By: His Children, Prince Teslim, Tariq, Taulib, Princesses Tahirah and Tareah Ikharo
Prince Ismaila Ibrahim Ikharo, the Seriki Samali of Auchi (“Chief”), died on December 19, 2020 in Oakland, California from sudden cardiac arrest. At the time of death, he was surrounded by his three sons and enveloped in the prayers of the global Nigerian community as a leader who inspired a generation of Nigerians in America to reach back and uplift the youth in their home country.
The son of the late Prince Braimah and Princess Melemu (Afegbua) Ikharo, Chief Ismaila, born August 19, 1952, never let his position as the youngest of 7 children necessitate taking a back seat to his siblings. Instead, from a young age, he was propelled by a desire to help bring prominence to his family, the Ikharo royal family of Auchi Kingdom. He yearned to see more role models and professionals within the ranks of Ikharos, figures that could inspire young people like himself and expand their realm of possibility. From the time of his journey to America in 1977, and through the many arcs of his life, he unwittingly became such a figure himself.
For thirty years, Chief Ismaila anticipated his own death. He’d tell his children regularly how he was going to die soon, even as the decades passed. At the age of 39, a mere four days after the birth of his fifth child and in his prime, Chief suffered a heart attack and underwent triple bypass surgery, the first of many ailments related to Chief’s gentle heart. Facing his own mortality at an early age seemed to spur in Chief a sense of urgency – all we have is the present moment to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. Chief rarely wasted a moment and was almost pedantic about cultivating habits for success.
At his core, Chief was a helper. His passion was education, but he was charitable to a fault, willing to use his last kobo to help someone in need and always available to counsel. Chief extended himself in ways few would do, as he found enriching the lives of others personally rewarding. “I do for others even when I know they would not do for me,” he’d say. On a personal level, he was always first in line to offer financial support, a meal or a warm place to stay to friends, acquaintances and strangers alike, whether in the Bay Area or abroad. In the community, he was civic minded, hosting political fundraisers for local leaders and actively engaging in community development initiatives. In the last days of his life, as he lay in his hospital bed, still, Chief answered every incoming call, offering words of advice or financial assistance where he could. Chief was, at his core, deeply good.
He was also an amiable man with a thirst for life, and his positive energy was infectious. Even facing down life’s greatest travails, Chief would say, “Everything is in divine order.” He believed in the power of God’s plan, and this belief seemed to inspire his clarity of purpose and enable his generosity. God would provide and make a way, even where the road proved winding.
To his community of friends and acquaintances, Chief was a problem-solver and the ultimate connector, building enduring relationships across cultures, nationalities, religions and ethnic groups. He was a son of Auchi, yes, but a Nigerian nationalist in action and at heart, assisting, befriending and endearing himself to Nigerians across tribal divisions. Chief never hesitated to leverage existing relationships on behalf of others, seeing only the potential positive outcome of building bridges. Those who knew him well often remarked on how popular Chief was, both within and outside of the Nigerian community. His quiet confidence made those around him feel safe and content in his presence, but also like the possibilities for their own lives were limitless, if only because Chief said so. His faith in and sponsorship of others was propelling.
Empowerment of his family and community through education was principally important to Chief Ismaila, which he demonstrated throughout his life. Education, he believed, was the best legacy you could bequeath to any generation. It was also a key step in developing the network of Ikharo professionals he so greatly sought. While a secondary school teacher in Nigeria, Chief helped indigent parents navigate the high school admissions process for their children and was a vocal advocate for the right to an education for all young people.
When he subsequently journeyed to America to attend college, Chief did two things: First, he became the first person in the Ikharo family to obtain a college degree, graduating from Wilberforce University in Xenia, Ohio with a Bachelor of Science degree in Investment Management, and later attained a Master of Sciences degree in Social and Applied Economics from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio and a Master of Business Administration degree from Golden Gate University in San Francisco, California. Second, he demonstrated to the young people of Auchi that poverty and lack of connections were not fixed barriers to educational attainment. Where educating in America or the UK was once seen as a privilege reserved for the children of wealthy Nigerians, Chief showed that it was within reach for those from humbler beginnings. In the process of bettering himself, Chief blazed a trail for others to follow.
It was during his time as a graduate student that Chief began sponsoring the education of young Nigerians in America. He began first with members of the extended Ikharo family, helping them obtain student visas to study in the US, enrolling them in local colleges around the US, paying school fees and housing some in his small apartment (and, later, in his family home). He soon expanded his vision to include young people from around Nigeria, recognizing that, regardless of religion or tribe, the country as a whole would benefit if its populace had greater access to higher education.
