Asiwaju @ 69: Of a father’s heart

By Demi Okegbile

My studies between 1986/91 at Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, afforded me great opportunities to be involved in the College’s Students Union politics. With Dr Phebean Fayemi as the college’s provost and Afolabi Ojuawo as the registrar, it was a good time of campus politics with Comrades Segun Jegede, Bamidele Aturu (late), Wale Adebisi and others. I served as the secretary general of the students’ union electoral council and as president, Amnesty International, Adeyemi branch. I can still remember the first time electricity and water went off in the college, the protest that followed, and the brutality of the Nigerian Mobile Police from Akure.

Thirteen years later, 2003, I again found myself in a political environment, this time around as the first official chaplain, State House Chapel, Marina, Lagos, under the government of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his wife, Senator Oluremi Tinubu. My appointment as chaplain was not a political appointment. I was sent by Methodist Church Nigeria on the request of Asiwaju’s government for spiritual oversight over the staff and the newly dedicated State House Chapel, Marina, constructed by Tinubu and his wife. Just as I am not a saint, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is not a saint but, he is one of the biggest discoveries of the current political dispensation in Nigeria and Africa.

I first met Asiwaju at the late Rev J.Abimbola Odunlami’s residence, Victoria Island, Lagos. Rev Odunlami introduced him to me and said, “Deji, this is Bola Tinubu, omo Iyaloja, always put him in your prayers, please.” The second time I met Asiwaju was during the Lagos State mass burial service that I led as the Presiding Chaplain, Chapel of Christ, Alausa, Ikeja, at Oke Afa for hundreds of victims of January 27, 2002, bomb blasts at Ikeja Cantonment, Lagos. On that day, I saw tears and emotional expression of Asiwaju Tinubu’s concern for the sanctity for human life.

Serving later as the chaplain, State House Chapel, Marina, Lagos, between 2003-2007 opened my eyes and widened my knowledge about the dynamics of Nigerian politics especially through the path breaking political strategy and native intelligence of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and his wife. As a dogged and rugged politician supported by his praying wife, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, Asiwaju works while others are sleeping. Asiwaju as a sleepless politician travels meeting people while others are partying, hence his formidable political structures and reputation remains a mystery and challenge to his opponents. Asiwaju’s late to bed, early to rise routine continue to make him one of the best informed and connected politicians in the world.

The last time I saw Asiwaju and his wife was in May, 2007, but out of sight is not out of my intercession for them. I saw a pivotal political figure in Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who ‘built an enviable (human) structure that is redefining the politics of the Southwest and by extension, the nation as a whole.’ The outcome of 1993, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019 polls in the words of Habib Aruna reaffirmed Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s ‘status as one of the most influential politicians flocking around the political space.’

Beyond the Darwinian culture in politics that assumes ‘the best will succeed’ – politicians will do well because of who they are and their innate qualities rather than the support or opportunities they are given, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s political culture is about people’s welfare. As a democrat, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is a constant and mass advocate for the grassroots people, their hopes and anxieties. As someone who is strategic, tactical and empathetic, I witnessed Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s passions to save human life at all cost. Among many examples, Asiwaju’s oversight of the successful surgical separation of two month old conjoined twins, Faithful and Favour Sobowale-Davies defines him as someone with a father’s heart.

Senator Oluremi Tinubu’s roles to the pre and post-surgery normal life of the separated two-month-old conjoined twins Faithful and Favour Sobowale-Davies remains unforgettable. On Thursday, September 11, 2003, the twins, from Lagos who had been joined at the abdomen and sternum (chest), and their livers had been fused together were successfully operated and separated at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre, United States of America courtesy of the Lagos State government under Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. It is on record that, ‘during the procedure, surgeons divided the fused liver into two separate organs, one for each twin. The liver is the only organ in the body with the ability to regenerate itself, making separation possible.’ On their return to Nigeria, Senator Tinubu used her office as the First Lady to facilitate the twins’ normal life into healthy little girls with a car, a bungalow house and other material and monetary gifts for the family.

Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as expert in political and human management understand that political leaders require ‘political’ skills – influencing, networking, an understanding of power relations and mediation are all skills that politicians are to be expert. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu appreciates intellectuals and he surrounded himself by many of them. Mindful of the role public opinion plays in politics and society he invested in the media.

As politicians have to mediate between multiple conflicting views about what is right, there will always be different views about their personalities and performances. It is however worrisome of unfounded damaging views just to discredit a politician or even any personality. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu with his trust in God Almighty remains a total rock when a storm is raging. With my little knowledge of Asiwaju, he is an extraordinary human being. Warm, funny, engaging, deeply emotional and loving to all those he knew.

  • Very Rev Dr Okegbile writes from London.