By ‘Wale Sadeeq
There is no doubting the fact that an average citizen of Oyo State is politically sophisticated, highly intelligent and sagacious. They don’t suffer fools gladly and they call a spade by its name without minding whose ox is gored. All these attributes have always come to play during political discourse and whenever the need to make informed political decisions arises.
It could, therefore, be safely concluded that their resolve to give Governor Abiola Ajimobi an unprecedented second term in office in 2015, through their overwhelming votes, was not a blunder. Rather, it was a reward for his monumental achievements in the areas of peace and security, road construction, education, health, agriculture, physical and social infrastructure, among others, during his first term. This feat has equally received applause from far and wide.
For instance, a respected Ibadan elder and former envoy, Ambassador Olu Sanu, had, while acknowledging the governor’s exemplary performance, once said: “we are indeed very lucky to have Sen. Ajimobi as the governor of Oyo State. He came around at a time that Oyo State needed a leader who would not be insular in his thinking; a leader who would harness all our resources for the development of our state and one who would create an enabling environment for people to achieve the best they could.’’
A former Chairman of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria in Oyo State, Apostle Sunday Popoola, had also, in a letter to the governor entitled “A Word of Encouragement’’ saluted what he called Ajimobi’s courage, vision and determination. The cleric had said further, “Ibadan had been a huge slum and a disgraceful sight to behold in the state called the Pacesetter. Now, the change we need is ongoing. I also appreciate the speed at which the work is being done. It takes guts to leave the ruts. I am so delighted that we have found in you a leader with guts to get us out of the ruts we have found ourselves in the land.”
In spite of these accolades, the governor has not rested on his laurels. Rather, he has sustained the tempo of development in all sectors, including industrialization, even in the face of dwindling resources.
But, to the uninformed, and those who have allowed political affiliations to becloud their sense of judgment, Ajimobi has got it all wrong. One of their reasons, which are jejune in all intent and purposes, is that Ajimobi has challenged the stat us quo by insisting that things should be done differently. In their reckoning, the governor has committed many ‘sins’ and should be crucified.
They care less if the paradigm shift has changed the typeface of Oyo State for the better and thus resulted in the tremendous growth and development of the state; a state that had earlier been held by the jugular by some reactionary elements. Upon his election in 2011, Ajimobi met an Ibadan with the renown of one of the dirtiest cities in Nigeria, a development, he said, was unacceptable. As part of his administration’s comprehensive urban renewal policy aimed at changing the face of not only Ibadan, the state capital, but also other major towns and cities in the state, a ban was placed on street trading. An ultra-modern market was built by the state government at Scout Camp, Molete, Ibadan, as an alternative for the displaced traders, while the stalls were allocated to them free. The governor also mandated the 11 local governments in Ibadanland to build neighbourhood markets in their respective council areas to ease trading.
Aside helping in restoring sanity and improving the aesthetics of the city, the policy has most importantly saved the lives of the traders who hitherto had the unfortunate history of being overrun by vehicles while plying their trade by the roadside. Interestingly, this has become one of Ajimobi’s undoing as political jobbers have arm-twisted his good gesture to turn the gullible traders against him.
One of the many sins of the governor is also the staff verification that was conducted in all ministries, departments and agencies across the state with a view to eliminating fraud, errors in the payment of salaries and pensions, as well as determining ghost workers. But the governor was vindicated with the mindboggling discovery of several cases of multiple salary payments into single accounts or to single names in other instances, as well as revelation of employees who have passed retirement age still drawing salaries. Among other infractions was the discovery of invalid BVN, invalid bank accounts and name details, as well as employees with mismatched names, totaling 16,532, out of the 100,259 workers verified. While some with valid proofs have so far been cleared and re-absorbed into the payroll, available records show that several others have either voluntarily exited or have been eased out of civil service, thus reducing the state’s huge monthly wage bill.
Also, when the automatic promotion policy in public secondary schools was abolished in 2016 and the students who failed some compulsory subjects were refused promotion, hell was almost let loose. Critics went to town, calling Ajimobi all sorts of names for daring to stop the policy, which had unfortunately resulted in poor outings in public examinations by the students. Interestingly, the policy paid off, with the state coming second in the 2016 National Examination Council (NECO) examination among the 36 states in the country.
