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How Asiwaju & I Became Friends In 1989 – Ogbeni RAUF AREGBESOLA

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Realists will describe it as happenstance but others, especially from Africa, will say it is destiny, but our paths crossed fortuitously in 1989. That was when he came to our group, the Alimoso Chapter of the Primrose Circle, then under the leadership of Chief Dapo Sarumi, to seek our support for his senatorial ambition and engage us for a mutually beneficial relationship. Twenty-three years down the line, upon deep reflection, I have no doubt that our meeting was divine.

Bola Ahmed Tinubu is an enigma, a leader of leaders who bestrides the Nigerian political firmament like a colossus. Indeed, he is a colossus. Asiwaju came to us as a successful professional with Mobil Oil Nigeria Unlimited. His charm provided the elixir and charging current that galvanized the Primrose Circle to record unimaginable political exploits. Of all the political groups that dissolved into political parties in Lagos State, it is beyond dispute that the Primrose Circle was the most successful and that success was largely due to the influence, sagacity, perspicacity and political leadership of Asiwaju.

My own antecedent was unique. I was a revolutionary adventurer in liberal politics. My background and training were in dialectics. I was an orthodox Marxist that believed that for justice to subsist for all, the foundation of the government, politics, the economy and society must be changed by all means and popularized. This had been the basis of my engagement with the Nigerian state and its politics. Asiwaju in contrast came as a well-heeled, right-wing political philanthropist.

The fusion of the two of us produced a political hybrid that would remain a model of success in politics. What I learnt from this is that there are no absolutes in life. Indeed, a balance is found in life in the struggle and unity of opposites.

Asiwaju went ahead to dexterously mobilize the Lagos West Senatorial District to have the largest electoral mandate in the National Assembly of the aborted Third Republic. He was a shining light in that National Assembly which the pretentious military regime inaugurated to prolong military rule and deepen dictatorship.

This hypocrisy was to be exposed in what Prof. Wole Soyinka described as ‘transparent subterfuge’ as the military went ahead to annul the June 12,1993 presidential election won by Chief Moshood Abiola. This was the moment of iconic casting for Asiwaju. Indisputably, he was a hero of the struggle to reclaim the mandate of Chief Abiola and disengage the military from government in the six years that followed.

The politics of his emergence as the governorship candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in Lagos State is still fresh and like all histories, many are bound to have different accounts.

However, even his harshest critics would agree that the overwhelming consideration in giving him the ticket is not unrelated to his pivotal role in the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) whose main objective was the revalidation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election given to Basorun Abiola.

Asiwaju literally threw himself into the struggle, giving himself, his time, his energy, money and other resources liberally to the cause. His homes abroad were refuge camps for political exiles and those persecuted by the military junta of the era. His leadership at the time was so impressive and overwhelming that many of us became convinced that he was a leader we could follow to battle with our eyes closed.

His style of leadership as governor of Lagos State was unique.

His most distinguishing characteristic was that he had a knack for spotting talents. He specifically chose his cabinet members on merit. I for instance did not lobby him for appointment. Indeed, I never considered that he was going to appoint me into his cabinet.

If at all, it could not have been a high profile one as Commissioner for Works, being not a Lagos indigene. However, my appointment was a choice, with the benefit of hindsight, that none of us regretted.

He provided leadership for us in the cabinet during his tenure as the governor of Lagos State. Asiwaju’s quest for excellence and using the best materials available for assignment that are necessary were responsible for the composition of an Executive council that remains unbeatable in the annals of governance in this country after the time of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Asiwaju’s cabinet, particularly in his first tenure, is simply the most compact, most focused and the most performing cabinet in Nigeria, at least for that era. It was result-oriented, functional and effective.

While in the cabinet, Asiwaju simply provided leadership by allowing all of us full expression of our capacity and capability without hold. Where you might go wrong he would provide leadership to correct you without hurting your feeling. He never at any time influenced me in any form in the performance of my duty throughout my eight years with him. I had absolute liberty to discharge my duty to the state, although he would never allow you to jeopardize the main thrust and objective of his administration. That is leadership. He led us through guided leadership which would not in any way diminish your personality.

He would correct you without any form of arrogance or insensitivity.

One other trait that sets him apart is how he handles crises.

He never panics or buckles under. He is always calm, cool and collected. Crisis is tonic for Asiwaju. He is a natural crisis and disaster manager. Either physical, natural, or spiritual, crisis for Asiwaju is tonic. It is when the situation gets abnormal that Asiwaju is at his best. If a developing crisis has not attained a graver dimension, Asiwaju will not involve himself. But just when it appears that there is no solution again, that is when he will show forth his acumen for taming catastrophe. If any man could be said to have super human capacity for the management of crisis, threat, danger and disturbance, Asiwaju is that person.

