Happy birthday! Madam publisher
On this auspicious day, it’s Happy Birthday to the Publisher of The Guardian, a towering figure, philanthropist, advocate for women, leader of many civic organisations, corporate boardroom guru, role model extraordinary for women, quintessential family woman, Rank Xerox of finesse, a Lady in the true sense of the word and above all, a fine and humble human being. That is Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru.
Recognised in 2007 by the Greek Parliament, Orthodox Pope of Alexandria; in 2012, by the corporate and philanthropic industry, particularly for the society’s underprivileged; Ladyship title (Cross of St. Mark), and many worthy honorary chieftaincies across Nigeria.
At 70, she received a special congratulatory message from Nigeria’s President for her leadership roles in the corporate and philanthropic industry. For our group, she is the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Nigerian American Medical Foundation International (NAMFI) – a Diaspora physicians group (the only Diaspora group with presence in Nigeria) dedicated to providing world-class human capital support, rebuilding Nigeria’s ebbing tertiary care infrastructure, stem the rising tide of medical tourism outside the country’s shores and re-enthroning medical excellence in Nigeria.
We cannot celebrate her birthday without a toast to the history of The Guardian, as depicted at a launch, last year, in Lagos to the honour of the Founder and first Publisher, Alex Ibru, whose shoes she stepped into after his demise in 2011.
Indeed, this is also an opportunity to celebrate and appreciate the roles of the Ibru dynasty (started by the Patriarch, Michael Ibru), among other iconic pioneers, in laying Nigeria’s economic and industrial foundation pre and early-post-Independence in the early 1960s.
The only Ibru I met, of the four Ibru first-generation men (Michael, Felix, Alex, Goodie), was Felix Ibru (circa 1979), an architect. He was the patron of my club, The Dolfak Club at the University of Ife (the oldest social club in the university). Good memories: Le President Arobo Kalango, Chancellor of Exchequer Collins Chiazor, Wale Okediran, Dokun Adedeji, Franklin Adeyemi, Austin Osio, Kayode Akinkugbe, Kayode Longe, Fusika Ainkugbe. Many of them are today’s leaders. The consensus of him was “publicity shy Mr. Felix Ibru”. A simple fine gentleman, indeed. The Ibru dynasty lifted many out of poverty through their enterprise and philanthropic giving. But the joy of today’s celebration should be our main focus today: Maiden Alex-Ibru at 72. We join with her many well-wishers, her family and friends wishing her more blessings and God’s continued guidance. As the Publisher of Nigeria’s media flagship par excellence, her carriage and how she has held herself in neutrality and non-partisanship, she is highly respected across aisles.
She reminds of a past Publisher of the Washington Post, Kathleen Graham, a major newspaper owned by the Graham family dynasty for many years (including Newsweek magazine) until recent buyout by Amazon. Kathy Graham was highly regarded in Washington and presidents, irrespective of ideology or party affiliation would pick her calls and her opinion sought on patriotic matters affecting the nation.
The Guardian remains a voice of truth, courage and social justice to this day, thanks to Madam Publisher for sustaining that institution to this day. A few institutions in Nigeria rarely go beyond one generation. It’s impressive to see her son, Toke Ibru, on the masthead of the flagship newspaper.
One of the wisest men that ever lived, Aristotle, once said: “Those who see things from their beginnings shall have the finest view of them.” I don’t have any best view, but I only had an opportunity of witnessing the early years of The Guardian and its meteoric rise as an outsider and observer. My flare for writing took me occasionally to Rutam House, the newspaper’s office building in Lagos. There were no Internet or Microsoft Words then. I was just a young physician, just completing my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme in Lagos with plenty of time in hand. In 1983, the flagship of Nigerian journalism made its debut. It was arguably the era of the finest writers the country ever knew. The Guardian was a star-studded editorial team. In addition, a leveller culture banishing titles was adopted. Everyone in the country was addressed as “Mr.” except two iconoclastic living contemporaries of that time that truly earned the exemption: two elder statesmen and major architects of Nigeria’s Independence: Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo. How and when the novel style ended will be a story of another day.
