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Chief Igbinedion: Celebrating a pathfinder at 89



By Tony Osauzo

The enigmatic Esama of Benin Kingdom, Sir Chief Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, is 89 years old today, having pleased God Almighty to send this rare gift of a man and achiever to Nigeria and the World on the 11th of September, 1934.

Today’s celebration of the 89th birthday of Chief Igbinedion, climaxes activities marking the milestone which commenced a week ago in Benin City, the Edo State capital.

The life story and achievements of “Exemption” as Chief Igbinedion is also known per his teacher, Revd. S. I Usuanlele, who noticed his leadership qualities early, is a story that inspires hope and trust in God.

Born to the family of the late Road Overseer and Community leader, Josiah Agharagbon Igbinedion (who founded Okada Town) and his wife, the late Madam Okunozee Igbinedion (of the famous Ihaza Chieftaincy family of Usen, Ovia South-West Local Government Area of Edo State), the little Osawaru had challenges growing up, as his father died in 1942, two years after his father enrolled him at the Catholic Primary School, Okada when he was 8 years old.

The responsibility of nurturing him then fell on his mother. However, in order to continue his primary school education, the young Igbinedion left Okada Village to live with one Mr. Samson Aiwekhoe who was a Forest Guard in Benin City as a domestic servant. 

He endured cruelty meted out to him by his host and his senior wife and suffered hardship and adversity doing menial jobs to survive while attending Benin Baptist Primary School, Mission Road, Benin City. He eventually teamed up with two of his friends to rent a room apartment whilst attending school and doing menial jobs to survive.

At the completion of his primary school education, he went to Lagos, where he gained admission into Eko Boys High School but was unable to afford his school fees and had his education truncated in class three. This forced him to return home to Okada, where he took up teaching appointment in a primary school at Okoro II in the defunct Iyeke-Ovia Divisional Council.

He later resigned his appointment as a teacher after his landlord threatened to make life difficult for him, following his refusal to marry his (landlord’s) daughter who had earlier been betrothed to his late father, Josiah Agharagbon.

After consultation with his mother, the young Igbinedion travelled to Benin City where he was employed as a Messenger in the Benin Divisional Council.

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It was while working at the Council that the young Igbinedion made friends with prominent civil servants such as Mr. E.K. Kizor, a Superintendent of Police and Justice Stephen Peter Thomas of the High Court. Both Friends assisted him with the sum of Six and Two pounds, respectively, to give his mother who died on 26th November 1958, a befitting burial.

After the burial, igbinedion who had a life ambition to join the Nigeria Police Force but was opposed by his mother, approached his friend, Mr. E.K. Kizor, for his assistance to have him enrolled in the Nigeria Police, a request Kizor obliged and arranged an interview session for the young Igbinedion, which he passed.

He was admitted into the Police College Ikeja, in January 1959 and on completion of the course, he was enlisted into the Nigeria Police Force with the official identity No. 12647 and posted to Ibadan from where he was later transferred to Osogbo, both in the defunct Western Region.

The young Igbinedion resigned from the Nigeria Police in 1963 barely after four years in the Force and joined the services of Leventis Motors Ibadan as Sales Manager from where he was transferred to Benin City to head the Midwest Region office upon the creation of the Region in 1963 and was subsequently promoted Regional Sales Manager.

His farsightedness and quest to become an investor, moved him to resign his appointment with Leventis Motors and established Mid-Motors (Nigeria) Ltd under the parent company Okada Group of companies in 1968 with a capital of Two Thousand, Five Hundred Pounds. The company grew rapidly and by 1972, he established Assembly Plant which assembled trucks and tipper lorries.

This further inspired the entrepreneurial and investment spirit in the young Igbinedion who later established series of companies in the manufacturing, real estate, agricultural, oil and gas and other sectors of the Nigerian economy, providing jobs for thousands of Nigerians.

The investment drive in Igbinedion led him to establish the first privately owned commercial airline in Nigeria, Okada Airline in 1983. He later ventured into the Education sector, establishing Igbinedion Education Centre in Benin City in 1990 and the first private University in Nigeria, Igbinedion University, Okada in 1999.

He also in 1997 he established Independent Television/Radio in Benin City. Following his contribution to nation building and philanthropy, Chief Igbinedion, the Esama of Benin, has been awarded honours, chieftaincy titles too numerous to mention from all parts of the world.

As we celebrate the 89th birthday of this avatar, icon, inspirator, philanthropist and a man of the people,  Nigerians are enjoined to learn from his entrepreneurial drive and ‘can do’ spirit. We also pray to God Almighty to grant him good health and long life.

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