25 December, 2010
Olorogun Michael Ibru: An Impeccable Life at 80
By Onajomo Orere
OLOROGUN (Dr.) Michael Christopher Onajirevbe Ibru, OFR has been a man of distinction. Aside choosing the auspicious period of the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ to come into the World – December 25 - through the family of Chief Peter Epete Ibru and Chief (Mrs.) Janet Omotogor Ibru (nee Osadjere), in Warri, Delta State, he also shares the Lord’s compassion for the poor and the needy.
From birth, Olorogun Michael Ibru, who is the eldest child of his parents, has shown signs of greatness. His success in the world of business is legendary even in the face of adversity often associated with the business world.
As the business mogul marks his 80th birthday today, the prayer on the lips of his numerous admirers is that the good Lord should grant the man of many noble parts, many more years of blissful existence.
Michael Ibru attended the famous Igbobi College, Lagos between 1948 and 1951. During the period, he not only distinguished himself in academics, he also excelled in extracurricular activities such that in his last year in school, he was appointed Senior Prefect, a position usually reserved for the best students with leadership traits. Ibru performed so well in his onerous task that later, three of his four brothers also attended the same school.
His tenacity of purpose and determination to succeed amidst all odds could only be traced to his aristocratic pedigree.
His late father was a lover of knowledge and religion, who sojourned extensively in his quest for education and spiritual illumination, in virtually all parts of the country in his bid to propagate those values. His grandfather was Chief Igbru, the Olotu-rode of Awirhe – protector of the clan, whose name – Igbru – in its genealogy, means, “a large wide cloth used for covering oneself and others.” His late mother is the daughter of Chief Osadjere of the long line of wealthy merchants and political leaders in Olomu kingdom in Ughelli South Local Council of Delta State.
Michael Ibru was thus brought up in an atmosphere that unified the noble and time-honoured traditions of intellectual quest, faith in God and industry. His whole life has been a wonderful demonstration of the flourishing of these traditions – a life characterised by the exercise of genius, right motivations, and fear of God.
The ingenuity of Olorogun Ibru manifested itself for the first time at Igbobi College in 1948 when he moved up meteorically to Secondary Class II straight from the Elementary School without the usual preamble of Secondary Class I. And then in 1951 – his fourth year on a course that normally lasted six years – he passed the Cambridge School Certificate Examination with resounding distinction in Division One. Following the same rare path that is meant only for exceptional people, Michael Ibru, directly after leaving Igbobi College, secured a job in the United African Company (now UACN), as a manager-in-training. Here again this gifted man, Michael Ibru, set another pace for his peers, for he was one of the very few fresh school leavers to be so appointed to posts of responsibility by the UACN.
To test his entrepreneurial skills, he resigned from the UACN group in 1956 and founded the IBRU ORGANIZATION with the establishment of a modest trading company then called Laibru Limited. La in the name stood for Jimmy Large, the former boss in UACN who assisted Michael Ibru during and after he resigned from UACN, while ibru is Michael Ibru.
Within a very short time, these trading companies, which have ever since expanded and become one of the largest wholly indigenous business conglomerates on the whole length of the West Coast of Africa.
It soon crystallized in the distribution of frozen fish, with the humanitarian objective of eliminating malnutrition among all people living in Nigeria by providing them with low-priced, high-protein food. The name Ibru became synonymous with frozen fish.
Generous man of industry and wisdom, Olorogun Michael Ibru has employed his wealth for the material and intellectual well being of his fellow men. In his generosity, the hungry have found food to eat; in the largeness of his heart, the poor have found protection, in his meekness, the sorrowful have found solace. And out of his love for knowledge, Olorogun Michael Ibru donated a whole college – Agbarha College, later re-named Ibru College - to his people; donated classroom blocks, vehicles and money to various educational institutions and charity organisations; awarded several scholarships to deserving Nigerian students in secondary schools and institutions of higher learning both in Nigeria and abroad, and sponsored various sporting activities in order to ensure an even development of the mind, soul and body, which is the primary objective of education.
In full recognition of his dedicated service to the cause of education and his vast capacity and willingness to continue sponsoring that cause, the former Midwest State government appointed Olorogun Michael Ibru member of the Provisional Council of the University of Benin in 1975.
For his business enterprise beyond the shores of Nigeria, he was also appointed Member of the Economic Cabinet Committee of the former Midwest State of Nigeria.
Aside from being a member of the African Development Bank President’s Round Table of Businessmen in Africa, Olorogun Ibru was also a member of the Business Advisory Council of the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
His exploits in the field of business have also afforded him opportunity to serve as Council member of the following bodies: Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Nigeria-United States Business Council.
His efforts at developing the economic landscape of Nigeria and stemming the tide of poverty have not gone unnoticed, as he has a deluge of recognitions and awards for his enterprise. Among the awards are: Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) in 1981; Outstanding Businessman Award of the Nigerian American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 1983; Honorary Doctor of Laws (Hon. LL.D.) of the University of Benin (1978) and University of Ibadan (1978), Doctor of Agriculture (Honoraris Causa), University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, 2004.
Olorogun also in 2003 won the Zik Prize in Leadership and in 2005 he received the prestigious Dr. Kwame Nkruma Excellence in Enterprise Award.
Though Olorogun Ibru is a chairman of many successful companies, but the success of Oceanic Bank International Plc he founded about 20 years ago, is one that has again attested to the man’s business ingenuity.
The bank, before it was seized by the Central Bank of Nigeria last year, was one of the best eight banks in the country. Olorogun Ibru retired from the chairmanship of the bank in 2007.
From whichever perspectives one sees Olorogun Michael Ibru, it is glaring that the mogul is indeed a great man with a very large heart.
The story of Olorogun Michael Ibru is the story of success achieved through hard work and as the patriarch celebrates today 80 long years, the prayer is that God gives him more idyllic life to enjoy the fruits of his hard labour.