Ajimobi: A Cat with Nine Lives

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Oyo State governor, Abiola Ajimobi has survived many battles; some self inflicted‎, others in the hands of detractors. Ademola Babalola examines how he has managed to come out unscathed

There is an ancient proverb that claims, “a cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays and for the last three he stays.” Some people believe the nine lives myth is related to cats ability, agility and dexterity to always land on their feet. This mythical illustration of cat having nine lives have also been said for ages of exceptional humans with ability to survive many battles. Among such individuals is the present occupant of Agodi Government House in Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State.

The governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi has survived many battles; sometimes self inflicted and others out of detractor’s quest to trap him.

Having risen through the ranks to become a Managing Director of a multinational company in its hey days, Ajimobi left the corporate world after meritorious service to join politics and within months got elected as a Senator under the Alliance for Democracy between 2003-2007. By 2007, he became one of the best sought after in the political firmament of Oyo state to succeed the crisis-ridden Peoples Democratic Party administration of Senator Rashidi Ladoja as governor.

However, Ajimobi couldn’t succeed to fly the ticket of his party which had then metamorphosed into the Action Congress (AC) and as a consummate politician determined to contribute his quota to the sociopolitical development of the Pace Setter’s state, he joined the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and got its gubernatorial ticket. By this time, Ladoja had lost the return ticket of the PDP to his erstwhile deputy, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala and the game thus became a straight fight between Akala and Ajimobi but he lost the race to the former.

With the 2011 race gathering momentum, Ajimobi had the ears of Ibadan elites, the Alaafin and the late businessman and Aare Musulumi of Yoruba land, Alhaji Azeez Arisekola Alao who had also fell out of favour with Akala. He (Arisekola) teamed up with the other influential leaders in the state including the bulk of Ibadan elites, intelligentsias and aggrieved elders in the PDP which included the then Senate Leader, Teslim Folarin, Hon. Ademola Adeseun (as he then was before he became Senator), Sharafadeen Abiodun Alli, Senator Lekan Balogun, then factional Chairman of PDP in the state, Alhaji Yunus Akintunde and a host of others, to secure victory for Ajimobi who won the race against the incumbent.

As a Smart Alec that he is, Ajimobi nicknamed as Archipelago in his secondary school days at Lagelu Grammar School, Ibadan, formed what he termed “Rainbow Government” thus becoming the first governor to form cabinet as he incorporated sons and daughters of foremost traditional rulers in the state viz the Alaafin, the Olubadan and Soun of Ogbomoso. The elites including his foremost financier who bankrolled his 2011 election, Alhaji Arisekola also had their children either as commissioners or advisers in his government.

Unlike his predecessors, and for the first time in the current republic, his government witnessed unprecedented peace as he garnered support of all and sundry. What could have created a hitch in his administration, the activities of the dreaded and notorious National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) were curtailed by the governor who placed a ban on the union. The union’s ring leaders, Alhaji Lateef Akinsola (Tokyo) has been rendered redundant till date and his archrival, Mukaila Lamidi (Auxiliary) is still in Agodi prisons for murder-related offence. Remember their third, Lateef Salako (Eleweomo) was murdered five months before assumed Ajimobi office as governor. He latched on this as he didn’t allow the opportunity to slip, just as he effectively curtailed any further insurgence of brigandage and other forms of violence in and across the state to entrench an enduring peace, safety and security still permeating all geopolitical zones of the state.

Consolidating on these gains, Ajimobi did not take the support of the elites for granted as he curried their favour till another election in 2015. With the election approaching then, he also fell out with the two serving senators of his party, Olufemi Lanlehin (Oyo South) and Ayoade Adeseun (Oyo North). The third senator, Hosea Ayoola Agboola was of the PDP. Keen political watchers and many people in his party feared he would lose the 2015 race with the defection of the two senators to Accord and PDP respectively.

That he was waiting to be sent parking of Agodi Government house also became rife when news filtered in that Ajimobi had himself moved out of the government house months before the 2015 election. Added to this was the age long belief and myth that no governor would ever rule the state for two terms. However, in an unprecedented turn of events and to the chagrin of his detractors, he won the elusive second term after defeating his predecessors, Rashidi Ladoja (Accord) and Adebayo Alao-Akala (Labour) to the second and third positions respectively thus earning a new name ‘Koseleri’ (an unprecedented second term governor).

He had hardly settled down for his second term when he was confronted by education stakeholders in the state on his alleged move to ‘privatise’ public secondary schools. This caused serious infraction and nearly set him against the populace. However, the tension generated soon faded and he succeeded in reforming the plan with what is today known as Schools Governing Boards which is a promising development to reposition the schools for quality academic standard and moral upbringing of pupils.

Ajimobi, who again earned another sobriquet ‘Mr. Constituted Authority’ in a viral video altercation between him and students of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, over inadequate funding of the varsity, nearly burnt his fingers in the ill fated fiasco and this almost made nonsense of whatever gain he might have recorded in the education sector. The issue of the funding of LAUTECH jointly owned by Oyo and Osun state is still on the front burner of public discourse and is seriously casting aspersions on the two state governments with no end in sight.

The rage of the moment is the plan by Ajimobi to introduce a new reform through Justice Boade-led panel of inquiry on Olubadan Chieftaincy Law of 1957. Like similar controversy that dogged alleged privatisation of public schools, Ajimobi who was seen as having ulterior motives on the Olubadan chieftaincy system later won the argument as the palace and Olubadan In Council who had earlier castigated him for dabbling into another needless controversy soon made a U-turn and has now thrown their weights behind the move, describing their initial standoff on lack of proper communication.

Just recently too, precisely May 29 Democracy Day, marking his 6th year in office, Ajimobi at a media interaction said he would unveil his successor during next year’s democracy day. He alluded to the fact that about 34 aspirants within APC alone were angling to take over from him but with a proviso that only five of them were being watched closely. Reports after the event had it that the top five were a serving Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Bayo Adelabu, an APC chieftain and ex-Works Commissioner in his cabinet, Alhaji Yunus Akintunde, a serving Finance Commissioner, Bimbo Adekanmbi, a former Chief of Staff, Professor Adeolu Akande and a legal icon, Chief Adeniyi Akintola, SAN.

As usual, that he had the effrontery to disclose that he would announce his successor next year expectedly drew the ire of many, who considered the statement as unguarded, diversionary and self-serving. The governor, however later issued a clarification saying that God, the ultimate decider of men’s fate would choose his successor.

However, with the opposition still in disarray with less than 18 months to the next governorship election, it remains to be seen if Ajimobi would not succeed in installing a successor especially if the latest statewide infrastructural developments are anything to go by.

Aside the ruling APC where Ajimobi currently holds the ace on who emerges as the party’s candidate, the other four major parties that featured in 2015 election are still the ones likely to produce candidates of all manners and shades as we journey ahead. With their likely flag bearers as Accord (Rashidi Ladoja or Femi Lanlehin), Labour (Sharafadeen Abiodun Alli), PDP (Teslim Folarin, Ayoade Adeseun or Femi Babalola Jgor), SDP (Seyi Abiodun Makinde), the centre in the opposition parties are unlikely to hold as the chance for these parties which are the break away factions of hitherto strong PDP, to jointly pick a consensus candidate, appears herculean.

At the moment, APC holds the key to Agodi government house unless other key actors and political parties coalesce to anoint a candidate who would give the APC a run for its money and popularity.