Asiwaju at 65, the selfless life of a leader
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a remarkable political composite with so many dimensions such that it is difficult to paint an adequate portrait of all that he is and all he has accomplished.
Authors and commentators have said and written much about this inimitable man, dwelling on his life as an activist, intellectual, administrator, politician, strategist, democracy icon, humanist, family man and more. But I want to attend to just two of the numerous qualities of Asiwaju Tinubu, as a meticulous strategist and a compassionate man.
I select these two because this combination rarely enjoys residence in one man. Usually, a person is one or the other but only infrequently is he both. I write of these aspects because of the insight I have gained in working with him in the last six months. I shall elucidate this with a few examples; but neither ones gleaned from the political turf, nor those usually seen on campaign trails. It is not about how he emerged the last man standing among the AD governors of the Southwest who were outfoxed by President Obasanjo in 2003, or how he led the way in moulding the political machinery that unseated an incumbent president. The examples derive from moments hidden from the cameras and public glare, from those moments when the true character of a man is most revealed.
But first, let me make a disclosure. I think I was perhaps destined to work with Asiwaju Tinubu. Here’s the reason. In 1991, while covering political activities for the old Daily Times in Abuja, the newspaper’s Political Editor at the time, Mr. Segun Ayobolu (at present Deputy Chairman, Editorial Board of The Nation), tapped me to be a Media Assistant to Asiwaju Tinubu.
At that time, he was the Chairman, Appropriation Committee of the Senate. I was a young reporter with barely two years as a journalist. I did not take the job because I felt I needed more time to grow in the profession. But I refused to let go.
I kept track of Asiwaju Tinubu, particularly his politics. In later years, I would remind him of that offer each time I came around him. Five years ago, when, as Editor of Thisday, the Saturday Newspaper, I interviewed him in commemoration of his 60th birthday, I jokingly accused my friend, Sunday Dare, the immediate-past Media Adviser to Asiwaju Tinubu, of standing where I ought to be.
Dare moved to a higher pedestal in September last year as Executive Commissioner at the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) in Abuja. As fate would have it, I gladly stepped into his shoes, filling a position offered two decades before.
Asiwaju Tinubu is one of the most humane public figures one can find anywhere. One incident last year sticks so vividly to mind as if it happened yesterday. Around mid-day, he sent for one of his aides to send on a mercy mission to a widow in Kaduna. As it turned out, he had never met nor spoken with the distressed woman. It remains a mystery how she got the telephone number. With no means of livelihood, things had been quite difficult for her and her children since losing her husband, she told him. He asked for her location.
Immediately after the call, Asiwaju dispatched my colleague to Kaduna to locate the woman, and to assist her, should her claim prove true. Help was given and the condition of the woman and children made better. The point to note: Asiwaju Tinubu’s generosity and selflessness are beyond bounds.
I later discovered that hers was not such an isolated case. He has done this for countless people and will continue to do so. He has a caring heart and gives without necessarily knowing the beneficiaries or expecting anything in return. This was the first instance I witnessed. Since then, I have seen numerous instances of such compassion, in the short time I have worked at Bourdillon.
The Jagaban Borgu is a consummate political strategist. For him, he leaves little to chance. If you intend to succeed, you must plan for it. He is ever prepared, pays attention to minutest detail and works round the clock with clockwork precision. His custom is to work late into the night in his study reading or engaging in a brainstorming session in order to keep abreast of domestic events and world affairs.
There was an occasion in January that I also recall. It was 3:00am, a time most people are deep asleep. He had not slept much the previous days, yet he was still much awake and alert. We were working on the final draft of a speech he was to deliver later that day in Abuja. He is always fully involved in writing his speeches.
He kept scrutinising and fine-tuning the address until it was just right. Eventually, we were done by 5.00am. Only then did he allow himself a brief nap. By 8:00 am, he was ready for the trip to Abuja to address students at the National Defence College. It was no surprise that the speech Asiwaju delivered was an excellent one. His paper teemed with personal experiences and anecdotes and was delivered to the admiration of the course participants.
The crucial point is that Asiwaju is by no means the intellectually passive leader who simply takes what their media aides or speech writers give and head for the podium to begin to read something he hasn’t seen before. Asiwaju’s imprint is always rightly on his speeches because his heart and mind have shaped them word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence.
Asiwaju Tinubu is a workaholic. His days are typically packed with meetings and activities, leaving one wondering how he copes. He has the vigour to go through the tough day then awake to do it all over again. His pace and agility is often confounding. He would move from granting audience to one dignitary to another, from one meeting to another and from one brainstorming session to another, and yet another. As he meets the mighty - presidents, diplomats and prominent leaders from far and near - so too does he grant audience to the lowly-placed, solving their problems and attending to their needs, almost always skipping his meals and forgetting to attend to his own needs.
As he marks his birthday with another colloquium on another issue that relates to the country’s wellbeing, I join the many who wish him continued good health, renewed physical and mental power and above all the grace of God for all that lies ahead.
• Rahman is Media Adviser to Asiwaju Tinubu.