Breaking: The World Celebrates, The Champion, Senator Gbenga Ashafa @65

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Breaking: The World Celebrates, The Champion, Senator Gbenga Ashafa @65

Breaking: The World Celebrates, The Champion, Senator Gbenga Ashafa @65
July 22
14:55 2020

By Lanre Alfred

The Champion @ 65

Senator Gbenga Ashafa is 65 today, July 22nd. Yes, neither words nor music nor a thousand epigrams will do, in commemorating the true essence and class of Senator Ashafa at 65. He is a true citizen of the world indeed. He would do any nation proud as her illustrious son considering his heartfelt contributions to his nation’s socio-political, economy and high art.

Timeless anecdotes seep from his being like whirlwinds writing on the grass and inscriptions teaching us that everything and anything about him offer priceless lessons in humility, fortitude and grace. It’s the imagination with which he perceives the world and the gestures by which he honours it that however, stands him apart from his peers in the nation’s political arena.

Interestingly, friends, family and political associates strongly believe that a man like Ashafa symbolises the universe’s rarest gift to mankind.
Ashafa is no doubt a rare phenomenon and gift to this generation. While most of his friends, family and business associates are already in the know and appreciate this fact, like the infinite crowd of folk that constitute mere acquaintances to him, they are continually stunned, captivated and humbled by the man, Ashafa’s infectious humility and generosity of spirit.

At the very least, everybody seems to love Ashafa. Magnificence, order, complexity, mystery and possibilities—the same things that draw folk to their most treasured daydreams lure them to Ashafa. The primary difference is that subtle and blatant idolatry takes a front seat in the flurry of emotion and perpetual elocution of the rare civility and bounteousness of spirit accorded them by Ashafa.

Yet Ashafa is forever quick to counsel folk about his ordinariness and thus prevent them from dressing him in what he considers spurious cloaks of a ‘saviour, ‘messiah,’ or ‘deity’ or ‘tin god.’ Yeah, Ashafa, for or his extraordinariness tirelessly seeks to be viewed as ordinary – which makes unlocking his core both a boon and conundrum to anyone.

It is hard to be more specific about the true worth of Ashafa’s humanity because unlike most of civilization’s great, contemporary statesmen and philanthropists, he has something quite different to offer to his several dependants and beneficiaries of his generosity. Ashafa is several things at the same time to everyone and anyone: he is a humanitarian who depicts raw compassion expressed with the greatest refinement and discipline; he is an aesthete with stormy sublimity, unimaginable genius and that famed vision of ingenuity that separates the practiced from the mediocre.

Forgive the seeming inclination to fawn and project the good graces of Ashafa but he is simply all that and much more.

Ashafa sees a relative in everyone. He believes humanity is simply one large family divided along race, religious and other bigoted lines and his response to this defies the depths of human failings and pretensions to altruism. Ashafa defines ‘family’ beyond the word’s literal meanings hence his tireless bid to erase the established bounds of filial affection and comradeship by ceaseless acts of courage and compassion for the sake of humanity.

Milestones of a servant-leader
Senator Ashafa frequently goes to bat in the interest of under-privileged folk. It is the way he is constituted; he believes in and advocates the principles of fairness, equity and justice for all irrespective of social status, gender or ethnicity. Fulfilling these values and sustaining them is a practical and moral pursuit to the senator. Ashafa is a realist with a hyperactive sense of right and wrong and an idealist who is never afraid to tap into the luxuries and characteristic perks of power and acclaim.

Senator Ashafa is truly a Renaissance man: a Yoruba man who is as comfortable with traditional ballads as he is devising anti-crime strategies for dealing with the mess left by environmental pollution. Whatever his brief and challenges at a particular point in time, Ashafa knows how to charm opponents out of the familiar comfort of their long-held prejudices and in order to initiate and achieve practicable solutions on mutually beneficial planes of reality and shared identity. He practices the politics of reason and redemption. Which, not accidentally, is also the politics of progress.

Shades of greatness
In the din of interminable acclaim and deafening applause that welcomes his arrival to the metropolitan oasis of high society courtesy his sterling achievements in the political world, Senator Gbenga will not rest on his oars. His unflagging spirit continually spur him to seek and attain landmark feats in politics and even outside the business sector.

Unlike many a politician who would rather expend his hard-earned money on guilty pleasures, he devotes his time and money to the betterment of lives, particularly that of poor, disadvantaged folk. So doing, he establishes and perpetuates a rare culture of philanthropy that pleases and astounds many a recipient of his humanitarianism even as you read.

Ashafa believes that, for philanthropy to be meaningful, it has to come totally without strings or expectations. Having grown through a tradition of giving and service in his family; he believes that when one has been blessed with so much, as he has, in great health, intelligence and fortune, much is expected of such person in terms of helping the less fortunate and giving back to the society in general.

A national sweetheart
Due to his ceaseless contributions to society and commitment to the attainment of the good of all, Ashafa has over time become national sweetheart. In appreciation of his sterling citizenship of humanity, Gbenga has received numerous local and international awards. It is also worthy of mention that he enjoys favourable media mention; unlike several other politicians that expend a fortune courting media attention and publicity, Ashafa effortlessly attracts the patronage of local and international media without resorting to shameful manipulations.

His cool, humble demeanor even while he performs great feats that could make any money-bag swoon with pride, continually endears him to global media, civil societies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are often beneficiaries of his philanthropy.

Coming of age
Today is the day this pleasant man and self-effacing achiever will appreciate the impact he has made in the lives of many Nigerians. Many people have benefitted in no small measure from the benevolence of his heart and sipped from the fountain of his experience, it is only expedient to extol the virtues of this great man without any recourse to sophistry or gratuitous ornamentation.

