By Abdulkabir Olatunji
It was a weekend and we were coming back from an Estate Residents Association (ERA) meeting a few years ago. We lived in the same block and he was heading home just like I was. He walked in a strong dignified manner which was unmistakable anytime he passed. He acknowledged greetings and offered his in return to the elderly, young, Muslims, Christians — it didn’t matter as long as you were on his path. He then walked past and greeted a group of youths, and as I was about to walk past them, one of them described the man that was ahead of me and out of their earshot “ONE MAN MOPOL”.
I caught the statement and smiled within myself for two reasons. First, I wasn’t supposed to hear it but I have the gift of hearing such things and secondly, I was in agreement, the man that just walked past was indeed a “ONE MAN MOPOL” and his name is Sheikh Ridwan Olanrewaju Suenu — my teacher, neighbour, boss and father. For those that might get confused, I am not his biological son, but in so many ways and with so many people, they don’t know the difference; there are many of us like that.
So many things have been written and said about his life and how he lived it since he passed on Sunday, October 10, 2021. Yes, he was knowledgeable, trustworthy, kind, bold, brave, time-conscious, loyal and highly sociable.
But what I am going to write on are his managerial and leadership qualities. “Alhaji” is what we his teeming students and close associates call him. This in itself is evidence of his humility, we all know people that want prefixes added to their names “Al this”, “Al that”, some even demand to be called “Daddy” by their followers. Let’s leave this before I digress. Permit me to use Alhaji Ridwan Suenu henceforth in this write-up, I think he would have liked it this way.
As a leader, Alhaji Ridwan Suenu was focused on his objectives, pragmatic and strategic in building his teams and led by example. At a time when our Estate had entered its own micro “civil war”, he got to work, he spoke to the elderly, he spoke to the youths, he spoke to the women, he spoke to the Estate Residents Association, he spoke to the Community Development Association (CDA). He spoke to leaders within the Christian Community, he naturally engaged with other Muslim leaders as well. With his integrity and dedication, warring parties sheathed their proverbial swords and peace was given a chance. He got sworn in as pro tem Chairman of the Estate Residents Association, I was the General Secretary and with other Pro tem EXCO members, we built a foundation of trust and peace began to emerge.
We ended-up being elected in our full capacities and used the maximum 2 terms allowed by the constitution. We effectively managed the Estate with strong preference for order and fairness. It is due to the leadership of Alhaji Ridwan Suenu that people no longer put generators in front of their balconies, or flats in our estate — this is a clear fire and safety hazard but until he put his foot down that it must stop, people didn’t “see the need” to avoid this clear and pressing danger. He pushed for people to be more conscious of their environment and security. Clean your blocks, pay your security dues no matter how highly or lowly placed you are. He strictly enforced these policies and these are things that other leaders in the estate after him have sought to build on. So, when Real Estate agents promote our estate to prospective new property buyers or tenants at competitive prices, they are benefitting directly from the work Alhaji Ridwan Suenu did. Prior to his emergence as ERA President, people were leaving the estate because things seemed broken and disjointed — people “fled!”
In our society, forthright people are not readily loved and when he insisted that indiscriminate building of structures in the Estate must stop, opponents found a tool to rally themselves. Even with the immense agitation and tension they brewed, Alhaji Ridwan Suenu was able to make his point by halting almost all new structures and benevolent enough, not to insist on others going with government hammer. The idea was to create order, not leave people broken. As a society, we need to be disciplined, if we refuse, we are the ones that will pay the price for indiscipline.
Alhaji Ridwan Suenu showed leadership in the Estate Muslim Community Mosque — engendering proper organization and spiritual upliftment of the Muslim Community. This he had done for decades through Umu Hujjatullah Qur’anic Center, an institution of which I am a product but the Mosque remains a key community institution for Muslims and I make bold to say today that it is through the efforts of Alhaji Ridwan Suenu and other like-minded individuals that our mosque is one of the best-run anywhere in this country. Even during this COVID-19 pandemic, he showed uncommon leadership to drive adherence to all government mandated protocols for religious institutions. In many regards, we were even ahead of the curve, some of our policies were then replicated large scale by government.
Today, I am a certified Project Manager and don’t have any inhibitions taking-on management duties, I have worked with some of the brightest people Nigeria can throw up, the confidence to step-up was largely built working on projects with Alhaji Suenu from hosting religious events, Annual General Meetings (AGM) for the ERA, meeting and collaborating with security agencies and of course — Managing “NEPA” and its successors, PHCN and IKEDC. The list is long. If tomorrow, they call me a successful Project Manager or Management Consultant, I will thank Allah and give credit to Alhaji Ridwan Suenu and my other illustrious teacher Dr. A.A. Lawal as pivotal influencers in my Management journey.
Alhaji Ridwan Olanrewaju Suenu has had similar influence on thousands of others and hundreds of institutions. Before I end this, let me also address an issue that many people whispered during his lifetime: “how does an Islamic Cleric become a politician?”. I am going to help you with an answer; he becomes one as a fighter for the rights of his people. Politics is about representation, and Alhaji Ridwan Suenu with his political engagements proved that you don’t have to be elected to office to impact people’s lives positively. Many people know the impact he had in their lives in this regard more than me, so, I will allow them talk about this.
As I round-off, I am clear in my mind that while we are sad that such a great man has left our midst. We are indeed grateful that he lived a good life, died well and has successful children to push his legacy with the help of his family, friends, associates and well-wishers.
May Allah in His infinite mercy overlook his shortcomings, magnify his good deeds and grant him Al Jannatul Firdaus.
He was indeed our own ONE-MAN MOPOL! Quite a man and an institution (in and of himself).
To extend his legacy, a foundation is being established in his name, we will share details with you soon In Shaa Allah