The Events That Re-empowered His Commitment to
The Guardian, Ibru Centre, and Trinity Foundation
THEY might have entered the premises of the Federal Palace
Hotel as one of the several guests that trooped into the high
brow hotel that Friday. Yet their target was delaying their
mission, which was to shake the nation to its foundation.
Wait, they however must because the order to proceed with the assignment had been given. And it must be clinically executed. No room for mistakes. That was 10 years ago, precisely February 2, 1996.
Nothing in the horizon gave a clue as the day wearily dragged on and the golden rim of the setting sun broke out from the west, setting the tone for a well-deserved weekend.
An ash Peugeot 504 car, nosed its way towards the ever-busy Falomo roundabout to connect Ikoyi. Inside the vehicle a tired chief executive reviewed his day. His last act as he would recollect was the handing of his final will over to his brother, Goodie. He was anxious to go home.
Then, a staccato of gunshots. In a moment of instinctive reflex he raised his hand in feeble defence against his assailants as if to prevent the hot leads from hitting target. That was all h could remember. Total darkness. Time was 6.30 p.m.
The account of the attempt on the life of this noble Nigerian, Dr. Alex Uruemu Ibru, the publisher of The Guardian Group of Newspapers who a year before the incident, was the Internal Affairs Minister under the late General Sani Abacha; had all the trappings of a movie.
It followed in the tragic pattern of the time that consumed Chief Alfred Rewane, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, Rear Admiral Tunde Elegbede and a host of others. The twist was that Ibru was to be an exemption. By the Grace of the Almighty, he survives and lives on.
The near successful attempt to kill Ibru sent shock waves down the spine of Nigerians. Many wondered the extent to which the social contract binding the state of its citizens had been desecrated as the people were daily haunted and killed by agents of the same institution saddled with guaranteeing them security.
Though the grisly details had since become public property, Ibru would later say that he had forgiven his assailants. “The event now belongs to the past and the past must forgiven and forgotten,” he had told his friends. This informed the reason he refused to bow to pressures to be involved in the trials. Asked how he felt about the revelations, being reported in the papers, he had said , “I see the headlines, I don’t read the details.”
After the assassins had pumped his body with bullets and left him for dead leaving the crowd of eyewitnesses to bear the ugly tale, the battle to save his life commenced.
The odds against his survival were high, as the injuries were potentially fatal. The weapon used in the attack, an AK 47-assault riffle is well noted for its efficiency. He could not have lived. Within the hour, his adorable wife, Maiden, and his brother Goodie had taken charge of things.
In spite of medical advise to let his health stabilize before he could be sent abroad for comprehensive medical attention, the twosome decided he should be flown to the United Kingdom. Urgent arrangement was made to get an air ambulance, and by the following Sunday, he was in Britain where he underwent a six-and-a-half-hour head surgery.
Doctors in the United Kingdom were to later confirm that he owed his life to that decision.
“I was told later that if I had arrived in the UK any moment later than I did, I would have no chance of survival at all.”
Even though the evacuation was prompt, the doctors were not optimistic about his chances. They painted a tragic picture, offering no strand of hope. The neurologists were worse. Their verdict was that he would be rendered vegetable for life if he survived.
Those verdicts could have broken any woman’s heart, but not that of his wife, whom Alex in the book, “Alex Uruemu Ibru: The Daniel from the Lion’s Den,” fondly referred to as, ‘my gorgeous wife.’
Though distraught, she remained inseparable from her husband’s bedside and strong in her faith for divine intervention, she signed the necessary authorization for surgery.
There were so many possible complications that could have attended such a high-risk operation, but she believed it is better to do anything to save the life of her husband rather than not doing anything at all. Though the doctors were not optimistic about the operation, her resolve paid off.
Their shock was better imagined when in less than 24 hours, the patient woke up and asked to be taken to the toilet.
Alex Ibru had miraculously survived the surgery. The neurologist took him through a battery of tests and the surgeon testified that he had never witnessed a more miraculous recovery. Three months later he put him through another series of tests and he marveled at the rapid recovery, which exceeded all expectations.
In the publisher’s own words the surgery and his healing had all the trappings of a miracle. He was to tell a high-level team of The Guardian editors, years later that his miraculous survival was inseparably linked to the understanding of the ways of the God Almighty and the peace that flows from this understanding.