As a student in Africa’s most beautiful campus of that time, a.k.a the University of Ife, the campus newsstand regularly displayed Time, Newsweek and Africa Weekly magazines. We enjoyed reading the stellar talents of Time’s back page essay column of Lance Morrow or another fine essayist’s columnist, Roger Rosenblatt in those mid-late 1970s.
The debut of The Guardian gave us pride in our own country that, indeed, the best was yet to come and the party had only begun.
The Opinion and Editorial Pages (Op-Ed) of The Guardian were a masterpiece. Great talents: Stanley Macebuh, Patrick Dele Cole, Yemi Ogunbiyi, Onwuchekwa Jemie, Lade Bonuola, Femi Osofisan, Edwin Madunagu, Olatunji Dare, Godwin Sogolo, Ama Ogan, Sully Abu, were stellar and could easily match any of the Pulitzer winning folks at the New York Times editorial team. Many were from the defunct Daily Times.
One day that’s hard to forget was the coverage of an event in Lagos of Literary Giant, Prof. Wole Soyinka circa 1985. He wasn’t a Nobel Laureate then, but a keynote speaker. The function and the audience were mostly Naval Officers. “ O! Yes, the Navy,” was the chant in The Guardian feature. It exposed the unlettered mediocre leadership of the country of the military era. I think the writer of that piece was either Sullly Abu or Godwin Sogolo. WS, the “Williams Shakespeare” of our time, a man of great letters displayed his usual mastery of English Language that day and unbelievably, were the clapping audience mostly the Naval Officers. The ever fearless and courageous WS was bashing the country’s ruling military establishment in his speech and the audience could hardly understand his poetic grammar and gave him thunderous applause! A dark side of a nation and in fact clearly showed the calibre of people running the affairs of the nation!! Lord, have mercy. What a country of the least intellectual leading the best minds. My own modest contribution to the Op-Ed pages of The Guardian was non-medical, they were only about social issues of the day. The one I can remember easily was entitled: “The morality of struggle” in 1984. I did not know I would be writing this piece today on the same Op-Ed page in 2021! Looks like “1948” in “1984 (George Orwell)”, the book my daughter gave me as a birthday gift a few years ago. The morality of struggle was a critique of that time. Why would prodigy Ayodele Awojobi be fighting the establishment every day? The place of academia is to research, uplift society and raise tomorrow’s leaders and not be consumed in fighting societal injustice. The man passed mysteriously at a relatively young age. Many years after, following the big 1994 Northridge, California earthquake, his theory of soil mechanical vibration and soil physics remain the model adopted in preventing future devastating earthquakes for building and highway construction. What a wasted talent!!
The lexicon has changed worldwide and it’s good for society. It’s no longer “Mr. Publisher” or “Mr. Chairman.” Class ceiling and barriers have been broken from the old exclusively male preserve. Board rooms are now headed by women based purely on meritocracy. Good for society and indeed, world leadership. Research has shown clearly that a society that genuinely empowers women make more progress. Families gain more and are more stable from more educational and leadership positions for the female gender.
Today in Nigeria, of the about 24 banks in the country, about six (25%) have women chief executive officers (CEOs) or Chair of the Board of Directors. There tends to be more accountability, more prudence and overall good leadership with the female gender. And they tend to show more passion for work, as they naturally do, nurturing their families. We’ve seen photos of the simplicity and governmental fiscal prudence of Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel doing her own groceries with her hubby or New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinder Arden driving by herself to the airport, picking up a relative.
Back to today’s celebration of the 72nd anniversary of the day, our small group has worked closely with her and has come to admire and respect Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru’s leadership qualities since we debuted in Nigeria in 2013. Again, it’s a toast to her, The Guardian where she’s Chairperson and Publisher and perhaps also the Ibru closely-knit family she’s part of my marriage and the flagship of independent and courageous journalism in Nigeria since its founding, by her late husband, Alex Ibru, the fist Publisher.
