The day was 21 September 2005. The venue was the expansive Expo Hall of the Eko Meridien on  Victoria Island. Some of the country’s most talented artistes – King Sunny Ade, KWAM 1, Lady  Ayo Balogun, Tony Tetuila, Sunny Neji, Kenny St Brown, Lagbaja, Dare Art Alade and Yinka Davies  among others had been assembled to provide first class entertainment in an unforgettable fun  filled night. The capacious hall was packed full as the cream of the Nigerian society paid  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,  Chief (Mrs) Oluremi Tinubu, and now Lagos Central Senatorial Candidate of the Action Congress  of Nigeria, ACN. That day was this remarkable woman’s 45th birthday and, characteristically,  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 the  gathering was not just to listen to soul lifting music for its own sake. It was not to create  an opportunity for the wealthy elite to flaunt their ability to afford the cost of attending a  prestige event. Rather, Mrs. Tinubu had decided to utilise her personal influence and immense  good will to mobilise support for the millions of disadvantaged Nigerians suffering from the  debilitating sickle cell disease. All the artistes had agreed to play free of charge to raise  funds for this noble cause. In addition to the amount realized from the entrance fee, many of  the eminent guests in attendance donated generously towards combatting a scourge that is such a  source of so much pain to so many. The concert was an outstanding success in achieving its  objective of raising funds in aid of the financially incapacitated National Sickle Cell  Research Centre.

Mrs. Tinubu’s personally signed letter to all the invited guests on that occassion speaks  volumes about the character and compassion of this outstanding woman and I will quiote her  words at length: “Friends and well wishers, I could not have chosen a better day and time to  get this type of outpouring of love and support than when I turned 45, how time flies. We are  all here with one purpose, to give hope and love to a group of special people amongst us, some  very close to others and us by acquaintance. Sickle Cell disorder is not a pleasant experience;  we lost a daughter whom a close friend of ours fondly calls Princess to the disease. Our  Princess could not bring her Prince Charming home because she was gone too soon at the tender  age of 3. The pain of losing her remains very fresh in our memory. But we are not alone in this  plight and it is sad to note that one in every 4 Nigerians has the Sickle Cell trait, and over  a hundred thousand children die every year from the disease.

“Nigeria needs this Center desperately and I invite you to join hands with me in making the  National Sickle Cell Centre a reality. It is therefore my desire that all gifts that you may  wish to present to me on this occasion be channelled towards this worthy cause. Today’s concert  benefit should not be the end for the National Sickle Cell Centre, the challenge to everyone  present is to ensure that the building is completed and running by 2006. On behalf of my  husband and family, I thank you for your support.”

That then was the personal, heart felt message that stirred the hearts of guests that memorable  day. The artistes gave the performances of their lives. Scores reached for their cheque books  and gave generously to the cause. The proceeds of the concert were speedily collated and  audited in the best example of transparency and on Tuesday, 1 November, 2006, Mrs. Tinubu  presented a cheque of N50 million to Professor Akinyanju of the National Sickle Cell Research  Centre to stregthen that institution’s mission of “bringing hope to the African child”.

This captures succintly the essential Mrs. Tinubu – a life dedicated to giving back to society;  to doing all she can to soothe the pain of others. On page 20 of her remarkably frank and  thoroughly enjoyable little book titled “The Journey of Grace – My Faith Walk”, Mrs Tinubu  gives an insight into her sacrificial philosophy of life in the following moving words: “I also  discovered in Nehemiah 8:10 that God also makes provision for the needy through those of us who  are more fortunate to care for them. Deuteronomy 15:9-11 explains how we are to take care of  the poor who “shall never cease out of the land”. Also Ecclesiastes 5:9 says “Moreover the  profit of the earth is for all: the king himself is served by the field”. With all this  information, I realised that if God has provided for us, it must have been that we are chosen  to be custodians to many”. We can thus appreciate the values that have enabled this  compassionate Amazon to touch and add value to so many lives.

