The Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, turned 89 on September 11, 2023. He has a lot to be thankful to God for. Attaining the age of 89 years is no mean feat, as longevity goes.
Despite the years, he is still glowing, with an encyclopedia of lofty visions, accomplishments and kind deeds in tow.
Surely, Chief Igbinedion has been through high and low tide, shadows and sunshine. Life was not always a bed of roses, although gorgeous roses adorn his garden today.
Chief Igbinedion had his origins in the small farming village of Okada, present-day Ovia North-East Local Government Area of Edo State, where he was born on September 11, 1934, to the late Josiah Agharagbon Oviawe Igbinedion and Madam Okunozee (nee Ihaza), a descendant of the Royal House of Usen.
His parents, though of proud and noble heritage, were of humble beginnings.
Igbinedion’s family, humble as it was, exhibited rare leadership qualities which would prove a marker for the young Osawaru Igbinedion in later life.
After his early education at the Roman Catholic School, Okada, now known as St. Gabriel’s Primary School Okada, Benin Baptist School, now known as Emokpae Primary School on Mission Road in Benin City, and Ezomo Baptist School and Ore Oghene Primary School all located in Benin City, he was unable to continue his education after the death of his father and had to seek the support of others. This was why he came to live in Benin City as a househelp to one Mr. Samson Aiwekhoe Idahosa, a Forest Guard at Okada, who enrolled him at the Benin Baptist School.
Chief Igbinedion’s story is the stuff for inspiration. After his education at Eko Boys’ High School in Lagos was cut short for lack of funds, he returned to Benin in 1954, where he worked at different times as a probationary teacher at Okoro II village, office messenger at the City Council on a monthly salary of £3:16s (three pounds and sixteen shillings), and Adult Education Officer in the Local Adult Education office where he became involved in the circulation of an adult literacy campaign newspaper “Ebe Ukpalaghodaro” (Progress Book), introduced in 1955 by the Education Department to eradicate illiteracy in Benin Division.
From the position of a council messenger where he functioned as a rural education promoter, Igbinedion enrolled into the Nigeria Police Force in January 1959.
Close associates say that from an early age, Igbinedion developed a precocious talent for business and that his attributes of vision, sound judgement, tenacity, boldness and charm and charity saw him to lofty heights.
The Esama of Benin’s business empire today includes an international property portfolio and a private TV and radio station, called Independent Radio (92.3 FM) and Television. He owns a private bank, oil refinery, diamond, gold, marble mines over Africa, a private university, the Igbinedion University, the first private university in Nigeria, located at Okada town, and a large number of hotels. He previously owned the now-defunct private airline, Okada Air, of over 40 aircraft (planes and helicopters). He has built numerous churches including a Grand Catholic Cathedral, and has set up and owns a number of private hospitals across Nigeria.
Chief Igbinedion is married to Lady Cherry Igbinedion, a native of Jamaica. His children include a son, Lucky, who was a two-term Local Government chairman and two-term Governor of Edo State, another son, Charles, who was a Local Government chairman and one-time Edo State Commissioner for Education, and a third one, Peter, who was the managing director of the Nigerian Aviation Authority, as well as a daughter, Hon. Omosede G. Igbinedion, a former member representing Ovia Federal Constituency of Edo State in the House of Representatives. He is said to also have a number of other children.
The Esama of Benin has lived an exemplary life of industry, charity and civic leadership. He has engaged thousands of Nigerians in gainful employment in his businesses over the decades, contributing to the wealth of the nation. He has lifted several others out of poverty and despair with his legendary acts of charity.
Perhaps most impactful is his contribution to human capacity development through the various schools and the Okada University which he established.
Furthermore, he has established himself as a role model for Nigerian youths through his tenacity, confidence, kindness and carriage, including his trademark Edo royal regalia of flowing robes, mainly in red and white, with beads and other cultural motifs.