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Celebrating Nigeria’s political titan and ‘primus inter pares’ at 67

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By Akintola Benson Oke
A return to first principles in a republic is sometimes caused by the simple virtues of one man. His good example has such an influence that the good men strive to imitate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life so contrary to his example.”

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, Italian diplomat, politician, historian, philosopher, humanist, writer, playwright, poet of the Renaissance period and father of modern political science.


Bola Tinubu
Wife of the Celebrant, Senator Oluremi Tinubu; APC Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu Govermor Akinwunmi Ambode of :Lagos State and his Wife, Mrs. Bola Ambode during the 11th Bola Tinubu Colloquium to mark the 67th Birthday of the APC Leader at the African Hall, International Conference Centre, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida 28/03/2019

If there was any doubt as to his earnestness and political astuteness, he put such doubts to rest in the 1990s when, in a most admirable fashion, his entry into the Lagos political landscape beautified it with a dazzling and colourful fresh paint of politicking.

If any doubted that he means what he says and whether he has the courage of his own convictions, he banished such doubts when, between 1993 and 1999, he led the valiant struggle to dislodge the entrenched Nigerian military from Nigeria’s political space.

If any sneered at the possibility of him going beyond high-sounding political rhetoric to blazing the trail in effective governance, he disappointed such cynics when, as the Governor of Lagos State, he turned around the state’s fortunes, laid the foundations and drew the map that placed Lagos State on the path of excellence, which effort earned him the enduring moniker of ‘the Pathfinder.’

If any branded him as a man who simply wants a fiefdom in Lagos State or in western Nigeria, such a one ate the humble pie when, in a political masterstroke hitherto unseen in Nigeria, he reached out across gulfs and built bridges over schisms in 2014/2015 to build the most robust, most effective, and most enduring political alliance that dislodged the sixteen-year rule of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), thereby scoring a political and historical first on many fronts.

And if any doubted his staying power, his resilience, and his full mastery of the ethos and nuances of the political space in Nigeria, he forever dispelled such unbelief with his masterful leadership of the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari and hundreds of All Progressives Congress (APC) candidates in the 2019 general elections.

Born on March 29, 1952 and thus celebrating his 67th birthday today, here’s an ode to a political titan and historical colossus and my tributes to a primus inter pares.

Indeed, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu played key roles in Nigerian politics long before he became Governor of Lagos State.   He was elected to the Senate from the Lagos West constituency with the highest votes in the country in the short-lived Third Republic. In the Senate he was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Finance and Appropriations.   In that capacity, he initiated a far-reaching probe of the finances of the National Assembly that set him at loggerheads with the legislative bureaucracy and the military regime at the helm of affairs at the time.

Asiwaju was also at the forefront of Chief M.K.O. Abiola’s campaign for presidency in 1993. When the June 12, 1993 election, described as the freest and fairest in the country’s history was annulled, he emerged as one of the fiercest opponents of the annulment. As the arrowhead of the struggle to actualize Chief M.K.O.   Abiola’s mandate, the military junta reached out to him severally to jump ship and come over to their side. He was offered juicy appointments and contracts to no avail. He refused to betray his principled commitment to the sanctity of a free and fair election. Exasperated by Tinubu’s intransigence, the military viciously went after him. He was detained. His house was fire bombed. He eventually had to flee the country for his dear life. His wife, now Senator Oluremi Tinubu and her children had to be smuggled out into exile. Tinubu, while in exile remained steadfast in his commitment to the pro-democracy struggle, making great personal and financial sacrifices towards this effort. A pseudo democrat would rather enjoy the transient benefits of economic and political power rather than risk his life fighting for truth and justice but not Tinubu who remained steadfast.

He started on the path of courage and earnestness early in life. In his youth, and with a heart brimming with unrelenting determination to achieve his dreams, he picked the gauntlet, battled the challenges of his rather traumatic and difficult youth with the type of courage only attributable to the lion-hearted and left Nigeria for the United States of America in 1975 in search of the proverbial Golden Fleece. On his arrival in the U.S. in 1975 and with the support of an ever-adoring mother, this courageous youth, faced with an unflinching zeal to succeed, took on such menial jobs as dishwashing, night-guard assignments and cab-driving to see himself through the initial difficulties of school at the Richard Daley College, Chicago, Illinois.

As proof of his brilliance from early in life, he made the Honours’ List of Richard Daley College. He subsequently transferred to the Chicago State University, Illinois, graduating with honours in 1979 and earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration (Accounting and Management). During his first year in Chicago State University, young Bola was given the rare privilege to partly teach other students of his Faculty remedial tutorial classes. Most of his colleagues and contemporaries at the university attributed their improved grades to his tutorial lectures. Throughout his undergraduate years, young Bola was on the Dean’s List and was honoured with the Outstanding Student’s Award, the University Scholar’s Award and the Certificate of Merit in Accounting and Finance. He was also awarded the prestigious Sumna cum laude for scoring 3.54 out of possible 4.0 GP.

With his successful academic profile, young Bola contested and won his first political election as the President of the Accounting Society of the institution in his final year at the University. Upon graduation with honours and several awards, Bola Tinubu cut his professional teeth at the American-based Arthur Anderson, Deloitte Haskins and Sells (now called Deloitte Haskins and Touche) and GTE Service Corporation – the largest Communication and Utility Company in the United States of America.