Our yearly meetings are well-covered and indeed, made the headlines of The Guardian the day after. This is our appreciation in making in getting our selfless and patriotic mission in the country publicised well for the public good. She is a fine human being, whom we have learned more of good etiquette. Like most good leaders, she would ask about our personal welfare, our spouses and children. And also, what most people rarely ask physicians, how well we take good care of ourselves while providing care for others! Who’s caring for the caregiver? A few members of the group have relocated partially, but many are still practising in the United States and Canada. Our leadership of about 10 in number, constituted as Board of Trustees with her as Chair. Our choice was logical. We were seeking highly regarded people of the finest character, and integrity in the land, who know the social space of Nigeria very well. As she would tell us many times: “We are in this together”. She would stop by our office occasionally. From the day, we approached her coming on board, she remains to this day, passionate about our selfless cause. She told us of the pain in losing her husband from the preventative outcome, if diagnosed early. In many developed countries, government agencies provide guidelines in preventive screening, as part of efforts to increase longevity and life expectancy. From mandatory mammogram for women by age 40 (35 from the higher-risk family history of breast cancer) or colon cancer screening for all after 50 by colonoscopy, things are picked up early and addressed. Lives are saved and the citizenry is living longer.
Meanwhile, we remember also remember the Founding Publisher (“Mr. Publisher”), whose 10th anniversary of passing, is also coincidentally, today. We pray for his departed soul. We also take delight in the enviable legacy he left, The Guardian and the Ibru Ecumenical Centre in home town Agbarha- Otor, near Ughelli, Delta State. It was a befitting donation to his denominational faith, the Anglican Church of Nigeria for public use. The doyen of philanthropy in Nigeria, Mobolaji Bank-Anthony used to say in his lifetime: “What God has given you, give it to others.”
Rightly so. The book of Ecclesiastes is a reminder of the vanities of this life. “This too shall pass”. Life is about legacies and service to others. Institutions outlive men. The legacies of Alex Ibru is also being celebrated today. I would make a good reference or enviable comparison to the legacy of Walter Annenberg, an American businessman, investor and philanthropist, who owned a huge print media outlet, including the newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer. His final resting site is his winter country home (The Sunnylands) in Rancho Mirage, California, after his death in 2002 in his home in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania (a mostly Jewish enclave in suburban Philadelphia). Be it Agbarha -Otor or Rancho Mirage, it’s the same legacy lesson for others. I practise presence in the area; past of what is the greater Palm Springs. Clustered and contiguous very small eight cities in a low-altitude desert region of South-east southern California – Desert Hot Springs/Palm Springs/Cathedral City/Rancho Mirage/Palm Desert/Indian Wells/La Quinta/Coachella. It has been home to retired entertainment celebrities (Singer Frank Sinatra, Comedian Bob Hope etc) and is some two hours from Hollywood. Was a retirement destination for former Presidents Eisenhower and Ford away from the chilling winters of the North-east. Now, a resort centre open to the public for meetings, recreation and golf. The magnanimity, epitomize the best of human kindness, civility and giving back. The only non-profit hospital in this region, Eisenhower Hospital, one of the country’s best, has an eponymous recognition to Walter Annenberg’s name, for the benefit of generations to come for tertiary medical care.
For many in Diaspora, there’s a wake-up call. I will always remember my colleague, Marc Leitner. It was a sobering day any human being would be moved, much so any African. President George Walker Bush was visiting Uganda. Present with him were two black members of his cabinet, Colin Powell (Secretary of State) and Condoleezza Rice (National Security Adviser). It was a visit to an AIDS facility. Flies in plethora were hovering to the “welcome delight” of those present. We were as usual around the television set in my hospital’s physicians’ lounge, after early morning rounds before leaving for our various medical offices. Marc walked up to me and asked, definitely not in ridicule, but obviously in a genuine human stance: “What are you guys doing from here to help your continent?” Many would say why to worry in a country with bad leaders, who care less about their people’s welfare. We should see the realistic possibilities of the moral and social imperatives of what we can bequeath to the next generation.
