Oluwasegun Abifarin contends
that Olawepo-Hashim is tested and fit to lead Nigeria
May 28, 1989: The cloud had gathered over the firmament of the University of Lagos, Akoka. The drumbeat of the anti-SAP uprising had sounded in Port Harcourt, Benin, Zaria, Ibadan, etc. And the “drummers” were in Akoka already. The stakes were high, while the odds were equally high against the protest on campus on that night.
The President of the University of Lagos Students Union, (ULSU) then was a pro-school and a pro-government leader who was opposed to the protest, despite the pressure mounted on him by the various departmental presidents, faculty presidents and the halls of residence chairmen.
Twenty hours earlier, the Faculty of Arts Students Association, (FASA) had invited Femi Falana to speak at the FASA Week lecture on the implication of SAP on Education and Development in the Third World. Falana seized the opportunity with both hands and lectured the students on the implication of SAP on Education, Economy, Social Development and even Religion and Faith.
The charged atmosphere became intense for all to see that only a miracle could stop the protest, despite the efforts by the school and government to forestall it.
Lagos was strategic to the military government as the seat of power was then Dodan Barracks in Obalende, Lagos.
By the evening of 28th May, officials of the National Association of Nigerian students (NANS) became increasingly noticeable of campus. By about 7p.m, Ogaga Ifowodo from University of Benin, Gbenga Komolafe of the University of Ibadan and the Senate President of NANS; and Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim of UNILAG Mass Communication Department and the PRO of NANS moved to the Quadrangle of Mariere Hall and spoke to the students who had gathered there on the need to join the protest.
I still recall the opening words of Olawepo quoting Frantz Fanon that “every generation out of relative obscurity discovers its mission fulfil or betray it.” The students became charged as the train moved to the nearby Jaja Hall, and later to Moremi, Fagunwa, Eni Njoku and Tinubu Halls. By then the crowd had become huge as we moved to the main gate toward El-kanemi and Queen Amina Halls.
The Police and other security agencies, by this time had also upped their game. Police had barricaded the Akoka main gate in large numbers with tanks and other weapons.
The peculiarity of Unilag is that the main gate is the only sure way to town. The other exits lead to the lagoon and dangerous swamps.
The only choice opened was to confront the Police and their tanks at the main gate. From about 9p.m till 5a.m when the battle with the police raged, the voice of Olawepo kept ringing that SAP was evil and that we either betray or fulfill our mission to rescue our country. His words moved the students to action and to confront the armed police because the students believed in him and trust his leadership.
Before 6a.m., the police were tired and students poured out to the streets toward Akoka-Bariga and Iwaya-Ikorodu road. In matter of hours, Lagos was on fire of protest, even though Olawepo and his colleagues paid dearly for it later.
It is incredible that student leaders of that era, like Olawepo had such influence that they could shut the country down for weeks and leave the military leaders with the only option of pleading for dialogue after series of repressive actions to crush protests would have failed to deter the activists.
When he was detained Under Decree Two, stories had it that representatives of the military made him offers including a pathway to a foreign service career in exchange for support after his release which he declined.
The big lesson for me in that era was that leadership can charge and change the environment, chart a path of action and mobilise for positive action.
He and other progressive forces also contributed hugely to snatch democracy from the jaw of the military. For instance, on the night of June 8, 1998, when the late General Sani Abacha dropped dead suddenly, the atmosphere was very tensed as various factions in the military began a fierce struggle to take charge of the situation.
That night, Olawepo and few courageous pro-democracy colleagues quickly drafted a memo on a way out of the void created by the death of Abacha and at high risk to their lives, drove to Fort Ibrahim Babangida to hand over the memo to General Bamaiyi.
“It was in the memo that we drafted the name, Independent Electoral Commission. We proposed a composition of an Independent Electoral Commission, and a whole lot of other recommendations.
“That memo was signed by Pascal Bafyau, who is late now and my very self. We took that memo to Fort Ibrahim Babangida, and that was the night people were still struggling about who was going to be head of state. I remember the Chief of Army Staff then, who surrounded himself with many armoured tanks with flashing of lights in the middle of the night. And as we were going, I heard a loud noise: “Stop, the Chief is coming.
