By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, and Charles Kumolu
It was perhaps a fitting tribute to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu that the apparatus and operatives of the Federal Government were relocated from Abuja to the heartland of his political territory in Lagos for his birthday celebration last Thursday
Besides President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, at least 11 governors were present for the 10th Bola Tinubu Colloquium, an intellectual discourse that is held to celebrate the monuments and motifs of Tinubu’s administration over Lagos State between 1999 and 2007.
As Osinbajo, the most prominent political disciple of the Tinubu school, said last Thursday, the idea of the colloquium was instituted by those of them who worked under their patron to project issues of national importance on his birthday.
Buhari may not have been a direct political disciple, but no one doubts how Tinubu’s immense political capital helped to transform him from a serial election loser to the presidency. Besides the president, governors, ministers, members of the National Assembly and former governors, hundreds of wannabes were in attendance.
Reflective of the clout of the man who was being celebrated, all roads last Thursday led to the Eko Hotel and Suites, Lagos, venue of the colloquium. Associates of the Jagaban Borgu, Tinubu’s most popular traditional title yet, had plastered the venue and approaches to the hotel with banners eulogising his political prowess.
One of the most conspicuous was the one by Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, a returnee disciple which had an intimidating presence opposite the main entrance to the hotel.
The theme of the colloquium this year was “Investing In People,” which was apparently framed to project what is arguably the most successful campaign promise of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, administration; to wit, the Social Investment Programme, SIP.
Before the President arrived around 11.40 a.m. a drama with the title “iOpen Eye” with the leading thespian, Joke Silva, was staged to demonstrate the challenges which the SIP aims to remove from society.
Once the President arrived, the host, governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, while welcoming dignitaries to the colloquium had paid tribute to Tinubu’s vision saying:
“After his gubernatorial years, he has continued to show pivotal leadership, particularly on the national stage. It is not for nothing that he is acknowledged for his defining role in the emergence of a progressive political party in Nigeria,” the governor said.
Following his address, officials of the SIP went on to make various presentations on the impact of the programme on the polity.
The SIP which is directly managed by the vice-president aims to, among others, serve one hot meal a day to all primary school children in public schools.
Osinbajo was quick to tie the theme to what he and several other speakers observed as Tinubu’s political motif, which they said is the people.
Noting the impact of the SIP, the minister of state, budget and national planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, said that 7 million school children are being fed daily in 22 states, 260,000 persons have been enrolled into the Government Enterprise Programme, GEP, while the government was now focused on giving a legal framework to allow the sustainability of the programme.
Mrs. Abimbola Adesanmi, the national programme coordinator of the Home Grown School Feeding Programme, was well received as she brought forward several beneficiaries of the programme to give their testimonies.
Mrs. Rosemary Ignatius, a food vendor who serves hot meals to pupils in Anthony Udofia Elementary School, in Akwa Ibom State, said the programme has brought change to her life and other women involved in the programme.
Mohammed Annas Ishaq, a school pupil from Kaduna State said: “It is bye-bye to hunger for us. My friend didn’t want to come to school but changed his mind after the programme was started”.
A primary school student from Akwa Ibom State, named Janet, brought repeated laughter to the audience with her exclamations saying, “If you come to my school, Oh my God.”
A poultry farmer from Kaduna State disclosed that the advent of the feeding programme has helped to lift her laying birds from 8,000 to 20,000. According to her, in Kaduna State alone, 32,000 crates of eggs are in demand every week to sustain the programme.
Mrs. Maryam Uwais, a senior special assistant to the President in the office of the Vice-President, also gave her perspective on the National Cash Transfer programme that is helping to put money in the hands of many productive persons who had been left redundant on account of capital.
Jeremiah Mkpa from Cross River State who confessed that he had been a beggar before said that he is no longer begging.
Following the testimonies, Osinbajo who served in Tinubu’s government as attorney general and commissioner for justice for eight years, came to speak on the unusual governance inclinations of Tinubu.
“Most of us had worked with the then Governor of Lagos State, Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for several years, some for four years, some for eight years. And we decided that every year, on the occasion of his birthday, we would take time to discuss matters of national importance. Part of the reason why we did so was because Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was an unusual governor in Lagos State.
“Let me say why it was unusual. The reason why it was unusual was because it was a government where there was a great deal of argument and he, as the leader of that government, allowed so much argument and so many different shades of ideas.
“I recall a particular occasion, when we started talking about the land use charge. I know that there are issues around the land use charge today. But when the old concept developed around the land use charge, there were so many arguments. One group felt that we shouldn’t even introduce the charge, another group felt that we should do so. I remember that in Ikeja, where this argument was taking place, we were in a small room; Lai Mohammed was there, Wale Edun, Yemi Cardoso, I think Dele Alake, and a few others. We were all there arguing on both sides. At some point, when Asiwaju was losing the argument, he said, ‘Ah, were you the people who were voted for?’ Then he stormed out of the room and left. Then, we all waited. Nobody left. He came back a few minutes later and said, ‘ah, are you people still here?’ Then we continued the argument. Now he came back with more facts and figures. So we suspected that when he stormed out of the room, he actually went to bring some more facts.
