Meeting him for the first time, his youthful looks can confuse you. But Senator Abiola Ajimobi speaks with confidence without being arrogant. This is probably due to his track record in the corporate world. He was born in Ibadan, Oyo State over 60 years ago into a political lineage whose foot was apparent in the old Western Region. After his primary and post primary education in Nigeria, Senator Abiola Ajimobi travelled to the United States where he acquired his first and second degrees majoring in finance. When he left school, he became the first Nigerian certified insurance agent in Buffalo, New York. For over three decades, Senator Ajimobi traversed the corporate world and retired as managing director of National Oil in 2002. He immediately dabbled into politics, contested under the Alliance for Democracy (AD) for Oyo South Senatorial District in 2003. He became the only opposition candidate that won in Oyo State then. Though he contested for governorship seat in 2007 and lost to the incumbent Governor Adebayo Alao Akala, as 2011 election approaches, Senator Ajimobi tells FUNKE OLAODE his hope and aspirations
His name first surfaced in the corporate entity where he made his mark before dabbling into politics. But for Senator Abiola Ajimobi who represented Oyo South Senatorial District in the upper house between 2003/2007, he is not a new kid on the block. He actually grew under the tutelage of a political family, who held sway in the old Western region. “I came from a political family. My grand-father was Sobaloju of Ibadan Land, my uncle, Hon. N.A. Ajimobi was minister of works and transport in the Western Region. My father was also an Honourable member of State of house Assembly”, he told Glitterati
Born in Ibadan on December 1949. Senator Ajimobi began his early education at St. Patricks Primary School, Oke-Padre in Ibadan. “I actually attended two primary schools. I had a brief stint at St. Patrick and completed my primary school education at Ibadan City Council Primary School. From there, I went to Lagelu Grammar school. Thereafter, I travelled to United States of America and enrolled at New York University, now state University of New York.
It is the largest University system in America because they have it in different states. My first degree was in finance and I did an MBA in operation research with concentration in finance. When I left school, I became the first Nigerian certified insurance agent in Buffalo, New York. I came back to Nigeria in March 1977. I worked briefly in a consulting firm. I had a brief stint in an architectural firm for six months. Thereafter, I went to Nestle Foods as Operations Controller where I worked for two years. I joined National Oil in 1979 and worked there for about 30 years. At National Oil, I was also chief executive of a Shell subsidiary in the West Coast, Togo, covering the whole of Franco-phone countries for distribution and logistics. I retired from the company in September 2002 as managing director and went to the Senate in May 2003.
I contested under the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 2003. I was the only Senator that won under an opposition party in Oyo state then when PDP captured the South-West. In early 2007, we had misunderstanding in AD which later metamorphosed to Action Congress and now Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN). So, I opted out to contest under ANPP. I did not loose that election because I was rigged out like many of my colleagues in the South-West. I went to court. I am now back under ACN.
Having been rigged out, and unending legal tussles that followed, one would have expected him to slow down. Has Senator Ajimobi ever feared for his life? “Slowing down… Well, I'm more concerned about the people's might and not political cowboy group”. And for nursing any fear…“Life is a risk. Even those who are not in politics or business still have their own share and still die. I will die when it is my time to die whether I am politics or not. So that doesn't bother me”.
Senator Ajimobi is a corporate man plying political terrain, how did he cope? “Basically, politics is like a business, it is like managing resources to achieve set goals and objects. It is the effective utilization of those resources to get results that determines a successful politician or a corporate man. Except that in the corporate world, your resources are made up of machines, material, equipment whereas in the political world, your resources are mainly human beings. And that is why you must have set objectives and ensure that you accomplish those objectives”.
In Nigeria, to be a politician you have to operate an open door policy in terms of cash flow.
How has his experience as a corporate man helped in dealing with political supporters? “There are two different types of politicians. First is the professional politicians -the end justifies the means and the professionals in politics. I belong to the second type. I am a professional in politics and I don't give people fish but I teach you how to fish. I provide the enabling environment for you to make money. I stand to be corrected, when I was in the Senate, I am still the only Senator in Oyo State that started a vocational centre that is still existing till today. I have graduated more than 16,000 people free of charge. I am still maintaining it. So I teach people how to earn a living. I empower people. My own empowerment is not to throw money around but to show you opportunity to make money”.
At over 60, Senator Ajimobi looks younger than his age and in a way, a lady's man. The secret he says is the grace of God. “I take things easy, take things as they come, accept God, believe in destiny and don't overstretch yourselves and do everything in moderation” And how does he ward off female admirers? Laughing…”I don't know oh! I just tell them politely that I am no more in the market. I have a very beautiful wife. I am happily married so I avoid ladies. I'm friendly with them but I don't get familiar with them. For me, as a family man, I do everything in moderation”.
Talking glowingly about his wife who he has been married for over three decades. “Like I said, I have a beautiful wife who is a God sent. I first met my wife at a bank. We greeted casually. She was actually greeting somebody that I know. I tried to make an enquiry about her. As if it was destined for both of us we met again in London and we met again in Nigeria. It was raining and I just walked up to her and said “do you need an umbrella and she said yes”. I gave her one and that was how the whole thing started. We have been married for over 30 years. She is a fashion designer and she runs the family business”
In a couple of month, Senator Ajimobi's three daughters would be getting married to powerful families in Nigeria.
Is it a coincidence or an arrangement? ”Never arrange a marriage for your children. Usually, it doesn't work. As the popular saying that “birds of the same feathers flock together”. My children are from a good home, they went to good schools and they have good jobs and equally met guys from good homes with good jobs. Interestingly, the family my first daughter (the Kola Daisi) is marrying has always been a very close family uncle. Like I said, birds of the same feather flock together. And give or take, people will always meet each other at the right place.
How does he relax? “I read a lot. I am also a television addict. I love exercises. Every morning I jog in the stadium. I also enjoy playing with my family”.
And his role models... “I have many role models. “Professionally, a man called Moshood Akanbi, a brilliant engineer. He was the managing director of National Oil when I joined the company in 1979. Politically, my role models are Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Alhaji Lam Adesina. Socially, my role model is not necessarily a Nigerian, Rock Feller. My role model intellectually is Professor Wole Soyinka and strategically, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Religious wise is somebody who preaches and behaves according to what he preaches”.
As 2011 elections are approaching, there is no doubt; Senator Ajimobi still eyes the Agodi Government House. Are there things Senator Ajimobi ought to have done to correct the past? ”I think what I could have done differently as at that time has been corrected, which is to ensure that the progressives are not divided, that there is unity among us because united we stand”.