When titles are given, the givers are always down to earth, having done the best of researches concerning the recipient. Consequently, the titles match the individuality of the recipient. It is therefore, not surprising when the person of Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, the Esama of the Benin Kingdom was given the title ‘Esama’, which traditionally means the “godfather of the people”,- a function he has perfectly performed, dishing out responsibilities including assisting the poor in medial, monetary and private venture forms.
The life’s journey of Chief Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion started in the small farming village of Okada, in the present Ovia North-East Local Government Area of Edo State, Nigeria, on September 11, 1934. Unlike most notable society figures, Igbinedion was not born with the proverbial silver spoon, not even a bronze spoon for his parents, though of proud and noble heritage were of humble beginnings. He was born to the late Josiah Agharagbon Oviawe Igbinedion and Madam Okunozee (nee Ihaza) a descendant of the Royal House of Usen.
He had his early education at Benin Baptist Primary School, Benin City before proceeding to Eko Boys High School, Lagos. It is on record that the unexpected death of his father truncated his Secondary School education.
While the story of Chief Igbinedion’s conquest on the global business arena is inexhaustible, it is however, pertinent to say that his numerous companies have over the years had interest in diverse areas such as aviation, radio and television broadcasting, banking, salt manufacturing, crude oil exploration, solid minerals, soft drinks bottling, real estate, fruit and fish farming, palm oil production, petroleum and gas marketing, shipping, haulage, road transport, confectionery and hospitality, among many others.
Igbinedion started his career as a school Teacher before becoming a Sales Representative and Distributor for Leventis Motors
It will not be out of place to say however, that one of his greatest legacies will be the pioneering of Mid Motors (Nig.) Limited in 1968, the first indigenous motor assembly plant in Nigeria before venturing into the mentoring of youths through the establishment of Igbinedion University. The School comprises Nursery, Primary and Secondary Schools in addition to the Igbinedion Montessori Teacher Training Centre, Benin City. He is also the Founder/Chairman, Board of Regents and Chancellor of Igbinedion University, Okada.
Though reputed to have achieved so great a fortune and power in his 82 years of existence on planet earth, Chief Igbinedion has maintained a certain level of cool headedness and humility. However, the High Chief is too polite to claim reaching the pinnacle of success in his life, but he tacitly acknowledges its validity. When asked what he has learnt about being so powerful on the Nigerian business terrain, he smiled and said, “It is tough and lonely at the top.”
Everything Chief Igbinedion does creates a chain reaction, often leading to unexpected combinations. Better known as the “Lion of Okada”, his reign on the nation’s business front might seem in its twilight. However, it is with gratitude to the Almighty God that it is acknowledged he has many competent children who are poised to play roles he now plays in all his businesses, both biological and otherwise, when and if he eventually steps aside. But until he does, he will continue to play the role he dearly relishes; powerful unrivalled, setting the pace and standards for others to follow and most of all, that of being imitated!
There is no doubt the name GABRIEL OSAWARU IGBINEDION has become synonymous with courage for he has always been a man who treads where others dare not go.
During the peak of Nigeria’s oil boom in1981, Chief Igbinedion saw the need for the active participation of the private sector in the aviation industry. In that same year Chief Igbinedion purchased his first private aircraft through Mr. Derek Lowe of Executive Jet Sales. The HS125, was launched and blessed at Benin Airport by His Royal Majesty Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Omo N’Oba Erediuwa, the Oba of Benin. Thereafter, in 1983 Chief Igbinedion boldly recorded the first private initiative in the fledgling industry when he established Okada airline Ltd. His next venture was the purchase of a BAC 1-11 executive jet which was formerly owned by the deposed President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines.
Chief Igbinedion was enraptured with the BAC 1-11. By 1988 the Okada Airline fleet comprised two executive BAC 1-11 and nine BAC 1-11 passenger/cargo aircrafts. From that moment on, Okada Airline, began to grow by leaps and bounds. At the climax of Okada Air’s tale of success, Chief Chief Igbinedion amassed a fleet of thirty two aircrafts.
Setting first after first, Chief Igbinedion made history with the acquisition of a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet. The B747 was officially commissioned by for Military Vice President, Augustus Aikhomu, on behalf of President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, who also graced the occasion. The arrival of President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida in recognition of this unparalleled achievement by a Nigerian citizen gave the commissioning ceremony the Presidential Seal, and launched the aircraft into service. This auspicious ceremony took place at the Abuja International Airport on 7th May 1992, making Chief Igbinedion the Chairman of Okada Airline, the first black man in the twentieth century to own and operate a Boeing 747 aircraft.
Chief Igbinedion is today the Honourable Chancellor and Chairman of the Board of Regents of the first private University in Nigeria Igbinedion University Okada. This position which he now occupies is a befitting tribute to his over 15 years of tenacious struggle to bring about a phenomenal development in education. It was a struggle of his life to which this relentless businessman selflessly committed enormous resources, time and energy.
He commenced the actualization of this vision with a candid representation to former President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, GCON, in1986 and pursued this agenda throughout the tenure in office of Chief Ernest Shonekan (Head of State) and Military President Sani Abacha. His request was finally granted by General Abdulsalami Abubakar GCON, Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Chief Igbinedion was then presented Certificate No. 001 by the Federal Government of Nigeria on Monday May 10, 1999 at a colourful ceremony held at Nigeria Universities Commission, in the Federal Capital of Abuja, signalling government’s approval of Igbinedion University Okada as the first private university in Nigeria.
A Knight of the Anglican Communion, ordained in 1992, the High Chief is of the Baptist Faith, and has built numerous churches including a Grand Catholic Cathedral, and has set up and owns a number of private hospitals across Nigeria.
A good father, who wants the best for his children, Chief Igbinedion has set his children on the path for great height and glory. One of the his sons, Lucky, was a two-term Local Government Chairman and two-term Governor of Edo State, another, Charles, was a Local Government Chairman and one time Edo State Commissioner of Education, while yet another, Peter, was the Managing Director of Nigerian Aviation Authority. Esama’s daughter, Omosede is representing Edo State in the House of Representatives.
In 2008, the ‘Esama’ had a running battle with the Edo royal house, as he was said to have been suspended from Palace activities. However, it is on record that the Oba of Benin did not declare Chief Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion as an enemy as it was widely circulated. On the 13th of June, 2012 a palace press release informed the general public that the suspension placed on him had been lifted, confirming that Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion is still the Esama of Benin Kingdom.
The Esama has received various Honorary Doctorate Degrees by seven universities in Nigeria and three universities abroad as well as honorary awards from 38 organisations and bodies including the Paul Harris Fellow. In addition, he has received Professional Awards from 12 prestigious professional bodies.
Chief Igbinedion is the Grand Patron of twenty one national and international organizations, and was once appointed Justice of the Peace (JP) by the then Bendel State Government (1986). He also received the Award of Africa’s Man of the Year 1998 by African World News.
He has been honoured with over 32 chieftaincy titles across the country, including the Esama of Benin Kingdom and The Gwang Taruk of Jos among many others.
Married to Lady Cherry Igbinedion, the Esama is blessed many children, grand children and great grand children.
Sir, on this occasion of your 82nd birthday, we are happy to be associated with you, and deservedly, you are the Boss of the Week. Happy birthday and Congrats!