By Babatunde Raji .Fashola (SAN)
When at a public event, I described Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as a Logistician, I probably was not aware that many people took notice.
How wrong I was. The letter written by Sam Omatseye asking me to make a contribution to a book to be written to commemorate Governor Tinubu’s 60th Birthday Anniversary in which he wrote “the topic we have chosen for you is Asiwaju as a Logistician” was proof not only that somebody had filled away the definition, but also a warning that we must all be careful about what we say, in this instance very thankfully, I have no cause to fear as I intend to justify my appellation of Asiwaju as a Logistician.
Let me start by stating that in describing Asiwaju as a Logistician, I took the literal meaning of the word and that was the context in which I spoke. A Logistician is “someone who is skilled in the practical organization that is required to make a complicated plan successful when a lot of people and equipment is involved”.
In this context I will explain my estimation of Asiwaju as a man who fits this definition by a case study of few real life situations and leave the readers to make up their minds about this man, whom it will take some time for our inks to dry as his story is written and re-written.
Let me say generally about his public image that I do not remember one public contest where he has lost the war. I speak to many battles fronts, from Oyo to Borgu, Ife, Ibadan, Lagos, and Anambra to mention but a few. Of course he bears many battle scars and these attests to his tactical ability to surrender battles in order to win wars.
I have never told him this before, but I think his looks are perhaps his biggest weapon. He wears a placid face that masks his intellect and quick thinking and probing mind.
By the time I started working with him, I realized how much advantage his looks gave him against his adversaries. It was always tempting to underestimate him, but many of his opponents have found out too often too late, that they have been outwitted by a man of razor-sharp mind and quick wit.
My very first contact with him was a visit that Wale Tinubu, his nephew and I undertook to his office, when he was Treasurer of Mobil at Bookshop House in Lagos, a day after Eid el Kabir Festival in 1990.
What struck me was that in his suit as a senior executive, he had the time not only to have arranged fried Salah ram meat for his staff who were less privileged, he was actually supervising the distribution of the fried meat neatly packaged in polythene wrappers among the staff from floor to floor in Bookshop House. He could have asked somebody to simply go and distribute them as many of us would have done.
Our interactions were fewer and far between until August 16, 2002 when I assumed duty as his Chief of Staff.
One of the first assignments I had to deal with in the early months of my tenure was the Voter’s Registration exercise in preparation for the for the 2003 general election and a Presidential visit to Lagos in 2002.
Of course as we all know, Voter’s Registration is a Federal Government responsibility carried out by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It is not important to dwell on the ineffectiveness that characterized that effort.
Suffice to mention that many would recall that what should normally be a continuous painless exercise in better organized jurisdiction who appreciate the value of planning, was rushed exercise of a few days that produced stampede, emotional stress and anguish for the citizens who were to benefit. Many ultimately were left out.
What did Bola Ahmed Tinubu do? As usual, the Federal Government got the full length of his critical tongue, but he is not only a talker, the Logistician set to work, we printed Forms, we organized the court and Local Government and got all the people who were excluded to complete forms and swear an oath to the fact of their exclusion.
The same foresight and organizational ability was brought to bear during the last census exercise. It is to his organizational credit and ability that Lagos must remain grateful during this exercise, first that he declared a work-free day which saved the loss of many lives that would been lost on the Broad Street during the census exercise when the Bank of Industry building partially collapsed.
If that was fate at play, the result that produced a figure of 17,250,000 people as the real population of Lagos in 2006 was the product of sheer doggedness, organizational and a spirit that never gives up. As Chief of Staff, it was my schedule to organize all the Local Government Chairmen, to co-ordinate the recruitment of men and women as our local enumerators who followed the Federal Government enumerators from house to house. They collected the same data and it is perhaps strange that they arrived at different results.
But I recall very vivdly every night for about 10 days that the exercise took, we all met from 9 pm at State House Marina with the Logistician in the chair, listening painstakingly to every enumerator and the problems they encountered on the field every day.
To each, a solution was provided and we gathered the next day at night long into the early morning to monitor progress, review new challenges and provide answers. He was simply unreservedly committed to get that head count right. While the nation slept, the Logistician slaved with his people for his state and country.
I recall about 2 days before the end of the census exercise when he spoke to the President at about 3 am about the shortage of materials.
The response of the President was that the nation had shut down and that it was simply impossible to get extra materials to Lagos unless Governor Tinubu could get an airplane to Abuja to pick them. I am not in the position to judge whether the President truly did not believe that he could order any of his presidential jets to deliver those papers to Lagos. If he thought getting an airplane at a time of national shutdown was a tall order he had truly underestimated the Logistician.
We had small discussion, and by 4:00 am I had woken up a pilot, and at 7:00 am a plane was on the way to Abuja. Lagos got the extra materials and the rest is history.
It is his determination and resoluteness never to accept defeat that put Lagos in a position to instantly refute the figure of just over 9 million people reported by the Federal Government as the population of Lagos.
Asiwaju held a press conference, showing in detail, in a presentation made by Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, the then Commissioner for Science and Technology, the fallacy and falsification in the foundations of the Federal Government’s declaration that Lagos had only a population of nine million people in 2006.
I must admit that this effort had proved most useful during my tenure as Governor, After 2007 general elections and the strong feeling of injustice supported by evidence of rigging and falsification, the Logistician set out on what may fairly be adjudged as his biggest political battle yet.
He assembled a team of lawyers, political experts, and sought knowledge and assistance from far and near. One of the novelties of this endeavor was the introduction of forensic analysis and expertise to our election petition trials.
Sleep was forsaken; food had only a mechanical value of sustenance and was not a matter of relish. All that mattered was the fight against an injustice that rankled. Men were mobilized, inspired and equipped and in the fullness of time, results began to show. One by one, with God, injustice was remedied. Justice triumphed, all the stolen States were returned. From Edo, came Ondo, followed by Ekiti and eventually and perhaps most sweetly Osun returned to Oranmiyan. With his involvement in CODER, a single item agenda was set for the 2011 elections – One man, One Vote. Ogun and Oyo returned to the progressive fold of which he is the undoubted standard bearer
Although the work is not finished, very commendable progress is evident. The road to this pleasant liberation of the South-West has taken many hours of sleepless night and many days of belief and hope driven by unyielding commitment. It has been fought by many men and women. Some have paid the supreme price. Enormous resources have been deployed to it. But the champion of the cause has been the indomitable organizer, mobilizer and manager of men and resources.
He has been bruised and sometimes beaten, but certainly unbroken and remains undefeated.