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Lessons learnt as Maiden relives attack on Alex at 10th year memorial

By Tope Templer Olaiya, News Editor
22 November 2021   |   4:30 am
A story that must be told never forgives silence. The audience was left awestruck on Saturday evening as publisher of The Guardian Newspaper, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru, took family, friends and guests on a journey that evoked chilling memories of dark days of military rule before the advent of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic in May 1999.

Retired military medical doctor, Brig. Gen. Oviemo Ovadje (left); Olorogun Oskar Ibru; his wife, Wanda; celebrant, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru and Chief Marlies Allan during sharing of Lady Maiden’s 72nd birthday cake and 10th year memorial service for the late Dr. Alex Uruemu Ibru, at her Ikoyi residence in Lagos on Saturday. PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI

A story that must be told never forgives silence. The audience was left awestruck on Saturday evening as publisher of The Guardian Newspaper, Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru, took family, friends and guests on a journey that evoked chilling memories of dark days of military rule before the advent of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic in May 1999.

The occasion was the 10th year remembrance of Alexander Uruemu Ibru passing and 72nd birthday of Maiden. By coincidence of fate, Alex died on his wife’s birthday.

The event was a mixed blend of deep reflection, troubling reminiscence, soul-lifting homily by the Metropolitan Pastor of House on the Rock, Rev’d Paul Adefarasin and admiration for the matriarch of the family for soldiering on with grace 10 years after the passing of The Guardian founding publisher.

Friday, February 2, 1996 is a day that will live in infamy. That was the day Alex cheated death when he narrowly escaped assassination during the military regime of the late General Sani Abacha. He was shot at on the Falomo Bridge in Ikoyi, Lagos State. The attack cost him an eye and two fingers. Thankfully, he lived for another 15 years and nine months.

Maiden, with a powerful sense of history, recalled the events in great details. Spiced with vital lessons, she told guests at the weekend how the journey that altered Alex’s life began three years earlier, when he was appointed into the Federal Executive Council.

“In 1993,” the story began, “Gen Chris Alli and Gen Olanrewaju visited our home one Sunday morning. They were in the music room. Normally, I don’t eavesdrop at anything, but this particular day, after I left them in the music room, I did. I was in the long passage. Alli was a friend of the family because he was once the Defence Attaché in Zimbabwe and we had one or two property there in those days, so, we used to go on vacation, I trusted him but I didn’t know much about Olanrewaju, never met him.

“Suddenly, Alex started laughing, he said: ‘Me ke, join government? No, no, no.’ They pleaded and pleaded. Next thing, they sent Chief Ebenezer Babatope, he’s still alive. He also came here and said, ‘this portfolio has never come to the South, it is always a Northern thing, this is the opportunity, history will not forgive you if you do not accept it.’

“We decided to pray about it. I remember some days later, Gen. Abacha came to Lagos, somewhere around TBS. We went there. Anyway, Alex now joined the government as the Minister of Internal Affairs, just because of these North and South balancing.

“One thing you never do is to resign from government. I am not saying this just in praise of Alex, but he was a unique man. You remember Ogboru and co. They were actually in prison somewhere in the North and Alex was a member of the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC), highest decision-making body in the country at the time and he was a Minister of Interior with several portfolios that included prisons, immigration and customs.”

The Ogboru being referred to was Turner Ogboru, younger brother to exiled businessman, Great Ogboru, said to have bankrolled the Major Orkar Coup of April 1990.

He was detained following his arrest in April, 1990, in connection with aiding the successful escape of his elder brother to Britain after the botched coup. Turner was set free from Kuje prison, Abuja, on October 19, 1998, four months after Abacha died in June that year.

Continuing, Maiden said: “At the PRC, they agreed that they were going to release Ogboru. A lot of Nigerians at the time did not know that it was actually Abacha’s Chief Security Officer (CSO), Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, that ruled; Abacha only reigned. You know the difference.

“After that meeting where they agreed to release Ogboru, Mustapha went to Abacha to say no, no, no. They must not be released. Of course, Abacha was a weakling, with due respect to him, Rest In Peace. The Commader-in-Chief called Alex alone to his office and said my brother, you know something, I have changed my mind, I think we should pick up Ogboru and co.

“Alex was bold enough to tell the C-in-C, ‘I am sorry Mr. President, we had a meeting, we all agreed they should be released and I have released them. I waited for the Minister of Justice, who was Olu Onogoruwa of blessed memory, and as soon as he signed, it came to my Ministry and action has been taken.’

“That was the way Alex ran his business. If you go to his office, his In-and-Out trays were always clean, nothing pending. He deals with it according to the day.

“Abacha started banging the table, saying this is treason. Alex told me this story himself and treason means death, but he didn’t think about it. Now, that was Abacha, that was Abuja, Alex resigned and returned to Lagos to face his businesses in 1995. He was on the boards of many of them, including the hotels.”

