A tearful goodnight at The Guardian
THE reality, when it yesterday, dawned on associates and friends of The Guardian, was hard, cold and unpretentious.
Whatever make-believe cocoon they had tried to hide under – willing, hoping that it not be true – was finally torn to shreds.
Perhaps, it was when they arrived for work and saw the huge colour portrait of the late Chairman and Publisher, Mr. Alexander Uruemu Ibru, on the outside walls of the forecourt.
Or perhaps, it was when they lined the route leading to Rutam House premises to receive the cortege, that they knew that : “Yes, this is it. The man indeed died.”
People fought back tears as the grief-stricken, yet, brave widow, Maiden, and her children took their seats before the body was brought in for the lying-in-state at the forecourt.
Between November 20, 2011 and yesterday, there had been some denial of the reality of the sad news that Ibru had died.
Most associates had learnt of his ill-health but had hoped that he would pull through.
“Did he not survive the assassin’s bullets?”, they may have asked, willing, praying that the chairman got well.
But he did not.
He is dead, and that is the simple reality which associates, as members of Guardian Newspapers Limited family are called, yesterday, came to terms with at the lying-in-state.
As the Editor and Deputy-Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian Mr. Debo Adesina said, the lying-in-state was the Publisher’s “touching base to this place which he was so passionate about, before his final journey home.”
The lying-in-state – simple , yet dignified, emotional yet genteel – was a “Thank-you-and-goodbye” of sorts by associates to the “Publisher of Publishers.”
And even the ubiquitous traffic snarl on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway ‘bowed’ and could not affect the schedule of the lying-in-state as the cortege, led by a glittering Mercedes R 350 with pallbearers and a seven-man band arrived at the premises at exactly 1.01 p.m., the body in an MIC silver-plated casket inlaid with sparkling-white satin.
Soulful music was played by the band as well as from the disc jockey.
But it was when the tune When Will I see You Again, by The Three Degrees, was played that the tears came.
The widow, Maiden and the children could hold back no longer.
When will I see you again?
When will we share precious moments?
Will I have to wait forever?
Or will I have to suffer and cry the whole night through? it went on and on and on.
In tears, grieving mother reached out and clutched the hands of a grieving daughter, whispering words of comfort: “Chin up” she must have told her.
“Be strong as your father would have wanted you to be.”
And then, associates had a chance to pay their last respects as they filed by, an opportunity for many to see him for the first time.
“He looked so serene”, one associate was to say later.
“He always looked serene,” another but older associate replied.
Then, the tributes that had flowed continuously since November 20, continued.
But this time, they were from associates, some still here as well as those who had known the late Alex Ibru many years ago.
One of them, Mr. Lade Bonuola, the pioneer Editor and later Managing Director of The Guardian and now Executive Consultant , spoke of “the Publishers’ Publisher”, who gave him freedom to do his job to the best of his ability without interference, “a man too decent for words.”
Another Consultant , Mr. Yaya Awosanya spoke of a man who was simple, polite, gentle.
“Through our interactions, I came to appreciate the great quality of his mind.
“We had hoped that the toughness he manifested in surviving a gruesome assassination attempt would see him through his illness, but it was not to be.”
Yet another Executive Consultant , Mr. Nick Iduwe must have echoed the minds of other associates when on hearing of Ibru’s death he was “bewildered, shocked.”
“My only happiness is that the man lived a very good life.”
But soon, it became clear that indeed the publisher was on his way home and had only touched base. Home here is the physical hometown, Agbarha-Otor, Ughelli North Local Council, Delta State where his remains would be interred on Saturday.
It was time to say goodbye.
“But how can you say ‘goodbye’ to a man under whom you learnt all that you know how to do at The Guardian?”, the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief Mr. Eleum Emeka Izeze asked rhetorically.
“How do you say ‘goodbye’ to a man who called you his brother?”
“How do you say goodbye to a man who said : ‘My wife is now my Mummy ?’
“How do you say ‘goodbye’ to a man who said his sons and daughters are now your brothers and sisters?
“It is very difficult, but ‘goodbye’ we must say.”
Before the body of the chairman was brought to Rutam House, there was a commendation service at the Our Saviour’s Church Anglican Communion, Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos, which began at exactly 10.07a.m.
The auditorium was filled with eminent personalities, who started trooping in as early as 8.30 a.m.
Delivering the sermon, titled “Man number thy days on earth”, Ven. Samuel Igein Isemede urged Nigerians, especially the very influential ones to take a cue from the life of the late Alex Ibru.
