha and visit every refuse dump in the neighborhood with a sack hanging on his shoulder. His Target was to collect used empty bottles of different sizes. After acquiring a sizable number, the lad would clean them up with a solution of hot water and soap. He would then take them to the Government Hospital in the town for sale. The bottles were used for dispensing drugs to sick people and his services were in hot demand in the hospital. Part of the proceeds from the ingenuity went Mama Hawau, his mother.
Pa Idris was a strict Muslim with more than one wives. His children were exposed to the virtues of tolerance, team work and diligence. But, he loved the civilization of the White man and was determined to make his son learn his ways. Pronto, he enrolled Ibrahim at Holy Trinity Primary School when he was six-year-old. It was a mission school owned by the Anglican Church. Here Ibrahim was exposed to the Bible, Catechism and he passed Baptismal classes.
He would have been baptised but for his inability to pay the mandatory one shilling required at the time. Today, he does not hesitate to give towards the advancement of the works of God either in the Mosque or in the Church.
From childhood Ibrahim had always sustained the hunger for meeting the needs of others. That was how he had a chance encounter with the late Owelle of Onitsha and Nigeria’s first indigenous Governor-General Dr. Nnamidi Azikiwe. Zik had a commendable number of sheep, goat and other animals.
The man saddled with responsibility to care for the animals and his property lived in the same compound with Ibrahim’s parents. Ibrahim formed the habit of going to the bush to get feeds for the livestock. With time, the renown politician took note of the thoughtful lad and at a time dashed him five shillings. He became a regular face in that compound.
Many decades later, selfless service to others is a factor that still account for his success in business and characterized his activities in public office. His transition from poverty to wealth had other encumbrances. For instance he had to drop out of Buguma Commercial College for lack of money. He completed one year in the school.
But, after staying at home for many months, an uncle assisted him with a modest sum, with which he ventured into furniture making. He got a major break through in the business and diversified into general merchandise, hospitality and construction. The flagship of his business empire is the Grand Ibro Hotel, a sprouting facility of about 300 rooms and all ensuite located in the heart of the Federal CapitalTerritory, Abuja.
Forthright and humble, the industrialist kept a safe distance from partisan politics. However in 2003 he succumbed to popular demand by the ordinary citizens of Kogi State urging him to come out and serve them. He joined the People’s Democratic Party, PDP and vied in the Governorship election of that year.
By a stroke of divine order, he defeated the incumbent and proceeded to govern the State for nearly nine years. He is the only Nigerian dead or alive, who have been privileged to govern a State for such a long period. Yet, his tenure has remained a reference point and model for good governance in the state, nay country.
Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, CON, brought integrity, seriousness, fairness, prudence and equity to governance. Projects were sited and executed on the basis of needs and not necessarily on a chauvinistic consideration of the governor’s place of birth or proximity to same.
At the risk of sounding immodest, Idris led one of the most successful administrations ever known to the people of Kogi State. The International Market; the Specialist Hospital; Confluence Stadium; Greater Lokoja Water Scheme, housing estates in Otokiti, Ganaja and in the 21 Local Government Areas; Dualisation of all major roads in Lokoja, construction of about 2,000 primary school blocks of four classrooms each; massive infrastructure development in the rural areas are some of the legacy achievements of that golden era which people will not forget in a hurry.
As a matter of fact, when Idris took over power in May 2003, he inherited unpaid leave bonuses and two months salary areas. He cleared all within a few months of assuming office. He also implemented relativity and a new minimum wage, making civil servants in Kogi State among the best paid in the country and the envy of all states in the North-Central. That is not all.
In all his years in government, Ibrahim did not implement a mass retrenchment policy even as salaries, allowances, bonuses and emoluments were paid as and when due.
It is instructive to note that the Ibrahim Idris Administration did not borrow a dime, arrange for a bond or bail-out from any financial institution in Nigeria or abroad. At the end of his tenure in 2012, Kogi was one of the most solvent states in the country. Little wonder, people still throng to his house for one thing or the other even many years after he exited public office.
Other factors add to his enigma. In Sept. 2009, literally speaking Ibrahim became another wonder of the world when three of his daughters namely Zainab, Jemila and Aisha survived in an air crash. The ADC flight from Abuja to Sokoto had 107 people on board when it crashed. There were only five survivors, three of which were children of one man. Even more confounding was the fact they were not seated together in the same area of the air craft.
Nearly a decade after leaving office as Governor, the people still cherish his memory and show him love whenever they see him. He ranks among the few former governors not stagnated by one corruption case or the other and now devotes his time and resources to his family and charity. Similarly, he does not compromise with playing his favourite game – gulf.
Ibrahim is absolutely averse to ostentation. Last year when he clocked the age of wisdom, he marked the day with a small group of friends and family members in his Asokoro residence. The global outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and its attendant anomie call for a more austere measure this year. Perhaps, this is why the date nearly escaped my attention. May God heal our world of the pandemic and grant that humanity will survive its turbulence.
Happy birthday to a worthy boss, elder statesman and foremost industrialist, the man, who unknown to many, started life as a scavenger.
.Elesho was media aide to former Governor Ibrahim Idris.