Many people have expressed fear that he would have an overbearing influence on those of us who served our apprentice ship under him. This fear is borne. of the pervasive practice of elected officials having problems with and eventually falling out with their patrons. This, m our case, is unfounded and grossly mistaken. The latitude I had in his cabinet I don’t even have it as a governor. I enjoyed the anonymity of working under him. He would take responsibility for whatever we did.

When there was high internal resistance to his then Chief of Staff, Babatunde Raji Fashola, succeeding him, what I told our people, those who believe in our leadership, is this: “For eight years this man acceded to all our requests. Now he has come to us for something. We too must accept his choice in this case.” That is the extent of gratitude we owed him. I am not saying this to patronize him.

Asiwaju can never be called a godfather if we are accepting the current derogatory definition of the term. After all Christians will not seek for baptismal Godfather if it is bad. He abhors overbearing attitude on the part of anybody and to that extent he does not qualify as a godfather.

He is an accommodating team builder and leader; a mentor.

He allows you maximum latitude for personal expression. He has that principle of allowing you to learn from your mistake for as long as that mistake will not be permanently injurious and damaging. Asiwaju is the type of leader that encourages experience. He extols experience as the best teacher. He does not command in a dictatorial manner. He abhors all forms of exploitation and oppression and anything that smacks of dehumanization. He is a natural fighter for human dignity. There is nothing too much for him to commit to popular and good causes.

He is unpretentiously a liberal person. This goes beyond political ideology to a life conviction. He is a benevolent capitalist.

You can call him a humanist. He has touched more people’s lives positively, more than any individual that I know. He has empowered people beyond his native Yorubaland, he has lifted up, he has shown the light and has literally lifted many from the dead.

There are people in public office who have large followings because of the office they occupy and we have seen these thinned out after the office. This is not his case. His following is as huge, if not more, out of office, as he was in office.

We respect ourselves - mutual respect. I respect him for his liberalism and he respects me for my own revolutionary convictions. Whenever I need liberal ethics I go to him. And whenever we need to apply revolutionary fervour to whatever is at hand, I supply it. What we have is a symbiotic relationship.

Of his lieutenants, I will want to mention the following who I know played huge roles in his performance and achievements, particularly as the Governor of Lagos State. To me, his frontline able lieutenants are Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Mr Oladele Alake, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Mr Olayemi Cadoso, Mr Olawale Edun, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, Dr Muiz Banire and my humble self.

Asiwaju can never have an enemy. Is there anybody who fell out with Asiwaju and still remains his enemy till date? It is not possible. He is so committed to friendship that no matter your indiscretion or offence to him, he will persevere and endure until you yourself fight him, or pronounce your antagonism.

Asiwaju told me that it wasn’t in his style to fight with people.

He said no matter your offence, you would even be the one to fight with him. And truly I have not seen him fight with anybody.

He said none of his friends could claim that he fought with them.

!hey would always be the one to fight with him. This was because If you were the one who fought him, you would never. defeat him.

Then he properly defends himself. He is never the aggressor.

In spite of his wonderful persona, however, there are some things I would wish he had handled differently. The first is that Asiwaju gives much ‘of his time to politics such that one cannot rightly and sincerely say he is a complete family man. Much of his time is devoted to public and social interests so it would be dishonest to call him a complete family man. However, with the little time he has for the family, he equally completely immerses himself in it such that you can call him a doting father and loving husband.

Asiwaju is also too trusting! He trusts to a fault all shades of people that come to him that one would have wished he is more circumspect in such relationships given how such people turn out to be an albatross. He is too trusting, loyal and generous to all manners of people that come around him. Literarily speaking, Asiwaju can give out his eye.

Lastly, Asiwaju likes life, though not to the point of excess.

He is as natural in Sunny Ade’s and Wasiu Ayinde Marshal’s presence as he is versatile, active and didactic in politics.

With his network of goodwill, certainly the sky is the limit for Asiwaju’s political horizon. Really, no position, from the presidency of the Nigerian nation to the leadership of the entire race of black people, is too much for him considering his remarkable ability to build bridges across different social divides. Asiwaju cannot be limited to any part of Nigeria. He is as functionally useful in his native region as he is adorable in virtually all spheres of politics in Nigeria.

There is no significant political personality in Nigeria that Asiwaju has not had some form of relationship with - usually memorable relationship. Such a person, therefore, cannot be pigeonholed or limited to any office or position. Asiwaju is qualified for the highest political office in Nigeria by virtue of his vision, political sagacity, financial wizardry, an extensive network of goodwill, generosity and benevolence.

When it comes to governance, he is very brilliant. Asiwaju is the epitome of brilliance in the application of sense and intellect to the act of governance, from economics, finance, employment, identifying talents, the deployment of human resources, to policy formulation and general administration.

He is no doubt a blessing to his Yoruba people, our great party; the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the black race and humanity in general.

Beyond the almighty God and my parents, he is the next greatest influence on my life. It is my sincere wish that he will enjoy long life and greater happiness as he celebrates his 60th birthday.

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