Journalist, lawyer, politician and administrator, Tunji Bello has an enviable resume replete with accolades and excellent deeds.
That we celebrate his 60th birthday is more than appropriate for he stands among the most illustrious sons of Lagos State.
He has proven to be the most accomplished and durable civil servant of his generation. He has been an indispensable factor in the socio-economic progress the state has made since the 1999 return to democratic governance.
But the best thing about Tunji is that he is so much more than what is written on paper. The auspicious titles and honours simply cannot capture the extraordinary depth and inherent goodness of the man.
Tunji is of strong character, integrity, honesty and intellect. I have had the unique pleasure to watch him grow and evolve over the years, always striving to do better and be better, although he was already more than good enough.
In difficult times, the character of a person is most revealed. I have seen Tunji in action in such moments.
He remained steadfast and intact. A man of principle, Tunji never backed away from the fight worth fighting. A man of integrity to the core, he never took the easy way when that was not the right way. A man of excellence, he never did a partial job or made excuses. He got the work done better than I thought possible.
As governor, I knew after giving Tunji an assignment, that I no longer had to be concerned about it.
His excellence and work ethic allowed me to pile assignment after assignment on him, knowing that he would do more than come through. He would flourish and his work would stand as an example to others. What motivates Tunji is that he has the soul force of a humanitarian. Despite all he is and has done, he is among the most good-natured and kind-spirited of us all.
Without hesitation, Tunji is quick to extend a helping hand, providing guidance and instruction to the young workers around him on the one hand, while going beyond the call of duty to help the aged and weak among us on the other.
Most of Tunji’s adult life has been devoted largely to the public good, whether as an intrepid journalist and media executive or as an important player in bringing democratic and progressive good governance to Lagos State. Tunji Bello personifies the continuity we have sought in governance in Lagos State.
He is one of the few who have served in the administration of every governor from me to present Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. This is not only a testament to his devotion to the state and its development.
It also shows his versatility and his mastery as an administrator. He is a repository of knowledge, yet he is not stuck in the ways of old. He is a flexible, adaptive mind always searching for innovative ways to improve governance.
I have known Tunji for over three decades. I have never seen him waver in his commitment to the progressive ideal or his loyalty to the people and our best ideals. All I can do is to state one superlative after another to describe my friend and brother. His character is that of a rare breed, someone the Yoruba would call Omoluabi, a man of moral valour who any leader can depend on or rely upon for honest advice on crucial matters.
Three factors, in my opinion, have shaped Bello’s excellent personality and worldview. These are his solid family background, which attested to the fact that he is a product of a home of culture and morality; his professional calling and work ethics, which moulded him into an enlightened public servant, and the fine personal and family life he has created with the invaluable help of a perfect companion, his wife, Prof. Ibiyemi Tunji-Bello.
A writer of great repute, his analyses were incisive and uncannily prescient. His writings revealed his enduring belief in the power of ideas, reason, tolerance, wisdom, and right. Armed with such tools, Tunji rapidly climbed the professional ladder in journalism, becoming Politics Editor at the tender age of 27.
Not long thereafter, he was promoted to the Editor of the Sunday title and later Editor of the daily title of the famous Concord Newspapers Group. And much later, he was appointed Chairman of the Editorial Board of THISDAY Newspaper.
Despite the pressures of being a journalist and media executive, Tunji was able to turn his immense talents to the pursuit of legal education, becoming a lawyer in the process. His involvement in politics was born on the university campus. He entered university at a time of idealistic yearnings and expectations.
We all yearned for a more democratic and just Nigeria through the end of military rule. However, not all of us had the courage to fight for it. Tunji did. He was actively involved as the Vice President of the University of Ibadan Students Union, playing a vocal role in the popular agitation for democracy in the 80s. Since then, he has not stopped.
Tunji Bello played an important role in the struggle for democracy and good governance. One day the tales of this story will be fully told and Tunji will hold a prominent place in it. Bello was part of the kitchen cabinet of the late Bashorun MKO Abiola’s Hope 1993 presidential campaign.
When Abiola’s victory was annulled by the military, Bello was one of the first to take to the trenches to launch the fighting that would ultimately result in the return to democracy six long, often hard years later.
Here, I must thank Mr. Dele Alake, an eminent journalist and a remarkable Commissioner for Information in my cabinet as Lagos governor. Alake urged that I bring Tunji on board. I did. It was one of my finest decisions. Tunji’s contributions were immense and covered a wide spectrum of issues. I can attest to his interventions particularly in some highly technical areas where he brilliantly deployed his expertise. His capacity to achieve strategic objectives with speed yet precision is remarkable.
From the onset, Tunji was constructive and frank, adding so much to the spirited debates that became a hallmark of our cabinet and its success. As a member of our team in Lagos State, Tunji performed excellently whether as Head of Signage and Advertising Agency (LASSA), Secretary to the State Government, or Commissioner for Environment. He truly is the most accomplished and versatile public servant of this era.
Tunji contributed immensely to the 24-year Development Plan designed by our administration to accelerate growth, thereby changing the destiny of the state and its people. Also of great importance was Bello’s contribution to urban renewal in his capacity as Commissioner for Environment. Because of the unparalleled job he has done, Tunji still presides over this highly technical, sensitive ministry. He has set a standard that will be hard for his successors to approach, let alone match or surpass.
At a more personal level, Tunji has been blessed with the good and supportive family he deserves. He is a proud husband of a renowned scholar, Prof. Ibiyemi Tunji-Bello, and the father of upstanding children. My prayer for Tunji is that Almighty Allah continue to lay His beneficent hand of blessing on him and his family, grant him many more years of health and vigour that he may continue to serve his state, and nation. With all that Tunji has already done, may his greatest feats still lie before him.
May history remember him as among the best of us.
Happy Birthday my friend and brother. Happy Birthday Tunji Bello.
*Being excerpts from a new book, ‘In Pursuit of the Public Purpose – Essays in Honour of Tunji Bello at 60’.