Lady Maiden Alex- Ibru is the only non-physician on our Board of Trustees. She’s always a phone call away. Reachable and approachable for wise counsel and guidance, with our own due cognisance and respectful of time zone differences of phone calls from our side of the Atlantic. The only day we don’t bother her is Wednesdays, when she would attend meetings all day, with the Editorial Board of The Guardian.
She initially served on our Advisory Board, among the best the country has; mostly older and very experienced senior highly respected in the land (Arthur Mbanefo, Christopher Kolade, Adenike Grange). Our joint board meetings went smoothly with these highly accomplished, yet very humble people. I remember one in May 2014; everyone introduced himself or herself by first and last names. No ego or unnecessary titles. Our highly esteemed Advisory Board has gradually changed to equally high integrity faces as they are retiring from our own “House of Lords” to these younger ones: Donald Duke, John Momoh, Bismarck Rewane, Ajoritsedere Awosika, Aigboje Aig-Imokhuede. The Board of Trustees remains the same 10 with Madam Publisher (Rex, Matthias, Sam, Simpa, Abdullahi, Pauline, Faye, Mike, Yours truly). Presently, we have been able to recruit about 200 talent experts across the United States for an organised roster for Nigeria in providing world-class consultation service in about 100 sub-specialities. Many work remotely by telemedicine consults while some would visit in a weekly roster pattern in the 52 weeks of the year. Of the 150 Nigerian-born experts, an amazing 50 friends-physicians Americans of non-Nigerian descent have joined our charitable cause. This is an opportunity to thank my eight other colleague-trustees, some of whom currently practise in U.S. (Rex, Mathias and Sam); two have relocated one recent and another, decades ago – Michael, Faye; our IT/medical informatics physician Simpa, our web face to the world who preferred to be called “Chief Happiness Officer”; Pauline taking charge of the future Epe site come to 2029 DV; Abdullahi, Neurologist from Kano who flies in for our Lagos meetings.
We celebrate Lady Maiden Alex- Ibru today, an achiever in her own right: from the prestigious Queen’s School to undergraduate studies at Nigeria’s premier university, the University of Ibadan and later, postgraduate in Communications and Media studies at the American University in Washington, D.C.. She earned it all by diligence and hard work. An Ibru by marriage, and seem she never left Delta her ancestry! Born in Sapele to a Greek father, Aristotelis Thomopolus, who settled in Nigeria and a Nigerian mother, Hannah Omaghomi, a great-granddaughter to the then Governor-General of Olomu of Koko Kingdom in the 1800s., then Governor-General kingdom in Warri area of present-day Delta State. She has a younger sister, Philomena Awosika and an older brother, Alex Thomopolus; “another Alex” as she sometimes jokes. We salute the sagacity of The Guardian media house leaders surviving the siege and of military regimes.
We wish Mrs. Maiden Alex-Ibru many more productive years of happiness, good health, more success and continued God’s speed in her journey of life. A grateful group appreciate her steadfast leadership today and always. We are very honored and privileged to work closely with her continuously on a worthy, noble and patriotic cause. Three hearty cheers again!!! At our December 2019 AGM, Civic Center, Lagos (a month after her 70th birthday) at the lunch hour break, she proved to us she’s a good youthful dancer as we all sang and danced with her, Stevie Wonder’s rendition “Happy Birthday to you……, Happy Birthday…..
• Dr. Shoroye serves as Vice-Chair, Trustees of the Nigerian American Medical Foundation International based in Lagos. He lives with his family in Palm Springs, Calif., United States.