By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
Book: Paragon of Virtue: Diary of Ibrahim Yahaya Oloriegbe at 60
Authors: Olalekan Adewumi & Akinyemi Adeolu
Publishers: Matrix Publications & Global Resources Ltd.
RA 15, Adekunle Fajuyi Housing Estate, Ilawe Road, Ado-Ekiti
Year of Publication: 2020
It was Karl Marx that once said, that people make their history, but they do not choose the conditions or the circumstances.
That was a statement that readily came to my mind, as I read this new biographic study of Doctor Ibrahim Oloriegbe.
Full disclosure is an imperative in a situation like this. Ibrahim is my friend. And I am one of those that think, that he should have entered Senate, since 2011. I still believe that he won the race eleven years ago, but became the victim of the electoral heist that was regularly visited on the people of Kwara State, especially, from the 2011 elections.
It took the incredible people’s movement, the OTO GEE manifestation of 2018/19, for him to eventually get the opportunity, to represent the genuine aspirations of the people of our community, in the upper legislative chambers, of the Nigerian National Assembly. But I am in fact, moving too fast, into occurrences in the future.
The point of embarkation, must be sought in the values that moulded the man, Ibrahim Oloriegbe, and why those values are central to the human being, doctor, public servant, politician and legislator, that is the subject of this book.
Ibrahim belongs to the generation of the 1960s. He was born on November 12th, 1960. That is the generation that was born in the context of the emergence of Nigerian nationhood. The central motifs of existence were hope; education; character; training; and deep-seated values, sourced from religious training.
The generation of the sixties, was one that creamed off the very best of what an independent country was willing to offer its citizens; and these were a lot! This generation grew into a world of changes, and it was as if there just was nothing that was beyond their abilities to achieve. It was a period that was lit by the liberating developments taking place in the world: from national liberation struggles, to remarkable human achievements, in practically every field of human endeavour.
This was also noted in the book on Pg. 18; it stated, of that period in history, that “people felt a liberation that helped them look inward[s] to achieve their own goals in life, and began their journey to self-discovery, which led to lifetime achievements for many”.
What was heartening, was that those achievements, were available to practically every individual, who was prepared to work hard. And hard work, was the most natural attribute that families preached regularly, for the children of this epoch. It was therefore taken, almost for granted, that if you followed the straight and narrow path, success was waiting for you. Ibrahim Oloriegbe grew up within this historical epoch; but he was very privileged, at two levels.
He came from a family, which had built considerable material success, and is the son of a man, a father, reputed to be one of the genuinely rich people in the community. Wealth, that all attested to, as having been earned, from honest labour. The book underlined this fact. Alhaji Yahaya Oloriegbe, it says in Pg. 17, “built what would become a great trading empire that currently records his name as one of the wealthiest in the history of the ancient town of Ilorin”.
And that was very vital to the story of the man. He was one of those whose parents could literally “spoil” their son, with whatever was a marker of wealth. But this was not the nature of value that was going to be imposed on the young boy. On the contrary, it was an upbringing of a very disciplined ethos; a value for labour and an underlining understanding that whatever the family had built in wealth, in the long run, was “rahma” that came only from Allah!
So, like a well-brought up son of the Ilorin community, Ibrahim Oloriegbe, early in life, would go through the spartan discipline of learning the Qur’an. Learn it, he did, and very well too! The second element of his persona, was that he had always been a very brilliant student; and this was a consistent thread through his life, from primary school, to secondary school, through to university. He was an outstanding scholar! He attended the Ansarul Islam Secondary School, Oloje, Ilorin, entering in 1974, and by the time he graduated, in 1979, he left an incredible record: “His brilliance all through secondary school was unforgettable. He remains one of the best students till date (Pg.26)”. Furthermore, “Ibrahim’s hard work in the secondary school culminated in an outstanding performance in the final examinations where he made distinction in all his papers, setting a record that is yet to be broken by any other student in the school”. And that is underscored poignantly, by the fact that “he was the cynosure of all eyes, a humble brilliant boy from a well-to-do family, who didn’t allow his father’s wealth get into his head (Pg.34)”. Yet, these levels of privilege were noted by all the people, that he came across, but he never lost his head, and retained a consistent level-headedness, which again hacks back to the values that he was brought up with, and which were very much within the context of the epoch which moulded him, and imprinted so remarkably, on the human being that he became.
