ISSUE 152 (2013)
ESAMA OF BENIN CHIEF GABRIEL IGBINEDION THE LIVING LEGEND CELEBRATES 79TH BIRTHDAY IN GRAND STYLE
Having carved a niche for hosting elaborate events to mark his birthdays and thank God for his life every year, nothing short of a classy and colourful celebration was expected when Esama of Benin Kingdom, Sir Chief (Dr.) Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, CON turned 79-and at the end of the two weeks of festivities, the billionaire businessman did not disappoint; it was another superlative celebration that was fitting for a living legend.
With wonderful cultural displays and visits by groups and organisations from across Nigeria and beyond including State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole the birthday celebrations as always shook Benin City, Edo State in South South Nigeria.
There were many pre-birthday events but the celebration hit a high tempo on his exact birthday, September 11, 2013. This was the day that the real celebration began-and has been the case for many years, the day kicked off with a top-notch Morning Dew Interdenominational Service held on the lush grounds of the celebrant's expansive home, in GRA Benin.
Attended by Christian Ministers from different denominations, business and political associates; family and friends, the event began as early as 6.30 am and it was well-attended. It is always astounding to find hundreds turning out yearly to honour this remarkable entrepreneur, and the fact that the crowd hardly ever reduces is a testimony to Chief Igbinedion's clout, connection and the many lives he has touched and impacted throughout his sojourn on earth.
Rev. Obehi Iziduh set proceedings rolling with the call to worship which was taken from Psalm 93:1-5, after which the congregation rose to sing the opening hymn, which was of course the popular song, Blessed Assurance.
The Opening prayer was by Rev. (Dr.) Ogbemudia, after which the service went into auto pilot. Rt. Rev. Dr. C. Aigbe-Davies read the scripture taken from the book of Isaiah 43 1-10 before the Rev. Felix Omobude, General Superintendent of New Convenant Gospel Church was invited to preach the birthday sermon.
Rev. Omobude urged the congregation to emulate the celebrant’s love and passion for God. He noted that the greatest virtue he admires in Chief Igbinedion is that when it comes to the things of God, the celebrant is always supportive and consistently places God as numero uno in his life.
Speaking about the Esama of Benin Kingdom, the Reverend stated “You are someone who is not shy to show everyone that God is the source of your strength; Esama, May God give you more years on earth. You will celebrate 80, you will celebrate 90, you will celebrate 120 and if you need more years, because of your diligence, God will give you”. A loud Amen and cheers emanated from all corners of the venue.
He continued “May I call on everyone here to learn from the Esama the essence of sharing. One of the greatest gifts of the celebrant is that he knows how to share. I believe that if there are more men like Chief Igbinedion in Nigeria, things would be better. He invests in people, and shares the blessings and wealth God has given him. Esama, you would continue to tower high".
The man of God also heaped praise on the Matriarch of the House of Igbinedion, Lady Cherry Igbinedion. He thanked her for the role she has played in the life of the celebrant all these years, noting that she has been a major factor on his life and a worthy partner. “May God continue to strengthen you, Lady Cherry, you have been a wonderful wife and mother” he added
He then counselled the celebrant “There is nothing you want to get that you cannot get, there is hardly any person at home and abroad that you want to reach that you cannot reach. Therefore, it is important at this stage of your life that you move even closer to God. So that through you, many people would come to know God. May God make your later years better than the former.”
As expected at ceremonies such as this, there was a session of praises-and Chief Igbinedion is not someone who goes for the ordinary, therefore this segment was extraordinary: different groups and choirs such as Jesus Breed Choir, Intercessory Choir, Praise Team and God’s Historic Choir took turns to entertain with soul-lifting songs and choruses. The ever cheerful celebrant was almost always on his feet singing along and dancing to the glory of God. The highest point of this session was the sterling performance by Rev. father Chima Okosisi, a saxophonist that brought everyone on their feet including the celebrant.
Soon it was time for tributes. First to be read was the goodwill message from Nigeria's President, H.E. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. According to Mr. President, who referred to the celebrant as his father, “I join your family, friends and well-wishers to felicitate with you and celebrate a life that has been marked by numerous trail-blazing attainments.
