Son of the People
A household name in the ancient city of Benin, Nigeria and the world over, Chief Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion is one of those men whose larger than life status would always keep people in awe. The Esama of Benin, his title Esama traditionally means the “Son of the people”, with responsibilities including assisting the less privileged in medial, monetary and private venture forms. A title that is reminiscent of his philanthropic nature.
Chief Igbinedion started working at an early age, and some of his earliest jobs were assisting his uncle in block moulding and trading rubber and timber in Benin. He also served in Ogbomosho as a police officer in the early 1940s. He left the police force in 1963 and began his entrepreneurial journey building a great business empire that includes sectors like transportation, education, health, and banking, to mention a few.
Those who have met him can attest to his astute business sense, love for everything family, happy go lucky nature and childlike zest for life. It is for these reasons and more that we at Style celebrate the legacy of this great man. Konye Chelsea Nwabogor reports…
In his son’s words…….
In this exclusive interview with Konye Chelsea Nwabogor, Michael Igbinedion, businessman and son of Chief Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion lets us have a peek into the everyday life of his father.
Away from the public eye, what is Chief Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion like?
Wow!!! Interesting question. He is difficult to define even from a personal perspective. He is many things to many people. A colourful, unpredictable and amazing character. A benign conundrum. His daily lunches are legendary, always a spread, always ready to accept friends and strangers to the table.
Those who sit close to him will be usually served by him and overfed. As a father, he was extremely strict and brought us up almost like soldiers. An overboard disciplinarian. A stickler for no-nonsense behaviour. He shouted a lot and used colourful metaphors to drive home his point(s). Gosh – the conks, the Kung Fu that made you see a thousand stars and recalibrated your default settings. All this did not preclude his tough love and kindness. Once a situation is done, it is done. He does not hold things inside him and is quick to forgive and forget. To his grandchildren, he is a different ballgame. Extremely loving, caring and playful. If he had an Achilles heel, they would be it.
Though, as children, we disliked the iron-hand nurturing, in retrospect, it has paid dividends in making us who we are today. It drove most of us to be disciplined, ambitious and relentless go-getters and fiercely independent because we wanted to break away from the iron hand sooner than yesterday. (Laughter). When we see him with his friends, he is witty, charming and playful. Across the board, he is a kind person and hates any kind of human suffering, especially lack of sustenance and injustice. He thoroughly enjoys giving and making a good impact in people’s lives, both private and publicly. In hindsight, his hard exterior in private was really to protect his empathetic qualities.
It is a known fact that he achieved success the hard way. What are some of the values and principles behind his success that he passed on to you and your siblings?
His values and principles are way too numerous for the length of this article. It is a whole library. One can write volumes on this. Nevertheless, here are a few fundamental ones. He firmly believes that if you are to be successful, either you work very hard for yourself or somebody else worked hard for you. There is no substitute for hard and smart work. Free yourself from mental shackles and encumbrances to achieve set goals. If you fail at something, never give up. You must keep chipping away at it or try different methods. You learn more from failure than success. Yes, it is an excellent attitude to have that failure is not an option but know when to move on and try something else. Life is dynamic. “In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.”
What he has passed on to me is spending sleepless nights and sacrificing for your goals. Focus on focus!!! Have tunnel vision attitude, eye of the tiger persona, mental and physical gladiator spirit, drown out internal and external noise, obliterate debilitating fears, eliminate bad habits that impede, dent or halt progress. Protect your health, defend your sanity and do everything to ensure your peace, especially as you get older.
Above all, believe in yourself and strongly believe in God not by mouth or touting the Bible but by deeds. Put God at the centre of everything you do. Do not just pray for what you want but pray that your wishes align with what God wants for you. With God on your side, everything will be well, and if it is not, it is not yet over.
Did you at anytime, feel under pressure to live up to his larger than life status?
Naturally, but in time and with common sense, you learn that it will be hard. The larger than life status is God’s gift to him. He is an extraordinary anomaly and a benign conundrum. His type or personage comes perhaps every once in a century. Yes, there is pressure as a son always to cross your T’s and dot your I’s.
