By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor
Bourdillon Road, Ikoyi, has since late July lost its trills and pull because the occupier of House Number 26 embarked on a medical tour abroad. Lately, pilgrimage to the colonial building painted in white, as well as the huge number of cars usually parked at both sides of the road have dwindled.
The absence of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State, who his hordes of admirers fondly refer to as ‘the Lion of Bourdillon’ has not only impacted on his neighbours, but on governance in southwestern Nigeria and opposition politics, which some pundits agree have lost some steam.
Suddenly, the voice of Alhaji Abubakar Baraje, leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) splinter group, has drowned the interim National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Lai Muhammed’s fiery commentaries on national issues.
Prior to his departure, initially to the United States of America and later to the United Kingdom, the grand commander of Lagos politics had been absent from public engagements for some time owing to health challenges.
His media office had in a statement, said: “Based on previous sports injury on one of his knees and recent further aggravation on the knee from rigorous political and family related activities, he has been advised by his doctors, despite his persistent reluctance that orthopedic surgery is necessary at this time.”
As the days dragged into months, speculations became rife that Tinubu was down with what rumourmongers called Parkinson syndrome, a disorder of the nervous system. When the speculations became deafening, his aides debunked the allegations as coming from mischief makers whom they considered as rabid political enemies of their principal.
Recent visits by leaders of the APC, including Muhammadu Buhari to the New Cavenom home of Tinubu in London have heightened hopes of his return among supporters.
While expectations are high that the Jagaban Borgu may return home this weekend, close associates say though physically absent, Tinubu is not politically absent. In fact, the Bourdillon pilgrimage has temporarily been relocated to London.
Asiwaju is not an office holder but an influencer. He does not run the APC or have an official position in the interim committee of the party, as Chief Bisi Akande holds sway. But as a grassroots mobilizer, he is more than a mere bystander.
Governance has not grounded to a halt in the Southwest region though there seems to be a budding feeling of party indiscipline among the rank and file in several of the APC-controlled states.
As an ‘about-town’ Lagosian, he has sorely been missed at many Owanbe gatherings. Some of the events include the burial ceremony of the governor’s father, Pa Ademola Fashola and Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola’s 2,300 days in office celebration. The fact is that his absence takes some colour away from political events nowadays.
“The world is a global village and you can interact with anybody from any part of the world where you are. The only issue is that it has made access to him costlier, but not impossible. Most of his close associates have had access to him abroad, unless of course, the rank and file of the party, who could not afford the airfare to UK,” a Bourdillon patron told The Guardian.
However hard party chieftains may want to deny the impact of Tinubu’s absence, distance is essentially a barrier to the integration process of the amalgamated opposition party. Behind the scene, a lot of backroom work is going on in terms of restructuring the APC and registering new members.
Time is running fast in the political calendar of the country ahead 2015 polls and according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) timetable, all party conventions must be concluded before the end of December. This gives the APC about two months to address all internal wranglings and tidy up all processes leading to the convention.
In this regard, Tinubu is being primed to return home soonest and expectedly inject a new dynamism into the polity.
At the moment, his daily routine is still as busy as when he is in the country. Despite doctors’ advice to rest adequately, he still receives visitors daily in torrents. Governors, ministers, politicians, and associates who are in London want to drop in to say hello.
He begins his day by reading Nigerian newspapers online and printout of commentaries on the state of the nation, after which he goes for his physio sessions, trice a day, which is usually interrupted by the need to attend to visitors until he is forced to go to bed at 11pm.
Those who work closely with Tinubu say the former governor is at his best at night, as he holds a series of nocturnal marathon meetings. This, they say, is way out of character for the man they described as being restless.
“He is a workaholic,” a party chieftain, who wants to remain anonymous, said. “Maybe now that he is recuperating, he may slow down a bit. He needs just three hours of normal sleep in a day, the rest he takes through naps from moving around town.
“He tried to stop the visitors’ traffic in UK, but at a point he just gave up. When I visited him, he was exercising on a bicycle. He knows that once he returns, the traffic would be so heavy, which is why he is taking his time to manage the situation and complete his therapy. From what we are hearing, he is expected back this week. He is hale and hearty; so, the choice of his coming home is at his pleasure.”
Describing his persona further, one of his media aides said Asiwaju loves the unusual, the innovative and extraordinary, which is why he has a huge impact in public life.
“He always asks how we can do things better and he is always sympathetic to the cause of the masses. He believes with the right leadership, Nigeria will get out of the woods. He is so passionate about the leadership question. And because he has been able to show it in Lagos, there is a greater conviction that if we get the leadership at the national body, we can turn this country around. This is what makes Asiwaju tick,” the aide added.