A leader’s birthday for the common man

By IAfrica
In Nigeria
Apr 3rd, 2014
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It was the 62nd birthday of former Lagos State governor and All Progressive Congress (APC) leader Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu last Saturday. But, it was no time for a revelry. The 6th Bola Tinubu Colloquium to mark the event focused on the common man, who feels mostly the effects of bad governance. Report TAJUDEEN ADEBANJO and OLATUNDE ODEBIYI

When the Annual Bola Tinubu Colloquium was conceived by close friends and associates of the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, little did the common man know that the event would one day focus on him.

Last Saturday, when the Jagaban Borgu turned 62, the event was dedicated to the less- privileged.

The 6th Bola Tinubu Colloquium was tagged: The Summit of The Common Man.”

Since its inception six years ago, the colloquium has been a platform to discuss salient national issues.

Tinubu’s campaign for a better society was vindicated, with the elite audience getting emotional as the downtroden spoke of their agony.

It was a gathering of heavy weights where the ‘common man’ was the speaker.

According to the organisers, the colloquium sought to focus on the 70 per cent of Nigerians who live below the poverty line.

The organisers said: “There are 20.3 million unemployed youths; 75 per cent of Nigerians have no access to primary health care, 10.8 million children of primary school; age are out of school; 24.4 million Nigerians would be homeless by 2015 and 55,000 women die annually during childbirth.”

The event began, with the showing of historical video clips of the Bola Tinubu Colloquium, followed by the National Anthem and opening prayer.

The Most Reverend Ephraim Ademowo, who chaired the event, described Asiwaju Tinubu as an uncommon man.

Tinubu, he said, “is a consummate and tested politician. A master strategist and a libertarian par excellence. He is kind to a fault.”

When the ‘common man’ from different parts of the country took turns to relive their struggles, the crowd was spellbound.

The speakers included Mallam Nasir Bala; Mr Ron Mgbatogu; Bethesa Home for the Blind; Chief Eric Dooh; Mrs Elizabeth Unah; Mallam Musa Ali; Adamu Baba, Mallam Yusuf Audu and Sopriye Victor.

Mallam Bala, who runs Risan Agro Allied Farms says he still has challenges accessing loan like many farmers across the country.

Speaking on the state of agro-business allied, he said the country has over 84 million hectares of arable land but only 42 per cent is being utilised for farming. Nigeria, he notes, spends over N630 billion importing agricultural products. Farming, he said, provides employment to 70 per cent of the population, yet farmers cannot access loans from the government. They also contend with storage and transportation challenges.

Mr Mgbatogu, a 68-year-old pensioner, says he receives less than the amount that can sustain him.

He spoke on his experience as a retiree, canvassing for the creation of social welfare programmes for senior citizens.

He called on the government to assist the common man to be better person.

For Chief Dooh, a 45 -year-old fisherman from Goi community in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State, trouble started when he lost his business to oil spill. He is now unemployed.

He expressed his frustration with life, adding that there is no good source of drinking water in his area.

Forty-one-year-old widow Elizabeth Unah, from Ebonyi State, lost her husband to an inferno in their house in December 2009. A fruits trader, she now struggles to raise six children.

“It has not been easy surviving. I have to borrow money from people to take care of my children and send them to school; and the money I make from my fruit business is never enough for our livelihood,” she said.

She called on the government to institute a widows’ forum and provide scholarships for their children.

Adamu Buba appealed to the government to do something fast about Boko Haram.

Twenty-five-year-old Sopriye Victor, from Bayelsa State, is the face of the 47.8 million Nigerian youths searching for jobs. A 2010 graduate of the Niger Delta University, with a Second Class honours in Chemical Engineering, she faces the grim reality of unemployment like the 360,000 Corps members that pass out every year.

Sopriye spoke of job scams; low pay job offers; missed entrepreneurship opportunities due to lack of funds and the apparent lack of social welfare packages for the unemployed/underemployed youths.

She said: “I finished my NYSC in Lagos with the mindset that I would get a job; but I did not. So, I returned to Bayelsa to start a business. All the goods in my shop were wiped out by flood.”

She called on the leaders to assist graduates.

“The country is rich enough to give us jobs and provide funds for us to start business, only if our government can bring up policies to reduce unemployment,” she said.

After their presentations, the memorial video of the common man was aired, showing how Nigerians are suffering to make ends meet.

The event also showcased the achievements of some APC states.

APC governors, according to Mr Ade Ipaye, Lagos State Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General, who moderated the event, are doing well to change people’s perception about governance.

Short documentaries of the giant strides in Ekiti and Osun states were shown as examples of what await Nigerians should APC take control of the central government.

Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola proposed the toast.

He described Tinubu as a “common man,” who has the courage to pursue his convictions and win his own battles.

Fashola said despite the problems confronting the common man, he remains the highest employer.

He urged the electorate to be mindful of those they elect.

“You must pay critical attention to the people you vote for. I know that we have employed somebody for the top job in this country. But when we asked him about his qualifications and experience, he said he had no shoes. You must decide whether you want someone who spends most of his time in church or mosque, or the man who is ready to spend his time on the job,” he said.

Fashola said Tinubu had solved problems, built an array of leaders and passed the torch.

Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar said only the APC can give succour to the common man.

Atiku, in a chat with reporters, said the theme of the colloquium, which featured presentations of the challenges of everyday living by ordinary Nigerians, was in line with the manifesto of the opposition regarding poor Nigerians.

Asiwaju Tinubu flayed the Federal Government, saying it is responsible for the country’s woes.

The APC leader said the 15-year reign of the PDP had brought untold hardship to Nigerians. The APC , he said, is out to rescue the country.

“They are so shameless that the number of years they have ruled does not matter to them. Don’t change the subject matter. Account for the missing money or go. All the explanations they gave about the missing money were just unconvincing. They steal from pensioners. We must kick them out,” he said.

He urged Nigerians to reject the PDP in the next general elections starting from the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states later this year.

“We have heard the frustration and pains of our people. Poverty is not a shameful thing but it is not acceptable. The change is now. To make it real, you have to defend your vote,” he said.

He cut his birthday cake with the common man and later the guests.

Asiwaju Tinubu’s wife Senator Oluremi fed him a piece of the cake and they sealed it with kisses to the admiration of the gathering.

There was light music in the background as guests took turns to congratulate Asiwaju Tinubu before leaving.

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