BY Chris Paul Otaigbe
On December 16, 2019, Abiola Ajimobi, the immediate past governor of Oyo State broke the jinx of the seventh decade in his family. It has never been heard of that any member of his family lived to celebrate 70th birthday.
Thus, his desperation and anxiety to reach that enviable age, which he celebrated in style.
His life had been that of a regular successful private sector personality until he decided to be Governor of Oyo State. Even as Governor of Oyo State, he had run the administration almost as a regular governor and kept under the national radar, although some of the unfavorable part of his policies were tolerated by Oyo indigenes, until he demolished the house of a popular gospel musician, popularly known as Ayefele.
The video went viral and that was when the attention of the nation was drawn to him. The uproar against his administration was deafening because Nigerians and indeed, Oyo citizens were angry as hell for his destruction of the home of the physically challenged music artiste..
This was in the twilight of his government. Even though he had rebuilt the gospel artiste’s property, the harm had already been done and the people of Oyo never forgave him. Consequently, in protest, they switched allegiance to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and voted against his anointed candidate to usher in the current governor of the State.
He was denied the senatorial seat that would have easily gone to him in the tradition of outgoing governors’ transition into the Senate, in Nigeria. That was a big blow to an incumbent.
The people of Oyo were that bitter with him.
After his terms, he visited Ayefele and seated with the gospel musician, Ajimobi was able to give, perhaps for the first time since that crisis between him and the artiste, the real reason he demolished Ayefele’s House.
He said some politicians in his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) were angry with Ayefele for singing songs that attack and deride them as the ruling party. So, they wanted to show the physically-challenged star they are the party in power and that they can do with him what they will without consequence. But as it turned out, Ayefele showed them that he is not an inconsequential music star in the country.
Although, Ajimobi claimed he put up a defense for Ayefele telling his party members that ‘if the musician is not our friend today, he could be our friend tomorrow.’ But then, Ajimobi is a politician, now. So, he has learnt the art of not having enemies but friends.
Unfortunately, he found himself being typed by the people as an arrogant governor and one who speaks to the people with disdain. His brush with protesting students when he not only lambasted them for daring to confront his government, but also having the gut to challenge him, the only ‘constituted authority’ in Oyo State, aptly described his kind of leader in the eyes of his people.
“I meant well for Oyo State…” was the sober headline of Premium Times, August 31,2019, edition.
There are insinuations in some quarters about some of the policies and undertakings of our eight-year administration which some considered controversial.
“But in all honesty, I meant well for the state. All my actions were geared toward facilitating development for the whole state and also thus make life more meaningful for the masses,” Mr Ajimobi said
Indeed, he may have meant well for the people he governed for eight uninterrupted years and perhaps Oyo misunderstood his intention.
All his life Ajimobi has made a life for himself riding the tiger to make his point as a man who fears no foe and one who sets his eyes on a target and meets it regardless of the odds. Little wonder he earned the sobriquet, Koseleri (unprecedented), after he won his re-election as governor. Before him, no Governor of Oyo State had ever won a second term, not even the high respected Chief Bola Ige, who was Governor of old Oyo State in the second republic.
At 70, Ajimobi still has the robustness and the look of someone much younger and still bustling with enough energy to participate in the affairs of Oyo State and the nation.
At 70, his has been a fulfilled and complete life. He has achieved many things that many could ever imagine in life. Blessed with children to be proud of, he ascended to the highest level of corporate ladder by becoming the Managing Director and Chief Executive of a multinational oil company, National Oil and Chemical Marketing Company before his foray into politics where he was elected a Senator during ill fated transition programme of military president, Ibrahim Babangida, and later his unprecedented two terms as Governor of Oyo State in the current political dispensation.
His global perspective of issues, his steady grasp and understanding of human nature is so wide and deep, he would take on anyone on virtually any subject under the sun with the sharpest clarity of thought.
According to one of his aides,Bolaji Tunji, his Special Adviser, Communication and Strategy, you must be adequately prepared before you make any presentation to him. “He expects you to be painstaking. This probably stemmed from his highly successful adventure in the private sector. As governor, he laid a solid foundation for peace and security of life in the state.” Said Bolaji.
The brigandage and arson that earned Oyo State, the unsavory epithet of ‘wild, wild west’ became history. For Ajimobi, the provision of peace and security would always create an atmosphere for the state’s economy to thrive. He ensured this was the case during his administration.
The hospitality industry grew by 147 per cent with hotels and event centers springing up across the state. The nighttime economy resurged during this period. Throughout his eight year-rein, there was no known case of bank robbery, which before his tenure, was a major issue.
He made giant strides in infrastructural development, constructing and rehabilitating the highest number of roads in the history of modern Oyo state. In primary health care, he made a major impact.
Oyo State became the first to introduce free health care for its citizenry in the country. The greatest impact of his government was felt, more, in the area of education with the introduction of the School Governing Board (SGB) policy which attracted various stakeholder-participation in the management of the affairs of their schools. This attracted over N2.8 billion into the school system for upgrade of facilities and renovation.