Not everyone had faith in the plausibility of Chief’s vision, no matter how noble. Many needed to be shown to believe, even some closest to him. Many others simply did not believe that one man could be so generous and expect nothing in return. But Chief’s benevolence was not without expectation. Instead, it was part of an implied contract: as he poured his resources into others, he hoped they might pay it back, but he expected that they’d pay it forward. His life was a call to action for Nigerians around the world — true success is not attained until your resources have been used in the service of others.
Those closest to Chief often remarked that, if he lived for himself, he’d be a very rich man. Though he was undoubtedly enterprising — at points, Chief served as an insurance broker, built and sustained a successful courier service and thrived as a licensed real estate agent — Chief prioritized his greater vision for a mobilized, educated Nigerian youth over his own individual success. To some, Chief was excessively rigid in his fixation on educational achievement. To others, his definition of “success” was too narrowly drawn and divisive. In this, Chief was undoubtedly polarizing throughout his life, notwithstanding his personal sacrifices and good intentions. Nevertheless, on May 17, 1997, Chief’s many decades of work to help uplift his people was formally recognized in Auchi during his investiture as the Seriki Samali (“Leader of the Youth”) of Auchi Kingdom.
Chief Ismaila was a righteous visionary, but he was also a husband, a father, a man of faith and a devoted friend. Chief’s aspirations were and have always been nurtured by his supportive wife, Hauwa. The two met when Chief was a charismatic 25-year-old teacher in Agenebode with big dreams of schooling in America, and Hauwa was a beautiful, vibrant go-getter from Jattu. They were friends first and above all else, and both aspired to experience a dynamic life outside of their respective villages. Over the years, Hauwa has been the stable force behind Chief and his nuclear family, his primary counsel helping propel him towards his dreams.
As a father, Chief was dogged in his emphasis on education. He shuttled his five children to school each day, usually with the radio off to ensure that their days began with a values-based lecture. “Obedience pays, humility pays, they make you beloved to God and to man,” he’d remind them each morning. Never afraid to ruffle feathers, Chief was known by fellow parents and teachers to be an actively engaged member of the school community and a passionate activist for his children’s academic and extracurricular success. As he watched his five children grow into accomplished lawyers, creatives and entrepreneurs, Chief was filled with joyful satisfaction.
Chief’s sons always marveled at and sought to replicate his keen sense of style, quiet humor and incredible determination in the face of adversity. To his daughters, Chief was a source of great support and strength, a mentor available at all hours (and in all time zones) to lend an ear to complaints, provide a word of advice, or just add levity to a bad situation with one of his many jokes or proverbs. To his children, Chief was magic: he was a beloved man of the people, but a fully engaged and present father; a guiding force whose lessons endured in his absence.
The world is never ready for the loss of a giant. Though death is certain for everyone, there are some people whose lives feel bigger, whose continued presence is taken as inevitable. Chief was the pillar of the Ikharo family, a revered leader of the Nigerian community at home and abroad, and a testament to the power of selfless generosity to uplift communities and inspire generations to follow. He was, as his friends will tell you, one of one.
In the end, though, we all become stories. Our legacy lives on through the memories shared with those we leave behind, and the lasting marks we make in the hearts and lives of others. As the poet Rumi wrote, “goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul, there is no such thing as separation.” In this, Chief’s many friends and followers can take solace. The story of Chief Ismaila’s life will endure so long as those he touched continue to share memories and take actions in furtherance of the ideals Chief stood for in his life. So many plans were left unfinished, but that simply means there is more work for the rest of us to do. The Auchi community, the global Nigerian community, those touched by him around the world… it is time to get to work and determine how we, individually and collectively, can use our lives and our resources to empower others.
Written in loving memory of our dear father, Prince Ismaila Ibrahim Ikharo (III), the Sereki Samali of Auchi Sacred Kingdom, Edo State.
___Prince Ismaila was buried on 7th January 2021 in his home in Auchi. It is intended that the 40 days prayer will take place in Abuja on the 16th of February, God willing.
In loving memory of their beloved father, the children of late Prince Ismaila Ibrahim Ikharo (III) have commenced construction of a two -story mosque in Etsako West LGA of Auchi in honour of his dedication to islam and service to his people.