Nigeria Matters

In Gov Abiola Ajimobi, Did We Get What We Wanted?

“The vision of restoration that we have for our state can only be accomplished when we put round pegs in round holes, rather than dwell on base considerations…We have very low tolerance for mediocrity and we will work relentlessly towards ensuring that those who would not add value to this government do not constitute a burden on its shoulders…As we have said at every forum that we have opportunity to attend and verbalize the vision of this administration, we have zero-tolerance for corruption, and we will not hesitate to make a public example of anyone who seeks to tarnish this administration and its runners’ hard-earned reputation…” Tough talk from Oyo State governor, Abiola Ajimobi, while speaking at the inauguration of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), State Teaching Service Commission (TESCOM), Local Government Service Commission and the State Pension Board a couple of days ago.

The people of Oyo State heaved a heavy sigh of relief when Senator Ajimobi took over the reins as governor of Oyo State. For most, it was about time somebody…anybody… took over from “that bleaching” governor. From the Danfo driver to the university professor, the shame of acknowledging to a Lagosian, or Kwaran, or Bayelsan that you were an indigene of Oyo State was becoming unbearable under Alao-Akala. For those of us in Europe and North America, it was worse. You couldn’t attend a social function without having to explain why a state like Oyo elected a man of such questionable character, intellect and sanity. Okay, we could argue that Alao-Akala was never really elected and that the late Baba Adedibu whimsically (s)elected him. But we couldn’t explain away why even Adedibu was unable to find a better person to (s)elect.

And so, when on May 29 2011, Ajimobi took the Oath of Office, many of us were relieved. I was particularly happy that not just “anybody” was taking over from Alao-Akala. The contrast could not have been starker. Ajimobi studied Finance and obtained an MBA from New York State University. He was also an accredited insurance agent in the United States. You couldn’t put his credentials next to that of Alao-Akala’s because the “O Yato Governor” did not have one. True, strings of degrees make not a good administrator, but in a state that boasts of the nation’s premier university, Oyo State should never again elect or (s)elect a non-graduate to govern her. It only leads to such unbelievable faux pas like appointing people who had no Western education (not even an elementary school education!) into the Governing Council (GC) of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH). Alao-Akala appointed at least two such illiterates onto LAUTECH’s GC – a university of TECHNOLOGY, for Christ’s sake! And we wondered why Oyo State was 34th (out of 36 states) in this year’s WAEC results. Alao-Akala also packed the state’s Hospital Management Board (HMB) with political jobbers and acolytes, none of whom studied Medicine! There is not enough room in this piece to catalogue the buffoonery that Alao-Akala epitomized. You could have gone through every facet of government under this bumbler and you would have found mind-boggling appointments…appointments blatantly political, dripping with either intellectual laziness or administrative ineptitude or both.

It was against this backdrop that Ajimobi took over as governor. I was instantly enamored by his quick declaration of assets. As of May this year, the guy’s assets were worth something in the neighborhood of 3 billion naira. He also declared a respectable 293 million naira in raw cash. My initial reaction was: this guy will probably not steal from my State. Of course, some quickly questioned the source of his wealth. Others argued that he may not really be that rich – “he is just padding his accounts, setting himself up for when he would steal.” Many more pointed out that our politicians were no longer stupid enough to steal in their own names; they use friends and family members. Still, I was glad that he took the step that gave an appearance of transparency. Although that spirit of transparency was apparently not enough inspiration for the rest of his cabinet to emulate. Not even the deputy governor could be shamed into opening up his bank accounts for us to see.

Oyo State had never had a Chief Executive so affluent and so public about it. Probably Alao-Akala and Rashid Ladoja were already multi-millionaires when they assumed governorships in the State. I doubt that Lam Adesina, Kolapo Ishola, Bola Ige and all those military governors could each have boasted of a couple of millions here or there before taking office. Anyway, I would rather have a very rich governor than a hungry one who is beholden to some nakedly corrupt godfather. If a man had never been in public service, you could not fault him for being super-rich. I felt the same about MKO Abiola, and I feel the same about Dangote and Mike Adenuga, who all made money in private businesses. I do not begrudge Ajimobi.

