The day was 21 September 2005. The venue was the expansive Expo Hall of the Eko Meridien onÂ Victoria Island. Some of the countryâ€™s most talented artistes â€“ King Sunny Ade, KWAM 1, LadyÂ Ayo Balogun, Tony Tetuila, Sunny Neji, Kenny St Brown, Lagbaja, Dare Art Alade and Yinka DaviesÂ among others had been assembled to provide first class entertainment in an unforgettable funÂ filled night. The capacious hall was packed full as the cream of the Nigerian society paidÂ N100, OOO per head to attend the concert.
The cynosure of all eyes at the event was none other than the then First Lady of Lagos State,Â Chief (Mrs) Oluremi Tinubu, and now Lagos Central Senatorial Candidate of the Action CongressÂ of Nigeria, ACN. That day was this remarkable womanâ€™s 45th birthday and, characteristically,Â she chose to mark the occasion in a unique way.
But then, the meticulously planned concert was not an end in itself. No, the purpose of theÂ gathering was not just to listen to soul lifting music for its own sake. It was not to createÂ an opportunity for the wealthy elite to flaunt their ability to afford the cost of attending aÂ prestige event. Rather, Mrs. Tinubu had decided to utilise her personal influence and immenseÂ good will to mobilise support for the millions of disadvantaged Nigerians suffering from theÂ debilitating sickle cell disease. All the artistes had agreed to play free of charge to raiseÂ funds for this noble cause. In addition to the amount realized from the entrance fee, many ofÂ the eminent guests in attendance donated generously towards combatting a scourge that is such aÂ source of so much pain to so many. The concert was an outstanding success in achieving itsÂ objective of raising funds in aid of the financially incapacitated National Sickle CellÂ Research Centre.
Mrs. Tinubuâ€™s personally signed letter to all the invited guests on that occassion speaksÂ volumes about the character and compassion of this outstanding woman and I will quiote herÂ words at length: â€œFriends and well wishers, I could not have chosen a better day and time toÂ get this type of outpouring of love and support than when I turned 45, how time flies. We areÂ all here with one purpose, to give hope and love to a group of special people amongst us, someÂ very close to others and us by acquaintance. Sickle Cell disorder is not a pleasant experience;Â we lost a daughter whom a close friend of ours fondly calls Princess to the disease. OurÂ Princess could not bring her Prince Charming home because she was gone too soon at the tenderÂ age of 3. The pain of losing her remains very fresh in our memory. But we are not alone in thisÂ plight and it is sad to note that one in every 4 Nigerians has the Sickle Cell trait, and overÂ a hundred thousand children die every year from the disease.
â€œNigeria needs this Center desperately and I invite you to join hands with me in making theÂ National Sickle Cell Centre a reality. It is therefore my desire that all gifts that you mayÂ wish to present to me on this occasion be channelled towards this worthy cause. Todayâ€™s concertÂ benefit should not be the end for the National Sickle Cell Centre, the challenge to everyoneÂ present is to ensure that the building is completed and running by 2006. On behalf of myÂ husband and family, I thank you for your support.â€
That then was the personal, heart felt message that stirred the hearts of guests that memorableÂ day. The artistes gave the performances of their lives. Scores reached for their cheque booksÂ and gave generously to the cause. The proceeds of the concert were speedily collated andÂ audited in the best example of transparency and on Tuesday, 1 November, 2006, Mrs. TinubuÂ presented a cheque of N50 million to Professor Akinyanju of the National Sickle Cell ResearchÂ Centre to stregthen that institutionâ€™s mission of â€œbringing hope to the African childâ€.
This captures succintly the essential Mrs. Tinubu â€“ a life dedicated to giving back to society;Â to doing all she can to soothe the pain of others. On page 20 of her remarkably frank andÂ thoroughly enjoyable little book titled â€œThe Journey of Grace â€“ My Faith Walkâ€, Mrs TinubuÂ gives an insight into her sacrificial philosophy of life in the following moving words: â€œI alsoÂ discovered in Nehemiah 8:10 that God also makes provision for the needy through those of us whoÂ are more fortunate to care for them. Deuteronomy 15:9-11 explains how we are to take care ofÂ the poor who â€œshall never cease out of the landâ€. Also Ecclesiastes 5:9 says â€œMoreover theÂ profit of the earth is for all: the king himself is served by the fieldâ€. With all thisÂ information, I realised that if God has provided for us, it must have been that we are chosenÂ to be custodians to manyâ€. We can thus appreciate the values that have enabled thisÂ compassionate Amazon to touch and add value to so many lives.