Several factors often come together, in the formation and development of character; and none more so than adversity, which can break or make, forever. The young Ibrahim Oloriegbe, at the age of eleven in 1972, lost his mother, Hajiya Hafsatu Oloriegbe. He was in primary five, and at that time, his younger brother, Abdul’Majeed, was just three years old. The trauma was sufficiently deep to momentarily affect his school performance, but the extended family rallied round him, to see him through that trying moment, and before long, Ibrahim returned to his very best in school; while at the same time, providing the type of leadership by example, which assisted the flowering of his younger brother, who would also become a successful lawyer. This period was very vital to understanding the evolution of Ibrahim Oloriegbe’s persona. He was beginning to develop the traits of character that would eventually be the basis of the various achievements that he would record in life. By the time he finished secondary school, his father’s legendary wealth, had become the talk of the community; he had started the Prospect Textile Mill,in Ilorin, and as another successful member of the community noted at the time, Alhaji Yahaya Oloriegbe, was “…the richest man in Ilorin when you talk about cash in hand (Pg. 35)”.
Ibrahim was very close to his father, as a first son, “helping with keeping records of his many properties and tenants (Pg.36)”. And together with his siblings, after school, would join his father at his shop, where “they were thus exposed to different aspects of the trade, such as goods assessment, costing, accounting and selling”; they would be there all-day, till the business closed for the day. There were more exacting tasks too, as recalled by Ibrahim’s older cousin, Alhaji Mustapha Babatunde Abdulraheem Oloriegbe: “Our fathers would ask us to calculate the stock they needed to buy, and do the costing and even project on the likely profit that it would bring (Pg. 68&69)”. The fact that his character had definitively been forming positively, was further underlined, by his religious character. As one of his classmates would recall, “all through our years in school as boarding house students, he was our student Imam, the one who was always leading prayers at the school mosque and also delivered sermons”. Dr. Mahmoud Yusuf, added that Ibrahim was not just brilliant academically, “he is what one can call an Islamic scholar… (Pg.33)”. This devotion to Islam was one that was noted at other junctures in his life. Having been enrolled in an ‘Ile Kewu’, the Qur’anic school, from very early, at the Aligere Compound,in Ilorin, his rapid progress in learning and enthusiasm, saw him become the ‘ajanasi’, the Qur’an reciter for his Malam, Alhaji Ambali Makondoro, whenever the Malam preached. This was attested to by his cousin, Alhaji Rafiu Oloriegbe, who remembered that “there is no part of (the Qur’an) that he doesn’t know”. It was the knowledge and devotion that Ibrahim exhibited, that made Alhaji Makondoro, to prophetically state, in the presence of many people, that Ibrahim Oloriegbe, “would become someone great in the future (Pg.64)”, according to the testament of Alhaji Rafiu Oloriegbe. It was a prophesy that Ibrahim has lived through life, to see come to fruition, in the choices that he has made, in a most fulfilled lifetime!
Ibrahim Oloriegbe studied Medicine at the famous Ahmadu Bello University, in Zaria. And the choice of course to study, had been literally made for him, by the circumstance of his brilliant performance in his final year, in secondary school. Ibrahim won eight prizes, and the late Dr. Abdulkadir Oniyangi, one of the earliest medical doctors in Ilorin, had told the young Ibrahim, as he presented him prizes, that: “look, you are too brilliant to waste your talent on any other course, you just have to go and study medicine (Pg. 35)”. And that was what he did! And as a medical student, he was also noted for his active participation in class activities, answering questions with intelligence; “he was friendly, outspoken and straightforward, and had a cordial relationship with most of his course mates (Pg. 40)”. And while he enjoyed games of football and table tennis, it was in the university, that he began to exhibit interest in student politics, despite the normally crowded schedules of medical students. “He was elected three times as a member of Student Representative Assembly for Alexander Hall in 1980 and 1981, and Barau Dikko in 1983”. It got even more interesting, because he was nominated by one of his classmates, Usman Momoh, “for the position of President of Ahmadu Bello University Medical Student Association (ABUMSA)…and he emerged the winner after the student campaigns and election (Pg. 42)”. And it was noteworthy, as recalled by Dr. M.J. Abdullahi, that “Ibrahim was one of the most brilliant in the class; he never failed any test and was among those who didn’t have any re-sit all through his years studying Medicine (Pg. 42)”.
