By Richard Elesho
On the 6th of April 1949, Pa. Idris Adejoh, an Onitsha based trader received an addition to his growing family in his modest residence at No.24 Chistus street. No comets heralded the new arrival. Neither did any fortune teller predict his future. That notwithstanding, Pa. Idris, Mama Hawau Igono and other members of the family exuded tremendous joy at the prospects of the baby. Although at that time, Onitsha had already acquired fame as a Centre of commerce, the kid did not flash silver spoon or any spoon at all in his mouth at birth. However, through a stint of hardwork, determination and good luck, he has grown to be a successful industrialist, philanthropist and elder statesman in his generation. Welcome to snippets from the largely unwritten ‘grass to grace’ stories of Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, CON, (aka Ibro) former Governor of Kogi State and astute businessman.
Ibrahim had been accustomed to a life of commerce from very early in life. His father
had a machine boat., which he used for produce business, while his mother was a petty trader. They were both devout Muslims from Igala land. But, that did not stop them from enrolling the boy at the Holy Trinity Primary School for the first leg of his Western education. The school curriculum included Mathematics, Social Studies and Bible Knowledge. In fact, following his good showing in catechism class, Ibrahim had only narrowly missed being baptized in the school.
It was while in Holy Trinity that the boy cut his business teeth in scavenging. His parents had been going through hard times. As a way of raising money for basic needs, he embarked on an ingenious undertaking. The boy formed the habit of picking empty bottles from refuse dumps. He would then clean them up in hot water and soap before taking them to the General Hospital in Onitsha for sale. He was able to bail out his mother from embarrassing financial situations with proceeds from the infantile practice.
His has been a life marked by selflessness and service. Remarkably, it was selfless service that earned him a first ‘break through’ in life. The caretaker of their house in Onitsha, James Nwanne, had a striking likeness for Ibrahim. He was also the caretaker of a property belonging to the legendary Nnamidi Azikiwe. In addition, Nwanne had responsibility for tending the flock of sheep, goats and other domesticated animals kept by Zik. Without prompting, Ibrahim would go to the bush and cut grasses as feeds for the livestock without expecting pecuniary gains. But an appreciative Zik who had also attended Holy Trinity, would later tell Nwanne to bring the thoughtful boy to him at which point he gave him money for his efforts. Till date, Ibrahim covets the many academic titles of the late Owelle of Onitsha and rates him as mentor.
Ibrahim in this three scores and ten years has known many ups and downs. From Holy Trinity, vicissitude landed him in far away Kano, where he completed his primary education at United Native Authority Primary School. From there, he came again down south as a Boarding House student at Kings College of Commerce, Buguma, in present day Rivers State, funded by the outstanding Ijaw educator and former banker, Prof. Barago Tariah. Ibrahim distinguished himself in academics and sports. He was a notable member of the school football team. Unfortunately, he could only stay in the school for about Two years as he had to drop out for lack of funds. Darkness momentarily dimmed his prospects
He fell into deep melancholy and confusion. A ray of hope appeared on the horizon when his uncle mobilized him with a little money with which he started a furniture business in Minna. He made success of the seed money, registered Ibro Furniture Company, invited some experts into the business and went into massive production of radiogram. After recording good success in the furniture business, Ibrahim diversified first into boutique and supermarket, then went into hospitality industry. He started with Golden Sport Hotel Minna which eventually metamorphosed into Ibro Hotels. He is also into property development, construction and farming. Ibrahim’s exploits in business are gigantic. But even more remarkable are his humility, kindness and forthrightness
Much as Ibrahim was recording tremendous business gains, he preferred to operate away from the flash light. But like a golden fish which has no hiding place, the ordinary masses of his home state- Kogi soon found him and entreated him with their votes to be their leader. Consequently, he won election as Governor of the Confluence State in March 2003 under the platform of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. He governed the State for nearly Nine years, the only Nigerian who had been so privileged. The period of his stewardship till date remains a golden era in the development of the state. Infrastructure and human capital growth were cornerstones of his policies. He settled three months salary arrears which he inherited from his predecessor, and did not bequeath any unpaid wages to his successor.
The administration pursued welfarist programs in all sectors. For example, it instituted scholarship and regular payment of bursary awards for indigenes of the state in higher institutions. Similarly, it introduced payment of NECO/ WAEC fees for all secondary school final year students. In addition, there was massive infrastructure development in schools across the state. About 2,000 Primary School blocks of Four classrooms and office each were built while most secondary schools were renovated. Kogi State University Anyigba also experienced the Ibro Midas touch attracting world-class academics that helped her achieve full accreditation of all her 29 academic programs in 29 months. Under Idris the institution was nurtured from being a glorified secondary school to becoming the best among State/ Private universities in Nigeria.
That is not all. Idris constructed about 1,500 units of houses for workers in Lokoja and across the 21 Loal Governments. All major roads in the state capital were dualised. Other notable dividends were the International Market, Confluence Stadium, State Secretariat Phase II and the 50million liters capacity Greater Lokoja Water Scheme. In short, under him, education, healthcare, rural development, housing, road construction and electrification of communities received unprecedented attention. It is instructive that Ibro achieved the above and many more landmarks without borrowing a dime from anywhere. For him, prudence was the key word. This is why majority of the civil servants and the people, with a sense of nostalgia wish that the ‘Ibro’ era never ended.
A bridge builder and an ambassador of peace, Idris employed transparency, fairness, and equity in matters of state policy to bring unity and love among the various tribes in the state. He was conscious of the ethnic tripod and the variegated composition of the state and the need to carry everybody along. He never showed favouritism nor exhibited clannishness in appointments, project location and employment matters. Under him, projects were sited mostly equitably and on the bases of need. In fact, for the Nine years he was Governor, he did not appoint any commissioner from Omala, his Local Government of origin.
But above all, Ibrahim brought his selflessness to bear on his activities while in public office. For instance, he cut down on his allowances and other emoluments without making a razzmatazz and publicity out of the decision. He was prudent in his management of resources of the state. At a time when a group accused him of corruption Idris waved his immunity. Without delay, the then governor wrote to the presidency and invited the EFCC to come for his investigation. Of course, he was found not guilty and given a clean bill of health.
Idris is a poster child of divine favour. He had survived many road accidents by the whiskers. On one occasion, his car was a write off, yet he came out unscathed. But even more intriguing was the miraculous survival of his three daughters in an air crash. The flight had 109 persons on board and Five survivors, Three of which were his daughters.
In and out of public office, Ibro remains a lesson in humility, completely not intoxicated by his enormous wealth. He is accessible, listens and always willing to help. Outside governorship, he has devoted his energy to building mosques, religious centers, scholarships, community services and helping those in need. Such are the antecedents of the man whose birthday is today. Happy birthday to a man who started business as a scavenger, became a shepherd, a carpenter, radiogram builder, hotelier, law graduate, ex-governor, elder-statesman and above all, a jolly-good-boss.
Elesho was Chief Press Secretary to the former Governor
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