By Basheer Tosin Ashafa
Every July 22, family and friends take time out to honour Senator ‘Gbenga Ashafa on his birthday. Even with the passage of time, this annual outpouring of love and show of solidarity for a man who has led an exemplary life as a devoted husband, loving father, true friend, loyal party man, distinguished senator and patriot, never fails to bring with it surging feelings of introspection coursing through both the celebrant, immediate family members, friends and associates. There are also those for whom celebrating Ashafa’s birthday every year has become virtually an avocational endeavor. The reason for this is instructive and not far-fetched – for the simple reason that the man means a lot of things to different people. Reference case in point: he is a repository of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s sound and defining political ideologies.
The story of my father’s life’s journey is one that cannot be told in a hurry. It is also not what this piece intends to do, not even remotely. This piece seeks to appreciate the goodness of Almighty Allah in the life of my father and to acknowledge his efforts at nation-building so that we do not lose sight of the things that really matter. On his 62nd birthday anniversary, one attribute that I wish to celebrate him for is his empathy for the less-privileged. This empathy, I believe, is fanned by his deep understanding of the psychological implications of lacking access to life’s basic comforts. Senator ‘Gbenga Ashafa is not a stranger to the attendant feelings of hurt, anger, frustration, unhappiness, depression and stress that follow when one is unable to lead a decent economic life.
The charge of nation building is a very challenging one and it is always done in phases. Everyone can contribute towards it according to his or her capabilities. As a senator and public servant, my father is one of those currently doing his share of this collective charge. And over the years, I have come to understand why he has devoted himself to empowering his people – to give them a means to create the kind of opportunities they have always wanted for themselves socio-economically. For the artisans, traders and owners of MSMEs, he saw empowerment programmes as a viable alternative because of its overarching impact on the informal economy. There’s a quote credited to him that goes thus: “At the heart of my empowerment scheme is a burning passion and urgent need to diversify, strengthen and deepen the industry with the largest employment-generating-opportunity in our economy, the informal sector”. There it is: his motivation. Crystal clear.
On July 15, 2017, at the Lagos East town hall meeting and medical outreach where Senator Ashafa further delved into his mid-term stewardship report and over 2500 residents accessed free drugs and treatment because of his partnership with a crew of local and foreign-based health experts, I realized further that the road a change maker chooses for himself is the one less traveled. It’s akin to the thorny path to better days that the APC administration in Lagos State (under the able Governor Akinwunmi Ambode) and at the Federal level (executive and legislative tiers) is presently on.
My father would be the first to admit that the promised change hasn’t unfolded in its entirety but his disposition, evidenced by his work in the senate (under the excellent leadership of Dr. Bukola Saraki) and across the entire LCDAs and LGAs in Lagos East, reflects the truth that there’s hope in the horizon. Nigeria is still a work in progress. It’s our nation. No other place can we call home. In the simple things, we all must continue to put in the work, make the necessary sacrifices, show courage, exhibit collective and personal discipline, and demonstrate love to one another for this work of nation-building to progress faster.
At 62, Bareehu Olugbenga Ashafa (BOA) still marches on. I join all well-meaning friends and associates to wish him a happy birthday and pray that as he continues to age, he’ll grow in wisdom. Dear Father, your life of service to your people, Lagos State and Nigeria will continue to serve as a worthy reminder of the belief I have held fast all these years: That we are not made or seem better off because we fend for ourselves. We are here because God created all equal and that our interconnectedness, regardless of creed or race, attests to this.
I’d like to end on a personal note. On behalf of Lady Shade, your children and grandchildren, we love you and thank you for living a life worthy of emulation, one that fosters a forthrightness that is quite refreshing. Thank you for teaching us to be human bridges, and thank you for proving that anyone and everyone can somehow find in their hearts the strength to do extraordinary things. Congratulations on this milestone, distinguished senator.
* Tosin is a real estate investor and public affairs analyst based in Lagos.