BOLA TINUBU: Jolapamo, Ladojas’ Credentials, Struggle, Success

By Barrister Wakil Oyeleru Oyedemi

Barely a few months after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections, there were several meetings of leaders of the resistance against military rule. Most of such meetings did not take place in the open but in the confines of the homes of the core leaders of the struggle. One of such places would be the home of Chief Abraham Adesanya on Douala Road in Apapa, Lagos. The rare opportunity I had was due to the involvement of Chief Isaac Jolapamo, who on many occasions would allow me to accompany him to Chief Adesanya’s house even though I never participated in any of their deliberations. The house was a walking distance from Chief Jolapamao’s Morlap Shipping Office in Apapa. It was also a short walk from Chief Rashidi Ladoja’s shipping company.There would be many combinations of personalities on such occasions – academicians, few politicians, economists and analysts as they tried to chart the ways forward in hush tones. Till date, I found the combination of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Chief Isaac Jolapamo and Chief Rashidi Ladoja

Of this trio, Bola Tinubu was obviously the youngest, while Chief Rashidi Ladoja was the oldest. In Yoruba land, you could tell the age disparity from the mode of greetings and how people address one another in a conversation. Chief Isaac Jolapamo would be the first to stretch his hand (In Yoruba land, the senior must stretch his hands first), Bola Tinubu would approach the hand with a bow. Tinubu would refer to Chief Isaac Jolapamo as “Egbon” or “Egbon mi” – one hundred percent of the time. Chief Rashidi Ladoja would refer to Bola Tinubu as simply “Bola” just as he would refer to Chief Jolapamo simply as “Isaac.” Not just among the three, Bola Tinubu was relatively younger than most of the persons whom I would see among these leaders in those early days of what was later known as the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). But you could tell he had the respect of others. His delivery was always clear, although he was not loquacious. You could tell that Bola Tinubu was made mostly of brain matter. At one point, I summoned the courage to ask Chief Jolapamo how he knew Bola Tinubu. His response was simply, “Aburo wa daadaa ni, ni Mobil” (“He was our very good younger brother in Mobil.”). That is why I laugh when some people refer to Tinubu, for political reasons, as a very old man and assign him ages based on whims, caprices and unfounded speculations. How could he now be older than Chief Isaac Jolapamo (74) or Chief Rashidi Ladoja (78), when he was far younger than them in 1994? Funny enough, Chief Pious Akinyelure who hired Bola Tinubu at Mobil is Chief Jolapamo’s very close friend and age mate, as they grew up together working for Mobil. I know Chief Akinyelure, and I find it funny that no one ever said Bola Tinubu is older than Chief Pious Akinyelure. I guess Tinubu’s age issue is part of Politico Nigeriana!

Bola Tinubu, Isaac Jolapamo and Chief Rashidi Ladoja are first class graduates of reputable Universities. Chief Rashidi Ladoja graduated First Class in Chemical Engineering from the University of Liege in Belgium. Chief Isaac Jolapamo graduated First Class in Mechanical Engineering from Jesus College, Cambridge University. Bola Tinubu graduated Magna Cum Laude (Equivalent of First Class) from Chicago State University in Accounting and Business Administration. All three worked with Mobil at high levels. Bola Tinubu resigned as a Treasurer. Isaac Jolapamo was a Ship Engineer, while Rashidi Ladoja was a Chemical Engineer with Mobil Oil respectively. He held managerial positions before resigning to venture into Shipping where he and Jolapamo became household names as leaders in the African Shipping industry.”

Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was definitely one of the most prominent faces of the pro-democracy struggle. He had his face and voice in establishing newspapers and magazines with the sole purpose of fighting the military government. Chief Rashidi Ladoja and Chief Isaac Jolapamo on the other hand, were heavy funders of the NADECO both at home and abroad. The fact remains that, in 1994, only a few Nigerians were as genuinely and stupendously wealthy as Chief Rashidi Ladoja or Chief Isaac Jolapamo. They both had vessels that sailed African waters as well as ocean vessels, with offices in many parts of the world. They employed hundreds of people in their shipping and other business lines. All the money you have for which people refer to you as their ATM will likely not buy an anchor on one of Rashidi Ladoja’s vessels in 1994. I salute the courage of these two because their business of shipping is in the firm grasp of the Federal Government they were fighting, yet they put the interest of the nation ahead of theirs. Now, that is real courage!

