IT is finished.
It’s hard to imagine how it won’t turn out to be a tear-drenched affair today, as friends and well-wishers from home and abroad, join the Ibru family in Agbarha-Otor, Delta State, to commit the body of one of their own, Alex Uruemu, to Mother Earth in a final farewell.
The youngest of his male siblings, Dr. Alex Urueme Ibru, departed too soon last November 20 at 66.
Final farewells can’t but be painful, but, even in the throes of bereavement, disquieting reminders of our own mortality, we can, with faith, snatch some solace in the anticipation of that glorious dawn when we can, in unison, gloat over the final defeat of the Great Leveller: “O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?”
Final rites of passage for the Founder, Chairman and Publisher of The Guardian Newspaper Limited began on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 with a Service of Songs at The Federal Palace hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Today’s events begin with a lying-in-state at the Ibru Centre, Agbarha-Otor, followed by the funeral service at the All Saints Cathedral, Ughelli. The interment is at the Ibru Centre.
The rites come to an end tomorrow with an outing service at All Saints Cathedral, Ughelli.
All those gathered at the premises of Rutam House premises of The Guardian Newspapers on Thursday to pay their last respects to Alex, joined in a round of resounding applause after the lying-in-state, which lasted about an hour.
Mr. Emeka Izeze, the Managing Director of Guardian Newspapers Limited in his final words on the occasion waxed poetic: “ What we are doing here this afternoon is to say goodbye to our Chairman… but how do you say goodbye to a man like him? How…?”
Though a pale semblance of a smile played on Izeze’s face all the while, it did little to lighten the funereal grimness of his mien as he continued: “How do you say goodbye to a man who knew the names of his plumbers and carpenters? As he walked by, you greeted him or not, he didn’t bother. A man under whom you learnt all that you did on this Job…How do you say goodbye to a man who called you ‘my brother’? Who said ‘my children are your brothers and sisters’? …”
Earlier, speaker after speaker, from the first Editor of The Guardian and now General Consultant of the newspaper, Lade Bonuola to a former director in The Guardian, Yemi Ogunbiyi and one-time Diplomatic and foreign Affairs Correspondent of the paper, Tunde Thompson, spoke glowingly of the “Publisher of Publishers”, especially of his simplicity, humility and quiet magnanimity.
They were all unanimous in wishing the Ibru family the fortitude to bear the loss and the wisdom to “keep the flag flying”, particularly at The Guardian, the late publisher’s beloved brainchild.
The previous day, Wednesday, a Service of Songs was held for Alex at the Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos.
The weather was clear and the breeze from the Atlantic Ocean eased off the heat from the surging crowd.
On the front rows were the Ibru family members, with Maiden Ibru and the children in black.
It was a service like no other.
The Most Reverend Dr. Adebola Ademowo, the Anglican Archbishop of the Ecclesiastical Province of Lagos’ thanked God “for giving us Alex, who was a special breed and who made indelible marks on the sands of time. He served his nation creditably well.
“He gave the Ibru Centre to humanity without strings attached …”
The cleric recalled that Alex believed that one must be impeccable, flawless. “He would say ‘I am God’s treasurer’,” he said, adding that Ibru set up institutions to help others… He lived a humble life.”
“Death is inevitable but we should invest in eternity. You cannot live your life all over again but you can start a new chapter,” Ademowo concluded.
Former Governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba, also used the occasion to reminisce on the good old days when they were together in London. He extolled Ibru’s generosity and simplicity. “He gave loyalty and demanded loyalty from you. He detested perfidy,” he said.
In his tribute, Gbekeloluwa Osunkoya, a close friend of Alex’s, cited yet another example of his generosity and foresight. “Three months ago, he knew his health was failing, but he was focused. He called me and said: ‘I want to build a hospital before I die; you and Segun Osoba will be the trustees. We are going to turn it to be the best.’ I replied him: ‘just conserve your energy’,” he said. To Maiden, Osunkoya said: “She has been nursing Alex for 15 years, after some people attempted to kill him. But he lived through it. We must thank Maiden, Goodie Ibru and God that gave him the sprit to live on. The Ibru Centre will always be there to remind us of his good deeds,” he said.
