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Yet another year for the Esama

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Chief Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, Esama of Benin Kingdom

The Esama of Benin will be 84 years old on Tuesday. I have known him for 19 years since he was 65 years.

But nobody gets to know the Esama well enough to situate him in an all-time profiling. He is simply an enigma, rising differently to different occasions.

Only one thing underlines his intriguing manifestations: his desire, almost an obsession, to break new grounds to the glory of God and the benefit of mankind and then be cool as a person.

He moves after he’s done as a pioneer. He has done so in aviation, education and even media.

Often, one does not meet him the same person on a second encounter or from the last impression one had of him.

At one time, he would be so generous, exhibiting infinite capacity to dole out cash while sitting still in the majesty of his environment.

At another time, cash would be so scarce that the Great Esama would be beating about his pockets looking for something to give a fellow who is anxiously waiting to be blessed.

Then after a few gesticulations in mock concentration, he would declare: “see me again, I am very broke!”

That is not to be taken literally. It could be that one has gone when the spirit of giving has left him and something else is in charge of his faculties.

That is, the Esama will only be broke when he is not in the giving mood.

And so, as first step, those who go to him for easy solutions often spend time to pray and fast too for the Esama to remain in the mood.

Otherwise, it would amount to visiting the chief priest on a day that the gods are on holiday.

From a distance, it looks attractive to draw ridiculous conclusions about the Esama.

To say, for instance, that the high points about him are baseless and that his wealth was by some uncommon stroke of luck, and the same luck, which miraculously does not smile on others, has kept him sustainable over decades.

But I can say for sure that while God and His grace remain universally accessible, nothing about the Esama is haphazard.

He sets goals and achieves same through a systematic approach. And when there is a goal to achieve, the prodigiously tall Esama could extremely stoop to conquer.

I shall explain just one instance. On this particular day, British Airways slept on its legendary efficiency and failed to offer services that had been duly paid for.

The fellow at the counter at Heathrow Terminal 5 said all seats in the business class compartment had been taken.

I sought explanation on why the airline would sell my seat when I was at the counter well into time to complete boarding formalities.

He only explained that passengers checked-in online and all seats had been taken.

My voice was rising in anger. The counter supervisor who got attracted to the scene adopted a different approach.

He consoled that if in the end I could not be seated in the business class and I had had to fly in economy, I would be specially compensated in addition to being refunded the difference between the cost of business class and economy tickets.

It sounded good. But at the point of boarding, the fellow re-emerged and upgraded me to first class.

But it wasn’t the best day to fly British Airways first class; I met Esama on board.

The Esama was working at something and he made sure I worked side by side with him in-flight.

More or less, I was as up and doing as any of the cabin crews attending to him. He started with a tease.

“Abraham, what did I do to you naah?” He maintained a straight face causing my heart to skip a bit.

I turned to Lady Cherry (his wife) as if asking if there was something she knew that I didn’t know.

She retained her signature smile and went back to the newspapers in her hands.

I had expected her to stress: “Chieeef, you know Abraham is not capable of doing any bad thing against you” in her rhythmic British accent. But she didn’t. My anxiety heightened.

“Nothing sir!” I answered boldly and waited for his next line. “Then why didn’t you did tell me that you have also become a big man like me?”

Again, he maintained a straight face as he was making some real serious allegation against me.

Lady Cherry stifled a giggle as she tried to identify with my confusion. It was just the Esama’s way of recruiting me for the task ahead.

Now the real business. Some ceremony of the Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, was ahead and the Chief wanted me to be part of the distribution of the invitation cards in-flight.

Not that he could not move around the cabin to hand over the cards himself; but he didn’t want to give unaddressed cards to the persons he wanted to invite.

My specific task therefore was to assist in name identification and transmit findings to Lady Cherry who wrote names on the cards with her characteristic calligraphic writing.

One lady remained unidentified. She did not have any work to do on board like we and so she had stressed out to enjoy some sleep.

And except she woke up and reclined to a sitting position, it would be pretty difficult to establish her identity.

To have my peace, I decided to embark on an espionage mission. I walked round the cabin as if easing off after sitting for a long time.

I returned with a very positive report. She was Mrs Shola Momoh, wife of John Momoh, the owner of Channels Television Station.

“You are a very clever boy” the Esama said in appreciation of the feat.

Mission accomplished, I thought I could fall-out to enjoy my own corner of the first class cabin.

But not so fast! The Esama had other stories to tell me.

Stories about why I did not tell him that I was in London (as if I had any way of knowing he was in London himself) so that he could give me money to do shopping.

I understood. The glamorous Benin Chief is never lacking in theatrics.

The other time that I met him in his Bishop Gate, North London palatial home, it happened to be one of the days that the spirit of giving had departed from him.

Instead it was Lady Cherry, ever present to fill in the gaps, who said: “waooo Abraaaaham! You are in London. Take and get something for yourself.’’

The Esama only entertained me with good gist and left me with a parting shot.

He said I was a ‘’bushman’’ because the so-called London summer weather was not making any good sense to me and I had looked a bit out of place in my pull-over sweater.

Sometimes when I mention Igbinedion, what comes readily to the mind of my listeners is Lucky Igbinedion, the former governor of Edo State.

Yes, Lucky, as indeed other members of the Igbinedion household, is there but my real friend is the Esama himself.

I have gained so much from being close to him. Of course it can never be in terms of cash because the Esama does not give able-bodied people including his children money but in understudying a man who is often misunderstood by the world around him.

He teaches the fundamentals of life in a far less tedious way.

Like King David, within his earthly antics and limitations, Chief Igbinedion loves and fears God. He manages to even with God by praising Him always.

He also works mainly to benefit mankind which is why his investments are more like works of charity than they are rational economic activities.

He is still investing and if the idea is to recoup investments, it would still not be enough time for that even if the Esama were to live longer than Methuselah.

Rather, he thinks of humanity and not necessarily about himself.

One evening I had the privilege of uninterrupted two-hour talk with Lady Cherry. She gave me useful insights.

In the end I came to understand that the strength and apparent economic immortality of the Esama lies in his real estate spread.

This is so much so that he owns property in almost every major city in the world.

“This your father that you are seeing has so much investment in property and that is his power” Lady Cherry had told me.

But then, it takes a man of clear vision and balanced spirituality to see gold where others see garbage.

At 84, the Esama still has it all – wealth, health and family. He has got enough in his basket of life for unceasing celebration even outside of September 11.


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