By Tunde Rahman
This yearâ€™s Bola Tinubu Colloquium, marking the 66th birthday of Asiwaju Tinubu, may have come and gone, but it was an occasion many will not forget in a hurry. The galaxy of dignitaries in attendance, the high quality of presentations made and speeches delivered and the moving accounts rendered by beneficiaries of the social investment programmes of the government made the event a highly memorable one. This 10th edition of the colloquium confirms the platform has come to be accepted as a forum for the critical interrogation of the nationâ€™s problems and presentation of substantive ideas for the way-forward.
This yearâ€™s theme- â€˜Investing in Peopleâ€™ was particularly apt. It drew attention to governmental programmes improving the lives of many poor and vulnerable Nigerians. It was eye-opening to see and hear people from all parts of the country narrate how a particular government programme that invested in ordinary people enabled many to leave the ranks of the unemployed or poverty-strickened by starting their businesses or acquiring skills that enabled them to gain employment. Students emotionally recounted how the school feeding program enabled them to have at least one solid meal a day and how this has been a magnet for them and others to attend school by overcoming the hunger and poverty that previously kept them away from the classroom.
President Muhammadu Buhari who had attended the 8th edition of the colloquium held in Abuja made a return at this yearâ€™s event. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who leads a committee of Tinubuâ€™s associates to organize the annual programme, did a superlative job with this event. At least 20 state governors, captains of industry, prominent traditional rulers from across the country, members of the diplomatic corps and other dignitaries attended.
In a powerful speech, Vice President Osinbajo recounted how the idea for the colloquium was born and its essence. He said the idea was based on Asiwaju Tinubuâ€™s encouragement of lively debate and discussion among his cabinet and other advisors while he was Lagos State governor. The Vice President explained the philosophy behind the social investment programmes of the Buhari administration, emphasizing that the establishment of this social safety net was unprecedented in Nigeria. This feat was even more impressive considering the lower oil prices and diminished revenues this government faces as opposed to the prior PDP administrations. The VP did not mince words in drawing a clear distinction between the APC Buhari government and the PDP government it supplanted. He said the government of President Goodluck Jonathan wasted and squandered money when oil prices were high. The Jonathan government engaged in record corruption instead of investing in the people, though it had greater means to do so. The Buhari government has been able to do much more for the people although it has less money, Osinbajo stated. He said Nigerians should remember that the PDP lost and looted on a grand scale. Thus, they should not be again given the reins of government as they will only repeat their financial hijinks.
Also at the event, there were presentations on the governmentâ€™s Social Investment Programme by the Minister of State, Budget and National Planning, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed, and National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP) by the National Coordinator of the programme, Mrs. Abimbola Adesanmi. Senior Special Assistant to the President on Job Creation and Youth Employment, Mr. Afolabi Imoukhuede, spoke on N Power Programme and Job Creation, Executive Director, Bank of Industry and Coordinator, Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme, Mrs. Constance Lewechukwu, spoke on the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme â€˜Market Moniâ€™ while the Special Assistant to the President on Social Investment, Hajiya Maryam Uwais, dwelt on the National Cash Transfer Programme. Some of the beneficiaries of these programmes came on stage to speak about the benefits they derived from the programmes and their experiences.
The 10th colloquium offered a platform to explain the governmentâ€™s social investment policies and programmes to the people. This was appropriate given there is a lack of awareness in some quarters as to the efforts undertaken to establish a social safety net adequate to the needs of the people.
Now a few clarifications. One, some commentators have argued the colloquium was like a 2019 campaign launch for President Buhari. Not so. The event was to draw a sharp distinction between the progressive ideals and resultant people-oriented policies of the APC and the corrupt banality of PDP style governance. As one of the leading progressive voices in the nation, Asiwaju Tinubu was pleased to have received such an explanation of government programmes on his birthday. The colloquium served to underscore that the government indeed remained faithful to the APCâ€™s progressive creed despite the budgetary and other constraints faced. No PDP government can claim the same loyalty to ideals and to the people.
President Buhari himself spoke at the Colloquium, affirming his commitment to reform and improve Nigeria despite the hardships those who benefit from the status quo may concoct to deter the drive for a better, more just nation. The president had said: â€œI am happy to be here with you to celebrate the birthday of my friend and political partner, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I call on all Nigerians to join me in celebrating this man. Asiwaju Tinubu is widely known as a political strategist. But strategy is barren unless wedded to a higher purpose than just itself. Here, Asiwaju also sets himself apart. I have come to see him as a man who cares about people and who is a fountain of ideas for economic development and improving the situation of the common man and woman. He is a true humanitarian and we appreciate his contributions to Nigeriaâ€™s and Africaâ€™s progressâ€. Later, Asiwaju Tinubu would also speak highly of the president and his commitment to progress despite the undermining antics of those opposed to change.
Two, some others including a few writers also alleged that Asiwaju deliberately skipped some dignitaries among them ministers and traditional rulers when recognizing people at the colloquium. Some specifically tried to make heavy weather over the unintentional omission of the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, a former governor of Lagos State. These people seek to stir a tempest in a teaspoon. Those in attendance saw how Asiwaju was emotionally moved by the honour done him by the presence of some leading Nigerians present to the extent that he put aside his prepared speech to speak extempore. He did so out of a feeling of gratitude not pettiness. At such moments, the exactitude of protocol can escape a person. There are many that Asiwaju probably wanted to acknowledge but did not simply because of uniqueness of the moment. That Fashola was there only contributed to the fullness of that moment. Asiwaju would not have stained such a special time by knowingly refusing to recognize Minister Fashola or anyone else for that matter.
Over the years, Asiwaju has repeatedly and publicly acknowledged the fine place that Babatunde Fashola holds in the history of governance of the state. Those who now try to spark enmity should find more constructive work for their overactive imaginations.
â€“Rahman, former Editor, THISDAY on Sunday Newspaper, is Media Adviser to Asiwaju Tinubu.