Tinubu: The Asiwaju of Hearts

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Senator Babafemi Ojudu

Many have written about Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s political prowess and organizational astuteness. One is tempted to join the bent of this horde of commentators but I will rather comment on the aspect of his life which fascinates me the most and which encapsulates his humanity , his being and his soft side. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been described in so many ways, but his attribute that melts my heart the most is his unrivaled and almost God-like kindness. It does not matter who you are or where you are from; Asiwaju Bola Tinubu sees equality in all men, shoe-maker, Senator, President, or the homeless. Tinubu treats them equally, not giving himself to mundane things as status.

My relationship with Asiwaju Tinubu dates back to the days of military dictatorship, a period spanning over twenty years. During this period and up till now, I have watched Asiwaju Bola Ahmed give and give, without expecting anything in return. The manner and rate at which he gives awe people like me, sometimes shocking us beyond words. Many today, including myself, are beneficiaries of his kindness. I have tried to measure up in this regard, but the more I try, the more I realize that a man who would measure up to Asiwaju in Nigeria in acts of kindness must belong to another generation as I have come to believe it is one per generation. Tinubu has already been chosen as the one for our own generation. Talk about giving back to humanity, I say without apologies that Tinubu has given more than enough. If it were possible for humanity to return excesses (like we have in budgetary situations), Tinubu would have too much kindness to take back. Some years ago my wife and two sons went to Maryland, US on holiday. A few days after they arrived one of them came down with acute malaria. For those familiar with American hospitals, malaria patients are treated like people with communicable diseases. The boy was taken to the hospital and of course immediately quarantined while trying to figure out what treatment to apply . When a call came through informing me of the development, I was confused not knowing what to do. Somehow my colleague in The News Mr. Bayo Onanuga informed Asiwaju of the development. Asiwaju, without even calling me, instructed his cousin Dr Ade Tinubu, a medical doctor practicing then in an hospital in Maryland to immediately proceed to the hospital and ensure the boy’s life was saved. As I often tell people who are very close to me, if Asiwaju did nothing for me other than this while in power for eight years, I will forever be grateful to him. But he did more. Any journalist or pro democracy activist under the jackboot rule of General Sanni Abacha will attest to Asiwaju’s generosity. Let him just know that your life was at risk a flight ticket will be awaiting you in Accra and a house on Georgia Avenue in Washington DC, where you could cool off till Abacha goons forget about you and move on to another prey. He made sure neither you in the hide away known then as House of Exile nor your family suffers. He was not a governor then, he was a private individual who had fled the country and running from one western capital to the other to evade Abacha’s goons one of whom later became a beneficiary of the struggle as a civilian governor of an oil producing state. Much of the encouragement to continue to carry on in our opposition to Babangida and Abacha then was provided by Asiwaju, and God bless his soul, Chief Rewane. Whenever we were down to our last kobo and there was no one to run to to pay our staff salary, buy newsprint or take care of the family of our compatriots who were in jail or in exile it was these people that we ran. They gave and gave without looking back. I remember today a time when we were owing our journalists three months salary. Daily I get to the office to receive one resignation letter or the other. It was Asiwaju who came to the rescue. He called a friend of his back home with an instruction to sell a property of his and give us money not only to pay our arrears of salary but also to keep the publications going. Asiwaju owns no single share of our publishing company then. He did this in admiration of our principled commitment to the rule of law and democratic governance. He did this because he believed we should not suffer while objecting conscientiously. Asiwaju’s contribution to the survival of our publications and our personal and collective survival then will take more than this tribute to do justice to. Suffice it to say that he did it not for immediate or future benefit but as a humanitarian, a kind hearted person who genuinely believe that when a fellow human being suffers or in need he should not stand aloof when he could do something to alleviate the condition. it is this same spirit of giving that informed his eight year administration in Lagos. it is this same reason the Musician Fatai Rolling Dollars is today a home owner and prodigy at 85 years of age rather than being a homeless beggar on the street of Lagos. Kokoro, the blind minstrel, some multiple birth parents who are indigent, labour activists who have falling on hard times, journalists battling with one ailment or the other benefitted from him in a manner they will never forget . The elderly who have contributed meaningful in the struggle to make Nigeria a better place but in their old age came down with debilitating diseases were provided relief either with local or foreign treatment. This is not to mention how many school fees of associates children he has been responsible for both within and outside the country. In 2007, Life published an interview with the wife of late Col. Adekunle Fajuyi . The story was illustrated with the dilapidated building left behind by Fajuyi and where the woman lived. Visiting Asiwaju in his Ikoyi residence he asked me if I have seen the publication and I said no. He brought it out and asked me to read it. After a while, he said, Femi people who have served and sacrificed their lives for this country should not be allowed to suffer in this manner. Rhetorically, he asked, what is the Ekiti State government doing while this woman is living in a house that could collapse on her head any moment. He asked me to look for an architect to design a simple but decent house on the site. I did and three months after Asiwaju came to Ekiti to hand over the new house to Fajuyi’s widow. It will be instructive to note that at this time late Fajuyi’s two sons, both lawyers were members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). For him when it comes to giving he does not discriminate. A human being in need is simply a human being. Not a PDP or ACN member, not a christian or a muslim, not a Lagosian or a Bachama. Whether he belongs to his party or another party hounding him does not matter. Even when someone has wronged him before and he comes back to seek an assistance, Asiwaju is always there to give a helping hand. I remember sometime when some aides came to complain to him that a PDP chieftain was on the verge of picking up a contract in Lagos and he should stop the process. He asked, is he qualified to take the job? They said yes. Why then should I stop the job from being given to him, he asked. Do you want him to die of hunger because he is PDP? That is Asiwaju for you who will give to an Hausa man , Igbo man as much as he will give his fellow Lagosians. When the activist, Chima Ubani died in an accident, he didn’t look at where he came from before he immediately got a decent accommodation for his family. That is Asiwaju for you.

