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Political cost of cancelling Tinubu’s 70th birthday colloquium

By Muyiwa Adeyemi (Politics Editor)
05 April 2022   |   2:39 am
The decision by the National leader and Presidential aspirant of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, to cancel the colloquium to celebrate his 70th birthday

Senator Oluremi Tinubu (from left); Ooni of Ife,  Enitan Ogunwusi; Emir of Kano, Aminu Ado Bayero and All Progressives Congress (APC) National leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, at the 13th colloquium and 70th birthday of APC presidential aspirant in Lagos, recently.

The decision by the National leader and Presidential aspirant of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, to cancel the colloquium to celebrate his 70th birthday, in solidarity with victims of the Kaduna-Abuja train attack, where seven persons were killed and several injured, has continued to generate controversy in the political circle.

While his critics believe the cancellation of the celebration midway was a political masterstroke to attract undue attention to his aspiration and for Nigerians, especially from northern extraction to see him as a c
ompassionate politician, who is not tribalistic, those familiar with the former Lagos State governor said he did not do anything strange from what he has been known for since he joined politics in the early 1980s.

Although any move by Tinubu cannot go unnoticed and will be subjected to various interpretations, those at the event felt the spontaneous pull reflected the humane side of the man, rather than the subjective action of the maverick politician.

The hall had been filled to capacity with gaily dressed and eminent Nigerians from different walks of life by 11 a.m. for an event that was billed to start by 2 p.m.

Apart from the host, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and his deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, dignitaries, including Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, his Osun State counterpart, Gboyega Oyetola, the representative Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Andrew Adejo, APC National Secretary Senator Iyiola Omisore, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, the Osemawe of Ondo, Oba Victor Kiladejo, the Deji of Akure, Oba Aladetoyinbo and Olugbo of Ugboland, Oba Fredrick Akinruntan, and Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, had taken their seats. 

Also at the event were Ogun State Governor Dapo Abiodun, wife of Lagos State Governor Dr. Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, Senator Abu Ibrahim, former Niger State Deputy Governor Musa Ibeto, Senator Kashim Shettima, T.A. Gwazo, Senator Ibikunle Amosu, business mogul Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Mr. Femi Otedola, Senator Tokunbo Abiru and the Oluwo of Iwo, Oba Abdulrasheed Akanbi.

The guest speaker at the 13th colloquium with the theme: ‘Pivoting Nigeria into the new world order: Imperatives of good governance,” Prof. Olufemi Bamiro, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, and panel discussants were also on ground. 

The celebrant and his wife, Senator Oluremi entered the hall to meet their guests on the floor dancing and went round to acknowledge greetings from the elated dignitaries. The Masters of Ceremonies called for the first two stanzas of the national anthem to officially commence the programme. Then two clerics – Sheihk Suleimon Abou-Nolla, Chief Imam of Lagos, and Bishop Stephens Adegbite, Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Lagos State chapter – rendered their opening prayers and official recognitions of dignitaries continued with music in the background.

Reverend Adegbite, who brought felicitations from the CAN president and Southwest chairman, prayed for robust health and long life for the APC stalwart. 

Eulogising Tinubu, the priest recalled his giant strides as governor for eight years, adding that he is a kind and generous giver, who the nation can depend on for leadership. 

The celebrant, who wore a flowing white agbada with a black cap and shoe to match, without attracting attention of the guests was seen going out of the hall, accompanied by Osoba and SanwoOlu without expression of anything untoward in the offing.

About five minutes later, they returned and consulted with some of their associates before going to the podium where they were joined by Masari, Oyetola, Kashim Shettima and Olugbo of Ugboland to announce the cancellation of his 70th birthday party.

Tinubu said: “I have just been informed of a very sad incident in our country, that some Nigerians were killed and bombed on a train in Kaduna. I have been praying since and I didn’t hear anything. That’s a very serious incident that calls for sober reflection.

“For me to be dancing, rejoicing and enjoying myself doesn’t show enough concern as a senior citizen of the country. I have consulted with all the people you see here with me and we have decided to cancel this event. I call on the clergy here to pray for the victims and for Nigeria.

“While we do all we can to give comfort to those in need of it, we must stiffen our resolve and make stronger our response to such atrocities.” It was an anti-climax of sorts.

After the initial shock, the bewildered guests were full of admiration for the worthy example and leadership shown by Tinubu. The dignitaries walked out of the hall quietly, while some party members stayed behind for the buffet.

Later in the day, the APC Presidential hopeful issued a statement to express how sad he was about the incident that killed many including, Trade Union Congress (TUC) Secretary-General Musa Ozigi-Lawal, Kwara TUC Chairman Akin Akinsola, National Board of Technical Education (NBTE) Director Abdul Isa Kofar-Mata and a dentist, Dr. Chinese Nwando.

He said, “Today marked my 70th birthday, a moment intended for celebration. Yet, I cannot celebrate knowing what has happened to so many of our beloved people.

“Earlier I stood before the attendees at the annual colloquium held on my birthday, explaining to them, and asking for their understanding, why the event could not proceed given what had happened.
“Now, I ask for something further from you, as a show of compassion. I have been informed that many people continued to celebrate my birthday at various events in different locations throughout the day.  I appreciate the show of support and affection. However, I must ask that such celebrations stop. Now is not the time.
“Additionally, I ask all who can, to join me in donating to the families of the bereaved and to the immediate needs of the wounded and distressed. We are one national family. We must aid our brothers and sisters at this time.
“Nigeria deserves better than what took place yesterday, and at other times. Terror and banditry have no place here.

