Tunde Fagbenle: My encounter with Oyo State’s Ajimobi

by Tunde Fagbenle


However, to my relief and joy, he turned out to be someone completely different once the interview got underway.He certainly is smarter and more knowledgeable than his initial gaffe and momentary absence of mind would suggest. He exuded charm and confidence and, apparently, he had been a big player in the corporate world before getting into politics.

On Monday, February 24, I, along with some other personalities, was on the five-person panel to interview Senator Abiola Ajimobi, the governor of Oyo State, on the occasion of his 1,000 days in office. The interview was to be broadcast live on the state’s television and radio stations, BCOS.

I couldn’t recall ever meeting Ajimobi before or since he became the Governor of Oyo State, so there was some curiosity on my part, especially with what I see of Ibadan wearing a new look by the day. Moreover, if I wanted to baulk I couldn’t, his Special Adviser on Media, Dr. Festus Adedayo, and the moderator of the interview, Mr. Yomi Layinka, the Chief Operating Officer of BCOS, are my good aburos, I could not refuse.

But Ajimobi dampened all of that for me at the first instant. He did, before winning me over again with his brilliant mind and endearing naturalness.

The event held outdoor on the grounds of his Governor’s Lodge, in Agodi, Ibadan. It was scheduled for 7pm and, as to be expected, those of us on the panel were there well ahead of time, seated in one of the many lounges of the sprawling edifice. We rose to honour the governor when he walked in, brimming with a toothy smile.

He moved round to be introduced to each and everyone of us.  Felix Adenaike, my egbon and former Editor-In-Chief of Tribune and Sketch newspapers, he recognised. Who wouldn’t in Ibadan! Indeed, all others he recognised; all but me. No surprise, many people get ‘fooled’ by my looks – unable to reconcile the youngish face they meet with the geriatric, ‘everybody’s egbon’, impression of my column. But it was different with Ajimobi. Not only did he not recognise the face, he, indeed, claimed not to have heard of the name nor read me!

Now, I am not bigheaded and I certainly I’m not under the illusion that every Nigerian would have read my column or whatever. But, truth be told, how would anyone have become a governor, and be a governor of a state such as Oyo and not be familiar with the dominant media and their dominant writers (permit the little conceit) in the region? PUNCH (and especially SUNDAY PUNCH), for crying out loud, is the largest circulating and most popular newspaper in Nigeria, certainly in the West. And my 17-year old (yes 17, in one form or another) column has been on the back cover of SUNDAY PUNCH consistently in the last three years! He must be kidding.

But Governor Ajimobi wasn’t, apparently. “Well, now I’d be reading it (SUNDAY PUNCH and my column),” he said as if to cheer me up. I was put off. “I don’t think this all-smiling guy is worth my while here,” I thought to myself. It was bad enough that he “hadn’t” read me, it was worse, in my view, that he couldn’t at least pretend as “courtesy” demands or as is the wont of politicians. Was it a deliberate put down?

However, to my relief and joy, he turned out to be someone completely different once the interview got underway.He certainly is smarter and more knowledgeable than his initial gaffe and momentary absence of mind would suggest. He exuded charm and confidence and, apparently, he had been a big player in the corporate world before getting into politics. He was down-to-earth and was not carried away by the grandeur of his office to get the illusion of any permanence.

To quote Ajimobi: “…But 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. Some can even come to you to say that if you leave office today, they will die tomorrow…”

The way the interactive event was structured and the natural loquacity of a politician having a load of achievements to show off left little or no room to sufficiently take the governor to task on some critical issues of development. Ajimobi did all the talking but he was brilliant and breezy about it, with an admirable gift of gab. Explaining his administration’s tripodal programme – restoration, transformation, and repositioning – Ajimobi came up with a narrative of achievements in the areas of security, education, health, water, roads, and many more that have truly transformed Ibadan and Oyo State magnificently.

An international Leisure Centre that would be “Number One in Africa” is underway at the old Agodi Gardens, he said. Handled by a South African group, the centre, on several hectares right in the choicest part of the city, has facilities including a huge lake for water sports, botanical garden, health farm, chalets, mini-zoo, playground, etc. I’ve driven past it and what I see going on is impressive. The worry is that past governments have not been without one fancy idea or another. There was once, many years ago, a large state-of-the-art Amusement Park close to the University of Ibadan. What became of it?

The problem has always been lack of maintenance culture and non-sustainability of projects. Let us hope this new great idea would not fall prey to the malaise of the past – be it of ownership, structure, management, pettiness, or lack of continuity by succeeding governments.

Ajimobi failed me in his total lack of interest in sports development. “Only a well fed belly can think of sports,” he said in reply to my enquiry on sports policy. For a governor who claims to have been a sports person in his school days, more was expected. Although one understands that in the face of competing needs within limited resources, prioritisation is key, where there is a will there is a way, and a policy, for example, of scouting for and identifying talents for government sponsorship to highest levels of individual capability would not be a terrible drain on state resources. On the contrary, such a policy would, in years to come, yield the state immense returns in what is known as “sports tourism”, a booming international business.

Imagine, for example, Oyo State having a tennis player reaching the finals of a Master’s or Grand Slam. The yield to the state and the country would be unquantifiable, and that is not only in the millions of dollars the player earns, but in the positive image and tourism the state and country would harvest – just as Nduka Odizor did to Nigeria when he reached a mere quarter finals of Wimbledon back in the 80s, or as Li Na is doing to China now!

I should let Ajimobi know, there’s a young girl, Sarah Romoke Adegoke, right there under our noses in Ibadan, whom I have spent a number of columns in the last couple of years bringing to the notice of Nigeria to no avail. Romoke, when aged 13, through her natural talent and the effort of her tennis playing father, Dapo, became “number one in Africa” in her age category, a ranking she held well into age 14. She is now 16 and in final year of her secondary education. So she has moved up to the Junior (18 and under) category where she is already holding her own. Sponsoring Romoke to a tennis academy like the world renowned IMG in Florida which has bred several world champions, and of which I have secured an admission for her, would be a great start.

My encounter with Ajimobi filled me with hope that all may not be lost, and with his like, Nigeria has a chance of getting out of the woods of underdevelopment and rottenness in which she is mired. And that’s saying it the way it is!


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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