It was clear, that Ibrahim graduated as a very rounded individual, found worthy in learning and character; and the trajectory of his life, was living up, very much, to the content of his upbringing. The book presented the narrative faithfully, from his days as a House Officer, at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Kaduna, in 1985; there it was, that he first gained working experience, post-graduation. He would subsequently return to his much-beloved hometown, Ilorin, to complete his postings, at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital. The testimony was similarly noteworthy, as Ibrahim was said to be very sympathetic to his patients, “even going as far as giving them money from his own pocket to buy prescribed drugs that weren’t available at the hospital, and paying their medical bills if they could not afford it (Pg.71)”. Ibrahim Oloriegbe was posted to Kano, in 1986, for the mandatory national service, and for his primary assignment, he was posted to the company clinic of the Nigerian Truck Manufacturing Company, the makers of Fiat vehicles. Feeling unchallenged by the ambience of work, he began part-time working arrangements with the Albarka Clinic in Kano, owned by Dr. Stephen Ajagbuna. This would become a period of professional and personal fulfilment in his life. The very impressed Dr. Ajagbuna, offered him a job, soon as he completed national service. While it was also the period, he began to court his wife.
Ibrahim Oloriegbe, met his wife for the first time, in 1985, during the course of his houseman posting, in Kaduna. Maimuna Abubakar Jimoh, was then 19 years old, just out of secondary school, and awaiting admission into a tertiary institution. From the beginning, Ibrahim made it clear to her, that he wanted to marry her. There followed a fascinating story of rebuffs, that eventually gave way, to acceptance, by both the bride-to-be, and the bride’s family. They got married in December, 1989. The marriage is blessed with four children: a set of twins, the boy named, Hassan and the girl, Husseinat; these were followed by two other boys, Abdul’Hakeem and Abdul’Hafeez. Ibrahim is very fond of his family, and was the one that took personal delivery of the four kids, at birth. He has “ensured that they have a sound knowledge of God and did not force any of them to study any particular course, but rather allowed them to choose their own career paths. In addition to all of these, he has also been a loving and supportive husband (Pg. 58)”. This is a very important part of the story, because the book underlines the cordial relationship that Ibrahim maintains with his immediate family: “His wife, Alhaja Maimunat Oloriegbe, has always been his best friend, his confidant and close ally. He trusts her and tells her everything before making a decision (Pg. 121)”. He has always been close to his children too; when younger, he took them out, and during holidays, took them to his office, where he would “teach them many things to impart knowledge on them (Pg. 122)”. Husseinat notes, that “Daddy remembers everybody’s birthdays and he always buys us gifts”; while Abdul’Hafeez adds, that “he is a father like no other. He will keep on believing in you, giving you chances to do well…(Pg.123)”. For his son-in-law, Abdul’Lateef, “He is like a father to me, he advises me as his child and proffers solutions to any problem I take to him (Pg. 124)”.
