|Urhobo Historical Society|
November 30, 2011
Alex Ibru (1945-2011) and the Igbobi College Experience
By Opayemi Agbaje
As students in the great Igbobi College in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we had some school “champions”-role models that our principal, the late revered Mr T A Ojo and tutors consistently held up as examples for us to follow. Usually old students of the school, they fired our imagination and ambition and gave us a sense of the reality of the words of our school song-“…wherever there’s an Igbobian, there also is a noble Nigerian…” In my time that list had some outstanding names-Justice Teslim Elias, Professor Adeboye Babalola, Chief Kweku Biney, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi and the Ibru Brothers. Chief Michael Ibru and Architect Felix Ibru were the most well-known of those famous Ibrus (with Michael in particular reputed to have been a charismatic Senior Prefect of the school) and few of us had heard of the quietly successful Alex Ibru as at 1981, when I left Igbobi College for the University of Ife, but he was soon to burst most powerfully into national consciousness.
In 1983, Alexander Uruemu Ibru launched the Guardian effectively changing the face of print journalism in Nigeria. As a young undergraduate, I was a huge fan of the newspaper, and it is probably partly because of the Guardian that I am a columnist today. It was an intellectual’s delight and had a large body of first class brains, and opinion writers whose articles inspired me to want to emulate them “when I grew up”. The list was long-Stanley Macebuh, Yemi Ogunbiyi, Pat Utomi, Sonala Olumhese, Femi Aribisala and several others carrying on robust debate of unprecedented quality and insight on the pages of any Nigerian newspaper. It was the Guardian that effectively transformed news reporting and journalism from something done by graduates of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ) and other post-secondary school types into an intellectual art in which university lecturers, PhDs and high intellectuals could partake. That trend may have started somewhat with the post-Jose era in Daily Times, but it was The Guardian that concretised and made it irreversible.
The Guardian did not just redefine Nigerian journalism, it also attempted to retrieve national values from the vainglorious, materialistic and non-reflective path, the full maturity of which now threatens to destroy this country. The Guardian’s motto “Conscience, Nurtured by Truth” and its initial “simply Mr” were powerful representations of the papers values and of Mr Alex Ibru itself-simple and discreet; focussed on integrity and higher principles rather than vanity; abhorrence of the Nigerian “big man” syndrome; and a willingness to let your impact, rather than your noise speak for you! The fact that even the Guardian buckled under the weight of pressure to abandon the “simply Mr” policy speaks to the power, resilience and maybe the “irredeemability” of Nigeria’s power elite! Ibru reportedly founded the Guardian with a mission of making it one of the five best English language newspapers in the world. If the paper didn’t achieve that lofty height, it certainly came very close! Without doubt, it earned its appellation as “the flagship” of the Nigerian media.
Very few Nigerians have gone into government and returned with their integrity and reputation intact. Alex Ibru was one of the few! In 1993, ten years after founding the newspaper, he accepted appointment as Minister of Internal Affairs and member of the Provisional Ruling Council under what later turned out to be Abacha’s murderous military dictatorship. Abacha evidently expected that having offered Ibru a high government office, he would turn his newspaper into a propaganda machine or at least a silent collaborator with the government. Ibru’s principled refusal so-to-do was high treason in the dictator’s goggled eyes, and Ibru almost paid with his life on February 2, 1996 (Igbobi College’s Founders’ Day-probably why the assassination attempt failed!) having left the Abacha government in 1995. While he was a serving Minister, the Abacha government shut down the paper in 1994 and security agents allegedly tried to burn down the paper. Alex Ibru was also silently active in the realm of philanthropy and especially spirituality founding the Trinity Foundation and Ibru Centre in Agbarha-Otor in Delta State in support of Christian theology, reflection and propagation, especially of his Anglican denomination.
The youngest of the famous Ibru brothers of Urhoboland, Igbobi College and Nigeria, Alexander Uruemu Ibru aged 66 was born on March 1, 1945 and died on Sunday November 20, 2011. He was at Igbobi from 1960 to 1963 and later studied Business Economics at Trent Polytechnic (now University of Trent) and worked with his elder brother Michael before going into business in his own right and founding Rutam Motors Ltd. Alex Ibru was an untypical Nigerian, a quiet but courageous and principled individual, a change agent in the Nigerian media industry and nation, and a man of proven integrity. He proved that not all Nigerians are corrupt or corruptible; that those who abandon their integrity and values once they get into government probably never had those values; and that it is possible to stick to your principles in the face of intimidation and even danger.