Dr. Stephen Olofunwa, another friend, stressed Ibru’s love for people:
“That day I accompanied him to The Guardian; they were trying to put up a new printing machine. The people he spoke with are people of the lowest cadre and he knew their names one by one…”
To Maiden he said: “I salute you. Sometimes, I thought that you are the doctor. You are a gem…” he said.
He recalled one of his last moments with Alex: “The last time I was by his bed side, I said: ‘Alex if you know who is talking to you, show me a sign, by moving your head!’ He did. Twenty-four hours later, he died. It is not often that a doctor cries, but I did.”
On Thursday, Alex Ibru’s cortege arrived the RUTAM House premises of The Guardian where dignitaries from all walks of life also attended the lying-in-state, which was anchored by Editor and Deputy Editor–in-Chief of The Guardian, Mr. Debo Adesina.
One of the dignitaries, Mr. Ben Tomoloju a former Deputy Editor of The Guardian, said the late Ibru, with his business acumen, gave opportunity to young professionals to flourish. “He did not intervene in the editorial content of The Guardian. Journalism flourishes when the proprietor does not intervene with the business of news production,” he said.
That is one of the reasons, Tomoloju said, why he was so proud of The Guardian. He described Alex as a noble- minded aristocrat and that that nobility he has passed down to posterity. “That is one reason why we will always keep his memories in our minds as further inspiration. We know he is a deeply religious man. I am using the present tense, because I don’t believe he is gone,” he said.
Professor Wale Omole, Acting Chairman of The Guardian Editorial Board remarked on Ibru’s comportment and humility.
“He was ready to help everybody, he did. God bless him. At the editorial board meetings when he came, a number of times, he would not even say a word. He would only say: ‘you are the experts…’” he recalled.
He maintained that Ibru’s humility was unbelievable and his kindness unquantifiable. “He helped a lot of people. He has done the best and his best is best for everyone,” he declared.
Another member of the Editorial Board, Ben Ejiogu, described Ibru as a kind- hearted man.
“A very humble man, he knew how to choose personnel who can deliver. I have been in the Editorial Board of The Guardian for 10 years. The success of The Guardian was due to his ability to get people to work together harmoniously,” he added.
Mr. Nwabu A. Okoye, a legal practitioner and a visiting member of the Editorial Board of The Guardian since 2006, disclosed that Ibru was “a visionary, a humanist, a good family man, a good employer of labour. It is difficult to see an individual who will have a combination of these elements,” he said.
He added: “There are people you get to know only when you meet them personally. There are people you get to know even when you don’t get to meet them personally.
“The latter are the people with larger- than-life persona. Dr. Ibru had a larger- than-life persona. His reputation was such that sometimes, it seems you know him more when you are not close. He led by principles and examples; he did not live by exhortations only,” he said.
Okoye noted that Nigeria is a country where people want to be institutions. But Alex, he said, decided to build institutions, including The Guardian, rather than build himself, and eventually he became an institution also.
Alex, he declared, would live on forever in our hearts. “He was a good business man. People said he was shrewd, but essentially, he was also a humanist—- in business and in other spheres and he made a success of it all,” he declared.
Barrister Kenneth Olorogun Gbagi, former Minister of Education, said the world has lost a gem. “The country has lost a man of integrity, a man of honesty. But most importantly, the Urhobo nation is bereaved. He will be remembered for what he stood for. He will be remembered for honesty, for telling the truth to the government,” he added.
Alex, he said would be remembered as the former Minister of Internal affairs who refused the compromises in governance, for the uprightness of his nature, his people, and for the country. He paid a very dear prize for being principled.
“As a result of which he was shot. But God preserved him. God giveth and God taketh. Who are we to complain? But we still believe that we will find it difficult to fill the vacuum of a man called Alex Ibru,” he said.
According to him, Alex Ibru has left a revolution in journalism. “He was a publisher who allowed things to evolve naturally. Even when the government wanted The Guardian not to tell the truth about what was going on in the country, he resisted it and offered to resign as a minister,” he noted.
He urged Nigerians to learn from the life of the deceased.