A trained educationist who is a graduate of the prestigious Obafemi Awolowo University,  Ile-Ife, Mrs. Tinubu has an abiding passion for the underpriviledged children, youth and women.  She is driven by an overiding desire to help them fulfill purpose and actualise their trapped  potentials. The greatest manifestation of this commitment is her New Era Foundation (NEF) which  is easily the most successful and enduring of such initiatives by any First Lady in Nigeria’s  history. Three years after she ceased to be First Lady, the NEF celebrated ten years of its  outstanding success story. Unlike most of such ‘pet projects’ that tend to die once their  initiators are no more in positions of public influence, the NEF is waxing stronger by the day.

One of NEF’s most creative initiatives is the annual Spelling Bee competition to inspire  academc excellence in public secondary schools in Lagos State. The best three participants in  the contest win cash and other prizes while the winner has the additional priviledge of serving  as symbolic governor of Lagos State for one day. Thousands of public school students in the  state study hard to excell in this competition and enjoy the attendant rewards. The worthy  initiative has been sustained by the Governor Fashola administration and nine one-day governors  have emerged over the last decade. No student who has gone through the experience has remained  the same. Two of them graduated with First Class honours in their respective disciplines while  others are doing well in their studies both within and outside the country.

Mrs. Tinubu’s eyes glitter with pride when she talks about the successes of ‘her children’. In  a recent interview, for instance, she spoke glowingly of one of the one day governors, Mr.  Chukwuebuka Anisiobi who was then in his final year at university. In her words: “Ebuka invited  me for a programme in the school. It was actually the day we launched LAGBUS. I was not there  because I had to go and give the boy support. He made me so proud that day and I shed tears of  joy. This was a shy boy and he didn’t have any speech but he was great.” Such is this woman’s  passion for helping children build positive lives.

Interestingly, even though she was First Lady, the NEF’s programmes were largely private sector  funded. The first five editions of the Spelling Bee competition, for instance, were funded by  Hallmark and Citizen Bank; Guarantee Trust Bank; Eleganza Industries PLC; Lagos State Assurance  Corporation (LASACO) and Cadbury PLC respectively. It was only from 2006 that the Lagos State  Ministry of Education took over the organisation of the competition as one of the motivational  programmes of the state government. As a result of its seriousness, efficiency and  transparency, the NEF has also developedworking relationships over the years with the Ford  Foundation, World Bank and the Havard School of Public Health.

Other life-impacting accomplishments of the NEF include the establishment in conjunction with  the Lagos State Ministry of Education of an Alternative High School for Girls in Agboju Amuwo,  Lagos, to provide an opportunity for out of school girls to acquire the Senior Secondary School  Certificate; HIV/AIDS advocacy for youths; and the New Era Wheelchair Tennis Championship for  physically challenged but talented men and women. The New Era Youth Camp (NEYOCA) to have  facilities for building the self esteem of at least 240 youths at a time between the ages of 7  to 17 years is currently being developed at Ibeju-Lekki with funds raised by NEF over the last  seven years. Mrs. Tinubu requested that funds that would have been expended on adverts or gifts  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 State  Officers (COWLSO), established by Mrs. Funmilayo Johnson in 1973, had become completely  moribund. Under Mrs. Tinubu’s leadership COWLSO was revived and transformed into an  organisation for adding value to the lives of women and children. For instance, the annual  National Women Conference initiated by Mrs. Tinubu under the auspisces of COWLSO has been  sustained by the current First Lady, Mrs. Abimbola Fashola. The event has established itself as  one of the most vibrant for qualitative discourse on issues affecting women in Nigeria. It was  also under Mrs. Tinubu’s dynamic leadership that COWLSO initiated and successfully accomplished  the rehabilitation of Campos Square, Lafiaji Recreation Centre, Kudirat Abiola Freedom Square  (formerly Evans Square), Ebute Metta, Sam Shonibare Gardens in Surulere, Oshodi Sports Centre,  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 in  this democratic dispensation. She was a dynamic, creative, productive, compassionate and modest  First Lady of Lagos State for eight years. Chief (Mrs.) Oluremi Tinubu (OON) will certainly be  a worthy and qualitative representative of the Centre of Excellence in the Senate.

•Segun Ayobolu wrote in from Lagos.

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