“Our vehicle swerved into the bush; there was Ishaya Bamaiyi surrounded with armoured tanks. Eventually, we settled down with Bamaiyi. He took the memo and said we could go. He didn’t say a word, and thankfully, 80 percent of what constituted that transition came from that memo,” Olawepo said recently.
As one of the earlier political leaders after the military departed in 1999, he was Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the ruling party and Chairman of the party’s Group of 54 NEC members which he formed. He resigned from the PDP in 2006 after a lot of disagreements over matters of party’s internal democracy.
Today, the twin issue of leadership and environment which played out in the University of Lagos more than three and half decades ago have come up strongly in national politics with Olawepo-Hashim driving the point again.
On Tuesday, May 3, 2022, as he stepped out to declare his intention to fly the flag of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2023 presidential election, he asserted that “there is nothing Nigerians cannot achieve with the right environment and support. I am out to give the leadership to create that environment.”
According to him, “mine is not an ambition but a historic burden. It is a burden imposed on me right from my late teens when as an undergraduate youth activist, my generation committed ourselves to the struggle for social and economic development of Nigeria, as well as to the struggle for democratic rule.” He added: “I carry an historic burden to lead the process that will make a democratic Nigeria deliver the promise of a greater Nigeria that will provide for all her citizens and those who reside in it without discrimination…
“A burden to build a New Nigeria that will be a land of equal opportunity and justice.”
The aspirant recalled the “initial patriotic national ethos of our great First Republic leaders which made Nigeria one of the leading countries of Asia and Africa with comparative GDP with Malaysia and Thailand, has been effectively buried in the rubbles.”
He was confident that “yet, there still exist an incredible reservoir of national energy capable of pulling the nation from the ruins and destruction and for the construction of a new and better Nigeria.”
Despite the fact that the country is presently gripped with insecurity, worsening energy crises, growing poverty and widespread corruption, Olawepo-Hashim was confident that “ a new and better Nigeria capable of securing itself from internal and external threats, provide jobs for her teeming youths, and reduce the scourge of poverty and corruption, is still possible.”
He equally promised to bridge the existing divides in the nation, heal the wounds and bring our nation back together again. “By reason of accident, my father came from Northern Nigeria and my mother from the South. Half of my family are Christians while half are Muslims.”
Since his activist days more than three decades ago, Olawepo-Hashim has done many things in business and in politics, unlike his peers who stay in the traditional comfort zones of running NGOs, media organisations and working in the universities.
In terms of clarity of vision and mission, Olawepo-Hashim appears to be the most vocal and engaging political leader in the political space, discussing critical issues of statehood, economic development and national unity and proffering solutions on how to advance the country and keep it safe.
“At a time when the country is in need of real leaders, Olawepo Hashim has stepped forward early enough, with clarity of thought and serious governance proposals, putting his ideas forward to the Nigerian people for scrutiny”, Abdulrazaq Hamzat, Executive Director, Grand Plan, a Research and new media Communication outfit said after social media rating which saw Olawepo coming second behind President Buhari.
Like Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, Olawepo-Hashim has been able to transform seamlessly from activism to business. He did perhaps earlier than Ramaphosa. Early year 2005 his Oil and Gas company Oilworld Ltd became the first African Oil and Gas company offered oil acreage in Gabon and one of the First African Oil and Gas company to set up office in West end London. Hìs company Oilworld Ltd is the operator of OPL 241 holding 2% of Nigeria’s probable Gas reserves.
Olawepo-Hashim in his 50s, is strong on economic issues, national security and national integration which he has spoken widely on in the past four years.
He believes Nigerians are energetic and creative in their day- to – day struggle to make a living and create a better life despite scant support from the financial system and parlous infrastructure and therefore sees his 2023 aspiration as “an urgent task of saving our great nation and making it the sun in the centre of the globe that God has destined it to be.”
Abifarin, an award-winning journalist and former Editor of The Week Magazine