Pastor Segun Babatope, of Deeper Life Ministries in Lagos said that Alex was a visionary. “Anyone who will delve into newspaper publishing must be visionary and far-sighted. He cannot be classified as an ordinary person. He was a change agent. Because we believe that a medium of communication like The Guardian is a change agent. The purveyor of it must be seen as someone who stands head and shoulder above everyone,” he said.
He insisted that the fact that The Guardian is in existence today after almost 30 years after is due to Ibru’s vision.
“The greatest tribute we can pay to him is to keep his legacy. At 38, he established the Guardian Newspapers Limited.
“Members of his family should take solace in the fact that the man did not die in vain. He touched lives for God; look at the Ecumenical Centre at Agbarha-Otor, Delta State,” he said.
Princess Abah Folawiyo in her tribute said that Ibru was a kind and very good man. “He liked everybody. We should emulate everything about him,” she said.
Another of the late publisher’s friends, Mrs. Omolara Otuyele, recalled that she knew Ibru right from secondary school. “Both at Ibadan Grammar School and Igbobi College, Especially at Igbobi College. He loved life. He was somebody who always wanted me to talk about when we were teenagers. He had a good heart. He still wanted people he knew from his youth to be with him.
“I will miss him. Three weeks before he passed on, I spoke to him. He was somebody who, even in the face of his sickness, did not fear death. If you go to his house, there was no protocol, he was friendly to everybody,” she said
Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, a former director in The Guardian, described the paper as the legacy Ibru left behind. “He was a very good friend and I owe a lot to him and we thank God for his life. It is imperishable now. And I am sure that God will be with his family and the good works he left behind,” he said.
Alex, Ogunbiyi said, admitted repeatedly that he was not an angel. “Nobody is saying he was an angel but he was a great person.
“His children are there, they would have learnt from his business acumen. He had lovely kids. He will never die. Let us thank God for his life. Maiden is a gift, a great woman. Very few women could withstand what he went through. We just have to keep on praying to God to give her more strength,” he stressed.
To Ameye Adadevoh, Ibru’s in-law and one of the personal physicians who looked after him, Alex was a very courageous man. “At the age of 26, he was able to head a company (RUTAM) and build it up to one of the greatest companies in Nigeria. At the age of 38, he started The Guardian. And he had been able to sustain the newspaper as one of the greatest newspapers in Nigeria,” she said.
She described The Guardian as a newspaper that tells the truth about the plight of the common man.
“There are so many things to learn from him: his faith in God, his lack of value on material things. God blessed him early in life. But he used his money to better the lots of other people. He had passion for his country, Nigeria,” she said.
The body of the late Alex will be committed to Mother Earth today in his hometown, Agbara-Otor, in his final journey home.
An attempt had been made on Alex Ibru’s life 15 years ago by agents of the then Government headed by the late General Sani Abacha.
He was shot in the head and lost his left eye and two fingers in the process.
He was subsequently flown abroad for treatment.
Under fire then from various pro-democracy groups, the military government of Abacha, which seized power after a “coup” that ousted the interim government of Chief Ernest Shonekan, was desperately seeking acceptance by the civil society.
Obviously, the thinking in government then was that having appointed Alex Ibru Minister of Internal Affairs, The Guardian would compromise its standards and slant its news coverage to favour the government of the day.
But “they “ underestimated Alex Ibru’s integrity.
He refused to interfere with the editorial content of the paper which, of course, remained as objective as ever…with a “Conscience Nurtured By Truth.”
The government’s response was characteristic: The Guardian was proscribed.
When about a year later, the proscription was lifted, an undaunted Alex Ibru considered it wise to resign his appointment as minister rather than buckle under pressure.
It was then that Abacha sent his killers after the man, who had been secretly declared an “enemy of the State”.
Sergeant Barnabas Jabila Rogers, who is believed to have fired the shot and other high-ranking officers in the then military regime, (including Al-Mustapha, then National Security Officer) have been on trial for years for the attempt on the late Ibru’s life.
But, so far, nobody has been convicted, or punished for the heinous crimes of those perilous times.
Ibru survived the attack——for 15 years. Many others were not so lucky.