10 November 2006

Nigeria: Olorogun Oskar Ibru - Wealth is Not Enough


THE best way to make money is through inheritance- I want to leave a good inheritance for Delta." That was Olorogun Oskar Christopher Eyovbierere James Ibru reminiscing on his good fortune. Though it has not always been the silver spoon for him, through dint of hard-work and a great vision, his father Olorogun Michael Ibru built the family name and empire into the colossus it is today. Many know of the family's big businesses, but it would appear that their biggest asset is the land holding. Put simply, if you know the numerous land holdings in Lagos and environs, you probably have not seen anything yet until you get to areas around the ancestral homes of old Mid-West.

On pedigree, there is a lot that can be said about the Ibru family. And that goes back to patriarch of the family, Olorogun Peter Epete Ibru, who taught his children through personal example, the fear of God and the value of perseverance and tenacity of purpose. He was an ordinary dispenser in the colonial times, who through great vision sent his children to some of the best schools of the time. He saw then that knowledge will be power. Another lesson the Ibru clan are well positioned to teach Nigerians is the importance of family unity. Through three generations, the family remains united in ways that are uncommon.

These are Olorogun Oskar Ibru's antecedents and inheritance. As the first son of the third generation, he has positioned to fit into very big shoes. And it would have been a surprise if Olorogun Michael Ibru waited until his passing before this transition is made. In fact, there is evidence that that transition started a long before now. Oskar is not only in charge of the large estate, but he is also working to consolidate the businesses and even raise te bar.

He is today in hunt for the governor's office of Delta. That must have been a move that took many by surprise. That would be because like this reporter, you didn't know the real man. I had a rare pip into who the man is; and God be my witness: he is not only deep, he is also warm, he is at home with his people, and very passionate about his people of Delta. If you like what Donald Duke has done with Cross River so far, chances are that you will like what Oskar will do with Delta.

In a tribute to the man, a long standing friend of his, Barrister Sam Kargbo said: " I have known OCJ and have been his friend since 1995. If I were to write a testimonial for him I would not hesitate to tell the world that he is one of the most dependable and trustworthy characters that I have ever associated with. He is generous, caring and protective of the weak." Kargbo says the Olorogun is very much like another mutual friend of theirs Adamu Aliero, current governor of Kebbi State who because he wanted to give back to the state its pride of place in education, abandoned his expansive business for politics. One hopes he is making a success of that mission.

But Oskar has expressed admiration for Bukola Saraki's agricultural programme in Kwara, Ibori's Songhai Programme in Delta, and of course, Donald Duke's visionary leadership of Cross River.

If you look properly you will see consistency running through these preferences. All of those chief executives are doing things with agriculture and levelling on areas of comparative advantage. Oskar is concerned about creating wealth. He is concerned about employing the jobless. He is concerned about actualising the huge potentials of Delta. He has put his vision into this simple song: You eat, you work; you work, you eat. So work, work; and eat and eat." Simple as that may sound, it about captures the present frustration of many A Niger Delta citizen, and their hopes for the future. It can be unbearably suffocating to have to wash your hands with spittle in the midst of an ocean. Delta can ignore all of its oil wealth and gas potential and still build an economically advanced state from its numerous other resources. And Oskar should know.

The Ibru empire over which he seats atop today is built on agriculture and agro-allied business. They did not pioneer the concept of "integrated farming", but it is trade they know very well. The Ibru name is synonymous with fishing in Nigeria. But it has been expanding since then. It has added oil palm estates, poultry, cassava, piggery, crocodile farming, and now plans to add maize too. The oil palm estate somewhere around Ofosu on the Benin -Lagos expressway is in the thousands of hectares. I have seen a few pig farms, but I have not seen the kind owned by the Ibrus, and which Oskar is reviving in Owho, the paternal grandmother's village. This reporter saw the cassava farm too, spreading almost as far as the eyes can see. It was a tour de force, absolutely amazing!

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