By Richard Elesho
He means different things to different people. Many who adore him will easily remember Alh. Ibrahim Idris, CON, as a successful industrialist, a philanthropist and a politician of note. But his detractors will probably think of him as a selfish, foxy old man that must be kept at bay. Therefore, whereas his fans will not let any opportunity to venerate him go unused, his critics will also deploy all means, including incitement and falsehood to bring him to oddity, public opprobrium and ridicule, especially as has been the case since his incursion into politics.
However, love or hate him, what you cannot deny is that Idris has, in his seven scores and one existence lived a life dotted with history of resilience, trials and divine favours. Indeed, his is a lullaby echoing scenes from rags to riches.
On this day in 1949, (April, 6th) he was born at 7, Veinro North Street in the commercial town of Onitsha to Igala parents. He was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His parents were working class traders. In fact, it is fortuitous that Ibrahim would by a tinge of hard work, selflessness and divine favour exit the poverty radius. His maiden commercial endeavor was as a child and mandated by circumstance.
Let us see how: In an effort to meet some of his basic needs without always running to Mama, Ibrahim went into scavenging. In both friendly and stormy weather of those days, he would walk the streets of Onitsha and visit every refuse dump in the neighborhood with a sack hanging on his shoulder. His target was to collect used empty bottles of different sizes.
After acquiring a sizable number, the lad would clean them up with a solution of hot water and soap. He would then take them to the Government Hospital in the town for sale. The bottles were used for dispensing drugs to sick people and his services were in hot demand in the hospital. Part of the proceeds from the ingenuity went to Mama Hawau, his mother.
Pa Idris was a strict Muslim with more than one wives. His children were exposed to the virtues of tolerance, team work and diligence. But, he loved the civilization of the White man and was determined to make his son learn his ways. Pronto, he enrolled Ibrahim at Holy Trinity Primary School when he was six-year-old. It was a mission school owned by the Anglican Church.
Here Ibrahim was exposed to the Bible, Catechism and he passed Baptismal classes. He would have been baptised but for his inability to pay the mandatory one shilling required at the time. Today, he does not hesitate to give towards the advancement of the works of God either in the Mosque or in the Church.
From childhood Ibrahim had always sustained the hunger for meeting the needs of others. That was how he had a chance encounter with the late Owelle of Onitsha and Nigeria’s first indigenous Governor-General Dr. Nnamidi Azikiwe. Zik had a commendable number of sheep, goat and other animals.
The man saddled with responsibility to care for the animals and his property lived in the same compound with Ibrahim’s parents. Ibrahim formed the habit of going to the bush to get feeds for the livestock. With time, the renown politician took note of the thoughtful lad and at a time dashed him five shillings. He became a regular face in that compound.
Many decades later, selfless service to others is a factor that still account for his success in business and characterized his activities in public office. His transition from poverty to wealth had other encumbrances. For instance he had to drop out of Buguma Commercial College for lack of money.
He completed one year in the school. But, after staying at home for many months, an uncle assisted him with a modest sum, with which he ventured into furniture making.
He got a major break through in the business and diversified into general merchandise, hospitality and construction. The flagship of his business empire is the Grand Ibro Hotel, a sprouting facility of about 300 rooms and all ensuite located in the heart of the Federal