How Ajimobi conquered history
By Festus Adedayo
If there was one mantra that gained currency most in the months leading to the April 2015 gubernatorial elections, it was the myth of no governor ever securing a second term at the Agodi Government House in Oyo State. It was told with frightening precision. Apart from history that was a sole witness to this myth, no one could pinpoint its origin or the person who owned its patent. Created in 1976, right from the reign of Chief Bola Ige as its first civilian governor, Oyo had always seen the back of its first-term governors. Those who recounted this myth did so with baffling surrender to its inexplicable authenticity. Even though it betrays common sense why Ibadan, capital of the state, or even the people of the state itself, would not reappoint a governor who performs excellently in their estimation, those who told the tale did so in surrender to its power and majesty.
Unbeknown to him, Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State may have, on April 11, 2015, given credence to American political scientist, Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama’s celebrated 1992 book entitled The End of History and the Last Man. In that book, Fukuyama elaborated on an essay he earlier wrote in 1989 titled The End of History? And published in an international affairs journal, The National Interest. Fukuyama said humanity would witness a socio-cultural evolution and the final form of human government through the advent of Western liberal democracy.
As results of votes trickled in from all the nooks and crannies of the state on Saturday evening cum Sunday morning of April 12, it was becoming apparent that, either mythical or contrived, Ajimobi would break the yoke of 39 years in the state. A lot has been written on how the yoke was broken. While some claimed that the victory was a connect with the Muhammadu Buhari movement-like presidential victory, some claimed that it was as a result of the failure of the gubernatorial gladiators in the state to close ranks and defeat a common enemy in Ajimobi.
The major factor that gave Ajimobi the victory of April 11 was his audacity to be different and his temerity not to do an about-turn when he was demonized by the opposition for daring to be different. Before him, governors had come and gone and they papered over the decades-old rot and neglect they met. Ajimobi stirred the hornet’s nest by choosing to transpose his personal discipline and hatred for disorder into governance. If you are patient enough to be with Ajimobi for thirty minutes, especially in the office or his home, you will notice that he stands up momentarily and goes to properly place a table that had slanted or a chair that was misplaced. He is a perfectionist who desires equilibrium in human affairs.
This writer granted an interview to a Briton, a doctoral student of the London School of Economics, a few days back, whose research interest is on good governance in Oyo State. She wanted to know the Midas touch of the Ajimobi win. My projection was that the opposition to the governor, even though they elasticized the pain of the urban renewal exercise that won the state so much fame in the eyes of the world to a disproportional level, they underrated the electorate and insulted the people’s sensibilities in the process. I once reckoned that the major problem in the state was that the opposition over-exploited the illiterate population of the state, using their lack of access to data and empirical evidences from other lands to hold them captive. They sold lies about Ajimobi to the people and concluded that the urban renewal exercise which the Ajimobi government was sworn to, if he was allowed a second term, would finally take their livelihoods from them. But from the pattern of voting, it was obvious that the so-called illiterate voters also exhibited some political sophistication that must have baffled the opposition, especially Ladoja, who claimed that the masses loved him.
Perhaps the greatest weapon with which Ajimobi won the elections was the intangible, but very highly pervasive peace that has swept through the state in the last four years. If you were in Oyo State before 2011 and live there, it was grossly unlikely that you would not vote for Ajimobi. The violence, brigandage and spate of murders that spread through the state during the governments of Adebayo Alao-Akala and Rashidi Ladoja clearly spelt out the choice for the people on April 11 to be between the peace of today and the violence of yesterday. Virtually everyone had one sorry tale or the other to tell and several lost their beloved in the process. The elite, many of whom this writer stumbled on, saw the government as one they must vote to come back in their own economic interest while even the average middle class persons saw a future that needed protection in his return.
Ajimobi’s sophistication also weeded a path into the hearts of the elite. Compared to his challengers, he had panache and a fascinating public presentation that made the elite see themselves in him. The others cut the image of backwardness and excessive materialism. His infectious brilliance and depth, especially at public fora, also helped steal the hearts of the people.
Ajimobi’s media visibility in the weeks leading to the election, especially on radio, also helped to collapse the four-year old lies spun by the opposition against him. His grasp and mastery of the Yoruba language, ostensibly more than his peers, helped to penetrate the walls of lies earlier erected against him. He came across on those Yoruba programmes as a leader who acknowledges his infallibility but pleads that in spite of those, the people should look at his love for the future of the state. The believability and candour with which he spoke also paved the way to the hearts of the electorate. His major challenger, Ladoja, had very sparse object of campaign other than that he would pay salaries as at when due, even when the mass of the people was aware that the economic recess in the country was the harbinger of the economic lull in the states. Worse still was that Ladoja had been in government before and the people have tales of a rigid and self-opinionated administration as relics of his rule.
Ladoja polluted the rivers when, a few days before the election, he said Oke-Ogun people did not need a dualized road which Ajimobi constructed at the mouth of the zone in Iseyin. This galvanized Oke-Ogun opposition against him. Coupled with a history of a couple of moribund and unsustainable industries he inflicted on the zone during his earlier rule, rejecting him for a man who had demonstrated friendship with the zone as Ajimobi had done became a given. Ladoja also ran a campaign of hate throughout the period. Rather than concisely tell the people what he had done before and marshal what he had for them if elected, he spent the greatest part of the time seeking to destroy Ajimobi’s government. At the end, this campaign strategy boomeranged because it not only lionized Ajimobi but made him an underdog. And underdogs curry sympathies and empathy of the people.
The N500 million shares money refund also lifted Ajimobi up and reduced the rating of Ladoja in the estimation of the public. Every defence of the Ladoja camp was not only incoherent but belied logic and further estranged him from the hearts of the people. Coupled with the widespread hate engendered by the parlour primaries of the Accord Party and the many disgruntled party men and women it brewed, it was apparent that the party would meet its waterloo at the polls.
Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi’s support for Ajimobi till the last day of election was also a factor that gave him victory. In spite of their disagreements which were far between, Ajimobi and Alaafin jelled till the last day, against predictions. The Iku Baba Yeye reportedly deplored his wide network in Oke-Ogun in Ajimobi’s advantage.
On the whole, on election day, this writer saw a different and unique quality in Ajimobi, his principal. A coolness and calmness that you can liken to Attahiru Jega’s in the face of Godsday Orubebe’s irritation came to play. This writer had been to governor’s early in the morning. He came out from his bedroom a little past nine to inquire if his polling unit was ready for accreditation. Being a student of communication who understands the spoken and unspoken aspects of communication, the governor either concealed his emotions very expertly or he was not bothered about where the pendulum would swing. After accreditation and voting, he retired to his sitting room and was watching television when the writer announced that Edmund Obilo, a celebrated broadcaster with a private station in Ibadan, was around to beam his voice live to the people of the state. After the interview, Ajimobi went to his bedroom to take a nap, literally telling everyone not to wake him, no matter what the emergency of the election was. He had told Obilo that he needed not panic because, like a studious student who had read, burnt midnight candles, he had campaigned the length and breadth of Oyo State and was convinced he had given the people the best and thus, shouldn’t panic on where the examiner would draw his questions.
On the whole, Ajimobi’s electoral feat which is rewriting the course of history in Oyo State, as Fukuyama predicted, was a vote against the violent past of Oyo State and thumbs-up of the masses for his developmental politics; vote against the politics of anything-goes, for intellect. In the last one week or so after the election, he has demonstrated that he is humbled by the electorate’s preference for him, in spite of the hate campaigns of four years.
•Adedayo is Special Adviser on Media to the Governor of Oyo State.