Abiola Ajimobi: Mistake Or Mystique? | Festus Adedayo
The last two weeks must have been very challenging for the governor of Oyo State, Abiola Ajimobi. Assailed on all fronts due to the loss of his bid for the Oyo South senatorial district in the February election, the electoral loss became an opportunity for Ajimobi to be pummeled on all fronts by those who had nursed boundless grouses against him, especially in the last eight years of his administration of the state. The social media became the most fertile ground for his pummeling; real and concocted permutations of his political fate were traded on the go like they do at the security exchange market.
Extrapolations were made from this to arrive at a worse fate which they projected could befall his party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) in the gubernatorial election held yesterday. Those who claimed to be in the know narrated details of an alleged order from Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, banning him from afflicting the party with his alleged bad luck and maladministration of the last eight state.
Having been opportune to work with Ajimobi, I should be able to offer a dispassionate assessment of the character of the man they call Constituted Authority, a man whom I worked closely with for about six years – about two years before his ascendancy into power and four years of his being the governor of Oyo State. I feel that my conscience will not acquit me if I don’t lend my voice to the debate on who exactly Ajimobi is.
By the way, I apologize, dear reader that this piece will basically be ad hominien, dealing strictly with individuals, their character, rather than either issue or policy or even society in general. I am however of the opinion that it can be beneficial to society if we assimilate the general lessons to be learnt by plotting its graph from the specific to the general. By so doing, society can, by that very fact, draw one or two lessons therefrom. Leaders themselves cam tease out basic rules of engagement in administering men from messages the piece passes across.
I met Ajimobi for the first time sometime around 2002. I worked for the Tribune during this time. Highly respected broadcaster and current CEO of Oyo State Broadcasting Corporation, Yanju Adegbite had approached me to interview him in his bid for the senate. He had just left the National Oil as Managing Director. Meeting Ajimobi at his Oluyole Estate, Ibadan home that afternoon, he struck me as a very purposeful character. He demonstrated robust elan and fantastic grasp of issues of leadership. You could not but be swept off your feet at the sight of this handsome man. I penetrated the nooks and crannies of his heart like a purposeful cross-examiner will do; from his father, the late Ganiyu Ajimobi, his time in the oil industry, stint with Mike Adenuga, his vision for the state and his leader, Late Lam Adesina. Like a typical Ibadan man, he was an extrovert and garnished every of his words with the Dauda Epo Akara-kind anecdotes. I left with very impressionable view of his character. As I made to leave for my office at Imalefalafia, Ajimobi saw me off to the gate of his house. Till today, Adegbite never tires to regale me with the story of a fat gift extended to me that I declined that day. I, perhaps was too swept off my feet to bother about rewards.
Fate was to bring us together again in late 2009. A reader of my column in the defunct National Life newspaper had called the line affixed to the page. I took particular dislike to his calling, rather than texting as demanded by the columnist.
Calmly apologizing, he wanted me to be part of a strategy team being put together by a gubernatorial candidate of the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). I wasn’t hesitant to decline. He entreated and I caved in. It later turned out that the candidate was Ajimobi. This particular Sunday afternoon, I was again at Ajimobi’s house, after about seven years. He hadn’t changed much, still youthful in carriage. We sat in a place that served as his car port which was also a thoroughfare into the house and analyzed Nigeria and Oyo politics. He struck me as cerebral. Conversely, Ajimobi was apparently fascinated by my grasp of issues, especially my reportorial instinct. From then, our paths were wedged together, until 2015.
I really do not want to discredit those who saw/see Ajimobi’s persona in the negative. They are entitled to their dislike of him. I am also not saying he doesn’t possess those traits. Like every other human being, Ajimobi has scores of foibles. I am only by this piece saying that he is like the dual face of the proverbial Yoruba gangan drum where what you perceive of it is restrictive to your perception. For instance, Ajimobi possesses stubbornness for whatever he believes in and cares less whatever the rest of the world thinks about. After the media strategizing for his 2011 election, a welter of antagonism stood against my appointment into his cabinet. My antagonists all found comfortable anchor in the former governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Lam Adesina who, rightly so too, couldn’t stand my person. I was a major thorn in his government’s flesh. One day, Great Lam summoned the newly elected governor to his Felele, Ibadan home and asked him who would head his media. When Ajimobi mentioned my name, Great Lam, as our Yoruba people say, literally spurted saliva in the air and said this was impossible. Stubbornly, Ajimobi stood his ground.
