Hardly would the history of Nigeria’s aviation and education sectors be written without chapters on the great contributions of Esama of Benin Kingdom, Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion.
Moreover, his foot prints on the sand of Nigeria in the area of philanthropy are also indelible. He is charity personified!
Igbinedion became the first indigenous Nigerian to get the license of a private university, which birthed the prestigious Igbinedion University, Okada (IUO). It was during the military administration of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babaginda (IBB).
The Esama was not comfortable with the incessant strikes that disrupted the academic calendar of public universities and by extension hampered the quality teaching and learning that should take place in the ivory towers; hence the establishment of the Igbinedion University.
His footprints in very many sectors have positively impacted the Nigerian economy in more ways than one.
He was also a police officer, and he believes so much in Nigeria.
He did his job diligently as a police officer and that made him rise to a very high rank before he retired from the Nigerian Police. Some few years after his retirement, he started to instill an entrepreneurial spirit to establish the aviation industry with his famous Okada Air.
The carrier was established with a fleet of BAC-One Eleven 300s. In 1984, a Boeing 707-355C was acquired for cargo operations. By 1990, ten BAC One-Elevens were bought, and eight more were acquired in 1991. Okada Air had over 40 aircraft (planes and helicopters). The company was granted the right to operate international flights in 1992.
The airplane flew city to city for years during its heydays and the objective for Gabriel Igbinedion was to ensure that “we grow our air transport system, just to ease productivity.”
With his philanthropic gestures, he has touched many lives and put smiles on many citizens, not just only those around him, but also those in other parts of the country.
He is a man of great wealth. Sources of his wealth were not questionable as he worked hard to get his money. He believed and still believes in hard work, always emphasising that hard work does not kill.
His distaste for sedentary lifestyle, but a life of activity is responsible for his good health. He lives life to the fullest. He is indeed a luxurious man, with the latest Rolls Royce and other exotic cars in his garage, and exquisite mansions in London, Nigeria, Paris, and South Africa. All attest to a life of industry.
Esama of the Benin Kingdom has the spirit to live life freely. He detests tribalism. He has friends across Nigeria and he is a lover of humanity.
He associates himself with anybody and everybody. During the Okada Air years, he hired people who have now become billionaires in different sectors. He makes people famous across the federation. That adroit mind is still in him to date. He is happy when people are happy because he is a cheerful giver.
Osama is a lover of the Supreme Being, the Almighty God; he believes that one amounts to nothing without the favour of the Almighty, and that He deserves the worship of all men, hence, his decision to build many befitting worship places for God.
The latest of such is a cathedral he built for the people, which he has billed to hand over to the Catholic Church on September 17 as part of his birthday celebration, in honour to the Almighty God for His abundant mercies and grace.
Activities lined up to celebrate Igbinedion
There will be a convergence of rich display of culture and traditions during the celebrating of this icon. Cultural troupes from the thirty six states of Nigeria will take turns to perform at the much-anticipated 88th birthday anniversary celebration of the iconic Patriarch of Igbinedion Dynasty and the Romania Ambassador to Edo and Delta States, Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion.
The display, which BusinessDay Sunday gathered, would be a reminiscent of the 1977 Festival of Arts and Culture, (Festac 77) is part of activities lined up to mark the birthday of the traditional aristocrat from Okada, in Ovia North East Local Government Area of Edo State.
According to Ifetayo Adeniyi, the media consultant to Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, plans were in top gear to ensure that the event bore all pecks, glitz and glamour associated with the Igbinedions.
Igbinedion will equally play host to an array of personalities from the diplomatic circle, politicians, Royal fathers, business moguls, religious groups, among others.
Activities ahead of the epoch birthday of the octogenarian multi-billionaire will commence with an early morning Inter-denominational service at the Garden of Eden, which will also feature the commissioning and dedication of multi-million naira Cathedral named ‘Arch Angel Gabriel Catholic Church’ Okada, built by the Esama of Benin Kingdom.
Already, the 1-13 Okada Avenue, which seats the palatial Garden of Chief Igbinedion, the lion of Okada, had begun to wear new looks ahead of the birthday celebration slated to commence from September 5th to 12th, 2022.