“You have remained a noteworthy icon over the years, channelling your unique creative and productive energies towards remarkable entrepreneurial accomplishments and the building of bridges of harmonious engagement across the country.
“It is my prayer that Almighty God continues to guide, guard and prosper you even as He blesses you with many more active years of distinguished service and personal fulfilment. I congratulate you on behalf of my family, the Government and people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and wish you Happy Birthday.
While the representatives of Sokoto and Katsina State Governors came to personally read and present their congratulatory letters, the celebrant had messages from such dignitaries like Vice President, Arch. Namadi Sambo, former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd.), PDP Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, Chairman of GoldenPeaks Capital Holdings, Adriano Agosti, Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II, The Ooni of Ife, Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II, The Asantehene, Alhaji Hassan Ahmed II, the Emir of Nasarawa, Alhaji Shehu Idris, Emir of Zazzau ,Alhaji A.Y.E. Dirisi, The Okuokpellagbe of Okpella, Oba Kole Ojutalayo, Faderera I, Laroka of Wanikin-Ife, HRM Igwe Elias Nneli, Traditional Ruler of Umeuje Community, Prince Sir K.B. Omatseye-Omatseye, HRH Oluogbe II, The Olu-Awure of Usen, Oba Akadiri Saliu Momoh IV, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, The Olukare of Ikare Akoko, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, Brig-Gen. Samuel Ogbemudia (Rtd.) and The Otunba Adekunle Ojora. There were also messages from members of the Diplomatic Corps including Ambassadors and High Commissioners from: Cote D’Ivoire, Sudan, Phillipines, Trinidad & Tobago, The Gambia, Uganda, Iraq, South Sudan, Serbia and Venezuela. As well as many State Governors too.
In his remarks, Chief Lucky Igbinedion thanked everyone for honouring his dear father. The former Governor of Edo state who is the eldest child of the celebrant first appealed to everyone who has been referring to his father as His Royal Highness to desist from such act, stating there was only one Royal Highness in Benin Kingdom and that was the Oba of Benin. He was applauded by all. He then went on to inform all that his father’s next birthday in 2014 ( when he would turn 80) would be extra special because it would be taken care of entirely by the children. He noted that his father was a wonderful man, and an indefatigable businessman who has touched many lives. He prayed God to grant him good health and mare years.
The session was rounded off with an emotional speech by the Esama of Benin. He first broke into choruses in praise of the Almighty God, then he began by a firm declaration that he would have been nothing today without God. He said that God has been his only source of strength and sustenance. He thanked God for giving him good health and sparing his life to see his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. He promised to invest more in the vineyard of the Lord and also stay close to Him. The ceremony was rounded off with a first-rate reception where the House of Igbinedion were at their hospitable best.
A week later, inside the St. Gabriel The Archangel Catholic Church on Sapele Road, Benin, the 79th birthday celebration came to an end with a Praise & Thanksgiving Service.
The celebrant sparkled that day in a full regalia of a Knight. Little wonder that when Chief Igbinedion arrived the church in his convoy of two latest model Rolls Royce Phantoms, he was welcomed by a guard of honour mounted by The Knights of St. John International and St. John Ladies Auxillary.
The church service was soulful and it was co-ordinated by Rev. Fr. Festus Agbonmwan, the Parish Priest of the church. Among the special guests in attendance were PDP Board Of Trustees, Chairman, Chief Anthony Anenih, Minister of Works, Arc. Mike Onolememen, The Otunba Adekunle Ojora and wife, The Erelu Ojuolape Ojora and Mr. Lucky Imasuen.
The service and the ceremony that followed afterward which included the signing of a special scroll formed a perfect way of ending a truly wonderful celebration of Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, The Living Legend.
IGBINEDION THE LIVING
LEGEND AT 79
By Michael Edo Ogie
William Shakespeare, English poet, actor and playwright in one of his unputdownable books entitled “Macbeth”, described human life as “a poor player that struts and frets its time upon the stage and then is heard no more:” and as “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I beg to disagree with Shakespeare if it is assumed that he was referring to the lives of all persons; great and small, who have trod this earth. If however he was categorically referring to the lives of the wretched of this world, I may be comfortable with his observation.
