AAU AT 40: How Ikpea leads 21 others into Hall of Fame


By Kennedy Mbele

Earlier in the year when Vanguard Board of Editors went in the search of the best corporate individuals who showed business excellence, Leemon Ikpea stood out among his peers.

Ever since, this gentle and soft-spoken business mogul has continued to receive accolades for his contribution to humanity and nation-building.

Last Thursday, the University town of Ekpoma, Edo State was agog.

The host community of Ambrose Alli University, AAU, founded by the late governor of defunct Bendel State, Professor Ambrose Alli, came alive as 22 persons who have impacted the school, humanity and society, were inducted into what is now known as AAU Hall of Fame.

The event was part of activities marking the institution’s 40th anniversary.

Among those inducted into the Hall of Fame were Vanguard Businessman of the Year 2019, Leemon Ikpea, UBA Chairman and CEO of Joint Heirs, Tony Elumelu, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Ndidi Elumelu, Esama of Benin, Gabriel Igbinedion, Proprietor and Chairman of Abuja-based Pace Setters Group of Schools, (aka Rice Man) Kenneth Imansuangbon, founder of Christ Embassy, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, Deputy Governor of Delta State, Kingsley Otuaro, Proprietor of GT Plaza, Pius Omofuma and the CEO of Ray Royal Company, Matthew Okpebholo.

In his remarks, Ikpea who was represented by All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate in Edo State, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, said the award was a call to do more for humanity.
He said his vision of a viable country remains unchanged with institutions like AAU producing quality manpower.

On his part, Imansuagbon said he was motivated by the selfless service of the founder of the institution.

He said Alli “never built empires for himself. What are we in this generation going to live for our children? I dedicate this award to his memory.”

Also, Omofuma said one of the reasons he returned home in 1989 and started his business in Ekpoma was because AAU had opened up the community.

Governor Godwin Obaseki, who was represented by the Deputy Chief of Staff, Deputy Governor’s Office, Jimoh Ijegbai, said the governor plans to make AAU one of the top five universities in the world.

In his address, acting Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof. Benson Osadolor, said the award and induction were to celebrate persons who in several ways, impacted the development of AUU.

He also said the institution is reinvigorating the dream and vision of Prof. Ambrose Alli, through a calculated strategy to redefine the standard, quality of teaching and learning.

As stated earlier, Vanguard Newspapers may have unveiled this unique gem called Ikpea, but as the saying goes, “a goldfish has no hiding place.” This may have become his new status in the committee of men in Nigeria.

A business mogul, industrialist and philanthropist, he was born at Ewatto in Esan South East Local Government Area of Edo State on December 19, 1956. He attended St. John’s Primary School in Ajamogha, Warri, Delta State.

His business empire includes Lee Engineering and Construction Company Limited, which is a foremost homegrown, oil, gas and power services company performing luminously and resourcefully.

It has branch offices in Warri, Benin City, Port Harcourt and has its headquarters in Lagos.

Beyond the shore of Nigeria, Lee engineering has offices in the United Kingdom, Italy and the United States of America.

It is on record that he was inspired to set up a fabrication plant to contribute his quota to the oil and gas sector.

The Lee Group of Companies is a conglomerate traversing oil and gas services, engineering construction, travels and tours, supermarket chain, tool and equipment fabrication and manufacturing.

To accomplish his humanitarian zeal, he set up the Agbonjagwe Leemon Ikpea Foundation (ALIF) to take up issues that concern the less privileged, especially as it affects their education.

He holds the prestigious title of Odonlagbon of Warri kingdom, a very rare honour for a non-Itsekiri, bestowed on him by Olu of Warri.

He is reputed to have worked for expatriates for many years before establishing his business empire.

“I work hard and I am honest. I was usually the first to get to work and the last to leave the office. I needed to check the books and work being done. I always ensure that I do my job properly,” Ikpea once said about his business success.

Born into a humble background, his parents were said to have moved to Warri where they settled down at Okere. He attended St. John Primary School in Ajamogha, Warri. He was subsequently admitted to Baptist High School, Orerokpe, about 30 minutes drive from Warri. At a point in his life, he could not afford to pay his school fees.

Ikpea was said to have suffered the humiliation of being ordered out of his secondary school’s dining hall and his food confiscated because he couldn’t pay his school fees.

He had to walk a distance of about 50 km back home without shoes to give his parents the bad news.

He regularly attends business-related courses and seminars at the prestigious Harvard University, Boston, USA. He has a gift for identifying talents and brilliant ideas, which reflects in the quality of his team. The team comprises top-class professionals in diverse fields.

With offices in Europe, USA, Lagos, Abuja, Benin, Warri, Port Harcourt and in other lands, Chief Ikpea is hardly far away from his businesses. His physical presence is felt in all of these locations because of his non-static approach.

Another important dimension of the Ikpea persona is his passion for touching and lifting lives.

His hunger to improve the lot of the less privileged cannot be quantified. Ikpea fundamentally sees it as an obligation, a quality nurtured during his formative years.

He deeply appreciates what it means to be deprived of basic needs, especially school fees. He set up the Agbonjagwe Foundation to take up issues that concern the less privileged, especially as it affects their education.

Not a loud personality, he has also made silent donations to several educational institutions and social welfare programmes across the country.

So many who have come in contact with him have had their lives touched positively.

AAU is the first state-owned university in Nigeria founded in 1981. It has metamorphosed into an enviable citadel of knowledge.

At 40, AAU showcases the lofty progress in the advancement of human capital development, especially in the area of training and incubation of qualified graduates, infrastructural development, academic excellence and productive research.

The AAU at 40 celebrations also presented an avenue to celebrate the founder of the institution, who against all odds saw the need to advance the educational needs of his people.

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