Great man who was also a good man
It was an Urhobo day somehow. I mean the Burial of Olorogun Michael Ibru at Agbarha-Otor, last Wednesday. Although participation was optional, at the communal level, the people came close to making it compulsory. It was a roll call of who is who in Urhobo land. In the end, it was much easier to count absentees than to establish the number of eminent attendees. The old and young came to pay their last respect, in the real sense, to man who was complete in all departments of life.
The pull to Agbarha-Otor was so intense. It superseded other considerations. The people legitimately felt they owed the late Olorogun some unquantifiable debt of gratitude and so that slice of tradition, which prohibits the participation of older persons in the burial of younger persons was spontaneously discharged to pave way for some form of repayment time by old and young people that Ibru touched while alive. To many, full participation in the burial rites was not just courtesy but a duty.
In terms of the preparations and the ceremonies that followed, nothing less was expected. It was massive. But perceptions were definitely varied. While visitors saw the ceremonial outlay and the attendant cost in cash, time and talent, the size of the event to indigenes was in the exceptionality of the deceased and the vacuum created by his exit in Urhobo land. It is also painful that the younger generation which did not experience Michael Ibru in real terms may not understand the lamentation of the older generation.
Without the fortune of witnessing another Olorogun Michael Ibru, the young generation may be stuck with the wrong values and apply wealth so much different from the way Olorogun did. As the tributes tumbled in from all quarters, folks who could recount with utmost vividness how it was in the hey days of the late Olorogun nodded rhythmically, not so much in approbation but to, a kind of, underscore the helplessness in sourcing a replacement for Michael Ibru in a world that is driven by opposite values.
The tributes were glowing but never exaggerated. From far and near, ordinary and great people said so many nice things about Olorogun. This was normal. What is not normal in Nigeria is for people not to be praised at their funerals. Bad people suddenly become great and good at death. Who knows, perhaps some fellow sitting next seat at the tribute session in Agbarha otor and who did not have full information about Olorogun could have also concluded that the glowing tributes were hyperbolic and came drastically short of truth.
No! If anything, the time and space created for the purpose were grossly insufficient to even scratch at the essence of Olorogun Michael Ibru. He was everything said about him and even much more. In a nutshell, he was a man who had everything to own the world but chose instead to donate the world. A man who exercised power by avoidance and what then came out of his enduring engagements with humanity was love, humility and kindness with which he built a character that brought everything except death under conquest.
If I had the opportunity to add to the various presentations made in Lagos and Agbarha-Otor, only one point would have sufficed. And that would be to tell listeners to suspend their disbelief and adopt the way Olorogun lived his life as a standard guide to a life of greatness. In the part of the country where Olorogun came from and indeed as in other parts, it is an uncommon aberration to be wealthy, not just rich, and at the same time remain humble. He was a gentle giant who used power to build and protect rather than to destroy and conquer. This is the part that endeared him to most people; young and old, rich and poor and by extension God. It was the part which was so generously advertised at the tributes session.
It was not reported anywhere in the course of his great economic and social conquests that Olorogun Michael Ibru applied power offensively to push for personal gains. At such unnatural level of tranquility, he would have suffered huge personal losses to engender peace and make others happy. What however had appeared losses have transmuted in the fullness of time to the great gains of Olorogun Michael Ibru that speaker after speaker mentioned to commend him to his maker. The cynic who might have strained painfully to catch a word of condemnation even outside what was put in the public space would have ended up disappointed. Here was a man who ran his race well and successfully passed on the baton to the succeeding generation. According to the officiating priests at both the service of songs and the funeral service, the old man cannot be held responsible for whatever comes after him that is not in sync with the framework that he has laid.
The younger generation of Urhobo may be doubtful but to older folks, Olorogun’s contribution to the GDP of the Urhobo nation is not in doubt. He loved his people and had exercised a measure of affirmation to offer them advantage in the recruitment processes in his organizations. At a time, his operational base at Ibafon, was also an Urhobo colony in Lagos. He had single-handedly created a club of Urhobo millionaires in the 70s. At home in various locations in Urhobo land, he opened companies to bring economic empowerment right to the doorstep of his people. He gave jobs to his people and other people.
His death in September was therefore, as much a loss to the family as it was to the whole of Urhobo land. For the same reason, the burial was not an affair that was strictly dictated by the Ibru family without good communal input. Markets, stalls and shops were shut in Agbarha-Otor last Wednesday in deference. The entire community was mobilized to participate, one way or the other. Olorogun was given everything. He departed in a blaze of glory. The hymns were ceaseless, the messages were meaningful, the speeches were ennobling, the dances were entertaining and food and drinks were satisfying. The cannons boomed continuously to make the event unmistakable: the passage into eternity of a truly Great Man who was also a very Good Man.