The day was Friday, January 27, 2012. The highest judicial organ in the country, the Supreme Court of Nigeria, had just made pronouncement terminating the tenure of five governors. Ibrahim Idris then governor of Kogi State, was among those affected by the judgement. But rather than being somber or lethargic, he remained calm and in order to prevent a lacuna, quickly arranged for the process that led to the inauguration of his successor as provided by law. Once done, he vacated his official residence of nine years and moved on with life. “Nobody will be a governor for ever. I thank God and the people of Kogi State for the opportunity to serve them and their cooperation with me. As I proceed to other endeavours, I pray that my successors will achieve more than me., “ were his farewell words.
Nearly five years after vacating public office, Idris’ love for the people he once served remain evergreen. Now in retirement, he has returned full circle to his first love. He devotes his time to running a hospitality business, community service and philantrophy. He is the mastermind behind a chain of business concerns namely Ibro Electronics, Ibro Furniture and Grand Ibro Hotel, a sprawling Five Star Hotel in the heart of Abuja, with branches in Sokoto and Minna. What has today snowballed into a vast conglomerate started as a carpenter’s workshop in the 1960s.
After attending primary schools in Holy Trinity Primary School, Onitsha and United Native Authority School, Kano, young Ibrahim was admitted to Kings College of Commerce, Buguma in present day Rivers State. He was however in college for only two years before he opted to pursue his dreams in the business world where fortune smiled at him. So successful was he that at the age of 18, the young man had already married and bought a brand new Volkswagen Beetle 1200, records considered superlative by the standard of that era. Since then, his business had continued to grow in leaps and bounds. The steady rise in his business also came with fame. But, Idris would not touch politics even with a long pole. Rather, he decided to return to school. After successfully enrolling and passing his West African School Certificate Examination, WASCE, he studied law in the University of Abuja as a matured student. Indeed, he wrote his final exams in the university in 2004, one year after he became a governor.
It was from running his business empire that the common people of Kogi State literally dragged him to partisan politics in 2002. Impressed by his humility and amazing successes in wealth creation, the ordinary people of his state started encouraging him to contest the governorship. “When they started calling on me to contest, I refused and said no way. I thought they were interested in collecting my hard earned money.” Idris recalled. But, there was a limit to how he could resist power of the people. The trader eventually gave in.
As it turned out, he was simply an idea whose time had come. He contested and effortlessly won an incumbent, the late Alh. Audu Abubakar in the 2003 Governorship poll. As a public servant, his humility and accessibility were disarming. He was directly in touch with the grassroots. The glamour and paraphernalia of office did little to tamper his finer values. Both in and out of office, Idris would pick his calls at first dial. He will also not hesitate to return a missed call. Being in touch with the people helped to shape the policy direction of his government.
Till date, his years in office remain a watershed in the history of the Confluence State. The signature project of his sojourn in Lugard House is the greater Lokoja Water Scheme. Constructed with about N10bn, the scheme has installed capacity of 50 Million Gallons of water per day. Presently, the city requires far below 15 Million gallons of water as its daily need. By 2003, when he took his first oath of office as governor, Lokoja was getting not more than 700,000 gallons of water per day. Ironically, the city is home to two of Africa’s notable rivers, the Niger and the Benue, but its inhabitants had no water to drink nor for other domestic purposes. Former President Goodluck Jonathan commissioned the new water project in August 2011 and today, Ibro water runs in every part of Lokoja.
People will not also forget the educational transformation that characterised his tenure in a hurry. At the primary school sector, he constructed more than 1000 blocks of Four classrooms and offices each across the state. He ensured that no single village, community or ward is left without benefitting from the initiative. But the mother of his achievements in education is the transformation of the state’s university in Anyigba from a glorious secondary school to the best private or state owned university in the country. In 2003, the university was on the verge of collapse. The school was denied accreditation in 27 out of its 29 academic programmes , while only two received partial accreditation. However, with proper funding and the appointment of the late international agronomist and administrator, Prof. Francis Idachaba as its vice chancellor, the university had all its 29 programmes fully accredited in 29 months. These feats did not jeopardise payment of bursaries to all indigenes of the state in higher institutions across the country and payment of WAEC/ NECO exam fees for all final year secondary school students in the state.
His records on human capital management will be difficult to beat. For all his years in government, Workers salaries and other emoluments were paid as and when due. Not a penny was owed any worker or contractors in the state. In fact, the governor paid all arrears of salaries, pensions and other liabilities he inherited from his predecessor. He was also the first governor in the North Central to implement the 18,000 minimum wage and relativity for all categories of civil servants in 2011. In addition, his administration reconstructed befitting office structures for all ministries and built the State Secretariat Phase II.
To be sure, the Idris administration touched virtually all sectors of the state economy. Other legacy projects of his administration include dualisation of all major roads in the state capital, construction of about 2000 houses spread across all 21 local governments in the state! establishment of a 400 bed capacity Specialist Hospital in Lokoja, construction of an Olympic size Confluence Stadium and remodeling and reconstruction of the governor and deputy governor’s offices and Confluence Beach Hotel, Lokoja.
Idris’ most dramatic moment in public office was in 2009 when his children survived a plane crash. The commercial flight with 109 passengers on board took off from Abuja to Sokoto. It crashed minutes into the journey, killing all but seven of its passengers and crew. Miraculously, three of the Seven survivors were his children Jamila, Aisha and Zainab. While sympathising with families of the victims, he described the astonishing story of the survivals as ‘an act of God and superlative show of mercy’.
That is not all. Idris pays attention to details and a firm believer in due process. In 2009, a phantom group circulated a document in which he was accused of nepotism, contract inflation, money laundering and other corrupt practices. In order to safe his name, he waved his immunity and requested the presidency to direct the anti graft agencies to investigate the allegations and probe him, if there was need. He was probed and no sufficient evidence of guilt found against him. Till date, he remains one of the very few tribe of former governors that are not encumbered by regular visits to the anti-corruption watch dogs. Idris lives in freedom. Among his current fancies are playing with children/ grandchildren, regular hours on the gulf pitch,construction of mosques in places like Idah, Ejule and Abejukolo, among others. He gives handsome financial donations to churches or communities in need and is committed to other philanthropic gestures.
– Elesho was chief press secretary to the former governor