I stand here today honoured by the burden of expectations upon me and, more tellingly, strengthened by the convictions of the patriots with us in this journey to make history. We are brought together by a forest of ideas, but what defines us and sets us apart from other political groups is this collective realisation that the future of this country rests on the choice of a unifying leader; a leader who panders to neither ethnic nor religious agenda, and one who isn’t bound by toxic regional solidarity and yet known for a track record of outstanding leadership. If you look round this country in search of such a noble character, the count easily falls on the subject of this gathering: Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
So much has been said about this political enigma and most of them by hacks with a poor sense of history. The path that led us to Asiwaju didn’t happen by chance. His propensity for sacrificing his comfort to save our democracy has been duly documented across time. When uncertainty loomed over the country during the military era, this was the man who disbursed his resources to fight for the return to this democracy. Even in exile, he provided sanctuaries for fleeing patriots who are still around to testify to his large heart. Our younger compatriots must be in the know of Tinubu’s memories from two decades past—when he was a backbone of the opposition and fiercely antagonized and politically ostracised by the then ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party. He even built the economic foundations of the modern Lagos State at the time the State was isolated by a vindictive federal government.
While Tinubu’s political contemporaries were trading their principles for a place at the table in Abuja during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s era, and throwing their political allies under the bus, he took the risk to build a political alternative to the ruling party and his choices of candidates underlined his political credentials. He became, and has remained, a dependable sanctuary of victims of political witch-hunts. In 2007, he offered his political structure to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to run for President under the Action Congress (AC) banner. Four years later, he made this structure available for Malam Nuhu Ribadu, and this foresight of the Jagaban Borgu would also set the tone of the 2015 general elections. His place as a fulcrum of the All Progressives Congress re-asserted his essence, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude and deserved loyalty for prioritizing principles over personal gains.
Asiwaju’s choices and endorsements of northerners as presidential candidates while others were masterminding ethno-regional solidarity and fuelling socio-cultural affinities readily affirm his pan-Nigerian profile. Where others see divisions to exploit, he sees collaborations. Where others chase an easy route to power, he reminds you of Geoffrey Chaucer’s immortal wisdom—that patience is a conquering virtue. And it’s this patience that has brought us together today, to remember the examples he’s set and the debt we owe him.
The mudslinging that has trailed Asiwaju since his presidential bid took the top spot in the country is a mere acknowledgment of his political track record and inimitable influence on our political scene. The attempts at weaving ridiculous fiction to override the history we’ve all witnessed demonstrate the detractors’ utter desperation and cowardice. One of such is the mischievous fixation on his age and the wild conclusions that he’s physically unsuitable for the Office of the President. This obsession characterizes the thinking of those who have no understanding of Asiwaju’s incredible work ethic.
A few days ago, I joined him on a trip to Zamfara state to condole with the people and identify with their realities, and the experience made a nonsense of the propaganda that he’s unfit to run Nigeria. On the eve of the trip, Asiwaju had retired at 6 am, after Subhi prayers, and was already awake and attending to guests by 11 am. We departed for Sokoto around 2 pm and had to traverse the menacing hinterland of that part of the North-West for seven hours from Sokoto to Gusau—where he made a generous donation of N50 million as he had in other places struck by tragedies—and then back to Sokoto. On returning to Abuja by midnight, his schedule was entirely a series of meetings that kept him up till 3 am. Now, excuse my curiosity, how many of us here can match or endure such a demanding schedule? Asiwaju’s alacrity, therefore, has never been a subject of scepticism for those who’ve worked with him, and even his critics are aware of this. If he were half the man in their tales by moonlight, they would’ve long succeeded in subduing him.
The mark of true leadership isn’t the ability to lift a bag of cement. It’s the mental effort to think rationally of solutions designed to redeem one’s people and territorial jurisdiction. This was why leaders like Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States of America, stood out. Roosevelt took power in a country wrecked by the Great Depression of the 1930s and guided its economy through the Second World War, and the quality of his thoughts and ideas made the United States a superpower under his watch. Similarly, the accident that had Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki confined to a wheelchair didn’t disable his ability to produce sound ideas, and Kenyans were sold on his virtue that they chose him as their President over what some would consider a fitter option.
I’m not asking you to tone down critical assessments of your future leaders, but redirect you to see the bigger picture. We are not here to prepare for the Olympics, but an institution that relies on the superiority of ideas to thrive. Asiwaju’s credentials aren’t only appealing, they are proof of the qualities this country needs to redeem its vast potentials and possibilities. We are here to testify to this power of ideas—one that overturned the fortunes of Lagos state and sustained its supremacy as the largest economy in Sub-Saharan Africa and kept the opposition alive when it was more profitable to sell out. Those who seek to make us go low hope to present the presidency as a brick-laying exercise. But that’s the work of a machine created by an idea, and who else to guide us towards manufacturing the best ideas to redeem this country?
To derail us at this point is a futile ambition. The conversations we are prepared for aren’t pedestrian obsessions with the mundane, but comparisons of ideas and track records of service to the nation. At the top of our expectations from Nigeria’s next president should be mastery of the dynamics of the modern economy, testified leadership skills and competence, and, very significantly, sensitivity to the complexities of Nigerian sociology. Pause to reflect on the man we are here to celebrate, and what you see is a tested, accomplished, and large-hearted leader who’s invested his resources in building an extensive network of political mentees who’ve risen to the peak of their career.
But in politics, of course, the camps with nothing to sell always choose the mud. We are not going to take the bait. We are going to keep them talking and busy with irrefutable records of Asiwaju’s suitability to lead this country to the promised land. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, for those who’ve been in the system for long understand that some character’s loyalty has a thing in common with a chameleon. What we promise, however, is to make sure that all Nigerians are presented with a side of the Jagaban Bornu other than the fiction and half-truths from political desperadoes clinging to the rigging of a sinking ship. This is why we are here—to build and mobilise a network of believers and volunteers at the grassroots to help us deliver the Nigeria of our dream.
Kashim Shettima is a politician and a former senator