So, when President Buhari congratulated him for many years of outstanding achievements in both the private and public sectors, leaving behind a legacy of excellence in places he served, especially at the helm affairs in insurance and oil sector companies, the President meant every word. Buhari believes Ajimobi’s forthrightness, patriotism and passion in working for the good of the country and humanity will continue to stand him out as a resourceful manager, exemplary leader and patriot, while commending his contributions as a senator and governor.
He has been described him as a brilliant man but no one knows this better than those who have worked closely with him, his attention to details and the manner in which he takes in everything presented to him. Bolaji said “you cannot present a figure today and you come back with a different figure on the same issue the following day, thinking he never noticed, he would ask you why it changed, this in spite of the numerous files and memos that have passed across his table.
Do I need to state his love for speaking directly to the people without going through laborious and elaborate speeches that could make you go to sleep and that had been written by his team? Once he is at a function, he captures everything within that environment and that becomes the subject of his speech which he delivers effortlessly as if he had had days to write.”
Ajimobi’s sense of fashion comes with a profound air of sartorial elegance. Whether he’s spotting his trade mark Agbada which has created a brand that is uniquely his, in corporate attire or in casuals, those clothes look as if they were tailored-made for him. This part of him rubbed off on all who work closely with him. As an aide, you are either a tulip of fashion or you try your best to match up, else…you may go home to change.
The total personality of the man Ajimobi is well captured in Abiola Ajimobi: Architect and Builder of Modern Oyo State, a biography of the former Oyo State governor as beautifully summarized in Kunle Ajibade’s article titled Abiola Ajimobi: A Portrait published in the May 28, 2019 edition of PM News.
Born in Oja Oba, Ibadan, on 16th December, 1949 to Ganiyu and Sikiratu Ajimobi, he is the first of 23 children. His father, a tailor and later a politician, married five wives.
Extremely neat and fashion conscious, he made clothes for Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Ladoke Akintola and other notable men in Ibadan. He was essentially a man of modest means.
In the First Republic, the father was an active member of the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe while his brother from the same mother, Lasisi Adeyemi alias Okoro, was in Action Group (AG) led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Uncle Lasisi became a Minister of Works and Housing and the first Parliamentary Secretary in the Western Region.
It was when his brother died that Pa Ganiyu moved over to the Action Group, not just as a tribute to his brother but because he was then convinced of the ideas and ideals that AG espoused.
He was a very loyal member of the party, respected by Chief Awolowo and trusted by our own Chief Bola Ige. He won his House of Assembly election in the Second Republic under the platform of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).
Ajimobi’s years of childhood in Ibadan, his student days in the United States of America, his meteoric rise to the pinnacle of the corporate ladder in Nigeria, his years in the Senate and his remarkable emotional intelligence as a caring family man, form the bedrock of the personality this immediate former Governor of Oyo State brought to bare on governance in his eight years at the Government House, Agodi.
As he moved from one phase of his life to the other, his courage nurtured by conviction, has been one useful constant boldness with which he took calculated risks.
The other constant is his sharp and stinging tongue of sweet and defiant excesses. Clearly, this aspect of his got him into trouble one too many with different groups across critical sectors of the society. This some would say he shared with one of his predecessors, the late Bola Ige, whose stinging tongue was unprecedented when he was governor from October 1979 to October 1983. Another of his predecessors Dr Omololu Olunloyo also had this trait.
This is the story of a man (Abiola Ajimobi) who has always refused to surrender to fear and intimidation. Despite his flaws, Ajimobi’s flow of his ideas and imagination, wit, passion and insights are loaded with a certain underlying wisdom, (some would call native intelligence) only Ajimobi can fathom.
He attended St. Patrick’s School, Abebi, Seventh-Day Adventist Primary School, Oke Bola, and he finished off at Ibadan City Council Primary School, in Aperin. He excelled in academics and sports, playing lawn tennis, table tennis and football. He was also an excellent sprinter. But his favourite was football. Because of his dexterity as a player, he was nicknamed Super Galanata, Orisco and Archipelago. This grass-root popularity automatically turned him into a leader of his age-mates. He was one of the neatest, stylistic students in his set. He played all the rascally pranks like other kids of his time.
During one of Id-el-Kabir celebrations, for instance, he and Tajudeen, his cousin, set up two of the family rams for fights. One of the rams died but the fathers simply forgave the two rascally boys in the spirit of the festival. He attended Quranic School briefly at this time. He then moved to Oke Padre to live with his aunt, Wulemat Ayilara when Uncle Lasisi, the Minister with whom he was living, died. Silifat, the only daughter of his aunt, would later marry Alhaji Kola Animasaun, the late veteran journalist and notable columnist with The Vanguard newspaper.
At Lagelu Grammar School (LGS) to which he had gained admission in 1962, he quickly made a lot of friends. One of his favourite teachers in the school was Mr. Lam Adesina (another former Governor of Oyo State, now late) who taught History, English and Literature. The man would later play a significant role in Abiola Ajimobi’s political enterprise. In LGS he excelled in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and other subjects, even as he blossomed in sports. He was also a powerful debater and a very good actor.