It was therefore no surprise, that against the backdrop of a stable, and loving, family life, Ibrahim, literally, was able to spread the wings of success; and soar like bird, he did! The book tells a detailed story of the various institutions where Ibrahim Oloriegbe burnt his imprimatur, and he didn’t just work, but he did so, with much intelligence, commitment and successfully. His years at the Albarka Clinic in Kano, is remembered fondly, by the owner, Dr. Stephen Ajagbona; he took time from medical practice to earn a law degree. Ibrahim worked with dedication and sincerity, attributes that allowed Dr. Ajagbuna, to entrust the running of the Clinic to him: “When I went to Law School, he (Dr. Oloriegbe) was the one in charge, sending me money. But for him, I would not have been able to complete my course. He became my ‘sponsor’ even while he was working for me (Pg. 77)”. Dr. Ajagbuna added that: “Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe is dependable and hardworking, honest and diligent. If you put him in a position of responsibility, you don’t have to look back, because he will do it well. I miss working with him up till now (Pg.78)”.
He was part of the Change Agent Programme (CAP), for which he was selected in 2001. The programme had the aim of identifying potential change agents, that can assist in sensitizing the general public on the programme. Professor Eyitayo Lambo, Director of the programme, said of Ibrahim Oloriegbe: “During the time I was the Director, I saw him as the most promising. He was very intelligent, always contributing to discussions intelligently, and he was very active. I identified him as a potential leader who was going to be a good advocate for health reform in Nigeria (Pg. 86)”. It came as no surprise that when Professor Lambo was appointed a Minister, in 2003, he nominated Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe to take over as Director: “Of course, the answer was clear. I had no hesitation at all in recommending him for continuity, because I believed that to achieve our goal, it had to be Dr. Oloriegbe (Pg.88-89)”. The Change Agents (CAP) programme metamorphosed into the Health Reform Foundation of Nigeria (HERFON), in 2005. Ibrahim Oloriegbe was appointed its first Executive Secretary, while the Emir of Shonga, Dr. Haliru Yahaya, served as the Chairman of the Governing Board. The Emir had his own say, on Ibrahim Oloriegbe: “Dr. Oloriegbe is intelligent, versatile, has a good memory and a good grasp of issues. His encyclopaedic knowledge of the health system put HERFON in good stead (Pg. 92)”. He similarly served as Project Manager at Save the Children, with a mandate to put nutrition high on the national agenda. Again, Ibrahim gave his all. It was the same manner that he worked with total dedication, when he joined Plan Liberia in 2015, as the Chief of Party (COP), for the Global Fund Country Malaria Programme. He was head of the programme, and his duty, was to help in the control and eradication of malaria, amongst Liberian pregnant women and children. Ibrahim successfully made a 10-minute presentation, which earned his programme “an additional 12 million Euros for the implementation of the Malaria project (Pg. 107)”. There was a celebration of the success, and the Grant Support Manager for Plan Liberia, Judith Nkie noted that: I personally went to ask him how he managed to do an impeccable presentation like that, and he told me that he had been studying everything about Plan Liberia since the first day he knew he was coming to Liberia (Pg. 107)”.
If the qualities of his person and the excellence of his work, earned so much recognition abroad, the roots had been implanted in the local settings where he grew from. As a student, he was already showing leadership traits, and had learnt early, to give to society. In secondary school, he was the Science and Laboratory Prefect; while in university, he actively participated in the Ilorin Students’ Union, as an executive member. He helped in the Summer School Programme of the Union, volunteering as teacher of several courses. He was also involved in the activities of the Ilorin Emirate Descendants’ Progressive Union (IEDPU), holding executive positions as Secretary of the Kano Branch, Treasurer of the Northern Zone, and eventually, National Treasurer of the organisation (Pg. 152). As a medical practitioner, he actively participated in the work of the Nigerian Medical association (NMA); the Association of General and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria (AGPMPN), and the Guild of Medical Directors (GMD).
