A business genius has passed on. The patriarch of the Ibru dynasty, Olorogun Michael Christopher Onajirevbe Ibru, died at the age of 85 yesterday. His demise has stirred up fond memories of a golden chapter in fishing business in the country.
The death was more shocking because Olorugun Ibru had fully recovered from his sickness. Indeed, he was expected home from the United States. His wife Cecilia broke the news: “He died early this morning in Maryland, United States of America. He had been sick for sometime. And just when we thought he was recovering, he died.”
She told The Guardian yesterday at their Queens Drive home, Ikoyi, that though it was a long time she saw her husband physically, “we always communicated on Skype. He was looking much better and I was expecting his return.
“To hear that he passed on was a shocker to me. He was a great man. For him to have passed on now, we believe it is God’s time. He is a genius of our time. He was a pioneer in so many fields. That is why he was known as ‘Fisherman of Nigeria.’ He knew fish was so needed and he made it available to the ordinary man. He was the pioneer for 20 years in the fishing business before it got crowded by unscrupulous people.”
Mrs. Ibru said her late husband “was a man of good quality. I am yet to know anybody that has that quality.” She added that his life’s philosophy was based on Christianity, which according to her also drives the Michael and Cecilia Ibru University today.
“We have lost our mentor, father, patriarch, and the person who saw possibility in you. He didn’t look at people’s weaknesses. He looked at strength and built on it. He always went for the best. Mediocrity never appeared in his nature. He was always spot-on in his dressing and paid attention to the minutest details. He epitomised perfectionism, meekness and humility and never raised his voice.”
Mrs. Ibru said her husband of 50 years was a humanist in many ways and “never raised his hands against me.” According to her, the chief was not only a gifted man but also a gift to the Ibru family and Nigeria.
“He did not believe in amassing wealth. We remember him for many things. He was an epitome of agape love. His demise will bring all of us together. He needed to go at this time to bring peace,” she said.
Meanwhile, eminent Nigerians have continued to express shock over the death, even as they praised the life and times of the businessman and philanthropist.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State said he received the news with sadness and an immense feeling of great national loss.
A statement in Asaba yesterday by his Chief Press Secretary, Charles Ehiedu Aniagwu, said: “Olorogun Michael Ibru was an accomplished businessman, entrepreneur, philanthropist and community leader who built the Ibru dynasty to command the respect, trust and love of the entire country.
“Because of the successes recorded by the Ibru Orgainsation in many areas, many Nigerians were encouraged to delve into several business interests, which no doubt have contributed immensely to the growth of commerce and industry in Nigeria.”
He praised the role of the late Ibru in the creation of Delta State. According to him, the Urhobo nation and Delta indigenes have lost a great man who was a pride of the people.
He urged “all who mourn to take solace in the fact that his was a life of great accomplishments.”
A former governor of Delta State, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, described the death as shocking.
The President General (Interim Committee) of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), Chief Gabriel Ofotokun, said a great Urhobo leader had gone, while Chief Ighoyota Amori, a prominent politician from Delta State noted that Nigeria had lost an iroko
Ibori in a statement by his media aide, Tony Eluemunor, said Ibru was one of few people who defined the Nigerian entrepreneurial spirit
“Olorogun Michael Ibru was a trailblazer, who streaked through Nigeria, like a meteor, lighting up the way for others. In 1956, Ibru was just a 26-year-old young man, yet he had the vision and the boldness to leave the U.A.C and started a partnership with an expatriate, Jimmy Large, which he called Laibru.
“ Although this business was cornered by expatriate firms, Ibru plunged into it, establishing an importing company, rented and built cold storage facilities across the country, and by the mid-1960s fish business had become the traditional money-maker for the Ibru Organisation.”
Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Monday Igbuya, and other eminent Deltans, also mourned the chief.
Igbuya, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Henry Ebireri, described the late Ibru as a modest and vibrant businessman. Speaker of the defunct Bendel State House of Assembly, Francis Spanner Okpozo, said Ibru was decent in character. Igbuya condoled with the family and friends of the deceased, saying they should be glad he lived a worthy life.
The speaker, who praised Ibru’s strides on unity of the Urhobo, urged members of his family to stand strong and united.
Former chairman of the Editorial Board of The Guardian, Prof. G. G. Darah, said: “Chief Michael Ibru was the first Urhobo global businessman. He was a great philanthropist. He was a pathfinder in many economic ventures. The Ibru Organisation he established was the largest African conglomerate, with about 25 companies. His name has inspired and continues to inspire more people to achieve greatness.”
The Secretary of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), Albert Akpomudje, described the death as a very big loss to the Urhobo nation.
He said: “He was the first prominent, rich entrepreneur and industrialist, and his personality really put the Urhobo nation at the forefront. He was a highly respected person, because he carved a big image of integrity. He pioneered the iced fish business and made it affordable to everyone. I have not heard anybody speak negatively about Michael Ibru. He was a very good man and his death is a huge loss to the Urhobo nation.”
Chief Thompson Onomigbo Okpoko described his death as a sad loss to Nigeria and Africa.