Opinion: Garlands for a Former Governor

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By Richard Elesho.

Alh. Ibrahim Idris, CON (aka Ibro), former governor of Kogi State, astute business man and elder statesman clocks 68 this month. In public office, as the then first citizen of Kogi State, Ibro’s simplicity was disarming. Almost as a rule, he always initiated a handshake. Irrespective of the social standing of his visitor. Ibro would not only normally pick his calls at first dial, he  was sure to return any missed call, even if the caller was not registered in his contact list.

Usually dressed in his trademark babanringa, cap and sandals, he was not given to the frivolities and vanities of many of his peers. He believes that ‘it is not the hood that makes a monk’ and as such a man should not be judged by the quantity of his apparels but rather by the finer qualities of his mind.

His administration constructed several housing estates across the 21 local governments of the state. In Lokoja alone, he constructed three estates, namely Otokiti estate, 500 unit estate Ganaja and 50 units mansion as Assembly quarters. In all instances, he was careful not to unduly rupture the lives of people living in those areas. Unlike some governors that would demolish houses within the vicinity of the land acquired by government, his administration only required that owners of older titles shouldn’t build sub-standard houses that could disfigure the landscape.

As governor, he was completely untainted by the enormous power and aura of his office. Nor did his stupendous wealth diminish other people’s worth in his presence. Affable as ever, Ibro did not waste time to wave at people wherever an opportunity presented itself. He is also down to earth and lives life to the fullest. He never hesitated to stop his convoy either to answer the call of nature or to buy his favourite succulent banana, fresh mango or corn from the many vendors that line Nigerian roads.

Ibro’s leadership touched where it mattered most. For the years he was governor, he introduced the payment of NECO and WAEC fees for all final year students in public secondary schools in the state. The policy which he pursued to the end of his nine year tenure, shifted the burden of paying for the exams from indigent parents. The initiative was without prejudice to the payment of bursaries and scholarships to Kogi indigenes who were students of tertiary institutions across the country.

Ibro’s analysis on issues can be humbling. A man considered to be of scanty formal learning, what he lacked in octane western education, he generously makes up in traditional wisdom. During a discussion on the desirability of science education in tertiary institutions in Kogi State, Ibro summed up his views thus: “Science owns the world today. The social sciences and arts are good. But, must we continue to teach our children how to go to the market while others are teaching their own children how to go to the moon and space? It is not about how we used to do it. It should be, what is the best way to do it?”

His determination to actualize new thinking propelled the construction of the greater Lokoja Water Scheme, a fifty million gallons per day capacity enterprise that supply water to the state capital. Today, about Six years after leaving office, Ibro water is perhaps, the most enduring insignia of that era. “When I came in, I was always having sleepless nights about the perennial water shortage in the state. Luckily, Lokoja is the confluence of Rivers Niger and Benue. So, I said I will not forgive myself, if I leave office without solving the water problem.”

Ibro’s tenure as governor of Kogi State has remained a watershed in development of the state. His was a harvest of democracy dividends. Among his other legacies were the International Market, Confluence Stadium, three star Confluence Beach Hotel extension, Meme bridge, turning major roads in Lokoja to dual carriage ways complete with street lights, state secretariat Phase II and construction of about 2,000 primary school blocks of four classrooms and offices each.

Others include construction of new governor’s and deputy governor’s offices, rehabilitation of all ministries, parastatals and other government offices, establishment of Specialist Hospital, Lokoja and Confluence fertilizer company Agbeji. He also established the Kogi State College of Education, (Technical), Kabba and gave generous funding support to the state university, Anyigba, which enabled the institution to achieve 100 per cent accreditation of all its 29 courses in 29 months. By the time Ibro left office in January 2012, the university was holding the light as the best state owned university in the country.

Ibro gives generously to religious bodies notably mosques and churches across the country. For instance he built Ejule Central Mosque before he became governor. After his tenure, he also built a befitting Central Mosque in Idah, the ancestral headquarters of all Igala sons and daughters and Abejukolo, headquarters of Omala, his local government. His religious philanthropy is without borders. Even before he became governor, he would normally give out spaces to churches in his hotel at half the price and does not hesitate to donate to churches  whenever an opportunity opened.

Little wonder that even long after he left office as chief servant of the Confluence State, there is no love lost between the people and their former governor. Till date, any time he visits Kogi, the people mill around him in display of their affection for his leadership style. “If not for the law, they should have allowed Ibro to continue as governor. I don’t think we can have any leader like him again in this state.” A resident of Lokoja enthused.

Now in retirement and in complete control of his Grand Ibro Hotels, the first private five star hotel in the FCT, Ibro commits to the service of others. He takes enormous pleasure in playing with children. He spends quality time with his many grandchildren every weekend. Ibro also cherishes his favourite game, gulf. He does not miss a training session. And he hardly misses a shot.

Ibro is a politician who is in touch and in tune with the grassroots. When people are happy, he associates with their victories. Thus, his face is not scarce at weddings, naming ceremonies, coronations and such other joyous occasions. But, he is not just a fair weather friend. He will hardly miss any opportunity to pay the last respect to an old associate, friend or acquaintance. Usually, when he attends a ceremony, he stays the duration of the programme.

As the University of Abuja graduate of Law, marks his birthday this week, it is 68 happy cheers to a workaholic, disciplinarian and jolly good boss.

– Elesho was Chief Press Secretary to the former governor.

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