Profile: Abiola Ajimobi’s long history of behaving badly

by Wilfred Okichie

It was the video seen around the world.

On Friday 13, January, a disturbing video made its way to the Internet. The Executive Governor of Oyo state, Abiola Isiaka Ajimobi was captured on video giving the worst performance of his entire public service career. While addressing protesting students of the state co-owned Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), who had every right to be mad, considering their school had been shut for about seven months due to the failure of both Oyo and Osun state governments, co-managers of the school to keep to their funding responsibilities.

As a result of the criminal negligence on the part of both states, LAUTECH’s management could no longer afford to pay staff salaries and students were sent home since 9, June 2016 as staff of the University downed tools indefinitely. It was understandable that the students would be aggrieved when meeting face to face with one of the persons who could remedy their circumstances but had failed to prioritise the situation.

In turns shocking, infuriating and chill-inducing, the video was a crass demonstration of power and privilege, an uncomfortable, worrisome display from an elected official existing in a reality far different from those who put him in office.

There is not one single detail that was redeeming about the entire encounter in which the governor goaded the restive students into violence. ‘’If this is how you want to talk to me, then go and do your worst.’’ he challenged in his Yoruba dialect.

That wasn’t all.

When he was interrupted while stressing a point, Ajimobi retorted maliciously, again in Yoruba, ‘’This is not the first time schools are getting shut now. So what?’’

This ugly episode goes on longer and even though Ajimobi eventually pledged commitment to the tune of 250million plus a promise of the same from the Osun state government, he does not end his performance before essentially demanding that the students to bow before him as he remains the constituted authority in Oyo state.

Frankly my dear…

To say that this distressing lack of any capacity to empathise was shocking to anyone who encountered the video is saying the least. The Oyo state governor quickly became a trending topic online and made newspaper headlines off the internet. But for citizens of Oyo state, the episode is quite familiar and only presented the world with evidence of their realities under the Ajimobi administration.

Another day, another elected official not giving a damn and how Oyo state citizens have come to expect them. This is after all the state that was once under the tyrannical grip of the late Lamidi Adedibu, former godfather of South Western politics whose authority was ultimately legitimised by President Olusegun Obasanjo.

When it comes to leadership that actually takes serious its responsibility of being answerable to the people only, Oyo state has been far from lucky.

When the fourth republic was ushered in in 1999 the late Lam Adesina was elected governor on the Alliance for Democracy (AD) platform. Pa Adesina’s four years were largely marked by non-performance and a later willingness to kowtow to President Obasanjo. The overbearing behaviour of Adesina’s wife, Sarat and extravagant lifestyle of his children certainly did not help his re-election cause.

People power flocked to strongman Lamidi Adedibu who capitalised on these weaknesses to help elect businessman Rashidi Ladoja. The relationship between both men was not built to last and only a year later they were locked in a battle for control of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) brought on by disagreements over the governor’s political appointees. Ladoja may have meant well but he expended all of his mandate and political capital battling the all-powerful Adedibu. It was a lost cause. He was impeached under controversial circumstances, then reinstated. The people suffered. By the next elections in 2007, Ladoja was swept aside by his deputy, Christopher Alao-Akala.

A retired Assistant Commissioner of Police, Alao-Akala governed Oyo state like his own personal fiefdom. Jumping from one scandal to the other and ignoring elements of basic governance while throwing the state open for all manners of brigandage, Alao-Akala was an unmitigated disaster. By the end of his four years, Oyo state indigenes were fed up.

The former single term Senator (2004-2007) and retired private sector operative, Abiola Ajimobi who had lost his first bid to govern Oyo state in 2007 (with the All Nigeria Peoples Party) began to seem like the most attractive option. Buoyed by his homely appeal, the popularity of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the south-west region and having received blessings from Pa Lam Adesina, Ajimobi clinched victory in a hotly contested race in 2011.

Emperor Ajimobi

Ajimobi’s emergence was meant to mark a new era in Oyo state politics as the battle-scarred citizens appeared prepared to join the rest of the country on the development track. And for a while it did. Internal security which used to be a naked wire in the state, due to the active politicisation of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) by previous administrations has improved tremendously.

The new governor embarked on a massive infrastructure drive, making spirited to replicate Babatunde Fashola’s Lagos success story in the ancient capital especially. Roads, landmarks, modern BRT buses, beautification and urban renewal projects remain Ajimobi’s biggest success stories.