“In the end, we instituted the charge and so many other different ways by which the foundation for what we see in Lagos State today were developed. And I want to just commend Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu again, for ensuring that, not only did he develop a whole generation of persons who have become, in various respects leaders, but also that he allowed that group of people to develop ideas to contradict him many times, to controvert his own ideas many times, and many times, he gave in to those ideas, and we’ve seen the results of it.”
Summarising the testimonies of the beneficiaries of the SIP, he said:
“We have seen today the empirical evidence of the successes of this programme, and all of that is evident for us to see and listen to several testimonies and stories. 200,000 jobs for undergraduates employed under the N-Power programme, 300,000 more waiting to be employed; they have been pre-selected; over 7 million children being fed daily in 22 States so far; beneficiaries of microcredit loans going to about 300,000; and almost 300,000 households benefiting from conditional cash transfers.”
The vice-president moved on to use the opportunity to flay critics of the administration over their insistence that the Buhari administration should stop talking about corruption of the past.”
“As for our fight against corruption, we realized, as Mr. President said, that if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us. Corruption is an existential problem for Nigeria. Let me pause here to reiterate that from all I have seen in government in the past three years, the corruption of the previous five years is what destroyed the Nigerian economy. Every time we talk about this, every time we talk about corruption, our opponents say, “Don’t talk about it, just do your own, Don’t talk about it.” The Yorubas have an adage, they say, and I will translate that. It says “When the conversation comes to the matter of tales, the frog will say, let us skip that, don’t talk about it.” We will talk about it. And the reason why we will talk about it is, first, we must let our people know that we cannot afford to go this way again; never again should we allow a system where people take the resources of this country and skew the resources of this country, use the resources against the people of this country, and at the same time, they want to continue in ruler-ship. The second is that, we as a party and your government, must show the difference between us and the party and government that impoverished our nation. We must show that difference.”
Following the vice-president, President Buhari stepped on to give a brief remark in which he paid compliments to his “friend and political partner,” Tinubu.
“I am happy to be here with you to celebrate the birthday of my friend and political partner, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I call on all Nigerians to join me in celebrating this man. Asiwaju Tinubu is widely known as a political strategist. But strategy is barren unless wedded to a higher purpose than just itself.
“Asiwaju also sets himself apart. I have come to see him as a man who cares about people and who is a fountain of ideas for economic development and improving the situation of the common man and woman. He is a true humanitarian and we appreciate his contributions to Nigeria’s and Africa’s progress.”
Following the president, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State stepped up to give the toast. He remembered that it was Holy Thursday, reflective of the period of Jesus agony on the cross. He said that Jesus cared for the people hence His death on the cross. He said that Tinubu’s life was also about service to the people.”
Following the Edo governor, the man of the moment, Tinubu stepped up to wild applause from the crowd.
So lost for words, he abandoned his prepared speech and thanked all that came to honour him. He pointed out the business community which was represented by Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Mr. Jim Ovia and Dr. Oba Otudeko.
He was, however, unsparing of the political adversaries of the president who he said has done well and should continue in the path.
He nevertheless offered advise on the economy and even offered to personally contribute in boosting the credit system which he lamented is weighing down economic growth.
While acknowledging the challenges the APC had had to contend with, Tinubu encouraged Nigerians not to give up on the administration as he vowed that he would continue to talk about the alleged corruption of the PDP era.
“I can see what the government is doing with so little resources. But the idea and the fact that they are doing it with beneficiaries and the fact that it is demonstrated in practical terms is what we need to get our country from the hook of corrupt officials.”
Noting assertions against looking at the past, he said:
“They even said that we should not talk about it. Seriously, what should we then talk about? After we came into office, we discovered the looting. After assuming office, we should then join you in the act and encourage such act?
Asking Nigerians not to give heed to the PDP, he said:
“Please forget those parties. They will not come back to power. There is no nation that is not facing challenges. Even America is facing its own. Then who are we? How many years of democracy have we practised? We did not say that Nigerians will not enjoy. But we have to report back to the millions of Nigerians that elected us into office that this is what we found when we assumed office.
“It is not an easy task at all. Dear Nigerians, do not take their apology. They lied. They falsified. They even changed figures. For 16 years, they made fake promises and gave us fake figures. And they said we should not talk about it. It is like saying after all they did wrong, do not look at me. Just steal your own.”
Making a contrast between the APC and the PDP, in the light of claims by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, he said:
“We are like night and day. I remember my grand-mother often sent me to a letter writer beside the Magistrate Court to assist her write letter. So someone who is writing letter of politics as if they had not been there before. I do not want to agree with those letters,” he said in apparent reference to missives by President Obasanjo and assertions by some other national leaders which he described as “bad belle letters.”