Bola Tinubu, Isaac Jolapamo and Rashidi Ladoja were all hounded into exile at the same time. Chief Jolapamo and Chief Rashidi Ladoja weren’t too prominent in overt confrontation with the military junta of Abacha like Tinubu. They worked behind the curtains, simply donating their money, properties and their first class brains in the struggle. Everything was fine, or so we thought until Chief Rashidi Ladoja delivered a devastating speech (I believe during his birthday celebration in 1994), lambasted the military government of Abacha by giving the Supreme Military Council, SMC the ultimatum to return leadership to the people or face the consequences. This is someone the military wanted to roast, now he just rubbed oil on his body and played around an active fire. The outburst was broadcast all over the media outlets as it was being delivered. Even if the military wasn’t sure of his position on the NADECO struggle, he just gave them a clue. They went for him immediately and he was done delivering his speech. But he escaped, under circumstances that could only be described as a miracle. Those of us under Chief Jolapamo only knew they were looking for Chief Jolapamo as well, when on the day after Chief Ladoja’s speech, heavily armed military men surrounded Morlap Shipping, barged into the office shouting, “where is your Oga patapata!” They repeated this for a few more days in a row; luckily, Chief Jolapamo was nowhere to be found. We knew what happened to Kudirat Abiola, Pa Alfred Rewane and others under Abacha. You could therefore imagine our fears. We heaved a sigh of relief only after Mr. Matthew Oyebode, Morlap Shipping Administrative Director called everyone some days later and said, “Won o le ri Oga. Baba ati Chief Ladoja ti wa ni exile. Gbogbo yin, e lo man gbadura ki won o de layo. Ekun o ran nkankan. E je a maa dupe.” Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Chief Jolapamo and Chief Rashidi Ladoja did not return to Nigeria from exile until General Sanni Abacha died in 1998.

In 1999, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu became the Governor of Lagos. Among the first obstacles was the litigation against him and the Lagos State House of Assembly, when Festus Keyamo, now the  State Minister of Labour sued to disqualify Tinubu from being sworn in as Governor. Femi Falana and Fred Agbaje were the key attorneys. I worked with Mr. Fred Agbaje and I can boastfully say I did an overwhelming part of the brief under Mr. Fred Agbaje on behalf of the Lagos State House of Assembly. On occasions, Chief Jolapamo would sneak into the Ikeja High Court despite his hectic schedule. On many occasions, he would ask me to update him about the proceedings. After I updated him, he would simply tell me how he followed everything to validate my update to be accurate. He would end our conversation with a stern warning, “So fun Oga re, won o gbodo yo Tinubu o.”

Fast forward four years later, Chief Ladoja became the Governor of Oyo State. His key huddle was President Obasanjo and late Chief Lamidi Adedibu. When he was unconstitutionally removed from office, he had succor from Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who himself was at the same time contending with that same President Olusegun Obasanjo. Both survived President Obasanjo’s onslaught. The exception is Chief Isaac Jolapamo who would not touch politics with a mile long pole. His only involvement would be when I became involved in active politics and he had to solicit support for me with everything he has gotten, despite the challenges of age and his otherwise not so rosy perspective about Nigerian politics.

When Bola Tinubu was elected Nigerian President on February 25, 2023, I feel the trios of Chief Isaac Jolapamo, Chief Rashidi Ladoja and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu have all come full cycle in their struggle. As one of the beneficiaries of Chief Jolpamao, I had flashbacks of those days of their struggle and exile when no one could have predicted they would be blessed to see one of their own being sworn in as President of Nigeria a few hours from now. The first person I called to congratulate was Chief Jolapamo, and by extension Chief Ladoja. The trio of Tinubu, Jolapamo and Ladoja will always be valiant heroes to me. Now, I can now breathe a sense of relief, seeing sunshine after those days of darkness in the tunnel. I count them as extremely lucky.

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