It is similarly instructive, that after almost ten years of service in Kano, Dr. Oloriegbe returned home to Ilorin, in 1995, where he opened the Oloriegbe Clinic and Maternity, in one of his late father’s buildings on the Murtala Muhammed Way in Ilorin. In an increasingly depressed economic situation, he “also consulted as a visiting doctor in a government facility while running his private practice”. And this was in the rural setting of Ejidongari, in the Moro Local Government Area of Kwara State, where a hospital had been donated to the Kwara State government, by the European Union. It was fully equipped, but lacked medical doctors. The head of the institution, Alhaji Tajudeen Arowolo, said of Dr. Oloriegbe, that “he used to come about three times a week to see the patients, and sometimes we could call on him if there was an emergency case. He performed surgery and took care of other higher consultancy (Pg. 81)”. But from 1998, the call of politics, began to draw Dr. Oloriegbe, from medical practice; and for the next five years, it was in the political terrain where he would pitch his tent. The years of professional medical practice; assisting patients and participating in community activities, had marked out Ibrahim Oloriegbe, as a person of strong communal values. These are anchored on a very upright, religious upbringing, from a very notable family; as well as the remarkable intellectual resourcefulness that was the hallmark of his educational sojourn, right from primary school.
It was therefore no surprise, that he was elected a Member of the Kwara State House of Assembly in 1999, on the platform of the APP, which eventually became ANPP. It didn’t take too long, for his colleagues to discover his leadership qualities. He was unanimously made the Majority Leader of the Kwara State House of Assembly, in the 1999-2003 period. He secured the implicit trust of the State Governor, the late Admiral Muhammed lawal. And “when a cholera outbreak occurred in a town called Ode Giwa in Asa Local Government of Kwara State, he was sent by Governor Muhammed Lawal to oversee the situation. To the glory of Allah, everything was put under situation (Pg. 83)”. As Majority Leader, he presented the positions of the government to the House, a function that he carried out very intelligently, and articulately. The then Speaker of the House, Honourable Benjamin Ezekiel Yissa noted, that: “Dr. Oloriegbe knows how to marshal his point very well to convince his colleagues. He is very articulate and presents government position brilliantly (Pg. 187)”. The intellectual resourcefulness that Ibrahim possessed, became an asset, which the Late Governor Muhammed Lawal continued to harvest, through a very turbulent historical period in Kwara State, which saw a parting of ways, between the Governor, and the Saraki family. Oloriegbe used his influence amongst members, to diffuse an impeachment plot against the governor; he became a close confidant and adviser of Governor Lawal, and it came as no surprise, that he was asked to become the Director General of Governor Muhammed Lawal’s 2003 unsuccessful re-election campaign. Ibrahim made a sacrifice by not re-contesting his position, to lead the titanic battle against the Saraki hegemony, whose touch bearer, was Bukola Saraki. “Although they eventually lost that election to the PDP, Dr.Oloriegbe had unarguably shown his finesse in politics as well as his intelligence, diligence and commitment to the people of Kwara forever (Pg. 189)”. This was the point, that created the ambience of the 2011 elections, when Dr. Oloriegbe vied for the Senate Seat to represent Kwara Central Senatorial District. As I stated, at the beginning of this review, I am convinced that Ibrahim Oloriegbe, actually won that election, but was a victim of an elaborate electoral heist. The people had to wait for another eight years, till 2019, to be able to give Ibrahim Oloriegbe the mandate to represent them in the Senate. And he is making a very good job of the opportunity! This is one of the points that this book is about.
But on a final note, I think we must return to our point of embarkation. Ibrahim Oloriegbe belongs to a generation that was properly cultured; highly educated and one that could take full advantage of the opportunities, which came from an independent Nigeria. But he was cultured within the ethos of hard work; devotion to the highest moral and spiritual values, sourced from the fidelity to Islam; he came from a very rich family, but one which nevertheless, insisted upon the rigours of hard work, humility and a sense of responsibility. And very early in life, he suffered the adversity of the loss of a beloved mother. It toughened him, and gave him the early training for leadership, that was then honed in the settings of the Qur’anic school; the various educational institutions that he attended, and which impacted positively, in the manner that he made the best opportunity of the world of work! This biographical study is titled PARAGON OF VIRTUE; but Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe’s life marks him out as a paragon of the values and virtues, of the generation that he belongs to. That is my generation, in Nigerian history. He is simply, very exemplary! And that is the story which this book tells. I think you will find it, a very juicy read.