For no reasonable person will disagree that the lives of great men and women such as the late Abraham Lincoln, former President of the United States of America, the late Winston Churchill, war-time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the late John Kennedy former President of the United States of America, the late Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, the late Mahatma Ghandi, father of India's independence, the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India, Mother of the “poorest amongst the poor”, the late Indira Ghandi, former Prime Minister of India who was brutally assassinated, the late Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the late Revd. Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr, the globally renowned champion of non-violent resistance and Chief Priest of racial equality, the late Michael Jackson, global king of hip-hop, the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, first indigenous Governor-General of Nigeria and former President (titular) of Nigeria, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, former Premier of the defunct Western Nigeria and the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, former Premier of the defunct Northern Nigeria, were lives that were mere walking shadows and poor players who strutted and fretted their times upon the stage of the world, or can any sane and objective person describe these illustrious lives as tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” These lives, by all available indices were very successful, memorable and famous. They were lives that were eventful and marked by extra-ordinary achievements. They were lives that impacted positively on the lives of their fellow men and made the world a better place for the habitation of humanity. They were lives lived in tandem with the philosophy of the great English poet, Longfellow, as written in his immortal poem: “A Psalm of Life'” in which he observed as follows:
“Lives of great men all remind us
that we can make our own lives sublime
and departing leave behind us footprints
on the sands of time.”
These were indeed lives that were patterned on the assertion of another great English writer of the 19th Century, William McKinley who wrote the following immortal lines:
“That's all a man can hope for during his lifetime;
to set an example and when he is dead,
to be an inspiration for history.”
Some of the living legends that can be categorized along with these great men who are having their well-deserved rest in the bosom of the Lord are personalities such as Bill Gates, the computer wizard, Mohammed Ali, the boxing legend, Nelson Mandela, inspirtational and iconic leader, hero of the anti apartheid struggle in South Africa and the first black President of South Africa, Barack Obama, the first African-American President of the United States of America, Usaine Bolt, the world's fastest man and a few others. These are special lives; these are lives that must be celebrated by every generation of humanity. These are lives that blaze a trail doing things that have been done by no man before them; displaying courage, commitment, stoicism and vision. They are lives that the great English Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson applauded in one of his inspirational essays when he wrote:
“Follow not where the path may lead
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”
All those well-informed men and women across the globe; men and women of courage and good judgement who have read or heard about him or have in one way or the other interacted with His Excellency Sir Chief Dr. Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, Esama of Benin Kingdom, Grand Commander of the Knights of the Benedictine Order (GCKB), Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFR), Honorary Consul of the Republic of Romania to Edo and Delta States of Nigeria, Honourable Chancellor/Founder of Nigeria's premier and leading private University Igbinedion University Okada, and Chairman, Okada Group of Companies, will agree with this writer that this Titan and living legend meritoriously belongs to the revered club of this rare breed of God's specially anointed men and women.
If any one is curious to know the forces that propel the greatness of a person from height to height; the stupendous achievements which relentlessly attend his efforts in life, the best thing to do is look at all aspects of his life under the microscope of life. Look at his physical frame, his parental background, his care for his nuclear and extended families, his education, his social engagements, especially his friends and business associates, his businesses and business ethics, his commitment to the progress of his people and the development of his community, his contributions to the promotion of the image of his country and people, his religion and spiritual goals and finally his vision for the reign of peace and harmony amongst the diverse cultures and people that populate the world.
In applying these indices to Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, one can easily discover why the man has become such a roaring success and why his mesmerizing success has endured over fifty years at the top of the chart. Chief Igbinedion is no doubt very personable with little formal education which he has tremendously improved upon through self-education to the extent that any of his apologists can assert without fear of contradiction at any forum today that Chief Igbinedion has meritoriously earned Doctorate Degrees in Philosophy and several other disciplines from the proverbial University of Life's Experiences.
