“I MAY be the publisher,” he always said, “but you are the experts.”
With those words, Alex Ibru, indeed, gave the journalists who worked for him their most prized possession: freedom to ply their trade. He neither asked nor ever interfered with what was published. That freedom allowed the newspaper to become the most formidable voice in the land and in turn put him, to use the words of another renowned publisher, Henry Robinson Luce of TIME magazine, in command of the most potent weapon in the battle for freedom and democracy.
For Alexander Uruemu Ibru, all battles ended yesterday at about 1.30pm in Lagos. On the day the 12,016th issue of his newspaper hit the newsstands and on a day his beloved wife, Maiden, turned 62, the publisher of the flagship of the Nigerian press died in the course of an illness. He was aged 66.
“He was a very self-effacing man,”Nduka Irabor, one of his editors, whose fearlessness and professionalism earned him a jail term and drew attention to the uniqueness of The Guardian, said yesterday. “He was driven by a passion to serve mankind and succeed in whatever undertaking. His style was unique and inspiring, so unique it seemed he chose a unique day, the 20th day of the 11th month in 2011, to bid us farewell.”
By giving freedom to his journalists, and allowing a culture of excellence to thrive in The Guardian, Ibru succeeded in building the newspaper into Nigeria’s most credible and influential newspaper
Ibru was born on March 1, 1945, the youngest of the famous Ibru brothers who hailed from Agbhara-Otor, in today’s Delta State and whose entrepreneurship made the name almost synonymous with business in Nigeria. He attended the Yaba Methodist Primary School (1951-1957), Ibadan Grammar School(1958-1960), Igbobi College, Lagos(1960-1963) and the University of Trent (formerly Trent Polytechnic)(1967-1970) where he studied Business Economics. After working briefly in the family business under the tutelage of his older brother and patriarch, Michael C.O. Ibru, Alex Ibru launched out on his own and soon became one of the most successful young businessmen in the country.
He founded The Guardian in 1983 with a mission to make it one of the five best English language newspapers in the world. It soon established itself and has since remained the flagship of the Nigerian press.
Ibru is the Chairman of Trinity Foundation, the vehicle through which he did his massive philanthropy, giving support to the poor and the needy. He was also the founder of the Ibru Centre which promotes ecumenism and religious harmony.
He was minister of Internal Affairs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and member of the highest Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) from 1993 to 1995. As minister, he introduced far-reaching reforms in the management of Nigeria’s prisons and the Immigration Service.
He left the Sani Abacha-led government on principle, after which an attempt was made on his life, allegedly on the orders of the ruling junta. The case on that attempted murder is still in court.
He received D.Litt honoris causa of the University of Port Harcourt.
In a statement last night, the management of this newspaper described him as ‘A man extremely passionate about Nigeria and a compassionate promoter of the joy of humanity, Ibru’s philanthropy, his outstanding entrepreneurship, contributions to the development of the mass media in Nigeria and commitment to selfless service stood him out all through his life.”
The Publisher who begged his editor for such a favour as featuring a photograph from a family (the publisher)’s event, Alex Ibru was so humble it embarrassed. He could not even be likened to TIME’s Harry Luce, who was very involved as a journalist and publisher in his Lucepapers and was very opinionated but still conceded his employees, editors, and reporters alike that he was one Pope whom they his College of Cardinals, should never deem infallible.
Alex Ibru largely treated his journalists as the Pontiff to his Altar Server. “You are the experts, do it your way,” he always said.
In deed, he never wanted anything other than to serve
Nigerians. “The Guardian is the voice of the people,” he
told his editors, recently as though writing his epitaph.
“It belongs to Nigerians and it’s a public trust.”