JIMOH IBRAHIM: The enigma at 43


“Success is not measured by what you accomplish but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.” Orison Swett Marden (1850 – 1924)

This immortal statement was uttered about one hundred years ago. But American writer Orison Swett Marden may well have been referring to the improbable emergence of Jimoh Ibrahim from the young boy with tall but seemingly impossible dreams in the obscure rural backwood of Igbotako in the furtherest reaches of Ondo State to the phenomenon who now bestrides the Nigerian business landscape like a colossus.
Jimoh, or Araba as his friends fondly call him (derived from his chieftaincy title as the Araba Nla of Ikale-land), is different things to different people. He is such an enigma that even people who have never come into contact with him talk as if they can write a whole chapter on him. But everyone agrees at least that here is a hugely successful young man with an un-usual rags-to-riches story.

Not being a silver spoon, Araba is an excellent example of how vision, focus and hard work can help anyone to become whatever he wants to be. The son of  a bricklayer and fish selling mother from Igbotako, a dirt-poor rural backwood of Ondo State, Araba could easily have taken after his father by becoming a bricklayer too. And he almost did.

There is a house in Igbotako which stands till today, the blocks of which Araba put together with bare hands, an attestation to his bricklaying skills. But he was not to be condemned to being just another frustrated artisan in this dead-end.

God had bigger plans for him. And his journey towards conquering the world began earnestly when he left his rustic environment to read law at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, the citadel he was to return to later to earn master’s degree in public administration.

Here, a completely new vista opened itself to this starry eyed village boy from Igbotako, a vista whose horizon broadened even wider when he later went to study at Harvard University in the United States of America.

Blessed with the Midas touch and overflowing blessing from God, Araba started out by organising training workshops for all cadres of civil servants in the 90s before veering into consultancy for government on withholding tax from oil companies, helping government to make billions of naira in the process and getting a tidy commission for his efforts in the process.

Not long after, he went into oil business. As reggae legend Bob Marley sang, he who Jah has blessed, no man can curse. In just six years, he has built Global Fleet from owning just one filling station at the entrance of Victoria garden City in Ajah into a major player in the oil and gas business with more than 200 filling stations spread across the country and big enough to rival the majors in the industry.

A turn-around expert of impeccable pedigree, Araba’s business model is built around acquiring badly run businesses and performing corporate surgery on them to make them profitable. To date some of the major companies Araba has acquired and whose fortune he has turned around include NICON Insurance, Nigeria Reinsurance, Abuja Le Meridian rebranded as Nicon Luxury, a chain of hotels sprawled across the country, National Mirror Newspapers which is about to re-enter the market in a big way and lately Virgin Nigeria which is poised to become the best airline in Nigeria.

At 43, Araba has achieved what many can only dream of. But he has only started. Nigeria in the years to come will hear more about this young man whose abiding passion is to generate employment for young Nigerians and train multitudes in the art and science of entrepreneurship.

His philosophy is that if he can do it, coming from nowhere and with no family wealth as a cushion, and neither being a politician with un-hindered access to public fund nor a contractor feeding fat on un-executed projects, so can millions of young indigent Nigerians no matter their parentage.  

Araba is an enigma and a misunderstood businessman who pursue his passion with unyielding single-mindedness. But there are some who see him as an unpredictable maverick businessman who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Some will say that this aggressive image of his unsettles them and that he is too hard for their liking. Yet this exterior help to ward off charlatans who may want to take advantage of his relative youthfulness and freeloaders who may want to rip him off. But beneath this facade is a genial and extremely simple fellow with enormous empathy for his fellow humans.

I remember when I sought the advice of a few of my colleagues about taking his offer to become the managing director of his National Mirror Newspapers which he acquired not long ago in the bid to help actualise his dream of having the biggest and best media organisation in the country. There were quite a number of my colleagues who expressed their reservations. They said I was better off as his friend than going to work for him. But for me, the pull of the challenge of making the National Mirror the biggest and best newspaper in the country was just too strong.

It is now eight months since I resumed work and I must confess that Araba has treated me with utmost respect, kindness and most importantly affection. I have also learnt a great deal from him from several hours of discussion under the mango tree at the back house of his majestic VGC, Ajah residence, particularly in the area of strategic management of which I have no doubt he is one of the best experts, at least in this part of the world.

Given his immense contribution to Nigeria’s socio-economic development, Araba has begun to get the recognition he deserves. Three years ago, he became the youngest recipient of the national award, Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) at 40. And only last year, he was appointed the chairman of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), a precursor of bigger appointments to come in the service of his fatherland.

As Araba’s family, friends and well wishers come together to celebrate his 43rd birthday anniversary today, I can only wish him long life and more successful years ahead. Because as Ben Sweetland, the author of the bestselling book, Grow Rich While You Sleep, once said, “success is a journey, not a destination.”

Abiodun Raufu is the MD/CEO of National Mirror Newspapers



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