“We must eradicate them such that these twin evils have no hold on even a centimetre of our national soil. We must not stop until we realize a better future, a greater, more peaceful Nigeria.

“To the bereaved, I offer my thoughts and prayers. To the wounded, may you heal. To the perpetrators, I have nothing to say except that may the justice you face be swift and uncompromising.”
Reacting to the decision to cancel the celebration even when there was no direct relative of the celebrant among the victim, Dr. Tope Fasua, an Economist, who flew to Lagos from Abuja to participate in the Colloquium said, Tinubu once again demonstrated what sets him apart and ahead of his contemporaries.

He said, “One can say there was no need for the cancellation of the event with such an array of dignitaries already seated. That he could take such an important decision in deference to the mood of the nation showed compassion and a man, who does not consider anything too important for himself that is above the interest of the country. I commend him for taking the decision,” Fasua said.

For Mr. Ayo Gbeleyi, former Commissioner of Finance in Lagos State and a member of the 13th Colloquium Planning Committee, Tinubu exhibited the rare quality of leadership inherent in him. 

He said, “I think for Asiwaju, it is always about the greater good. For us as a Committee and the work that had gone into the planning and making sure the event was successful, the decision was tough. We had all looked forward to a great event. It was a courageous decision Asiwaju Tinubu took. I salute him for that. Again it shows that is the kind of empathetic leadership Nigeria needs. A leader can feel the pains of the people and act decisively to ameliorate them.

This is vintage Tinubu. A man, known not only for his generosity to friends and foes but his empathy and compassion for the needy and people in distress. A man is ever ready to subsume his personal interest in the overall interest of the collective.

His selfless decision to step down his ambition to vie for the Senate Presidency, a race he was primed to win, to pave way for MKO Abiola’s Presidency in 1993 and relinquishing his Senate ticket to Senator Ganiyu Solomon in 2007 in order not to jeopardise Mr Babatunde Fashola’s governorship chances, still stand out till date.

Tinubu is a man that cares for people, irrespective of race or tongue, President Muhammadu Buhari, a man not effusive with praises, bears testimony to these exemplary attributes of the political legend. In his birthday tribute to Asiwaju, the President said: “I salute his courage, resilience, selflessness and nobility in always placing the welfare and unity of the nation above self, backed with the vision of a greater Nigeria through investments in people, institutions and governments without minding tribe or creed.”

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo hailed Tinubu for his contributions to the advancement of federalism and party organisation.

Osinbajo also recognised the role of the party stalwart in electoral reforms, thereby further enriching Nigeria’s democratic experience.

Commending the former Lagos Governor’s service to the nation in different capacities, Osinbajo joined “the entire family, friends and associates to celebrate you on your 70th birthday and we pray that as your days, so shall your strength, wisdom and favour with God be.”

“It gives Dolapo and me great pleasure to send you our heartfelt birthday felicitations. And it is a unique one indeed; the Platinum Jubilee and the completion of yet another remarkable decade.

“It is also an opportune time to give thanks to God Almighty for your service to the nation – as Senator of the Federal Republic, Governor of Lagos State and a founding leader of the All Progressives Congress.

“In confronting the many challenges, which came with the transition to democracy in 1999, you showed leadership and were always ready to push the boundaries. Not only did you query the limitations, which had beset our federalism, you actively encouraged the use of the legal process in clarifying the constitution.”

To Senate President Ahmad Lawan, the celebrant is an astute administrator, who laid a solid foundation for the modernisation of Lagos State, and a visionary political leader with a track record of building people and organisations.

He said, “Asiwaju Tinubu has lived a life of service, impacting many lives in several decades of active political participation and public service. This has made him a political pathfinder, leader of leaders and a legend in his own lifetime. Today, he is not just a principal actor in Nigerian politics, but also one of the main issues.

“I wish the Jagaban Borgu a happy birthday and many more years of impactful service to our beloved fatherland, Nigeria, and its great people.”

Also, Speaker House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila while paying glowing tributes to Tinubu, said the Jagaban of Borgu kingdom has demonstrated “an uncommon and unyielding commitment to a progressive and prosperous Nigeria.”
He noted with delight, the ex-governors invaluable contributions to Nigeria’s democracy in the past decades, saying he has unmatched credentials and recalled how Tinubu used his acumen to turn things around in Lagos State when he served as governor for eight years.

Examples abound of the countless times Asiwaju Tinubu has had to put himself in harm’s way, not for his personal benefit, but to protect other people.

Tinubu’s enormous contributions to the pro-democracy struggle in the 90s, calling the bluff of the military junta at the risk of his life and that of his family members remains a reference point in the nation’s political trajectory.

Even in moments of personal discomfort, Asiwaju never fails to show empathy for friends.

One of his long time political associates, Mr. Tunji Bello, the Lagos State Commissioner for the Environment, attests to Asiwaju’s heart of gold. He said: “While we were in hiding (during the June 12 struggle), the politician that showed so much concern about our welfare was Asiwaju. Funnily, he himself had become a target of the security agencies given his pro-June 12 stance. He was the one asking how we were surviving in our hideouts. It was a commitment he even carried to Alagbon when he himself was detained with others before he escaped into exile.”

In times of crisis, Asiwaju Tinubu shows up to fight what is just. As a leader, he “takes the bullets” for his followers during testy times. His political relevance, he is won’t to say, is derived from his followers.