Indeed, he played Romeo in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. He was one of the prefects of the school. Extremely popular in Lagelu Grammar School, and this popularity spread like wildfire to Yejide Girls High School, St Anne’s and Queen’s College, because he knew how to be nice to women.
Yet he took his studies seriously, making Grade 2 in his West Africa School Certificate Examinations after which he worked for three years at the Lagos Municipal Transport Service before he proceeded in 1970 to the State University of New York at Buffalo, Upstate New York, where he studied Business Administration and Finance. Professor Adebayo Adedeji, who later became Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa from 1975 to 1991, was one of his professors in the university.
Twenty-year old Abiola Ajimobi experienced some level of difficulty trying to settle down in the US. Since he was not on scholarship and had no rich parents to pay the expensive tuition fees of the university, to pay for accommodation, feeding and other essentials, he had to work multiple jobs to make the money. At a point, he worked in the mortuary, washing dead bodies because it was very lucrative to do so.
Indeed, living in the US for Ajimobi was a bit of hell as he was sometimes living like a vagrant. The only thing that gave him strength was his determination to succeed.
He completed his studies in 1974 and shortly got a job at Equitable Life Assurance in Buffalo. The following year, after passing state examinations, he became the first certified Nigerian Insurance underwriter in that city.
It was after his master’s degree in 1976 at the Governors State University in Chicago that he returned to Nigeria. Now in Nigeria and armed with his certificates, it did not take him a long time before he got a job with Elm consulting firm as a consultant and then another job as the Finance and Administrative Manager at Modular, a company owned by Architect Layi Balogun.
After six months in Modular, he moved to Nestle as Operations Controller. In 1979/80, National Oil, which was then 40 per cent Shell and 60 per cent Nigerian, was expanding its Credit Department and the future governor was head-hunted by the then General Manager, Mr. Moshood Akanbi.
In two years, he rose rapidly from Credit Manager to Consumer and Product Manager. Abiola, the boisterous, highly fashionable, best dressed man in National Oil had found his groove.
Ajimobi radiated confidence which might be misconstrued for arrogance. In 1986, National Oil restructured; it created eight major districts for effective performance: Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Kaduna, Ilorin, Jos, Enugu and Port Harcourt. Abiola Ajimobi was made the first District Manager in Ibadan. Like other District Managers, he was fully empowered to expand the market which he did creditably.
Within a short time, he became Lubricants Manager, a much bigger position that generated 40 per cent of the company’s profits. He did so well as Lubricants Manager, he was made Aviation Manager.
By virtue of these positions, he travelled extensively around Nigeria. At that time, National Oil was controlling 70 per cent of the market share in the oil and gas sector. The company then added eight retail operations to its expansion portfolio. Ajimobi was later made the manager of all the eight districts and retail regions.
Not long after that, he was made an Executive Director Operations and posted as a representative of the National Oil in Shell Togo. The rising star was not only happy at that time with the favor of his career in the oil industry, he was also happy with the uncommon blessing of the love of his life, the woman he had met one day in January 1980 at the Union Bank, 40 Marina, Lagos.
The woman, now Chief Florence Ajimobi, blessed with children: Abisola, Abimbola, Ajibola, Abolaji and Ajijola. She has remained his solid pillar of support ever since. She has been his stress reliever and joy giver all these years, helping him to keep peace with his soul.
As captured in the Omatseye’s biography of the former Governor, Ajimobi’s rule had been foretold when he was much younger as revealed in a scenario shared with Omatseye by Ajimobi’s sister, Alhaja Ganiyat Obileye.
One day, her younger brother and their mother, were travelling outside of Ibadan to sell her merchandise of gold and trinkets. The young Abiola who was not living with them in the family house at that time was on holiday. He was then living with his aunt, Wulemat Ayilara in Oke Padre. Hungry for holiday bonding with her first born, the mother asked Abiola to come with her. Unfortunately, they had a near – fatal accident on their way from which the young man sustained some minor injuries. It was at the scene of that accident that one man, obviously possessed of a saintly vision, said in Yoruba to the mother, in the presence of other passengers: “Take good care of this child. He is going to be a great person in this land,” Embedded in this prophesy is a huge promise and a call to duty.
Abiola Ajimobi has, evidently, made good for himself and his greatness has been fully demonstrated and manifested in governance of Oyo State… the State of his birth and the land, it was predicted, he would govern. His greatness has been realized as a fulfilment of prophesy.
Mark Twain sums up the significance of the 70th year when he said the seventieth birthday, is the time of life when you arrive at a new and awful dignity; when you may throw aside the decent reserves which have oppressed you for a generation and stand unafraid and unabashed upon your seven-terraced summit and look down and teach—unrebuked.
Clearly, the later part of Mark Twain statement typifies the person of Senator Ajimobi, who has always stood unafraid, conquering his fears and obstacles with a bulldozing boldness.
At the end of 2020, he would be one year older at 71 and his license to say it as it is, would have been further strengthened. Without a doubt, Ajimobi has earned every moment of honor and achievements in his over seven decades life as a man of great reckoning in the elite club of worthy septuagenarians.