Part of the moves by government to address the infrastructural decay in state-owned secondary schools was the introduction of School Government Board (SGB) to serve as a masterstroke for education revival in the state. With membership drawn from the alumni associations, parents, community leaders, among others, the boards were constituted by the governor in all the 628 public secondary schools for all-inclusive management of the schools. Although critics have been unrelenting in their failed attempt at shooting down the policy, instances abound that it has started yielding result. For instance, the old students of Olivet Baptist High School, Oyo, recently donated a block of classrooms constructed at a cost of N18 million for their alma mater. Similarly, Lagelu Grammar School, Ibadan, also got a block of toilets worth N11 million from its old boys. A private firm, BOVAS and Company Limited, has just handed over a block of six classrooms with the capacity of accommodating 300 students, valued at N16 million, to Oyo State College of Agriculture and Technology, Igboora. This is aside the 70,000 books covering different subjects, donated by a US-based non-governmental organization, Jewel of Africa, to the state government.
Governor Ajimobi has also erred over his foreign trips which, in the estimation of his sworn critics, were mere jamborees; and the ultimate aim of which was to fleece the state government of its scarce resources in their narrow reasoning. Whereas, those trips, particularly to China, had, at the last count, attracted no fewer than 36 new companies to the state, with close to 4,000 direct employment, according to the statistics obtained from the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria. A further dividend of these trips was the rating of Oyo as the fifth most investment friendly state by the National Bureau of Statistics, with the governor adjudged to have attracted more than $61m (N22.4 billion) foreign direct investment to the state in the last six years.
The establishment of the Polaris-Pacesetter free trade zone and an industrial park along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, and the fact that seven firms, among the 157 expected to berth in the zone, are scheduled for inauguration by the end of the year is a testament that the China shuttles have been of immense benefit to the state.
Inexplicably, the ongoing review of the 1957 Olubadan Chieftaincy Declaration, which is aimed at modernizing the process of ascension to the Olubadan throne and ultimately lift the status of Ibadan as a modern city, has also pitted Ajimobi against those masquerading as the custodians of the tradition. The antagonists are unfazed by the argument that the review would give room for the emergence of more beaded crowns in the ancient city, who would be answerable to the Olubadan as the imperial majesty. While the critics are busy spreading falsehood and setting the revered Olubadan, Oba Saliu Akanmu Adetunji and indeed, a section of the public against the governor, prominent Ibadan indigenes, including members of the Olubadan-in-Council have asked Ajimobi to forge ahead with the exercise.
Only recently, the immediate past President of the Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes (CCII), Chief Wole Akinwande, said in an interview that there was nothing bad in the review as long as it was aimed at further enhancing the status of the Olubadan and, by extension, the ancient city. The wide acceptance of the exercise was also manifest at the public sitting of the Justice Akintunde Boade-led commission of inquiry on the review, where 91, out of a total 118 memorandum submitted, were said to be in support.
On June 16, 2017, Governor Ajimobi flagged off the construction of the 32km first phase of 110km Ibadan Circular Road to boost the socio-economic development and transportation system in Oyo State. The project was conceived in 2002 by the Alhaji Lam Adesina-led administration but had suffered neglect and abandonment under successive administrations.
It is estimated to cost N70 billion and will be financed through a facility sourced from the Nexim Bank of China by the contractor, the ENL Consortium, on a `build, operate and transfer’ arrangement with the state government. No sooner had the project been flagged off than those professing to be the ‘dreamer’ of the project took to town to condemn Ajimobi, the ‘actualizer’ of our generation, for daring to resuscitate the project. Explanations that the project would enlist Oyo among the elite states with modern road network; that it would ease the congestion within the city; and ultimately incentivize investors fell on deaf ears.
Ajimobi’s other ‘wrongs’ are his knack for merit, orderliness, due process, doing things right and doing the right things; cleanliness, his bold and confident posturing, and public acknowledgment of his wife, Chief Florence Ajimobi, as the cornerstone of his political odyssey.
As a former Secretary-General of the Yoruba Council of Elders, Dr. Kunle Olajide, would say, “Nigerians are usually very quick to criticize leadership when things go wrong but often, they never commend government when they perform.” While waiting for their commendations would be tantamount to waiting for Godot, the opposition should at least acknowledge the giant strides of Ajimobi. Ajanaku koja mo ri n kan firi, t’aba r’erin ka so pe a r’erin (Only the visually impaired will deny the commanding presence of an elephant). Posterity, no doubt, will vindicate Ajimobi as the game changer of the modern Oyo State.
– Sadeeq is the Senior Special Assistant on Media (Print) to the Governor of Oyo State