Yes, I had shamelessly hoped that a “shon-of-the-shoil” would succeed Alao-Akala, albeit with the caveat that we would not sacrifice good governance at the altar of ethnocentric politics. Ajimobi had represented my district in Ibadan as Senator. Like all of those in the State and Federal legislatures, we didn’t see or hear from him until election time. But with life so dreary under Alao-Akala, I, too, was ready for a change…any change. There was talk amongst Alao-Akala’s inner circle that even he was tired of “governing” and was eager to enjoy his loot. He knew the EFCC was after him, but he was sure that by the time he was done bribing his way through (in)justice, he would still be better off.

At any rate, it seemed we got what we wanted: Alao-Akala lost re-election, “shon-of-the-shoil” Ajimobi took over – educated, rich, well-healed and well-travelled. With such stellar curriculum vitae, I expected Ajimobi to hit the ground running; to show people that he was prepared for the job and that his allegiance was more to the people of Oyo State than to party politics or a godfather. But do we really have what we wanted in this governor? Did we get a governor of the people who will get out of that Agodi enclave called Government House and mingle with ordinary people all across the state on a regular basis? Did we get a governor who will systematically approach matters of the state, recognizing that some issues require urgent attention and urgent solution, while others require deliberative approaches? Did we get a governor who will interview (personally) and vet key prospective political appointees? Did we get a governor who will personally vet all major contracts and monitor same to ensure compliance? Did we get a governor who will not only eschew corruption but publicly decry it, warn his staffers against it and follow through with his threat of punishing culprits? And did we get a governor who is unhinged from (and unhindered by) any godfather?

With Ajimobi, the jury is still out. So far and so early, it appears to be a mixed bag. We have a governor who has embarked on a deliberate effort at ridding the state of Alao-Akala’s unqualified and incompetent governing councils’ political appointees. Nowhere is such cleansing more important than in our education and health sectors. That newspaper vendor that Alao-Akala appointed to the governing council of the Alayande College of Education must go today. But we also have a governor in whose cabinet there are people of questionable character. His anti-corruption speech will be meaningless if he retains in his cabinet those whose hands had been soiled in the past. Ajimobi needs to meet all his commissioners and special advisers again, one-by-one, and weed out those that are too tainted to serve in such offices, and/or are round pegs in square

holes. They are there, and he cannot claim to not know about them.

Also, more than six months into his administration, Ajimobi’s government is still blaming Alao-Akala for this and for that. I thought the election he won was the referendum we all passed on Alao-Akala’s government. We do not need Ajimobi’s spokesperson, Dr. Festus Adedayo, chasing Alao-Akala’s ghost all over the place. Adedayo needs to spend more time telling us what the governor has done (or will do) to improve our state. He should stop wasting his time responding to whatever garbage that Alao-Akala’s spokesperson, Dotun Oyelade, spews forth. Alao-Akala was horrible. We all got that. He is no longer in charge though. Ajimobi now owns this government and he will be held responsible for its success and failure.

The governor deserves commendation on the adroit manner in which he has handled the menace posed by the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) to Oyo State to date. The union had constituted itself onto law in Oyo State. Was it not yesterday that the budget of Oyo State was drafted at Molete, inside Baba Adedibu’s villa, where members of the NURTW had a prominent seat at the table? Of course, they had to be at the table. They had been instrumental to the rigging of Alao-Akala into office by helping to stuff and cart ballot boxes for Adedibu and Alao-Akala. Was it not just yesterday that we could not walk freely in many parts of Ibadan because Tokyo and Eleweomo reigned supreme? Ajimobi first delegitimized that bunch of hoodlums, and then got them to agree to hold new elections on the condition that the feuding leaders would not contest – hardly a democratic move in a democratic dispensation. But a masterstroke that worked nonetheless! Probably the best panacea for peace and security in Ibadan is the plan to move the motor parks out of the heart of the city. Not only is the government providing the NURTW new motor parks, the new ones are being fitted with essential amenities like shops and toilets while some of the old ones are being retrofitted too. Wow! How come nobody ever thought of that in the past? Can you imagine the aesthetics improvement of Molete, Iwo Road and Ojoo when those motor parks move?