The beautification of the notorious Iwo road interchange can only be compared with what the Fashola administration achieved in Oshodi and Obalende, important hubs of the mega city. Ajimobi’s willpower made possible the demolition of shanties around the area, long a den of miscreants, giving way for the blossoming of flowers and lush greenery.

Other key achievements are the dualisation and beautification of Eleyele-Magazine-Aleshinloye-Dugbe road and the Challenge entrance from the toll gate, the widening of the busy Apata portion of the Ibadan-Abeokuta Road towards Abeokuta through Omi-Adio.

But throughout all these, whispers always emerged, unable to be quietened by the dull hum of development. They were mostly complaints of an administration reluctant to listen to the people and a governor convinced he is doing the people a favour by leading them.

Sources who have worked at close quarters with the Governor report that he has no much use for objections and wastes no time in dressing down subordinates who fail to impress him. Apparently, Ajimobi has always gotten away with this sort of behaviour because in Nigerian democracy, who dares confront a state’s number one citizen convinced of his infallibility?

Confusion everywhere

Nowhere else have Ajimobi’s weaknesses been self-evident than in his policy misadventures in the education sector, the Achilles heel that is surely going to end up as the defining legacy of his entire 8-year administration. Ajimobi came to power promising ‘’restoration, transformation and repositioning’’ but so far, in the education ministry, he has only delivered division, confusion, and disarray, and the LAUTECH saga –which precedes him by the way,- is merely an ugly chapter. Instead of the shining glory envisaged at the commencement of his mandate, the education sector has proven to be the waterloo where Ajimobi’s legacy is sure to go down in flames.

After winning an unprecedented second term in 2015, Ajimobi in an interview with Splash FM’s program, Voices, outlined his administration’s education policy on the tripod of students, teachers and infrastructure. Because of dwindling resources plus a quest to raise standards in State, government proposed a return of 31 of the 631 public schools forcefully taken over by the military in the seventies to their original owners.

Tensions immediately began to run high as labour unions violently protested this so-called Public Private Partnership. Understandably so as Oyo state is one of the states that prior to this, benefitted from the free education policy institutionalised by Obafemi Awolowo. The state houses the premier University in Nigeria but that does not mean its citizens particularly like paying for their education.

The financial implications of Ajimobi’s policy surely dis-incentivized parents, already in a baseline lukewarm state about the idea of sending their wards to school. This leaves the young ones open to more lucrative options like venturing into petty businesses or joining the local NURTW wing. This apathy for education can be seen in the 2015/2016 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), organised by the West African Examination Council (WAEC), in which Oyo finished the race in the 26th position.

On the day of a planned stakeholders meeting on the matter of this policy direction, labour leaders boycotted the meeting and organising a protest that disrupted the occasion. The next day, the leaders led by the state NLC chairman Waheed Olojede were detained by policemen. The NLC lambasted Governor Ajimobi in a statement and reiterated the peoples’ right to a protest. Ajimobi denied authorising the police to arrest the labour leaders. The crisis lingered.

While government failed to adequately assuage fears and convince the electorate of its good intentions, affected students in what has now come to represent a nadir in civic participation, in June 2016, took to the streets in protest days later, chanting anti-government songs and ransacking the state headquarters of the ruling All Progressives Congress in Oke Ado. According to the students, the move by government was insensitive and poorly timed as their parents were being owed several months salaries arrears.

Reacting to this development and the indefinite NLC industrial action that followed, Ajimobi announced a shutdown of all public primary and secondary schools in the state. The students lost seven weeks of the academic calendar and the schools were reopened only after heads of affected schools had sent their apology letters as requested by the merciful, Governor Ajimobi.

On October 24, 2016, outraged students went on yet another rampage, burning down school buildings and destroying public property after they received their results only to discover that government had made good on its promised ‘’no automatic promotion’’ policy in which only students who score above 50 percent in both English Language and Mathematics would be considered for promotion to the next class. This came about in response to the state’s dismal performance in national examinations.

According to a report by Oluseye Ojo for Daily Sun newspapers, at Community Secondary School, Iyana/Idi-Ose, Ibadan, only one student, Miss Adenike Adeniran, out of a class of 26, was promoted from her SSI commercial class. In her telling, all her classmates shed tears after receiving their results and left with no choice, Adeniran joined them in mourning. This act would be her saving grace as she claimed that her classmates confided they would have pounced on her as well had she been anything less than sober.

Governor Ajimobi shut the affected schools and the offenders were arraigned for their actions. All of these distractions could have been avoided if only Ajimobi had engaged in proper and effective consultations before implementing his reforms.