He could not be wrong as the neuro-surgeon’s testimony confirmed that his recovery had all the imprimatur of the Almighty.
He had said, “You were already at the door of death, but God said :’Go back.’”
If the pace of the recovery of his body was a miracle, the rate at which he regained the control of his mind was just as rapid. Everybody was surprised that he quickly regained his faculties in spite of the surgery.
Interestingly, while others in his shoes might have been gloating at their recovery, the publisher became more reflective and read deeper meaning to his continued existence. To him, God must have spared his life for a particular purpose. The fact that he did not die in spite of the odds against him showed that he has not completed the assignment allotted to him by God at creation.
Of necessary consequence therefore is that the experience had drawn him closer to God and the need to live the rest of his life in the service of humanity.
In the book cited earlier, he had said, “For the most of what remains of my life, I intend to do two major things. First, I will continue to associate with The Guardian to ensure that its role as the voice of the people is never compromised. The second and perhaps even more deeper engagement will be the Trinity Foundation, which main focus is to provide succour for the poor, the sick, and the needy.”
Indeed, these two tasks had occupied his mind even before the dastardly act.
Since his disengagement from government he had thrown himself back into reinvigorating The Guardian, which was proscribed at the height of the Abacha junta’s infamy.
This was to ensure that the newspaper regained its pride of place as the nation’s dependable and truly independent medium.
The second was an offshoot of the Ibru Centre, which was going through conceptual fine-tuning at the time of the incident. These perhaps were the very reasons that the publisher in his remarks on the occasion marking his return to his Ikoyi residence in 2001 said: “The Almighty had given me a lease of life, a spiritual translation… I recognize as soon as I became conscious again, that God had spared my life in order that I could serve Him and humanity more in my chosen ways.”
Though he had pushed the near death experience behind him, 10 years on, it is still doubtful whether the publisher could still fathom why they wanted him dead. “ I still don’t know why they did what they did. Only God has the answer… I don’t hate anybody, I don’t blame anybody,” he told a team of editors of his cherished newspaper.
He would not blame his going into public service either. He regarded that epoch as a necessity in his life. It was his contribution to nation-building. He said. “I accepted because I did not want Nigerians to say that it was because Alex Ibru refused to contribute his quota that things eventually went wrong in the country.”
He cherished those ideals that took him into government, and insisted that the nation had not achieved much in the area of evolving a true nation-state.
Fundamental concepts of true federalism, decentralization and restructuring of the polity as well as redressing the neglect of the Niger-Delta people remain contentious today as they were when he grappled with them as the Internal Affairs Minister.
Though the attack on February 2, 1996 had suspended the two major preoccupations dear to the publisher, he soon threw himself back on the jobs as soon as he fully recovered and came back into the country two months after the death of Gen. Sani Abacha.
He however in a rather symbolic gesture of the even refused to return immediately to his Ikoyi home. He had reserved the homecoming till 2001 when in his estimation; he has recorded some level of success in the two assignments before him that faithful evening five years earlier.
His soar-away newspaper that he started when he was 38 years old had continued to wax stronger and notched even grater pedestal.
His other more sublime preoccupation, the Trinity Foundation, through which he intend to touch the poor, the needy and the sick in the society has not only taken off but is already meeting its set objectives.
The Ibru Centre, an ecumenical centre of repute has also become a Mecca for religious events. Foremost religious figures throng the place to reconnect with the divine creator.
But much more, Alex Ibru had been more humbled over the years by his experience.
For a man who came into wealth at an early age, he had come to the understanding that the rich is to keep the wealth in trust for God and other human beings, who are less privileged.
That alone made him reinvigorate the training of his six children on the need to remain humble whatever their stations in live.
He went even further in his conviction, as he wrote all his brothers and sisters to follow his example and train their children in like manner, as some of his personal letters to other members of the family documented in the book shows.
The publisher’s experience further confirmed what he had learnt from his elder brother about his enterprise: that publishing a truly independent newspaper in a country like Nigeria is a very risky venture that might cause one his life.
Though he never brushed off such risk, it was instructive
that eventually it was a price paid for a worthy cause-a cause
which today stands not only as a pride to the Ibrus, but has
come to be a national institution and the last hope for
millions of its hapless citizenry.