Olorogun Michael Christopher Ibru: An uncommon pioneer (1930-2016)

Olorogun Michael Ibru

Olorogun Michael Ibru

Olorogun Michael Ibru, who lived a life unarguably unlike most others in the quintessence of its achievements passed on yesterday.

He was first among seven children of the late Pa Epete Ibru, a missionary worker, who also was a Nursing Superintendent at Igbobi Orthopaedic Hospital and his wife late Madam Janet Omotogor Ibru, a fish trader.

Olorogun Michael Ibru, a trail blazer and entrepreneur par excellence attended the famous Igbobi College, Lagos between 1948 and 1951 during which he distinguished himself in academics and extracurricular activities and in his last year was appointed the senior prefect, a position usually reserved for the best students with leadership traits.

In 1948 he moved up meteorically to Secondary Class II straight from Elementary School and in his fourth year in 1951 on a study that normally lasted six years, passed the Cambridge School Certificate Examination with distinction in Division One

After leaving Igbobi College, he secured a job in the United African Company (now UACN), as a manager- in training where between 1951 and 1956 he had an intense internship that effectively prepared him for the bigger world of entrepreneurship.

In 1956, he resigned from UAC and at the age of 24, formed Laibru, in partnership with an expatriate, Jimmy Large, with whom he had worked at UAC.

After successfully engaging in general trading, Ibru set his sights higher and much further afield.

In 1957,he discovered that the frozen fish business was fertile , though a tough market to penetrate, at a time expatriate firms and Nigerian traders were lacking and not very interested in the market.

A Businesses Mogul
Venturing into an area where no other Nigerian had dared, he literally pioneered the production and marketing of frozen fish, making tremendous success of a business in which the foreign-owned West African Fisheries and Cold Stores had failed woefully.

He single-handedly brought a change for the better, the poor reputation in Nigeria that frozen fish had, waging a vigorous campaign that successfully persuaded the whole nation that frozen fish was good and thereafter establishing over 350 distribution depots throughout Nigeria.

He formed the IBRU Sea Foods, an importing company solely owned by himself, rented cold-storage facilities at the Ijora Wharf in Lagos from the UAC and traded from the back of a Land Rover. Later, he built his cold storage facilities first at 33 Creek Road, Apapa.

By the mid-1960s, fish trading had become the traditional cash cow for the IBRU organization through which he secured financing and other forms of capital to engage in large scale trading and branch out into other areas.

The Philantropist: Out of his love for knowledge, Olorogun Michael Ibru donated a college – Abraham College which was later re-named IBRU College, to his people. He donated classroom blocks, vehicles and money to various educational institutions and charity organisations ; awarded scholarships to deserving Nigerian students in secondary schools and institutions of higher learning in Nigeria and abroad and sponsored various sporting activities to ensure an even development of the mind, soul and body.

Besides education, Olorogun Michael is a major pillar in the economic empowerment of the Urhobo nation.

A source who craved anonymity once described his contribution in this vital aspect as follows: “Urhobo men and women profited at many levels since the rise of the Ibru brand in the second half of the 1950s.

First, Urhobo market women were among the first batch of Nigerians to embrace the “IBRU” frozen fish. Many of them rose from relative poverty to higher economic brackets because they participated in the new IBRU ventures from market stalls.

“Among the educated, he mentored professionals that rose to become financially independent in their chosen fields of endeavour. Incidentally, most of these Urhobo indigenes at one time or the other worked within the vast conglomerate owned by Olorogun Michael Ibru and left to pursue their own independent dreams conceived in the IBRU organization.

‘Michael Ibru himself embraced the Urhobo culture and Urhobo cultural organizations, especially Urhobo Progress Union, in a manner that delighted the Urhobo nation.

It is Michael Ibru who popularized the use of the title “Olorogun” in place of “Chief.”

Outstanding Enterpreneur
In 1963, Michael Ibru chartered his first fishing vessel from Taiyo Gyogo of Japan and two years after, in 1965 he founded the Osadjere Fishing Company in partnership with a Japanese Conglomerate, one of the largest fishing companies in the world.

At a time it had a fleet of 25 trawlers.

By the end of the 1960s, Ibru had branched out into other areas of the economy.

In 1969, a transportation company, called Rutam engaged in marketing and distribution of Mazda, Saviem, Tata and Jeep brands of automobiles was acquired.

At a time, Rutam was appointed by the Federal Government, as the major distributor of Peugeot brand of vehicles in the country.

In 1965, he started a large palm-oil plantation Aden Farm in the old Bendel State as well as a citrus and pine-apple farm on a 800-hectares site, which for some time, supplied the Lafia Cannery in Ibadan, Oyo State.

He acquired the Mitchell Farm in 1973 and at the time, the farm was the largest producer of day-old chicks and processed poultry in West Africa.

He extended his business adventure with the acquisition of Nigerian Hardwoods, a logging and sawmilling and wood processing company Ubiaroku, at a low price from the Lathem Group, UK.

The late Michael Ibru’s early success in business can however be attributed to the assistance he received from his family. While his mother in her early life was a long-distance trader in the creeks of the Niger Delta whose familiarity with fish was invaluable, the unsung hero in the initial push to huge success by the eldest of the IBRU family was their austere father, Epete , who ensured that  his first son’s monies were safeguarded in a vault over which this patriarch kept watch.

In the end, the inclusion of Michael Ibru’s siblings, wives, children and associates in the management of the companies of the IBRU organization is seen as a move that has greatly enriched the totality of the Ibru clan.

Awards and Recognition : The Late Michael Ibru’s contribution to the well-being of humanity has not gone unnoticed as he has been honoured locally and internationally.

In full recognition of his dedicated service to the cause of education and willingness to offer sponsorship of that cause, the former Midwest State government appointed Olorogun Michael Ibru member of the Provisional Council of the University of Benin in 1975. He was also appointed Member of the Economic Cabinet Committee of the former Midwest State of Nigeria, aside from being a member of the African Development Bank President’s Round Table of Businessmen in Africa.

He was a member of the Business Advisory Council of the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

His exploits in the field of business have also afforded him the opportunity to serve as Council member to Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Nigeria-United States Business Council.

Among the awards he garnered in his lifetime are: Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) in 1981; Outstanding Businessman Award of the Nigerian American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 1983; Honorary Doctor of Laws (Hon. LL.D.) of the University of Benin (1978) and University of Ibadan (1978), Doctor of Agriculture (Honoris Causa), University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, 2004.

In addition, in 2003 , he won the Zik Prize in Leadership and in 2005; he received the prestigious Dr. Kwame Nkrumah Excellence in Enterprise Award.

But yesterday, a glorious end that calls for celebration came for the patriarch of the illustrious Ibru family, a man once described by one among his Urhobo clan, a poet-musician, as the Mungo Park who opened channels of riches and investment for Africans;a man once described by his children and grandchildren as a pillar of strength, a visionary guiding hand, a moulder of character, an educator, a lover of family, a humanitarian per excellence, community leader, and a true patriot without equal

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