A little over a year ago, shortly after the inauguration of the Ninth Senate on June 11, 2019, the question on the lips of many, especially the electorate from Lagos East senatorial district, was ‘Why did Senator Gbenga Ashafa not seek re-election to the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly?’
At the time, questions were asked as to why the Lagos State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) adopted a controversial direct primary to select its candidates in the 2018 primaries. Questions were asked about whether Ashafa, a two-term senator (2011-2019), truly stepped down to allow a fresh brain to contribute his quota to the development of the country at the legislative body? Many even wondered whether Ashafa was asked by the party hierarchy to lie low in preparation for a bigger responsibility in the future.
In response to those posers, there was deafening silence. The humble senator, whose accomplishments in the Seventh and Eighth Senate tower above those of peers, chose not to mutter a response. Rather, he opted to allow the impact of his two-term service to continue to echo.
To raise the pitch of that echo, the former Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Lands Bureau under the administration of erstwhile Governor Bola Tinubu, ventured into other non-profits and humanitarian gestures, touching lives.
Ashafa busied himself with the Gbenga Ashafa Trust Endowment (G.A.T.E), a Trust Fund he set up to provide funds for projects spanning ICT training, education, healthcare, micro-finance, as well as agricultural development. The endowment is specifically aimed at reaching out to the less privileged in the society, especially those within the Lagos East zone.
Indeed, the former senate committee chairman on land transportation and Ibeju Lekki/Epe citizen has continued to impact positively on the needy around him. Only recently, one of his projects, an ICT centre/town hall in Oreyo Grammar School, Ikorodu, which he sponsored as a constituency project, was commissioned for the benefit of his people.
Today, as Senator Gbenga Ashafa turns 65, this impactful strides and landmarks across the entire Lagos East senatorial district, Lagos State and indeed the country, are commendable. This explains why many of his admirers and political observers see him as a silent achiever.
A cursory look at the social impact of Ashafa’s contributions vis-à-vis other lawmakers from the Lagos East zone, particularly those that served in the senate since 1999 till date, including former Senators Adeseye Ogunlewe (1999-2003), Olorunnimbe Mamora (2003 to 2011), now Minister of State for Health, and the short-lived Senator Bayo Oshinowo, show that Ashafa stands tall.
Like a news analyst, Gbolahan Yusuf put it in 2018 when the 8th Senate was to round up its activities, “One would be hard-pressed to find in the 8th Assembly another senator as well-mannered, eloquent, cultured and refined as Senator Ashafa. He carries, in every way, the type of progressive demeanour that the APC promised Nigerians when it took over power in 2015.
“Through self-discipline, he has distanced himself from scandals, whether political or personal. His soft-spoken nature has endeared him to senators on both sides of the aisle and his brilliance shines through each time he takes the floor to speak in the Red Chamber. The many bills he has sponsored or co-sponsored directly affect the lives of the average Nigerian, for whom he battles daily in Abuja.”
In like manner, a member of the Governors Advisory Council (GAC) of Lagos APC, Basorun Olorunfunmi Olorunfunmi did not mince words when he once said that Ashafa is perhaps the best lawmaker the Lagos East zone has since produced in terms of reaching out to the district.
The octogenarian carefully chose his words by saying that the birthday boy stood tall in service during his tenure. “There have been other senators like Omoba Kingsley Adeseye Ogunlewe and Adeleke Olurunnimbe Mamora before Ashafa came in. We can physically point out what Ashafa did in terms of attracting projects to the area or coming near the people and making them to have the dividends of democracy. Ashafa has been doing this. He has performed on the floor of the House in terms of motions and bills. He stood and has also been a pillar of the APC. He is a pillar of support for the party and the government.”
Also, speaking on the virtue of Ashafa and wishing him a happy 65th birthday anniversary, Fouad Oki, a chieftain of APC and a former director-general of the campaign organisation for erstwhile Governors, Babatunde Fashola and Akinwumi Ambode, described the former senate chairman on Land Transport as “a gentleman to the core who played politics at the federal level like our founding fathers with commitment and dedication to serve the people.”
According to Oki, “I don’t think I can be unbiased about Ashafa because he is an administrator to the core. I am of the opinion that those who orchestrated the ranking senator’s ouster from the race would be regretting their deeds by now because it was a minus for the Southwest region.”
