Today, family, friends, political associates will be performing the 3rd year fidau prayers for the continued repose of the soul of former two – term Governor of Oyo State, His Excellency, Senator Abiola Adeyemi Ajimobi. He died on June 25, 2020.
Despite being an annual ritual, the day still comes with nostalgia for all those who have had one relationship or other with the late former governor popularly known as Koseleri 1, on account of being the first governor to break the two-term jinx in the state. Prior to the advent of Governor Ajimobi, no Governor had ever governed Oyo State twice. Oyo was known as a one-term governor state.
People have described my dear boss and late former governor as a uniquely created individual, they would not be too far wrong in their opinion. The trajectory of his life clearly showed this. Though he died at the most unexpected time, death hardly announces it’s coming, he transitioned as a fulfilled man. He was quick to say that everything he aspired for and he wanted from God, he got.
For those who had worked with him, in the corporate world and when he was governor of Oyo State, being with him was a learning curve with life-long impact.
Apart from his intellectual capacity, he also had more than a fair share of native intelligence. He understood the nuances and idiosyncrasies of humans. He was perspicuous, with clear mastery of the English and Yoruba languages through which he enthralled his listeners.
But Senator Ajimobi’s life went beyond mastery of languages. Born December 16, 1949 in Oja’ba, Ibadan, Oyo State, Ajimobi was former Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer of National Oil and Chemical Marketing Company, a subsidiary of Shell Petroleum Nigeria, he was in the oil industry for 26 years before leaving in 2002. About a year later in 2003, he contested for the Senatorial ticket of his party, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) to represent Oyo South Senatorial district. This was a time late Alhaji Lamidi Ariyibi Adedibu held away in Molete and had the politics of Oyo State under his thumb. Ajimobi won. It was therefore a measure of his ability in planning, his unbending personality and focus that he won the senatorial ticket under the nose of the famed promoter of Amala-politics’ political juggernaut.
In 2007, he contested for the governorship of the pacesetter state but lost the bid, though a few people claimed he was robbed of victory. Both Ajimobi and Adedibu were in diametrically opposed political camps with the former contesting on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the latter, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The strong man of Ibadan politics, Alhaji Adedibu was not going to allow that ‘upstart’ to best him again. Though Ajimobi was not a neophyte in Oyo State political environment having come from a family with a rich political history. His late father was an associate of the Esa Oke-born late Governor of Old Oyo State and former Minister of Justice, Chief Bola Ige, while his uncle was also a major political player in the state at the time.
Undeterred by the loss of his governorship aspiration in 2007, he again contested in 2011, his aspiration was successful, he thus emerged Governor of Oyo State on May 29, 2011. With his tenure done after four years, he recontested for a second term in office and emerged victorious, a feat which was then unprecedented in the political history of Oyo State and which earned him the sobriquet, Koseleri.
As governor, he was dedicated to the course of Oyo State. He had once told a few gathering of cabinet members how, before he became governor, on his numerous visits to Ibadan from his Lagos base, what he would do to change the face of the state, if God gave him the opportunity to become the governor. Indeed, one of his former Special Adviser and my predecessor in office, Dr Festus Adedayo captured Ajimobi thus in one of his essays: ‘Ajimobi is a brilliant, perceptive and articulate leader, the type that any society needs. No one, not even his most bitter critic, would doubt Ajimobi’s patriotism and commitment to the development of Oyo State. He has done more roads than any government in the recent history of that state. More importantly, he enthroned and sustained peace in the state infamously described as a garrison at the height of its security infamy.’
One of Ajimobi’s mantra as governor was that no development could take place in any society without peace. He met a state where peace had taken a break. It was a lawless period where political war lords had carved out territories in the political landscape. Violence and brigandage was the order of the day. Many areas of the state, especially the state capital, Ibadan, became a no-go area for people desirous of longevity of life. Thus, on assumption of office, he embarked on moves to enthrone peace in Oyo State. He established Operation Burst, a joint task force of security agencies in the state. He also established the State Security Trust fund to ensure a robust security coverage for the Smstate through different intervention projects and assistance for the security agencies. During the period, the trust fund saw to the provision of assistance by equipping the police and the security agencies involved in the joint task force with Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC), patrol vehicles and communication equipment. The Safe City Project was also embarked upon with the emplacement of CCTV in some black spots in the state capital while there was a central control room to monitor what was going on. The idea was to expand this across the State. These are just a few of the strategies put in place by the Ajimobi administration.
With peace firmly in place, Oyo State under Ajimobi was set to excel, which it did. Within the period, Oyo State became one of the top five investment-friendly states in Nigeria, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). There was increase in tourism and hospitality sector players by about 147 per cent. Hotels, event centres, night clubs, lounges and cinemas increased exponentially. There was a renaissance of nightlife economy as violent armed robbery which could have negative impact on night time movement, was curtailed.
In 2011 when Ajimobi became governor, Oyo State had only six radio stations, this increased to over 30, the second highest after Lagos. The popular Asiwaju ni wa…, Oyo State anthem was created and remains popular among citizens till date.
In areas of social and physical infrastructure, his legacy remains unassailable. During his tenure, entry into the state from the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Arisekola Alao way, passing through Fresh FM was dualised. This was extended to other entries and exits into each of the major cities in the State. The Eleyele-Dugbe, Jericho-Aleshinloye roads were dualised. He inaugurated and began the dualisation and construction of Basorun- Akobo, Gate-Old Ife-Alakia, Oke Adu-Iwo, Ologuneru–Eruwa roads. The iconic Mokola overhead bridge was constructed by the Ajimobi administration.
In education, Ajimobi ‘s impact was also felt especially with the introduction of the Schools Governing Board (SGF), which helped in infrastructural rejuvenation of secondary schools in the state. SGB was made up of Teachers, Parents, Students, Religious leaders, Old Students Association who administered the schools. Problems in such schools were quickly tackled by the SGB without necessarily waiting for government’s intervention thus, cutting off red tapism that could have delayed the resolutions of such challenges. Some states in the South West at the period sent delegations to Oyo State to understudy the policy, for introduction in those states.
The Oyo State civil servants also fared well during the Ajimobi era. Apart from embarking on the restructuring of the Civil Service for better efficiency through the introduction of biometrics, his administration embarked on the payment of 13th month salary to workers and there was increase in car loans with a lot of workers benefitting. There was also the implementations of 142 per cent pension arrears to the tune of over N 2billion. Backlog of workers’ salary from 2008 to 2011 were paid while workers were equally promoted.
To describe Ajimobi as a man who saw tomorrow would not be amiss. One of the most controversial policies of his administration was the elevation of Ibadan High Chiefs to the position of crown-wearing Obas. His thought was to raise the standard of Ibadan and by extension Oyo State traditional institution. Unfortunately, many criticised this without looking at the positive side of the policy. The present administration has just done the same without a whimper from those who opposed the move at the time. They are all still alive.
Today, the Progressives fold continues to miss this astute, colourful politician. Many believed that the crisis that has bedevilled the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the state level, which has created a major schism with majority of the Progressives moving to Accord, would not have arisen. Before his death, he had embarked on a major reconciliation drive which had proved successful under his predecessor in office, late former Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala. All these came to naught with the death of these political colossus. As a leader, Ajimobi was not without his flaws, in spite of this, his greatest critics would readily admit that he was able to transform Oyo State.
As family, friends and loyalists offer prayer for the repose of the soul of this highly cerebral former governor, one could only hope for the sustenance of unity and togetherness in the progressive fold in the state as envisioned by Koseleri.
Bolaji Tunji was former Special Adviser, Communication and Strategy to former Governor Abiola Ajimobi.