Meanwhile, at Deloitte Haskins and Sells, the young and professional Bola broadened his experience by participating in the auditing and management consultancy services of General Motors, First National Bank of Chicago, Procter and Gamble, International Harvester, GEC and other Fortune 500 firms. On his return to Nigeria and with his international experience in Financial Management, young Bola joined Mobil Producing Nigeria as a Senior Auditor before he retired as the company’s Treasurer.

As a pragmatic, charitable, grassroots’ person, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu saw communal service as a veritable tool for social development. He never hesitated to serve his community, spearheading several financial contributions and fund-raising for community development programmes in Lagos State. He played a key and leading role in the Primrose Group, a political action organisation pushing for fundamental changes in the politics of Lagos State. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu opted fully for public service in exchange for his lucrative job at Mobil. His first foray into active politics was as a founding member of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) on the platform of which he was elected in 1992 as a distinguished Senator of the Federal Republic Nigeria to represent Lagos West Senatorial District.

With the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Nigerian presidential election and the consequent renewed militarization of the Nigerian politics, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu became a founding member of the famous pro-democracy group, the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) which, for several years, engaged the military for the very soul of Nigeria. Subsequently, Bola Tinubu suffered many arrests and detention, harassments and constant threats to his life forcing him to flee Nigeria for his personal safety. He, however, did not give up the struggle as he joined NADECO abroad to continue the agitation for a restoration of democratic governance and the rule in the country.

In 1998, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu returned to Nigeria to heed the call for all Nigerians to join in the National Reconciliation and Development. A year later, he began his two-term public service as an elected Governor of Lagos State on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD).

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has always been a man with a clear vision, and he brought this attribute to bear on his work as Governor of Lagos State right from the day he assumed office.   He was fully aware of the responsibilities of the office and unmindful of the burdens and challenges.   In his first Inaugural Address, he said: “As flag-bearers, we are not unmindful of the heavy burden and responsibility that we carry. We are not unmindful of the huge expectations of our people, young and old, man and woman, able and disabled. Nor are we unmindful of the misery and poverty that the generality of our people have had to endure almost forty years after Independence.”

Again, in that same address he espoused his philosophy to governance as follows: “Our goal, as the Prophet of old commands, is to lighten the burden of our people, alleviating poverty by providing jobs for our youths, houses, secure homes, water, good roads and creating efficient mass transportation system, industrial development and providing life more abundant for our people. My good people of Lagos State, as the new touch-bearers of hope, we will be required to break ground and brave path, and with your support and cooperation, we shall overcome.”

Since setting Lagos on the irreversible course of development, did the Asiwaju retire to enjoy a priviledged life with his family? No. He has remained engaged in the Nigerian project. Identifying talents and building men. From Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), the former Governor of Lagos State and Minister of Works, Power and Housing, among hundreds of others, many of Nigeria’s most admired politicians owe the opportunity for their rise to the Asiwaju.

From the Alliance for Democracy to the Action Congress, to the Action Congress of Nigeria, and now to the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju iterated repeatedly until he discovered the formula for building a winning coalition to reverse years of profligacy at the federal level and to entrench a principled, prudent and pro-people government for Nigeria. And, what is more, he did all these, at the expense of his personal political advancement.

He has done well to heed the path admonished by British Nobel laureate, Rudyard Kipling, in the poem, ‘IF” written circa 1895. For, as commended by Kipling, he keeps his head when all about him are losing theirs and blaming it on him. He trusts himself when all men doubt him and yet, makes allowance for their doubting. He is patient, never tired of waiting when the situation calls for waiting. Being lied about, he will not deal in lies. Being hated, he does not give in to hating and will never look too good or too wise.

He accepts the advice to Kipling’s son. So, he dreams. He is the quintessential visionary dreamer. Yet, dreams are not his master. He thinks but does not make thoughts his aim. He has met, and meets, with triumph and disasters. But he wisely treats those two impostors just the same. His words have been twisted by knavish foes and treacherous friends to make a trap for fools. Watching the things that he gave his life to broken, mangled and trampled, he stoops and builds them up with worn-out tools.

A devoted student of the British Nobel laureate school of stoicism, he readily and regularly makes a heap of all his winnings, risking it on one turn of pitch-and-toss. When he loses, he starts again at the beginning, never breathing a word about his loss. He has trained his heart and nerve and sinew to serve him long after other mortals have lost heart and nerve and mind. He holds on even when there is nothing left “except the will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’”

Talking with crowds, he keeps his virtue. Walking with kings, he does not lose the common touch. Neither foes nor loving friends can reach his inner sanctum of peace. All men count with him, yet none too much. He fills the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.

He is in the mold of Greek goddess, Athena. Personifying wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, strategic warfare, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill. He is also in the mold of mythological Prometheus: He would go to ends of the world in the service of humanity. He is in the mold of Demeter, the Greek goddess of determination: All who know him know that he will never, never give up on a worthy cause.

He is the man who, in the esteem of Ella Wheeler Wilcox, has “acquired the art of being alive.” For, Ella Wheeler Wilcox rightly noted that, “no difficulty can discourage, no obstacle dismay, no trouble disheartens the man who has acquired the art of being alive. Difficulties are but dares of fate, obstacles but hurdles to try his skill, troubles but bitter tonics to give him strength; and he rises higher and looms greater after each encounter with adversity.”

He is the “Man in the Arena” in Theodore Roosevelt’s speech titled “Citizenship In A Republic” wherein he famously said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

To Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the quintessential political titan with an indomitable will, here are 67 hearty cheers. To Nigeria’s political primus inter pares, I doff my heart, just as every Nigerian of goodwill ought to do.


*Benson Oke is Commissioner, Lagos State Ministry of Establishments, Training and Pensions

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