Very early in his life, he tried to find a place for himself after the death of his father Pa Josiah Oviawe Agharagbon Igbinedion who departed this world whilst his son Gabriel was only eleven years of age. One attribute he inherited from his late father was that of outstanding leadership which was to stand him in good stead in tackling the challenges of life in later years. Pa Igbinedion, a Road Overseer was an outstanding community leader and the founder of modern Okada Town. He was an icon of community development who donated a piece of land to the Catholic Mission to build St. Gabriel's Primary School, the first educational institution in Okada.
After the death of his father, the ambitious Gabriel trudge on in his educational pursuit, relocating to Benin City, a distance of 45 kilometres from Okada for the furtherance of his primary school education which was muscled by the reclaimed dowry his late father had paid for a prospective second wife and the meagre earnings of his mother Madam Okunozee of the Ihaza Royal Family of Usen, Ovia South-West Local Government from her business as a major fish trader.
It was no surprise therefore that his educational pursuit was truncated whilst he was yet in Class three (3) at Eko Boys High School, Lagos and the crestfallen had Gabriel to the return to his Okada village and later gain employment as a Pupil Teacher in Okoro II Village near his home village.
As was to be expected, all his mother was concerned with upon the return of her only son to his home was scout for a suitable girl for him to marry and she readily succeeded in her desire.
The young Gabriel was so dissatisfied with his position as a Village teacher that he soon sought and secured employment as a Messenger with the then Benin Divisional Council. The hand of God was however on Gabriel who in 1959 enlisted in the Nigeria Police Force as a Constable. Incidentally, his dear mother Madam Okunozee Igbinedion who had stood firmly as his pillar of support and encouragement died that same year, on 26th November 1959.
His sojourn in the Nigeria Police was brief, ending in 1963 when he resigned to join Leventis Motors, Ibadan the capital of the defunct Western Region of Nigeria as a Salesman and later Regional Manager, heading the company's office in the newly created Midwest Region with headquarters in Benin City.
Fate however continued to beckon on Mr. Gabriel Igbinedion to take up his rightful place in the scheme of the Almighty, leading to his resignation from Leventis Motors in 1968 and the establishment of his own company Mid-Motors (Nig.) Limited, the same year with himself as Chairman/Managing Director of the fledgling company in Benin City, Edo State.
Mid-Motors (Nig.) Limited was a motor vehicles sales and distribution company. He moved on in 1972 to establish the Mid-Motors Assembly Plant in Benin City. This was in itself a feat as it was the first indigenous assembly plant in Nigeria. The unstoppable entrepreneur was soon to establish a second motor assembly plant in Kano, Northern Nigeria and a sales sub-agency in the commercial Eastern town of Onitsha. The journey to great heights had just begun.
From 1972 onward, he dominated the Nigerian business environment, showing his intimidating presence everywhere as his businesses grew by leaps and bounds. Some of the companies he established were United African Shipping Line Ltd., Intercontinental Merchant Bank, Jamaica, IBW Radio and Television, Gabdion Motors Ltd., Nedac (Nig.) Ltd., Okada Export and Import Company Ltd., Okunozee and Igbinedion Holdings Ltd., Okada Farms Ltd., Okada Brewery Ltd., Moncrief Oil Ltd., Crown Merchant Bank Ltd., Okada Estate Ltd. and several other companies. It is on record that Chief Igbinedion in the course of his business exploits, established more than thirty two (32) companies prominent among which are: Okada Airline (1983), Igbinedion Education Centre (1990), Igbinedion Hospital and Medical Research Centre (1993), Independent Television and Radio (1997), Igbinedion University Okada (1999). These businesses and educational organisations have had at any time, more than 20,000 persons as beneficiaries. When the multiplier effect of this number is considered, it is immediately clear to all objective and dispassionate observers that Chief Igbinedion has committed his life to providing unequalled service to humanity.
Charity, they say, begins at home. Chief Igbinedion has single-handedly been financing the development of his hometown of Okada since he appeared on the Nigerian socio-economic milieu in the sixties. According to the ebullient chief, he drew his inspiration for transforming his rural farming community of about 5,000 people then, into a modern university town of half a million people from the example of the two brothers who founded Birmingham and Coventry in the United Kingdom.