At some point in the nation’s culinary life, Ibru fish was dominant. Fishing business also became easily identifiable with the man Michael Ibru who used it as a pedestal to build an empire that traversed the nation’s economic landscape. This man who earned his right to be called the patriarch of the Ibru clan, galvanised the youthful energy of his siblings into a massive force that built the Ibru Organisation with tentacles in almost all facets of the nation’s economic activity. Michael became famously and publicly known by his chieftaincy title, Olorogun, and belonged to the old school of Nigerian business class who operated from the background and preferred to let their actions speak for them.
Born into the family of Mr Peter Ibru, a missionary worker, who also worked at the Igbobi Orthapaedic Hospital, Lagos, Michael after his secondary school at Igbobi College where he acquired a school certificate in 1951, joined the United African Company (UAC), as a management trainee. In 1956, a few years after joining U.A.C, he dropped out of the company and started a partnership, which he called Laibru. After engaging in general trading with some success, in 1957, Michael Ibru discovered that the frozen fish market was a fertile market with the potential to deliver returns above the market rate. However, it was a tough market to penetrate, at the time, many expatriate firms and Nigerian traders were lacking and some were not interested in the market. But he felt he could put extra effort communicating with general traders, who played key roles in products acceptance. To trade in seafood, he established an importing company and also rented and built cold storage facilities across the country. By the mid-1960s trading in fish had become the traditional money maker for the Ibru organization. Though he had other profitable interests such as transportation and construction, fish trading helped him secure financing and other forms of capital to engage in large scale trading. He established a partnership with a Taiwanese company, Osadjere Fishing Company, which provided trawlers and other accessories for trading. By the end of the 1960s, he branched out fully into other areas of the economy. Like a lot of his contemporaries, he established a transportation company, called Rutam. He also invested in palm oil production. Over the years, the Ibru Organization has expanded into other areas such as Tourism, Brewery, Timber, Poultry and banking
Having made his mark in the private sector where he was a huge success, the senior Olorogun (because soon, that chieftain title became the sign post of the Ibru family) came to the conclusion that public life could provide a turf for him to further demonstrate his acumen as a manager of men and resources. To this extent, therefore, politics became an attractive prospect which he attempted to actualise in 1983 when he vied, though unsuccessfully, for the gubernatorial seat of his State, then Bendel. That lot fell on his younger brother, Felix, also late, to bring to fruition.
Olorogun Ibru had five wives and 17 children, the most prominent being Olorogun Oskar Ibru (who heads Ibafon Ports) and Oboden Ibru. Michael lived a fulfilled life and his death at 86, has depleted the rank of Nigeria’s foremost business icons. He will surely be missed. Fare thee well, the eminent Olorogun.