She was either your role model at some point during your adolescent years or one of your girlfriends’. We say that with confidence because we know the only way it’s not true is if you aren’t a twenty-something female Nigerian or you’re just being dishonest. Cecilia Ibru was up there with Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Dora Akunyili and we dare say, Oprah Winfrey on the names-teachers-could-bet-would-come-up-on-the-My-Role-Model-compositionassignments back in the early 2000s.
Cecilia Ibru was only 51 when she began to steer the affairs of the small, family-owned Oceanic bank which she eventually led to become one of Nigeria’s largest publicly quoted institutions – the 12th best company in West Africa, the 9th largest company on the Nigerian stock exchange and the 5th largest Nigerian bank – in less than a decade under her stewardship.
Barely a year after completing her formal education at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Cecilia joined the Ibru Organisation as a Project Director and then as an International Finance Coordinator. Knowing that she was picked to carry out such responsibilities with degrees in Sociology and Philosophy in a society that dismissed any course of study that didn’t earn a person a professional degree was extra reason for any young Nigerian to hold her in high esteem.
Cecilia Ibru flourished on the business scene as a woman who could hold her own and in social scenes, as a woman who held down her home while she conquered the corporate world. And on the equally important style front, she made it cool to wear neck scarves in Nigeria.
It was not at all difficult to love her.
Until August 2009, that is. August 2009 when she turned herself into the EFCC offices having been accused of being involved in a multi-million dollar bad debt scandal alongside three other senior banking executives in Nigeria. One year and a few months later, on the 8th of October 2010, the Federal High Court found her guilty of bank and securities fraud. Some of the counts include negligence, reckless grant of credit facilities running into billions of dollars and mismanagement of depositors’ fund.
Her sentence, reached by a settlement agreement with Justice Dan Abutu of the Federal High Court, required her to spend 6 months in jail as well as forfeit assets and monies worth 1.2 billion dollars. Farida Waziri, who was the head of the EFCC at the time called the sentence “an indication that we are making progress in the war against graft in the country.”
Ms Waziri’s enthusiasm must have been short-lived though because Cecilia Ibru, through her counsel, Taiwo Osipitan (SAN) got some more leniency on account of her “ill-health”. The story is that she fainted twice while she was being sentenced – something Osipitan pinned on her “congestive heart failure and chronic hypertension of lower extremities”. For three months, the convict received medical treatment at the Redington hospital, Victoria Island after Justice Abutu approved her plea for leniency. It made sense at the time since she’d been on admission at the hospital for the most part of her trial. She’d been granted bail by the court one month after being held in ECC custody in 2009.
In addition to her doubtful sentence and whether she ever served the 6 month term, The Cable reported in 2015 that the a Senate Committee led by Senator Victor Lar (drugs, narcotics, financial crimes and anti-corruption) was looking into claims that Mrs Ibru had reacquired the part of the assets she forfeited to the Federal Government in 2010. Although the acting director of AMCON at the time, Mrs Foluke Dosunmu denied the claims, that such claims even came up at all left much to be desired as regards the perceived win her trial brought for the war on corruption in Nigeria.
Mid-2015, Mrs Ibru lost one of her sons, film maker, Rode Ibru when he was only 34. By September, this bad news was overcast with the celebratory news of the opening of the Michael and Cecilia Ibru University in Delta State. Speaking at the event, Cecilia Ibru who has since earned a “Dr” title), said the university, was established to provide well rounded development of the individual member of the university community without discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity or religion.
The only other bit of bad patch in Mrs Ibru’s life so far has been the death of her husband, Michael Olorogun Ibru who passed away at 86 on the 8th of September last year.
We had not seen for some time, but we saw often on Skype, taking photographs and he was looking much better. I was looking forward to his full recovery and return only to hear that he passed on this morning.It was a shocker as all the doctors’ reports were good.He was a great man. I suppose as his immediate younger brother died not long ago, we believe it’s Gods will for him to pass on this morning – Mrs Ibru said to The Guardian’s Leo Sobechi and Bertram Nwannekanma the evening of the day he passed.
And we haven’t heard from her since.