Abiola Ajimobi: Keeping hope alive

June 25, 2020, marked a significant date among members of the All Progressive Congress (APC) family in Nigeria, more specifically for followers of the Progressive party in Oyo State. It was the day that the news of the death of the two-term governor of Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi filtered into the public consciousness. However, his death was more poignantly felt by his wife of over 40 years, Lady Florence Ajimobi who he affectionately referred to as Flory and his children.

Ajimobi, apart from the public façade was a known family man who never failed to create time for his children. Thus, his death made a dent in the psychological profile of his nuclear family- his wife and children.

It has been said on numerous occasions that his wife would sit for hours beside his grave side praying and talking to him. Her belief, friends say, is that he could hear her even in death. A friend of hers once informed this writer that Mrs Ajimobi had threatened to report her to her late husband. Many times, she was heard telling people that she would report them to her husband. For days, she remained inconsolable as condolence visits to her result into flood of tears.

That Ajimobi had a larger than life image was never in dispute. As governor of Oyo State, he was the first and the only politician to have had two terms of unbroken runs. As governor, he earned the sobriquet of the father of modern Oyo State due to the giant strides of his administration.

The thrust of his administration was hinged on a three-prong agenda of reformation, transformation and repositioning.  He was convinced that for the state to thrive, peace must be established as bedrock of development. Indeed, prior to his being governor, Oyo state was notorious for violence, brigandage and arson. The state was a re-enactment of the days of wetie and negative appendage of the Wild, Wild, West. It was a time when the godfather’s word was the law.

However, when Ajimobi assumed office, he set about changing that perception.  A joint task force security outfit named: Operation Burst was established with six zonal commands; Oyo State Security Trust Fund was equally established. Through the novel bodies, equipment such as Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC), Patrol vehicles and communication equipment were purchased.  Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) was installed in selected crime-prone areas in furtherance of his safe city project agenda. Knowing that religion was a touchy area in the lives of the people and a potential cauldron for inter-communal strife and violence, he established the Oyo State inter-religious/ inter-ethnic committee where issues that could lead to strife among community members were discussed and resolved. His efforts yielded tremendous goodwill and led to a peaceful state.

Hence, for eight years that he held sway, the state never experienced any bank robbery unlike the pre-Ajimobi era. Today, Oyo State seems to be on a retrogressive path with armed marauders and pockets of violence in different parts of the state. Residents could hardly sleep with their two eyes. Many attributes the security success enjoyed during the Ajimobi era to his no-nonsense approach to governance. As he was not one to suffer fools gladly, he would not rub miscreants on the head or pat trouble makers on the back.

Ajimobi’s security initiative paid off. Oyo State became investors’ destination when the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) rated Oyo State as the fourth most investment – friendly State in Nigeria in 2016. Oyo State also earned a four-star rating as a state qualified to attract foreign and domestic investors by the Nigeria Investment Promotion Council (NIPC) in 2018. According to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), under Ajimobi’s stewardship, Oyo State attracted 36 companies with a total of 3,884 employees while Foreign Direct Investment worth N22.8bn came into the state in 2016.  According to the NBS, there was increase in tourism and hospitality sector by 147 per cent since 2011, when he took over the rein of governance. Event centres, clubs, bars, lounges and cinemas led to resurgence in the night time economy of Oyo State.

When Ajimobi took over in 2011, Oyo State had just about six radio stations, by the time the stewardship ended in 2019, the state had 31 stations, the second highest in Nigeria after Lagos state. He bequeathed the state with the Oyo State anthem before his tenure ended.  Indeed, the State and the country acclaimed his success. Ibadan elders had this to say: “Before your assumption of office, Oyo state faced serious security problems unleashed by armed robbers, political thugs, as well as the NURTW factions struggling for ascendancy. You have now changed the violent situation to a peaceful one. Positive impacts have been made in the sectors of health, education, agriculture …”

Also, a former Minister for Mines and Steel development, Architect Musa Mohammed Sada said: “I was in Oyo state on an official visit about two years ago and as an architect, I must say that I am very impressed by what I have seen.”

Former Vice President and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the 2019 presidential election Alhaji Atiku Abubakar said this of Ajimobi’s tenure: “I have seen a lot of changes with cleaner streets and green environment”. Today, people of Oyo state believe Ajimobi would be turning in his grave because the legacy of clean environment he left behind has been reversed. Oyo state today is now regaining the toga of the dirtiest city in Nigeria. The reason for this has been traced to the discontinuation of the Ajimobi’s policy on waste management. As Governor, Ajimobi established the Bureau of Physical Planning and Development Control with the mandate to ensure compliance with extant State planning laws. He also inaugurated the Ibadan Master Plan in conjunction with the World Bank while refuse disposal vehicles were equally procured and the Solid Waste Management System was restructured. All these led to a cleaner city and environment.

Ajimobi also left impactful legacies in the landscape of the state in areas of education, infrastructural development, health and agriculture, most of them too numerous to mention. In education, the Ajimobi administration established the School Governing Board (SGB), a policy that brought in critical stakeholders to participate in the running and development of secondary schools in the state, such stakeholders include Old Boys Association who were encouraged to give back into their alma mater, students, religious leaders, community development associations. The policy was so successful that within its first few years of operation, about N2.8bn was injected into the school system. The money which was also managed by the Board never got into government coffers. The policy was so successful that some States sent representatives to Oyo state to understudy the initiative with a view towards implementing in their different States.

In all these, Ajimobi’s achievement could be said to have been guided by his words on marble: “I want to be remembered as the governor that modernised Oyo state. I want to be remembered as the father of modern Oyo state… someone who took Oyo state from the pedestrian level to the peak… my choice is to be a great leader of my people no matter the momentary gains I get in the process of taking them to where they ought to be.”

He indeed took Oyo state to a great height. By the time he left office, his party had another task for him. He was appointed the Deputy National Chairman of the APC and on his sick bed was again appointed the acting National Chairman of the party. He was respected for his engaging personality, his intelligence and the carriage of a statesman which he bore throughout his life time; unfortunately, he never lived to function effectively in those offices.

For all the vaunting achievements, his associates and members of his family have come up with a non-governmental   organisation, the Senator Abiola Ajimobi Foundation (SAAF) to keep his legacies unforgotten and his memories alive thus taking a cue from the words of Thomas Campbell: “To live  in the hearts we leave behind is not to die”. The foundation, in collaboration with the Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ibadan will on December 16 continue the annual lecture that Ajimobi established about three years before his death. This year’s lecture entitled; “States and the burden of the National Development in Nigeria”, which also falls on his 71st birthday is  in continuation of his conviction about the need to continuously interrogate the indices for national development and ensuring that the country achieves its full developmental potential.

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