Isemede, who took his sermon from 2 Corinthians 4: 7 – 18 said beginning from Ibru’s youthful age, he had learnt to be godly, which made him a true believer.
Continuing, he said the late publisher got closer to God and did everything by God’s leading, urging the congregation to get closer to their maker and use what they had got to serve Him wholeheartedly.
In his message, he extolled greatly the virtues of the late Ibru from two angles, vis-à-vis; “who was Alex Ibru ?” and “what we can learn from his life.”
According to him, three things were very focal in the late Ibru’s life. Firstly, he was a gift from God to the Ibru family, though the last of the five males and second to the last of the seven children, at the age of 25, he was saddled with the responsibility of taking the family’s business from where it was to a greater height. He mentioned in particular, Rutam Motors, which he said was exceptionally driven by Ibru’s passion, commitment and made it to succeed and also the best during his time.
“At that age, he brought the business of the family to an enviable position. In the hospitality business, the Ibrus have a major market share. Alex Ibru was a rallying point, helper and supporter of the family,” he said .
Secondly, Isemede described Ibru as a gift to the nation. According to him, at the age of 38 years, he asked God, why he was created and he set up a newspaper of repute, which he made sure was among the top five newspapers in the English-speaking nations. “And today, you know what The Guardian newspaper stands for. The paper appeals to the business class, political elite and government. Each edition has a focus, with in-depth articles.”
Ibru, the Our Saviour’s Church Vicar said, set up a newspaper that gives the people choice, one that you can identify with.
Besides, he said the late publisher ensured that the paper becomes an interface between the people, government and the country, one driven with an investment commitment to balance reporting in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. “Nigeria must remain grateful to this man,” he said.
Thirdly, he described Alex Ibru as a gift to the church, an example he urged the congregation to jealously emulate by using whatever the Lord has put in their care to serve God and humanity.
According to him, the Ibru Centre in The Sunday Guardian, has brought the church closer to the people. “Every Sunday, as you open the paper, you will see something unique, messages that will inspire you to be on the Lord’s side. It is a gift to the church.”
Furthermore, he described the late publisher’s wife, Maiden, as a woman of excellence, a virtuous woman, committed to her husband to the point of death, who was there till the last moment.
Dignitaries at the church service included Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, his counterpart from Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun, former Lagos State first lady, Senator Remi Tinubu and former Ekiti and Ogun states governors, Adebayo Adeniyi, and Olusegun Osoba.
Others included former Director-General of Nigerian Stock Exchange, Ndi- Okereke Onyiuke; Chairman, IBTC, Atedo Peterside; Managing Director, Union Bank, Funke Osibodu; former Managing Director, Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia; Pat Utomi, Oba Otudeko, Punch Newspaper’s former chairman, Ajibola Ogunsola, Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, Chief Operating Officer, The Guardian, Dr. Alexander Thomopoulos, Executive Consultant, The Guardian, Lade Bonuola, Consultant of The Guardian, Awosanya; the Managing Director of The Guardian Newspapers Limited, Mr. Eleum Emeka Izeze, Editor of The Guardian, Mr. Debo Adesina, among others.
Those who spoke to The Guardian shortly after the service described the deceased in different terms. Dr. Walter Ofonagoro, former Minister of Information described Ibru thus: “I think he was a very unique and wonderful individual; he really loved this country; he contributed so much to the progress of the nation and humanity. A great loss for Nigeria.”
After the lying-in-state at Rutam House, the remains of Alex Ibru accompanied by the widow, children, relations, workers and well-wishers, was flown through the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, to Osubi Airport, Effurun, Delta State, en-route Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.
From the Osubi Airport, a long convoy of luxurious cars and vehicles escorted the body to the family House, Palm Villa at Agbarha-Otor where it laid-in-state from about 7.58 p.m.
President of Dangote Group of Companies, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, said: “He was really a great man and a great entrepreneur. It was actually a great loss not only to the family but to all nations. May his soul rest in peace. Today’s service was great, we’ve heard all the great things he did. And how great he was.”
The publisher of Vanguard Newspapers, Mr. Sam Amuka-Pemu said : “He was a good man, he was a great man, The Guardian speaks for him.”
Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Channels Television, John Momoh said: “I have one word for him: he was very immaculate, he was a man who epitomizes integrity, somebody we all aspire to be. He was an example; he lived an exemplary life and the name Alex Ibru would continue to be in our memory for many years to come. For the fact that he was very good-natured, he was a philanthropist, he was very unassuming. He was a good man and an example to the whole world.”