The morning of December 16, 2014 met him presiding over a meeting on state matters; 12 midnight, that is. He had earlier sat for about 12 hours meeting strategic stakeholders on the development of Oyo State and at about 10.00pm, demanded that the deliberations moved to his residence. The brows of the ‘meetingneers’ had gone drowsy and their feet heavy but, literally on a food fast and his voice ringing like a member of a Christmas orchestra, all that passed Abiola Ajimobi’s lips were cups of coffee and pieces of Tom Tom.
Many of his aides in the last three and a half years of his governorship of Oyo marvel at the Trojan strength and capacity of their seemingly super-human principal. On this particular day, the day he clocked 65, the meeting ended at exactly 5.03am.
At 10.20 a.m., he was at the Government House chapel to thank God for sparing his life to witness the day, fit as a fiddle. At 4.14 p.m., as the crowd was being entertained at a reception organised for him, all Ajimobi demanded was his favourite meal of gari which he drank, in company with mere stew. Amid wondering stares by those who hadn’t seen him in such Spartan dietary consumption, he joked that such sparse approach to food was probably responsible for his austere size!
“Maybe my not eating as I should is what gave me this small stature,” he said while maintaing that drinking gari with stew is a delicacy that gives him pleasure.
That Abiola Ajimobi is a man of history is certainly for historians of tomorrow to tell. Like Feyeureband and his against method philosophy, Ajimobi’s governance of Oyo State in the last three and a half years has been against the method prevalent among past runners of the state. Pained by the profiling the state acquired in the hands of all but one (Lam Adesina’s) of the governments that ran the state since the inception of the Fourth Republic as a state of bloodletting and gangsterism, Ajimobi’s peculiar governmental narrative had been to distance himself from thugs, thuggery, while displaying zero tolerance for violence. Before him, the only fitting synonym for Oyo state was Syria, Palestine or Afghanistan where life was nasty, brutish and short.
Anyone who didn’t live in Oyo State pre-May 2011 may see the prevailing peace in the state as intangible. But for those who know the quantum of blood and the number of citizens that the state lost to the era before May 29, 2011, anyone capable of bringing back the elusive peace of the state could only be a superman. And for Ajimobi, peace was not rocket science. He only needed to lead by example as a man of peace, which he has been doing.
Another Ajimobi’s against method governance style was to retrieve the state from its beggarly disposition which detracted from its integrity. Before him, unknowingly, the state lost its pride as one where the leadership frittered money on the streets like the notorious, Robin Hood. No one bothered where the leadership got this illicit money neither did they care that it could have been money meant for their development. When Ajimobi came, he redefined the concept, stating that an Oyo person was too proud to be doled alms, no matter its size, choosing instead to give the people “stomach infrastructure” from the sweats of their brows.
Ajimobi also inherited an inherently dirty state from his immediate predecessors. Indeed, a dirt ranking among the 36 states ranked Oyo second dirtiest in Nigeria. This was his greatest headache. How could he give the people of the state omelet and not break eggs? How does he remove the entrenched culture of dirt, street trading, environmental impunity of several decades without being name-called by the opposition? Not bothered by the generations of debris that mounted on the road and the profiling of the people as dirty and apparently afraid to take hard leadership decisions, governments before him walked past and allowed maggots swim round the soup plate of the state. So Ajimobi elected to hold the bull by the horns, for the tomorrow of the people. What egged him on was the age-long Yoruba aphorism that the process of circumcision is attended by pain and agony but the circumcised young man who was before now a victim soon flaunts the subject of the exercise about town.
So Ajimobi began a weekly environmental sanitation policy that was coupled with daily lifting of dirt from the streets. Huge money was pumped into getting rid of dirt on the streets. Every night, Ajimobi’s dirt collectors rarely sleep and are on the roads to shovel the mountains of debris off the streets. Before long, Ibadan began to wear a new look and commendations trickled in, with people wondering how a man could overnight turn a dirty town into a wondrous metropole. With the Federal Government starving states of funds now and Oyo having challenges of meeting its social obligations, the task of keeping dirt off the streets is becoming more Herculean but Ajimobi is unrelenting.
Ajimobi articulated a comprehensive urban renewal programme that involves environmental sanitation, road network and ability to sell the state to investors. Perhaps due to their depth, exposure and understanding of governance, persons before Ajimobi were too limited in knowledge to understand this complex network. He began a systematic process of constructing roads that link and have deep meaning. For instance, a naïve person who sees the transformation of the Toll Gate area of Ibadan into a gaping aesthetic wonder and sees a dualisation springing parri passu from the entrance of the state capital, which forks down to Ring Road, branches by Aleshinloye, goes to Agbarigo Road, down to Magazine Road, off to Eleyele, may think it was fortuitous. Deeper reflection would reveal that it is a product of scientific planning and painstaking design. It is this naivety that makes previous governments to compare themselves with Ajimobi’s.
Some even say, ‘Ajimobi constructed roads, we did same!’ failing to appreciate the mental rigour that went into the Ajimobi model of road construction. It was this same rigour that went into the quality of his roads. When they now say they constructed roads during their times in office, they leave selves open to banters from a sophisticated society. Give it to them: None of the previous governments ever had the aesthetic appreciation of the Ajimobi government and his vision of development. This is glaring in the area of city development.
Selling wares on roads was outlawed, as is done in every society with an eye on development. Even though he removed shanties built on flood planes and removed kiosks built right on the roads, he made alternative provisions that are firsts in the history of the state. For instance, he constructed the South Camp market and gave it to traders free of charge, as well as giving the traders loans to work with. This is novel and unprecedented. The Ladoja administration also drove traders from selling on the roadsides but was never cited in history as ever building a single stall for anyone. Alao-Akala never even saw that as part of development.
Ibadan and environs had lacked quality potable water for about 17 years now. The ones being supplied were lesser than the optimum. The Asejire water project refurbished by the Ajimobi government has ensured that water taps kicked out water again. The challenge to the government is now replacing rusty pipes that are generations old.
The environment of the workers was Ajimobi’s first port of call. His view was that you only have self worth if your workplace is pleasing to you. He has turned the secretariat into a wonder to behold, paid 13th month salary for three consecutive years, gave salary/remuneration increase to workers as the state is no longer the least-paying state and paid N2.2 billion as arrears of 142 per cent pension increase. He also exposed over 34,000 civil servants to training programmes, gives public servants car, housing loans and is promoting workers as at when due.
He has increased pensions for Heads of Service and Permanent Secretaries from as low as N4000 per month to N258,000. These are aside the free transportation to and fro office for workers and his promotion of over 1500 teachers. I had forgotten. This is not an avenue to shower praises on Ajimobi. I have come to salute a man of peace, not to praise him. The man of history, that is.
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