One of the most prominent names in Nigeria’s media ownership history is Alex Ibru. His entry into the media industry brought about landmark developements that changed the face of the industry.
Who is Alex Ibru?
Alexander Uruene Ibru, a Nigerian business man, founder and publisher of The Guardian newspaper was born on 1 March 1945 in Agbhara-otor, Delta state. He was a son of Chief Janet Omotogor Ibru and brother of Chief Michaeal Ibru, founder of the Ibru organization. Alex was Minister of Internal Affairs from 1993 to 1995 during the military regime of General Sani Abacha.
Ibru attended the Yaba Methodist Primary school from 1951-1957, Ibadan grammar school from (1958-1960), Igbobi college Lagos (1960-1963) and Trent polytechnic in the UK(1967-1970), where he studied Business Economics.
Early Aspirations to become a media owner
Ibru’s love for the newspaper business was expressed early during his post-primary school days. As a young student at Ibadan Grammar School and later Igbobi College, Lagos, Ibru enjoyed reading newspapers, especially the West African Pilot and also, the Daily Times, which in the sixties was easily the most influential newspaper in Nigeria such that every other newspaper was referred to as Daily Times regardless of their correct names. In an article published in The Guardian, it was reported that what fired Ibru’s aspiration was journalists’ play on words. Also, he was fascinated by the power of the media as an intermediary between government, the people and business, and how indeed a newspaper could be used to set agenda for society.
Birth of the Guardian
Ibru was appointed Chairman of Rutam Motors and in 1983 he met with newspapermen Stanley Mecebuh of Daily times of Nigeria, Dele Cole also formerly of the Daily Times and Segun Osoba, formerly of Nigeria Herald. With 55% funding from the Ibrus, they launched The Guardian in 1983, with Alex Ibru as chairman. Ibru provided funding to the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), established during the military regime of Buhari’s successor, General Ibrahim Babangida.
Kabir Alabi Garba,in an article entitled “With The Guardian, Alex Ibru came, saw and conquered“, captured the early times of the entry of this newspaper into Nigeria’s media landscape. Read excerpts from the article before;
On Monday, July 4, 1983, The Guardian hit the newsstand as a daily newspaper. Five months earlier, February 27, 1983 precisely, the print media company, which had undergone over five years of painstaking incubation, began the journey of “providing the best and most authoritative newspaper” as it pursued its philosophical underpinning as “an independent newspaper, established for the purpose of presenting balanced coverage of events, and of promoting the best interest of Nigeria.”
The idea to launch a newspaper started in 1976 and Guardian newspaper as a brand in 1978, but due to economic recession then, the idea was shelved but realized later when it finally hit the newsstand on February 27, 1983. Five months after, the daily edition hit the streets of Nigeria.
It was a carefully thought out enterprise, which would present a balanced coverage and projection of news and views, uphold political neutrality and independence and elevate the tone of public discourse. As a liberal newspaper, committed to the best traditions and ideals of republican democracy, The Guardian believes it is the responsibility of the State not only to protect and defend the citizens but also to create the political, social, economic and cultural conditions in which all citizens may achieve their highest potentials as human beings.
Perhaps, what gave The Guardian edge right from the start was the clarity of vision of its publisher, Mr. Alex Ibru, which he narrated during the 16th anniversary and productivity award ceremony of the company in 1999. He said, “The Guardian was started when I was very young, a little over 30 years old. I found I was blessed by the Almighty God. Not only did I come from a family of a good father, a good mother, good brothers and sisters, God gave me money and I asked Him what to do with the resources He had given me. He said I should do for the people what will be of immense benefit to them.”
Largely, the publisher’s clarity of vision appeared to have been bolstered by proper understanding of dynamics and principles of management as espoused in theories such as Systems, Contingency and Structuration. The phenomenal growth of the newspaper shortly after its establishment attested to the efficient management of resources – men and materials – especially in the area of recruitment and sharing of responsibilities without losing focus on monitoring, evaluation and motivation.
With Lade Bonuola as the pioneer editor, other personalities in the pioneering team, largely recruited from the Daily Times, were Eddie Iroh who was to be the Editor of the magazine (African Guardian) but due to some hiccups, the content of the magazine was published as a supplement in the newspaper and it appeared in the first edition as The Guardian Sunday supplement; Femi Kusa, assistant editor, who also provided some shaping for the content of the paper; Ted Iwere, Features Editor; Dr. Onwuchekwa Jemie, Chairman, Editorial Board; Femi Osofisan, member, Editorial Board; Dr. Chinweizu managed the Business and Economy desk; Sonny Ojeagbase, Sport Editor; Godwin Ofuru, Aerospace correspondent; Sonala Olumhense, member, Editorial Board; Adigun Agbaje, Political Correspondent; Alade Odunewu, the first columnist; Doyin Mahmoud, Chief-sub-editor; the late Mac Alabi, the Production Editor; Sunmi Smart-Cole, Photo Editor; and Bisi Ogunbadejo, the first cartoonist.
Ibru was minister of internal affairs from 1993-1995 in the Sani Abacha government. Alex Ibru had told his staff on the Guardian that he would not get involved in Partisan politics. Despite this, the respected newspaper was highly critical of the Abacha regime. On 14th August 1994 The Guardian offices were raided and shut down by the government, although Alex Ibru retained his post. The newspapers were only allowed to reopen in October 1994 following an apology by Ibru for any offensive Comments that may have appeared.
Attack by Unknown gunmen
Ibru narrowly escaped an assassination attempt during the military regime of General Sani Abacha. On February 2, 1996, he was shot at on the Falomo Bridge area in Ikoyi, Lagos by people suspected to be state agents. The attack cost Mr Ibru an eye and two fingers. The gun men had sprayed his car with machine gun fire after trailing him in a deep-blue Peugeot. Both Ibru and the editor-in-chief Femi Kusa were flown to England for treatment of their injuries.
Alex Ibru died on 20th November 2011 aged 66. He contributed immensely to shaping Nigeria’s media industry by setting the standard for the industry with the publication of high quality newspapers. Ibru was a quiet achiever whose landmark as the founder and publisher of The Guardian newspaper, and promoter of a balanced and robust journalism in Nigeria will be difficult to surpass.