To know about Senator ‘Gbenga Bareehu Ashafa’s backstory is to know about the forces that helped mould him into the man he has become and who he may still become. Knowledge of this story is necessary.

Born in Luther Street, Lagos Island, on 22 July 1955, Senator Ashafa was the first and only son of his mother, Alhaja Jeminat Elemoro, a famous gold and textile merchant at the Erepo gutter market. His father, Alhaji Lawal Kakanfo Ashafa, was also a successful merchant dealing in cocoa, palm kernel, and wood. His businesses were spread across the then western region with warehouses in Ibadan, Ile-Ife, and Ijebu-ode.

He was enrolled in the Christ Church Cathedral primary school at Broad street, Lagos in 1961. His aptitude for leadership started manifesting early in life as he emerged class monitor from standard 1 to standard 6. He graduated with distinction at the Common Entrance examination in 1968 and went on to CMS Grammar School, Lagos.

At CMS Grammar School, he was also made the Class Captain from Form 2 to Form 5. Thereafter, he was admitted to Morgan State University, Baltimore, Maryland, where he graduated with a degree in Biology. He then furthered his education at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where he earned a post-graduate degree in Public Health Administration (major in environmental health and minor in food science). It took a strong persuasion from his mother to defer his Ph.D. admission in Tennessee to return to Nigeria and start a family of his own.

Upon completing his National Youth Service in 1980 at the Federal Ministry of Health, Ashafa commenced a career in public service as an Administrative Officer in the Lagos State Unified Local Government Service Commission. He rose to the position of the Area Officer in charge of the departmental Tenders Board and the Finance and General Purpose Committee.

By 1990, Ashafa had completed nine years of public service and decided to challenge himself by taking on some private sector ventures. He left the public sector for French-Calahan Ventures Limited, which held majority shares in a state-controlled cocoa processing plant. He worked as the Purchasing Manager at the processing plant for six years until 1996.

Knowledgeable and forward thinking, humble but tactful, loyal, yet decisive – Ashafa has built an illustrious and result-laden career in private and public service. When His Excellency Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was first elected as the governor of Lagos state in 1999, Senator Ashafa was one of those who made up the transition committee and was saddled with the responsibility of leading the efforts on Local Government reforms in Lagos state.

Asiwaju not only adopted the recommendations of Ashafa, but he also went on to engage him as Director of Planning with the responsibility, among several others, of coordinating all local government chairmen activities and meetings.

Barely two years after serving as Director of Planning, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, impressed with his skills and achievements, elevated Ashafa and made him the Executive Secretary, Lands Bureau in Lagos state. It was during his time as Executive Secretary and, later, Permanent Secretary of Lands Bureau that Ashafa would demonstrate impressive administrative skills, foresight and the rare leadership trait of leaving his achievements to do all the talking.

Indeed, Asiwaju grew the revenue of Lagos state from N600 million to N6 billion within a few years, a tremendous success pivoted on a reinvigorated Lagos State Internal Revenue Service and major reforms in the Lands Bureau.

Some of the reforms initiated by Ashafa included the introduction of the Electronic Documentation Management System (EDMS), the 30-day issuance of the governor’s consent, the creation of the Department of Regularization and the issuance of electronic Certificate of Occupancy (C of O), helped to boost the state government’s revenue such that only the LIRS was out-performing the Lands Bureau in revenue generation. Soon, the Lagos State Lands Registry became a model of development such that the template was borrowed by several other state governments.

During his time as the permanent secretary which spanned into the administration of His Excellency Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN, Ashafa was successful in reducing land-related gang violence by running an open-door policy where anyone who sought an appointment or had an issue with his/her land was treated fairly and equitably.

And for those who had their land taken over by the state government through the Land Use Acquisition Law, Ashafa worked hard to ensure that they were duly compensated. He went further to initiate a process where residents who built on lands that had no title could regularize it with the state government through a seamless and transparent process. That policy empowered several title owners whose properties now commanded a much higher value.

After ten successful years of heading the Lands Bureau in Lagos state, under the leadership of Governors, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Babatunde Raji Fashola SAN, Gbenga Ashafa, charismatic and affable, had built a strong reputation and had grown in popularity such that he won by a landslide in the 2011 senatorial election to represent the people of Lagos East.

Gbenga Ashafa had eight impactful years (2011 – 2019) at the senate. During this time, his tasks were much different from what he had to do at the Lagos State Lands Bureau but his values remained intact and it was not surprising that he left an indelible mark when his second term ended.

Worthy of mention are Senator Gbenga Ashafa’s contributions as chairman of the Senate Committee on Land Transportation – a pivotal legislative role that endeared him to the presidency as an important partner in the rail revitalization plan of President Muhammadu Buhari.

He was so passionate about the progress of the rail projects across the country that he relentlessly defended the budgetary provisions for rail projects such that the National Assembly appropriated the funds needed for the counterpart funding in the federal government’s partnership with the Chinese EXIM Bank.

Little wonder he earned the nickname “The Rail Man” after he championed the passage of the Railway Bill which sought to lay the foundation for the infusion of private capital in Nigeria’s railway sector. The bill represents a radical departure from the norm by effectively separating the components of the railway sector into two independent features; regulatory and operational in line with international best practices, thereby creating a level playing field for private sector participation. The bill was passed by the senate and the effort was commended by the National Assembly Business Environment Roundtable (NASSBER) as well as affiliates of the World Bank.

The same can be said of the National Transport Commission Bill which the distinguished senator passionately championed as Chairman Committee on Land Transportation. The bill sought to create a multi-modal transport sector economic and safety regulator.

Happy Birthday, The Special One

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