Oki also said Ashafa has an unfinished business to serve Nigeria in other capacities whether he desires it or not. This is beside that fact that efforts to get words from Ashafa on whether he has interest in running for the impending Lagos East senatorial bye-election couldn’t yield result.
In the 7th Session of the Nigerian Senate, Ashafa served as the vice-chairman, Senate Committee on Lands, Housing and Urban Development as well as the Treasurer of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), now APC. He was also a member of the senate committees on Environment and Ecology; Federal Character; Gas; and Senate Services. During his election campaign in 2011, he promised to work hard to translate electoral promises to meaningful realities. He left no one in doubt as to what he set out to do.
It is also worth mentioning that during the campaign, his electoral promises were hinged on a set of objectives that were people-centered, an agenda which progressively metamorphosed into the acronym: E.Y.E.S, which stands for the ensuing effective representation, youth empowerment, educational enhancement and sustainable agricultural development.
In discharging this element of his primary responsibility, Ashafa was able to successfully sponsor the following important bills – Income Tax Holiday Bill for Corporate Companies (2011), bill on the creation of an agency to cater for the promotion and preservation of our local languages (2011); a bill on Treaty-Making Process (Amendment Bill) (2012); a bill on Criminal Code (Amendment Bill) (2012); a National Directorate of Employment Act (Amendment) Bill (2013); Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Provisions, etc) (Amendment) Bill 2013; Value Added Tax (Amendment) Bill 2013; Minerals and Mining Act (Amendment) Bill 2013; Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act (Amendment) Bill (2014); Bank and Other Financial Institutions Act (Amendment) Bill (2014); Advertising Practitioners (Registration, etc) (Amendment) Bill; Declaration of Assets (Amendment) Bill; Motion on the deteriorating Services of GSM operators in Nigeria; and Motion on the imminent collapse of the Third Mainland Bridge.
In addition, he co-sponsored other bills and motions, which are Prohibition of Same Sex Marriage Bill, which has now become law in the federation; Motion on Lagos Flood; Motion on the creation of unemployment data and creation of job centres in the country and Motion on the solutions to terrorism in Nigeria.
One of the outstanding bills sponsored by Ashafa while in the senate was his recommendation of stiffer penalties for drug offenders through a bill to amend the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, Act CAP N30.
His intention for the bill was to address the issue of image assassination, which drug pushers are subjecting the country to among the comity of nations. The bill was unanimously accepted among his senator colleagues just as Nigerians expressed satisfaction over such move.
Undoubtedly, if the national leader of APC, Bola Tinubu were counting his politically-made associates and ‘loyalists’ in the Fourth Republic, Ashafa would rank high among them.
Born in the Luther/Bamgbose/Campos area of Lagos Island on July 22, 1955, Ashafa is the second child of a commodity merchant, Lawal Kakanfo Ashafa and a textile and gold merchant, Tesmot Ojuolape Elemoro. He started his education at Christ Church Cathedral Primary School, Broad Street, Lagos in 1961. His aptitude for leadership started manifesting early in life. While at Christ Church Cathedral, he was the Class Monitor from Standard 1 to Standard 6. He graduated with distinction in the Common Entrance examination in 1968 and went on to CMS Grammar School, Lagos.
At CMS Grammar School, he was Class Captain from Form 2 to Form 5. He was an avid football player (the goalkeeper), and a member of the school choir. He was also known to be a passionate table tennis player in the neighbourhood. He completed his secondary education at CMS Grammar School in 1973.
Ashafa went on to study Biological Sciences at Morgan State University, Maryland, USA, earning a Bachelor of Science degree (Cum Laude) in June 1978. He earned a Masters of Science degree in Public Health Administration from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1979.
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 venture.
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. In 1996, Ashafa founded a company called Beverage Specialties Limited, manufacturers of Choco-Vita (a liquid vitality drink) and Cocoa-Vita (a powdered vitality drink). He sold the business in 1998 and began another phase of his career.
Between 1998 and 2009, Ashafa once again entered Public Service. Under the leadership of Tinubu, Ashafa served as a co-opted member of the Governor-elect’s transition team, where he provided the blueprint for local government reforms in the administration.