Chief Michael Christopher Najirevbe Ibru, the founder and group chairman of Ibru Organization turned 82 on Christmas Day. As the eldest child of an itinerant preacher, Olorogun Ibru the patriarch of the Ibru dynasty was saddled with the enormous responsibility of looking after his younger siblings. His late father, Chief Peter Epete Ibru, was a great lover of western education. He held the view that “education gives new orientation” and he ensured that his children had the best of education.
MCOI, as he is fondly called by friends and admirers, had his secondary education at the famous Igbobi College, Lagos from 1948 to 1951. While there, he spent just three years instead of the usual six years. When Michael left Igbobi College, there was no funds to send him for further studies. He joined Nigeria’s first conglomerate as a management trainee in 1951. This is where he began his pace setting adventure, as he was one of the very few fresh school leavers to be so appointed by the British trading firm. In 1956, a few years after joining UAC, he dropped out of the company and started an outfit which he called LAIBRU in partnership with an expatriate, Mr. Jimmy Large.
His first import business took him all over the world and he bought into an existing construction company – Associated Construction and Engineering – later to be known as Ace Jomona. This company successfully built Queen’s College, Yaba; St. Gregory’s College, Obalende; the Police College, Ikeja and the Navy Barracks on Malu Road (now Mobil Road), Apapa. But the long-winded process of contract acquisition coupled with delayed payment for executed jobs forced him to re-think his business strategy.
By some stroke of fortune, on a trip to Ghana, he met a gentleman who was in the frozen fish business. They later formed South Atlantic Fisheries, but unfortunately, because Nigerians strongly resisted fish in the frozen state, the business became a hard sell.
According to Olorogun Ibru, “After one year in the business world. I took stock. I had lost almost all my capital. In return for this I gained experience – a greater fighting spirit – and friends who believed in me.” He added: “I reappraised the whole situation and decided to concentrate my efforts in two areas: Those items least popular among the merchants of the time and those things giving certain sociological or health benefits for the people.
“That’s how I came into the fishing business. It was developed, complicated, of a messy nature, and offered little or no attraction to the then trading houses, nor did it attract the Nigerian merchants; so it met my first criterion.”
It was not easy to market because Lagosians derisively called it Oku Eko (Death from Lagos), which reminded them of the cold, lifeless bodies in the mortuaries. Undeterred, Olorogun went to the market every morning with his late wife, Elsie, to convince traders to overcome their fears. Whatever he couldn’t sell, he would smoke.
As the sale of frozen fish improved, the rental for cold storage facilities also went up. The possibility existed that one day those facilities would no longer be available for rent at any price. It became necessary therefore to acquire cold stores, and so Delta Freeze was established.
ACE Jimona, which had become dormant was reactivated to construct cold rooms. And in 1969, Rutam Limited was established as a major sales and service company for the distribution of cars, tractors, trucks, and other equipment. Before then, in 1959, Aero Contractors of Nigeria was formed. In 1973, Oteri Holding became the exclusive partner with a 40 per cent stake in Aero and this grew into a 60 per cent ownership stake in 1976.
Among the several companies owned by the IbruOrganisation are Aden River Estate Ltd, Mitchell Farms, Guardian Newspapers Ltd, Time Out Nig. Ltd., Ibru Merchandise 33 Ltd, Zabadne Company Ltd, Ibron Ltd, Atlantic Estates Ltd, Ibachem Nigeria Ltd, Emsee Shipping Ltd, Ibafon Oil Ltd, Waskar Ltd, amongst others.
As a pioneer indigenous entrepreneur, he has shown that with hard work and pursuit of excellence, there is no limit to possibilities for Africans. In all his endeavours, there has always been an inherent knack for excellence.
His pioneering efforts revolutionized the business outlook of Nigerians. His contribution to the world of business, culture, education and philanthropy is widely acknowledged as legendary since the early 1960s when his ascent to national prominence began. That unrelenting commitment to humanity won the Olorogun of Olomu Kingdom accolades across the country and earned him numerous titles and recognition across the world.