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History, success stories
Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion was born on the 11th of September 1934, to the humble family of Josiah Oviawe Igbinedion and Okunozee Igbinedion at Okada Village, in the present Ovia North East Local Government Area of Edo State. He is the only surviving child of both parents. His mother Okunozee Igbinedion was the daughter of the Ihaza of Usen, a descendant of the Usen Royal family with a proud history.
The young Igbinedion had some philosophical interpretations for his name leaving positive impressions of what life had in store for him right from the beginning. He likened his name Gabriel to Angel Gabriel of the Holy Bible fame and interpreted Osawaru, as the messenger of God.
The relevance of these philosophical interpretations is not as much in the meaning of his names, as it is in the positive impact they had on the thinking of the young Igbinedion. The name Gabriel was given to him by Akagbosu, his former school teacher, who likened the young Osawaru to Angel Gabriel.
Osawaru’s family, humble as it was, exhibited rare leadership qualities which comprised the foundation stone upon which Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion eventually developed.
Osawaru’s father, Chief Josiah Agharagbon Oviawe Igbinedion was the founder of the present Okada when he initiated the movement from the old Okada with his friends and relatives to establish the new settlement in 1929.
The shifting of a base from the old to the new Okada some five kilometers away was motivated by the desire to settle near the new road being constructed at that time.
Josiah Igbinedion seemed to have bestowed upon the young Osawaru the qualities of leadership that had driven him to begin the establishment of the new Okada Village before he died.
The young Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion took after his father making the development of the new Okada community his primary objective. His love for his people and the desire to actualise his dreams were paramount in his decision to move to Benin City, to continue his education which was cut short as a result of his father’s death.
Moreover, his movement to Benin was necessitated by the fact that at that time Okada Primary School offered tuition up to class three only.
Thus, most pupils who began school at Okada eventually ended up in Benin. He was one of them. He had begun his primary education at the Roman Catholic School, Okada, now known as St. Gabriel’s Primary School Okada, and when he moved to Benin, he enrolled finally at the Benin Baptist School, now known as Emokpae Primary School on Mission Road in Benin City, after short periods at Ezomo Baptist School and Ore Oghene Primary School all located in Benin City.
His movement to Benin was motivated by several factors, fundamental amongst which was the death of his father. Being from a humble home he was not in a position to continue his education without his father and had to seek the support of others.
This was why he came to live in Benin City as a house help to among others, Samson Aiwekhoe Idahosa, a Forest Guard at Okada who enrolled him at the Benin Baptist School.
His business empire includes an international property portfolio and a private TV and radio station, called Independent Radio (92.3fm) and a terrestrial Television channel. Apart from that, he also owns a private bank, oil refinery, and diamond, gold, and marble mines across Africa. A private university- Igbinedion University, which is recognised as the first private university in Nigeria, with registration number 001 in the Nigeria University Commission list of accredited private universities, located in Okada town.
Not only that, but his business prowess also gives him the impetus to start a hotel management industry, with several hotels across Africa. For his doggedness to achieve success, his now-defunct private airline, Okada Air, with over 40 aircraft (planes and helicopters), was where the late industrious businessman, Hosa Okunbo started his pilot career as a commercial pilot.
Meanwhile, as a family man, Igbinedion is married to a gorgeous British-Jamaican woman, Lady Cherry Igbinedion, a native of Jamaica. The lovely couple both had adorable children, Lucky, who was a two-term Local Government chairman and two-term Governor of Edo state, and another son, Charles, who was a Local Government chairman and one-time Edo State Commissioner of Education, and the third son, Peter, who is the former managing director of Nigerian Aviation Authority.
As a family man, Gabriel Igbinedion also has a beautiful daughter with his delectable wife. His daughter, Omosede Igbinedion is the former wife of Avan Akenzua, a dynastic Prince of the Benin Kingdom.
Also, she is a former member of the House of Representatives in Abuja, representing Ovia Federal Constituency in Edo state. Igbinedion also has a number of other children because he is indeed a family man and lover of children.
Although Esama of Benin’s intention for this celebration is to have fun with well-wishers who will grace the occasion from all walks of life, as a reputed businessman, he respects people because of the value his late father had imbibed in him when he was young in Okada.
It is therefore, in appreciation that Gabriel Igbinedion rolled out the drum for his lavish birthday. The birthday celebration is to give adulation to the Almighty God that Esama of Benin is alive and grateful.