Maiden then transported the audience to February 2, 1996. “That particular day, he (Alex) went to Federal Palace for a board meeting. It has never happened to me before, around 4:00p.m. I started pacing up and down the home. I couldn’t place what it was. In all of Alex’s lifetime, I never called once during office hours since I know he’s going to return home. On this particular day, I called Gloria, the office girl. I said where is Oga, she answered he is actually next door with Uncle Goddie and I was like never mind, don’t even tell him I called.

“I did not know something was about to happen. Around 6:30p.m., I was somewhere around the kitchen when my brother, Alex Thomopoulos, came in with Kofi Duncan, my cousin and Uncle Goddie, Alex’s immediate elder brother. I greeted everybody and said hope everything is okay? My brother now readjusted himself on his seat, you know what it is when you readjust yourself on your seat; and I was like AT for Alex Thomopoulos, what’s going on here? He said, ‘I promise you with our late father and our late mother that he is not dead, and I was like what do you mean he is not dead. Alex was already in St. Nicholas Hospital.”

The story then shifted to the scene of the attempted assassination with Sergeant Barnabas Jabila, aka Sergeant Rogers, the infamous hit-man of Abacha.

“Rogers had gone to Federal Palace on that particular day. He parked his car, an estate Peugeot car that took four of them, went to those Hausa men who usually sell gift items to say I am looking for an Ibru, the next answer was, there are two of them here, is it the one who wears suit or the one who is always on white and white. They said the one always on white and white. They remained there until Alex came down around 6:00p.m.

“As soon as AT saw off Alex to the car, Roger’s car pulled behind him, unknown to him. When they approached Falomo, you either go straight across the bridge or you descend. I think they must have followed him that week because the Milverton stretch was the natural place most people would take to come towards Alexander Avenue. Rogers thought Alex was going to go straight across the Ikoyi bridge.

“The driver now asked Alex where should we take, he said you are the captain, whichever way you choose to. So, the driver decided to descend. As soon as Rogers saw the car was descending, he got out of the car, shot into the air to scare motorists away and next thing went to Alex’s car.

“Because they were close to the police barracks, Alex thought it was the police people who were at it again, not knowing he was the target. Next thing, he looked up, there was a gunman next to the window. Rogers shut through that window the instant Alex turned sideways. The bullet hit him in his left eye and his head shifted, that was how he lost his left eye. Luckily, the right eye was saved because of that shift.

“Immediately, the driver had the presence of mind to take him first to the Federal Palace clinic being run by Dr Onitiri, but it wasn’t something Onitiri could handle. They now went to St. Nicholas. All these time, I hadn’t seen Alex, I was just feeling restless.

“By coincidence, a junior of mine was the ophthalmologist, Dr. Utomi. She was the one who excised the eye so the bullet fragments doesn’t spread to the other eye.

“Lo and behold, Rogers found his way to St. Nicholas hospital with his team but before then, we had already placed police people to provide security on all the stairs leading to Alex’s wardroom. They were not able to do anything.

“What am I bringing out in all of these? Alex reluctantly, for the service to the nation, accepted the Minister’s job voluntarily but God still protected him. At least, we had him for about another 16 years before he passed and for that I am very grateful.

Lade Bonuola (right); Mrs. Iyabo Ogunsola; Chief Ajibola Ogunsola and Kofi Duncan at the Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru’s 72nd birthday in Ikoyi, Lagos.

“I have never seen him since he left but I feel his presence around here, I do. And sadly, I have never been able to return to our master bedroom. I have not returned to that bedroom in 10 years since he passed.

“We thank God for his life; that was the sort of person Alex was. He saw what was going on, he decided to resign but that was the biggest mistake of his life though God saved him.

“That night, I needed to take permission from Babagana Kingibe, who took over from Alex in the Interior Ministry because we had immediately procured an eight-seater air ambulance from Switzerland to evacuate Alex and the family that Friday. He was eventually flown out on Sunday. Alex was shot on a Friday evening, deliberately, so, we would find it hard to get medical help.

“One lesson we all learnt from this, always make sure your passport is current, don’t allow it to expire. While we were waiting to fly, the pilot went round to check our passports and visas and as he moved away to return to his seat, I asked by the way, supposing the patient doesn’t have his papers intact, he said we won’t evacuate, that’s one lesson to learn, always check your passport.”

ADEFARASIN, who took the sermon, eulogised Alex for his “sterling virtues of compassion, humility and service to humanity that illustrated the Ibru brand in a phenomenal way.”

He said: “He was our hero, he took a bullet for us, he was our glory. His pristine virtues defined him all through his lifetime and he left behind a legacy of grace and worship for the Anglican Church to further deepen the study of God through retreats at the Ibru Centre in Delta State.

“We are also celebrating Maiden not just for the fortitude of the last 10 years but for the 15 years you cared for and tendered to him after he took the bullet until he breathed his last. You are simply exemplary and worthy of emulation.

“At the time when it was difficult to manage the loss of a husband, lead the home-front and become the chairman of The Guardian group, you did all three with God’s grace.”

The cleric urged Maiden to consider instituting an Alex Ibru public lecture yearly to gather intelligentsias who would brainstorm and proffer solution to social ills. He also advised The Guardian publisher to consider writing a biography. “This information needs to be in a book for posterity,” he said.