But what is the governor doing tinkering with the Oyo State Council of Obas? That organization has been the bane of many civilian governors of the State. Past military governors just basically told the Obas to “sit down and be quiet” and they obeyed. But whenever we have civilian administrations (since the demise of Ooni Adesoji Aderemi – back when Ile-Ife was still in Oyo State) the Obas flex their muscles. This is not the place to re-hash the historical squabbles (read up on it and decide for yourself), but I think the solution to this constant distraction resides in deciding whether the Council of Obas should change with time (reform), or remain traditional (archaic). If we decide it should reform, then the Alaafin (or any one Oba) cannot permanently retain chairmanship of the Council. This is 2011. And if the institution must remain traditional, then the Obas cannot expect government to continue to pay their salaries, allowances and other perks like official cars. Again, this is 2011. They can’t eat their cakes and have them too. He who pays the piper dictates the tune. I have it on good authority that Ajimobi consulted widely amongst prominent Oyo State elders before injecting himself into the crisis. I hope he avoids being used for anybody’s parochial interests. I hope he avoids being subsumed by any party to the crisis. He suspended further meetings of the Council because the Alaafin of Oyo sought a court order. I thought law enforcement agents, like the police, enforce court judgments, not the governor. But what do I know! I hope he remembers that the issue of leadership in the Council is miniscule, compared to the issues confronting the masses of Oyo State, and very low on their Scale of Preference.

Far too many communities in Oyo State (including Ibadan, the capital) still do not have portable, pipe-borne water. By now, the governor should have constituted a committee to look into how to ameliorate the people’s reliance on “impure” water. Far too many communities do not have access to basic health services, even in Ibadan. And where they do, there are not enough hospital beds, not enough doctors and not enough nurses. Poor, sickly patients still have to buy their own syringes and drips. They still have to pay for X-Rays and CT scans BEFORE they are treated. Far too many schools do not have windows or doors. They lack trained and dedicated teachers. Poor pupils still have to purchase notebooks and textbooks, even when primary education is supposedly free! Far too many lives are lost in accidents. Homes, businesses and vehicles burn down because there are no “first responders” (like fire fighters and first aid ambulances).

And far too many people do not pay taxes! Yes, government needs revenues in order to meet its obligations to the people. But if government is too timid to force (not ask) people to pay their fair share of taxes, government will never have enough money to do anything. Oyo State people will continue to live in a perpetual, pauperized state. We will never be able to embark on any capital project without borrowing money. I know that taxation is a Nigeria-wide (nay Africa-wide) problem. We do not even have accurate data on businesses’ earnings (especially those of small, so-called one-man businesses), their staff strengths, tax withholdings (if any) etc. We have no way of tracking all those self-employed millionaires erecting those multi-million naira houses and driving those multi-million naira vehicles. Yet, being a Finance specialist, Governor Ajimobi knows he must broaden the State’s revenue base by scouring the entire state and finding those corporations, industries, companies, businesses and private citizens who do not pay taxes. He needs to shame them in public so that we all know those who have been driving on our roads without paying for them.

I had hopes when Ajimobi took over from Alao-Akala; My hope was that he would be an “action” governor, not ensconced and aloof in Government House pushing bureaucracy like Alao-Akala; My hope was that he would be in marketplaces all over the State, talking to merchants about their needs and seeing firsthand what problems they face; My hope was that he would pay surprise visits to ministries and parastatals, where he would discover legions of “ghost” workers and hundreds of indolent ones; My hope was that he would surround himself with aides and advisers who would do the same. I know he is getting out some, but not nearly enough. And I know also that he has to contend with a State Assembly in which his party controls barely one-third of the seats. But this man has all the qualifications and qualities that can set him apart from all those “ordinary” governors. Oyo State is an extra-ordinary State. Ajimobi has the potential to be an extra-ordinary and visionary governor. He still has time. But I am afraid he could go down as just another “has been”. I wish him well.

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