By Tony Manuaka
A mere mention of the name, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, brings to mind, the fame of an accomplished businessman who has left his footprints in the sands of time.
Born September 11, 1934 in Okada community, Ovia North-East Local Government Area of Edo State, Igbinedion holds the traditional title of Esama of Benin Kingdom. At 40 in 1974, when he was conferred with the exalted chieftaincy title, he was said to be one of the youngest ever to be so honoured in the kingdom. However, he had long before then, acquired fame and wealth.
Among Nigeria’s businessmen of his generation, Igbinedion stands out as a man who has scored many firsts in his business life. In the aviation industry, his Okada Airline, established in 1983, was the first privately owned airline in the country with a large fleet of aircraft. His entry into the sector brought dramatic changes as most local travellers experienced for the first time, the practice of taking the next available flight. It became popular for that and consigned to history, the disgusting experience of waiting endlessly for government-owned airline that was notorious for not adhering to flight schedule.
Igbinedion also ranks among the first few Nigerians to own an executive jet. Soon after the establishment of his Okada Airline, the Benin chief purchased a BAC 1-11 executive jet that was originally owned by Ferdinand Marcos, the deposed president of the Philippines. In 1999, he established Igbinedion University at Okada, the first private university in the country. The university is the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa to produce medical doctors. It also prides itself with producing the first graduate from a private university to earn a First Class at the Nigeria Law School.
Way back in 1968, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion established Mid Motors Nigeria Limited, the first indigenous motor assembly plant in the country. His expansive business empire also covers petroleum and gas marketing, shipping, haulage, road transport, confectionery and hospitality, radio and television broadcasting, banking, salt manufacturing, crude oil exploration, solid minerals, soft drinks bottling, real estate, fruit and fish farming, and palm oil production, among others.
Through his numerous business interests, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion became one of the major employers of labour in Nigeria.
The Esama of Benin has taken many well deserved traditional titles largely as a result of his philanthropic gestures. Among his philanthropic gestures is the transformation of his native Okada land to a modern and thriving community. Way back in 1972, he donated the Okada Grammar School to then Government of Bendel State. He then single-handedly rehabilitated the Okada Primary School. By early 1974, he donated a school bus to the secondary school to ease the transportation challenges of the school faced at the time.
To ensure that the people of Okada had a taste of good life, he, in 1984, financed a pipe-borne water scheme in the community. He also built the Okada Village Trado Medical Centre and subsequently launched a N50,000 Trust Fund, whose proceeds are utilised in the award of university scholarships to deserving students of Okada Grammar School. He set up a Trust Fund for the best student at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital School of Midwifery in memory of Okunozee Igbinedion, his late mother.
For Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, life has been good for the greater part of his life. He established his bravely when, at 33, he killed an elephant during a hunting expedition. At 88, he is an accomplished man, blessed with many successful children, among them, Lucky Igbinedion, a former governor of Edo State.
For these and many more Chief Gabriel Igbinedion wins The Sun Lifetime Achievement award for 2022.