You realize who you are and thus must always comport yourself appropriately. You also realize that you are constantly under the microscope. Greet somebody wrongly, and you are arrogant etc. Humility must be part and parcel of your DNA. Nothing is impossible, but any child who tries, and it is their goal to be richer or larger than him, may find their chances as slim as trying to find an Eskimo or snow leopard on the equator. Dad is by no means a perfect man. His has many imperfections. Choose one or two and aim to be better than him at those. Most of all, just be yourself irrespective of the larger than life character that looms over you.
What trait of his do you think you have inherited?
Hmmm!! His partial flare, some of his dress style or dress sense as we say in Nigeria. His partial energy, vitality and zest for life (what the French call joie de vivre). Partial charisma, infectious smile and belly laughter. I hope and pray most importantly to display his love and kindness in all its forms, his passion and belief in uplifting those around and outside him, his drive for a better destiny for our Benin kingdom, Nigeria and mankind.
Could you please share some fond memories you have of your dad while growing up that you constantly return to?
(1) I remember this incident very well at Okada Dry (Canada Dry) office in Benin. I was about 12yrs old. He called about seven of us (children) into his office and started throwing temper tantrums, using expletives and threatening to throw his weight around because he was not satisfied with our grades. At the time, probably less than 0.3% of families could afford or wanted to send their kids to boarding school abroad. It was a real privilege of the highest order. He knew this and often used it as a weapon that if you do not do well in school, he will bring you right back, not even to Benin city but the village, etc. One of my brothers (name withheld) walked off after having enough of the theatrics and said he was no longer interested in going to school abroad. My dad, the highest alpha male I know, became discombobulated. His voice and disposition calmed down and told the rest of us something that resonated, and I will never forget forever. He said, “Don’t you people know I will sell my last underwear to make sure you get the very best education?” After all said and done, dad always stealthily sent uncles and aunties to plead and reason with any of us who dared challenged or rebelled to see reason and wisdom – an original carrot and stick theorist.
Another incident was in London in 1994 summer. We had just had a heated argument, and I stormed off, and I got in my car and screeched off. In this instance, the rest of the household felt he was unfair and started treating him coldly. After 24hrs of me not coming home and not picking up my (big Nokia mobile phone), he started getting worried that perhaps my anger had gotten the best of me and something may have happened. Just before I finally called my sister to say I was fine, dad was apparently about to call the police that a fully registered car in my name was stolen. As an outside of the box thinker, that was the cleverest and fastest way to find out if I was okay. Consequences deriving from such a call was not his concern. (Laughter).
A father’s role is evolving now, from being a mere breadwinner to being more hands-on and emotionally connected. What are your thoughts on this?
Parenting is so vastly different nowadays. Advancements in technology, social media and the political and socially correct movements have changed child-rearing drastically. Children do not seem to have the elasticity and hardness mine, and prior generations had. Most cannot go through some of the ordeals, high handed discipline that my generation was socially inculcated with. Try it, and you will see shouts of challenge to mental health and toxicity.
Therefore, we are naturally closer to our children and monitor their wellbeing far more than we experienced. Most children nowadays are selfishly single-minded, and they have the fast-food mentality and are rarely gourmet minded. It’s all about them. Most parents grapple with understanding how a child can be in the same house and perhaps only come out of their rooms to eat or go out. Dinner table conversations are almost becoming anachronistic in most households.
Nevertheless, it is imperative to get as close to them as possible; otherwise, you will lose that connection for a good or a for long time. Often try and have continued discourse with them so you will not be at variant with their mindset. Do not compromise on good old discipline, respect and core values of nurturing; otherwise, you will most likely pay a heavy price in the future. Always let them know who is in charge but lead by benign examples. No matter how difficult and unappreciative a child may be, do not disconnect. Remember always that children are a privileged gift from God, and rearing them well is a way of saying thank you.