Unkept promises

For student union leaders at the University of Ibadan (UI) circa 2008, their encounter with Governor Abiola Ajimobi remains indelible, and not for good reasons. Shortly after losing his first bid to govern Oyo state in 2007, Senator Ajimobi was invited to the nation’s premier institution of higher learning to headline the Personality Lecture of the Great Independence Hall.

According to the student leaders who organised the Hall Week, Ajimobi arrived UI quietly through an alternate entrance and made straight for the Trenchard Hall venue, absent the usual noisy entourage.

He had a good outing, bonded with the students, escorted them back to their hall of residence and made some promises of financial assistance. As is usually the case in such gatherings. The students believed him. After he left, all subsequent attempts to reach their new buddy proved abortive. Not one of the promises was redeemed.

While it may be expecting too much to imagine that politicians to keep every word made to needy students, there is something to be said for integrity. At the state level when the campaign machinery is in overdrive, it remains pressing to keep the promises at a respectable level, such that squirming out of them in the future becomes easier.

Ajimobi hasn’t exactly been known to deliver on campaign promises either. In the seven years since he’s been governor, his much-hyped youth empowerment program, YES-O which promised 20,000 new jobs collapsed under the weight of controversy when it could not even achieve half that number. The cadets which the programme employed were dismissed unceremoniously following concerns of a misdemeanour on their part.

A proposed state technical University failed to materialise, Ajimobi’s six model secondary schools initiative remains a pipe dream, a proposal to construct a 108km circular road to cover the entire state capital has since been jettisoned and the less said about the phantom Oyo state five-star hotel the better. He has also failed to conduct local government elections, although a fresh date, February 11, 2017, has been announced by the state electoral commission.

Despite this, Abiola Ajimobi became the first governor ever to secure a second term mandate in Oyo state when he defeated a murder’s row of prominent individuals,- including two former governors- in 2015.

Contesting on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) this time, Ajimobi had as his rivals, Labour Party’s Christopher Alao-Akala, (formerly of the PDP), Accord Party’s Rashidi Ladoja  (also formerly of the PDP), Teslim Folarin of the PDP and Seyi Makinde of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

Ajimobi whose first term in office was largely uneven had an easier run to victory than expected when his heavyweight opponents failed to rally around themselves and ended up edging one another out by splitting their votes. Thus 327,320 votes were enough to earn Ajimobi a historic second term in office. At the time, no one could have foreseen the disaster that his second term in office would turn out to be though.

Oil man

Born 16, December 1949 to a prominent Ibadan political dynasty, Ajimobi may have been prepared for the challenge of being Governor by studying the feats achieved by his father, Pa Ajimobi, an Honourable member of the House of Assembly in the Old Western region, grandfather, a former Sobaloju of Ibadan Land, as well as his uncle N.A. Ajimobi who was a former minister of works and transport in the Western Region.

Ajimobi attended Lagelu Grammar School before journeying to the United States of America where he studied Business Administration and Finance at the State University, New York. His MBA was in Operations Research and Marketing from Governors State University, Illinois. Ajimobi worked as a state certified underwriter for some time before returning home to Nigeria in 1977. Three years later, he married Florence Ajimobi and they have five children.

Ajimobi enjoyed a top-flight career in management positions at various blue chip companies before joining Shell’s National Oil and Chemical Marketing Company as the Consumer Products Manager. He retired from the NOCMC as the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer voluntarily in 2003 after 26 years of service in the Oil industry to commence the second phase of his life.

Second acts

Not everyone gets a second chance in life but Governor Abiola Ajimobi has been extremely lucky. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has been privileged to live in the top 1 percent for the majority of his life. This may explain his seeming inability to feel the pain of the masses.

The crisis at LAUTECH persists with no end in sight and the communication from the Governor’s camp instead of taking the lead on permanent solutions has been to assure that the protesting students will not be punished. Meanwhile, the students continue their daily protests urging Ajimobi and his Osun state counterpart, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola to do the needful. A sad development for a school once ranked by the Nigeria Universities Commission (NUC) in 2003 and 2004 as the best state University in Nigeria.

While marking his 1000 days in office in 2014, Governor Ajimobi once observed to a team of reporters, ‘’In a developing nation, everybody goes cap in hand to meet the government for whatever he needs and once there is a government, the kind of hero-worshipping that you witness is unbelievable, and you begin to think that you are a Superman and therefore, you can do and undo.’’

Funny how he doesn’t realise he’s become the very person he once railed against.

Funny, and tragic.

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