There can only be one leader in every generation, and leadership is not sought; it divinely falls on whoever Providence has ordained. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the leader of the South-West in pre and early post-colonial days, down to the early democratic period before death snatched him from us. Chief Abraham Adesanya was next and he served to the best of his ability before bowing to death. Now, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the leader of the Yoruba race, a position he never sought for. Heaven must have seen his disposition and decided on choosing him, for how else do you reward a man who has always put humanity first?

One obvious fact about Tinubu is that he is not only a Southwest leader; he is a national leader. Following PDP’s take-over of the Southwest in 2003, it was as though Nigeria would become a one-party State, a situation which would have sent us back to the abyss of dictatorship. Tinubu, without a thought about his own life, rose to the challenge. He muted the idea of a mega-party. When that would not work, he rallied together like-minded individuals to strengthen his own party. Despite harassment, trumped-up charges, orchestrated violence and rigging, Tinubu was never tired. He took to the courts and saw to it that wanton rigging was reduced in Nigeria. Today, PDP will think twice before rigging as many of their rigged-in ousted governors now walk the streets in shame. Tinubu’s continual visits to the courts and the gains therein have strengthened the belief of every Nigerian in the judiciary as the hope of the common man. This act alone has consigned to the dustbin the days of ‘weti e’. Whether you agree or not, I strongly believe that, as Nigerians, we have Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to thank for the drastic reduction in electoral violence in the country. Rather than destroy lives and properties, Tinubu would always have his party members go to court.

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In the Nigerian political space today, we enjoy a robust opposition. Tinubu’s unrelentless and unparalleled commitment to the ACN serve as no little inspiration to other political parties who saw that the uncompromising vision of a man for his people would propel him to do great things for them. It was also Tinubu’s doggedness that wiped off the lie that ACN was a regional party. Today in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, we have members of our party who are from the North. This feat was not just made possible because of ACN lofty programmes, but because of the detribalized nature of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who practices what he preaches and would never hold back the truth even if it hurts. This was what attracted the North to ACN, because they know that in the end it is not about a party or its name or roots, but about the will to make Nigeria realize fully its potentials and make everybody, whether rich or poor, count. This is what Tinubu represents. That is why everybody, especially the masses who matter the most, is identifying with ACN today.

Many have said Tinubu is self-serving. I ask them today to define ‘self-serving’. What is self-serving about fighting for people’s rights? What is self-serving about helping the less-privileged? What is self-serving about ensuring that political contractors do not turn Nigeria to a one-party State? What is self-serving about creating local council development areas in Lagos, bringing government closer to the people? What is self-serving about standing by this decision even when a president who believes so much in vain praise-singing would have the decision reversed? What is self-serving by standing up to the president to ensure we did not have another ‘Abacha’? What is self-serving about encouraging people whose mandates were stolen to go to courts instead of taking to violence? What is self-serving in joining the people of my State who hold him in high esteem to reclaim their stolen mandate, a mandate the PDP is still fighting tooth and nail to steal again? If you ask me, it is not Tinubu who is self-serving; it is those who call him self-serving that are self-serving. But they must put up a defence. After-all, Tinubu’s existence and well-being has suffocated their dubious ways of life. Why would they not wish him dead?

I have met so many men that I respect, but my respect for Tinubu towers above many. Here is one man who has continued to awe me with his unmatchable foresight and probing intelligence. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in his book ‘The Prince’ that the first opinion that is formed of a leader’s intelligence is based on the quality of the men he has around him. Whey they are competent and loyal, he can always be considered wise, because he has been able to recognize their competence and to keep them loyal. This is truer about nobody I have met than Tinubu. In this, he stands tall. When I am asked what I consider the greatest achievement of Tinubu, I always answered by saying it is the ability to know who is best to succeed him. There can be no achievement greater than that. Some leaders would have preferred an idiot who is however smart at fawning. Rather than do this Tinubu went for a thinker and a doer. Today Lagos is better for it and Nigeria too is better for it. Each time I discuss with some of my colleagues in the Senate who are of other parties and from other parts of the country, the awe with which they talk of Lagos awes me. That is the achievement of Tinubu, that is how he towers above our brother from Owu who soon after he left power every legacy of his collapsed like a pack of cards.

Being the strongest opposition voice in Nigeria today, Tinubu has never for once wavered despite several calculated attempts to silence him. With each ordeal, Tinubu has grown stronger and stronger, making most of us look like dwarfs in the struggle to make Nigeria work.

Certainly, more Tinubus are what Nigeria needs in its quest for the attainment of all the tenets of democracy. With men like Tinubu , men who are kind and have a heart of gold Nigerians can go to sleep, unshakenly assured that the health of the nation and their welfare of its citizens are guaranteed. Happy 60th birthday Asiwaju of hearts.