A trained educationist who is a graduate of the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University,Â Ile-Ife, Mrs. Tinubu has an abiding passion for the underpriviledged children, youth and women.Â She is driven by an overiding desire to help them fulfill purpose and actualise their trappedÂ potentials. The greatest manifestation of this commitment is her New Era Foundation (NEF) whichÂ is easily the most successful and enduring of such initiatives by any First Lady in Nigeriaâ€™sÂ history. Three years after she ceased to be First Lady, the NEF celebrated ten years of itsÂ outstanding success story. Unlike most of such â€˜pet projectsâ€™ that tend to die once theirÂ initiators are no more in positions of public influence, the NEF is waxing stronger by the day.
One of NEFâ€™s most creative initiatives is the annual Spelling Bee competition to inspireÂ academc excellence in public secondary schools in Lagos State. The best three participants inÂ the contest win cash and other prizes while the winner has the additional priviledge of servingÂ as symbolic governor of Lagos State for one day. Thousands of public school students in theÂ state study hard to excell in this competition and enjoy the attendant rewards. The worthyÂ initiative has been sustained by the Governor Fashola administration and nine one-day governorsÂ have emerged over the last decade. No student who has gone through the experience has remainedÂ the same. Two of them graduated with First Class honours in their respective disciplines whileÂ others are doing well in their studies both within and outside the country.
Mrs. Tinubuâ€™s eyes glitter with pride when she talks about the successes of â€˜her childrenâ€™. InÂ a recent interview, for instance, she spoke glowingly of one of the one day governors, Mr.Â Chukwuebuka Anisiobi who was then in his final year at university. In her words: â€œEbuka invitedÂ me for a programme in the school. It was actually the day we launched LAGBUS. I was not thereÂ because I had to go and give the boy support. He made me so proud that day and I shed tears ofÂ joy. This was a shy boy and he didnâ€™t have any speech but he was great.â€ Such is this womanâ€™sÂ passion for helping children build positive lives.
Interestingly, even though she was First Lady, the NEFâ€™s programmes were largely private sectorÂ funded. The first five editions of the Spelling Bee competition, for instance, were funded byÂ Hallmark and Citizen Bank; Guarantee Trust Bank; Eleganza Industries PLC; Lagos State AssuranceÂ Corporation (LASACO) and Cadbury PLC respectively. It was only from 2006 that the Lagos StateÂ Ministry of Education took over the organisation of the competition as one of the motivationalÂ programmes of the state government. As a result of its seriousness, efficiency andÂ transparency, the NEF has also developedworking relationships over the years with the FordÂ Foundation, World Bank and the Havard School of Public Health.
Other life-impacting accomplishments of the NEF include the establishment in conjunction withÂ the Lagos State Ministry of Education of an Alternative High School for Girls in Agboju Amuwo,Â Lagos, to provide an opportunity for out of school girls to acquire the Senior Secondary SchoolÂ Certificate; HIV/AIDS advocacy for youths; and the New Era Wheelchair Tennis Championship forÂ physically challenged but talented men and women. The New Era Youth Camp (NEYOCA) to haveÂ facilities for building the self esteem of at least 240 youths at a time between the ages of 7Â to 17 years is currently being developed at Ibeju-Lekki with funds raised by NEF over the lastÂ seven years. Mrs. Tinubu requested that funds that would have been expended on adverts or giftsÂ for her 50th birthday be donated to the development of the youth camp.
When Mrs. Tinubu became First Lady of Lagos State, the Committee of Wives of Lagos StateÂ Officers (COWLSO), established by Mrs. Funmilayo Johnson in 1973, had become completelyÂ moribund. Under Mrs. Tinubuâ€™s leadership COWLSO was revived and transformed into anÂ organisation for adding value to the lives of women and children. For instance, the annualÂ National Women Conference initiated by Mrs. Tinubu under the auspisces of COWLSO has beenÂ sustained by the current First Lady, Mrs. Abimbola Fashola. The event has established itself asÂ one of the most vibrant for qualitative discourse on issues affecting women in Nigeria. It wasÂ also under Mrs. Tinubuâ€™s dynamic leadership that COWLSO initiated and successfully accomplishedÂ the rehabilitation of Campos Square, Lafiaji Recreation Centre, Kudirat Abiola Freedom SquareÂ (formerly Evans Square), Ebute Metta, Sam Shonibare Gardens in Surulere, Oshodi Sports Centre,Â Anthony Village Recreation Centre and Ojo Oniyan Recreation Centre in Maryland area.
She was at the barricades with her husband during the pro-democracy struggle that resulted inÂ this democratic dispensation. She was a dynamic, creative, productive, compassionate and modestÂ First Lady of Lagos State for eight years. Chief (Mrs.) Oluremi Tinubu (OON) will certainly beÂ a worthy and qualitative representative of the Centre of Excellence in the Senate.
â€¢Segun Ayobolu wrote in from Lagos.