Why Delta state government honoured Alex Ibru at Silver Jubilee anniversary
Honour is usually bestowed on those who are deserving of it. And Mr. Alex Ibru, the late Publisher of The Guardian, Nigeria’s flagship of journalism, is more than deserving of any honour accorded on account of his many strides in the service of mankind. This was the position of the Ifeanyi Okowa-led Delta government when, in appreciation of Mr. Ibru’s services to the state and Nigeria, he was bestowed a posthumous award, “Distinguished Service as media Proprietor” in Asaba last week during the state’s 25th year anniversary tagged “Delta@25.”
In a letter inviting the Ibru family to the Grand Award and Gala Night held on August 26 at the state-owned Events Centre, Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Festus Ovie-Agas said: “His selection for this award was part of a careful process by which the general affairs of the state in the past 25 years were appraised. Following this review, there was a consensus that he had meritoriously served to enrich the state’s history, its people and its future and it is the wish of the Delta State government to use the auspicious occasion of the State’s Silver Jubilee Anniversary to formally acknowledge him for this service.”
Mr. Ibru’s setting up of The Guardian newspaper signaled the beginning of media democracy and freedom in Nigeria, as all other newspapers in the country either had political affiliations and motivations or were controlled by governments. These sundry appendages coloured the perspectives of the existing media until The Guardian emerged and redefined media agenda and landscape in being non-partisan hence the inimitable motto: Conscience Nurtured by Truth.
In a citation, it was acknowledged that the posthumous award was a testimony to the man’s stature as a media mogul. Almost five years after his transition (on November 20, 2011), his legacies as publisher of The Guardian, founder of Trinity Foundation, former Minister of Internal Affairs, Christian activist, and philanthropist have continued to attract accolades from far and near.
Besides, these legacies have become reference points in underscoring the age-long saying that the essence of living is service to humanity. And because Alex Ibru served humanity so well and for so long (66 years) with his body, soul, spirit, material endowments, and of course, with his life, he remains in the hearts of people forever.
Really, those 66 years were full of milestones. The son of Peter Epete and Janet Omotogor Ibru of Agbhara-Otor in Delta State was born in Lagos on March 1, 1945. He attended the Yaba Methodist Primary School (1951–1957), Ibadan Grammar School (1958–1960), Igbobi College, Lagos (1960–1963) and Trent Polytechnic in the United Kingdom (1967–1970), where he studied Business Economics.
Although, he began his professional life, first as Chief Executive Officer, and later, Chairman of Rutam Motors, the establishment of The Guardian newspaper in 1983 as a voice for the voiceless marked a turning point in the life of the young Ibru who was then a little above 30. The success of The Guardian made it clear that there was an appetite for high quality journalism in Nigeria. But the military regime did not appreciate the paper’s independence, and it was persecuted under military ruler General Muhammadu Buhari (January 1984 – August 1985).
As a promoter of civic rights, Ibru provided funding for the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), established during the military regime of Buhari’s successor, General Ibrahim Babangida. Later, he served as Minister of Internal Affairs from 1993 to 1995 in the Sani Abacha government. His appointment by Abacha was seen as a gesture of appeasement to the press.
In December 1993, there were violent clashes between the Ogoni and Okrika people in the slums of Port Harcourt in Rivers State. Alex Ibru led a committee to tour Ogoniland and investigate the causes of unrest. Other members were Don Etiebet, Minister of Petroleum Reserves and Melford Okilo, Minister of Tourism. The military administrator of the state, Dauda Musa Komo, escorted the group. Embarrassingly for the military regime, during the trip a large crowd demonstrated in Bori, blaming Shell oil pollution for their problems.
Alex Ibru had told his staff at The Guardian that he would not get involved in partisan politics. Despite this, the respected newspaper was highly critical of the Abacha regime. On August 14, 1994, The Guardian offices were raided and shut down by the government, although Alex Ibru retained his post. The newspapers were only allowed to reopen in October 1995.
On February 2, 1996, his car was sprayed with machine gun fire from unidentified men who had trailed him in a deep-blue Peugeot. Ibru was flown to England for treatment. After Abacha’s death in 1998, his Chief Security Officer, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, and others were charged with the assassination attempt.
The attack, rather than dampened his morale, strengthened his faith in God, his commitment to newspapering and his resolve that the objectives of an open, humane and just society were worth pursuing.
He had said in one of his encounters with the media after his return from the overseas treatment: “The attempt did not surprise me, because I had been warned. But God wanted me to continue to serve him. That is why I am alive… I still do not know why they did what they did. Only God knows the answer. Judgement belongs to God. I do not hate anybody. I do not blame anybody.”
For years, his alleged assassins were in court, they were being interrogated by the state with startling revelations about their evil machination, and the media (print and electronic), of course, were feasting on the ‘hot news’. But Ibru said, “I see the headlines (media reports about the case) but I do not read them.”
His faith in God later crystallised into the establishment of Trinity Foundation and Alex Ibru remained in the service of God through humanity until he breathed his last on November 20, 2011.