For four years in his cabinet, Ajimobi demonstrated uncommon leadership. His first cabinet was an array of dedicated professionals who loved him to the core. Less than ten per cent of them are there now. Those were people who could look him in the face and told him hurting truth. Those were men of grits and valour. Don’t get me wrong: during same period, Ajimobi exhibited some attitudes that would make you want to snigger at him. I can speak boldly for the four years I was a member of his cabinet. He was dedicated to the course of Oyo State. I nearly bailed out of his administration in the first one year as the rigor was awesome. He left office most times about 1am, worked till about 4am at home and we literally had to go drag him off bed by 9am, preparatory to, most times 10am schedules. As his media adviser, he gave me unqualified access and never staffed my office. He also gave me free hand. Many of the press releases I issued, he read them just like every other person the second day upon becoming public knowledge. I could walk up to his bedroom and I made bold to say, I was never part of the fawners who told him what he needed to hear. I will give just two examples.
A Tribune reporter had just been assaulted by an Operation Burst team of soldiers and my phone was buzzing with calls from all over the world. I walked up the governor’s office but his ADC said I couldn’t see him as he was in a meeting. “Let him say he doesn’t want to see me,” I blurted out as I approached his door. Ajimobi opened it instantly. He was surrounded by – I forget now – who had come to meet him. “What’s the problem? I know you come here only when there is a problem,” Ajimobi had said. I replied in the affirmative and told him the problem. I had hardly relayed the issue at stake to him when the fawners around him said there was no big deal that soldiers beat up a journalist. I diffidently told them that there was a big deal. Ajimobi then told me to go and do the needful but not to hurt the soldiers who were helping us to restore peace in the state.
The second was when Ajimobi was persuaded by some government appointees to rise against two media houses in Ibadan. At meetings, in private, I told the governor that we would be roasted if we did that. Grovelers who apparently pushed him to this cliff insisted that he needed to show his brawns. One day, I arranged for the governor to visit one of the media houses. The accolades he received from the staff and its almost-century-old proprietor – now late – was so huge that when we later arrived the governor’s Oluyole Estate home, he hopped out of his car and came straight to me. “I must thank you for standing out. While everyone else said we should fight these people, you insisted we shouldn’t and today, we are reaping the dividends. Thank you so much,” Ajimobi had said. My head swelled by a centimeter, I must confess. So why would you as an aide not want to bite the bullets for such a boss who goes off the handle periodically but returns each time he finds the truth, to apologize to a small aide like me?
After about three years of not seeing him, I met my ex-boss last August. He was pleased to see me. As usual, I told him where he hit his leg against the stone in our relationship and where he had been an excellent boss. He apologized to me for his wrongs and I did too for my infractions towards him. If you ask me, I will say that I suspect that the bane of Ajimobi’s persona, especially during his second term, is that he reads too much of and seeks to practice the tenets of Robert Greene’s Forty-eight laws of power. Greene’s, you will recall, is purely Machiavellian, moulding rulers who have few pints of blood running in their veins.
Whenever Ajimobi acts according to the precepts of this book, he is a Machiavellian and not Jean Paul Sartre’s humanist that I saw in him while serving under him. He benefitted thousands of people in his eight years in office but unfortunately, a major character flaw in him turns this array of beneficiaries against him as soon as he acquires them.
In Ajimobi is a brilliant, perceptive and articulate leader, the type that any society needs. No one, not even his most bitter critic, would doubt Ajimobi’s patriotism and commitment to the development of Oyo State. He has done more roads than any government in the recent history of that state. More importantly, he enthroned and sustained peace in the state infamously described as a garrison at the height of its security infamy.
Like every leader, Ajimobi has his own character flaws. Strong are however these flaws that they dwarf a myriad of good traits in him. No matter his flaws, Ajimobi has greatly transformed Oyo State. He however left myriad other areas that need tackling. Whoever is announced as governor today will need to take Oyo a notch higher than Ajimobi will be leaving it in May.
This piece will be the first in a series of the intrigues and intricate web of the Ajimobi government.