Our birthdays are feathers in the broad wing of time. – Jean Paul Richter (German novelist 1763 -1825).
By Yomi Layinka
Today marks the anniversary of one of the most important days in the evolutionary story of Oyo State; it is the 68th birthday of the enigmatic Senator Abiola Ajimobi, the first man ever to be trusted with two terms as its governor.
While the epigraph above speaks to the very many and countless feathers in the wide wing of time, it paradoxically raises the need to periodically pause and celebrate those feathers for their individual significance and even moreso, for the purpose of counting our blessings one by one so that we can truly appreciate what gift we have in the feathers given by the ageless owner of Time.
In this short celebratory tribute to my boss and mentor, I shall focus on only one aspect of this truly complex, intriguing and engaging personality; this being his penchant for and pursuit of excellence as the defining fulcrum for sustainable success.
One elementary definition of excellence is ” the quality of excelling; possessing good qualities in high degree”. Another definition is “the state of possessing good qualities in an eminent degree; exalted merit; superiority in virtue”. Yet another speaks of “dignity; worth; superiority”
What clearly and consistently comes across in each of these definitions is the notion of stretching beyond the limits of the ordinary, of working towards higher virtues, of walking upwards to perfection.
To those who know Senator Abiola Ajimobi, these defining attributes express themselves through his powerful personal examples: from the unique character of his conceptual frameworks, his paradigms and belief systems to his passions, work ethics and etiquettes. If you look closely enough you will notice an unrelenting penchant for all things beautiful; from a lifelong demonstration of exquisite sartorial elegance to his fastidious observance of due processes in the workplace. This unremitting squeamishness and proclivity to aesthetics finds expression in several other ways, including the seemingly mundane celebration of a well appointed window linen as it flutters in the wind; the unapologetic genuflection before some spectacular display of engineering wizardry as can be seen in the wondrously designed network of roads that he is putting across the nooks and crannies of the state; as well as in the development of a masterplan for the establishment of a modern, functional, suitably integrated and sustainably built environment for Oyo State.
A Yoruba saying translates roughly thus: when someone promises to buy you a garment, look first to the example of what he or she is wearing. Ajimobi’s personal taste and sense of refinement reflects in every aspect of his governance creed and culture.
When he came into government in 2017, the Governor’s Office was an eyesore. From the main entrance into the complex, you were welcome by a fountain that looked abandoned in a desert, The main building itself was washed out of its colours with electric cables strewn all over the windows and air conditioners vibrating ceaselessly while dripping the effluents on every inch of the walls like drunken sailors urinating across the deck. Inside the offices, the work processes were tardy, uninspired and unproductive. Even the civil servants dressed largely like an army of dishevelled stragglers, with green ties thrown over red shirts with yellow stockings to match. But no longer. Not after a week of Ajimobi in Office!
After witnessing a colleague or two being publicly upbraided by Ajimobi for his or her poor dress sense, no reasonable person wishes to be the next victim. Before long, the Governor’s penchant and preference for a well groomed, self-conscious and presentable workforce began to yield fruit. Now, most of the civil servants (especially at the State Secretariat) can pass off as corporate executives drawn from the private sector, especially the financial services arm like banks, insurance and the stock brokerages. Unlike before, these workers come out of their respective homes in dapper, well tailored, clean cut suits and native dresses that impress not because of their high costs but because of their sedate, well-coordinated colours and appropriately matching accessories. Today, this has resulted into a transformed cadre of workers who now project themselves with renewed self-confidence in their innate abilities and capacity to compete with their peers whether in Lagos, Abuja or Adiss Ababa.
Ajimobi’s punctiliousness has been made manifest on several fronts especially when it comes to the way his government, its officials and the people of his state are perceived by members of the public, both local and national. For him ,’iri ni si, ni isoni lojo’, perception ultimately determines value.
One example will suffice to make the point: when the current Olubadan, Oba Soliu Akanmu Adetunji Aje Ogungunniso 1 was to be installed in March 2016, the governor saw an opportunity to showcase Ibadanland to the whole world. On that occasion, he literally took out all the stops to organize the most beautiful, well attended installation ceremony ever record in the modern history of Ibadanland. Not only did he cause that the event be staged on the most elegant soundstage available in Nigeria, with the best and widest LED screens, he ensured the attendance of the most respected traditional rulers in the nation including the Alaafin of Oyo, Ooni of Ife, Oba of Lagos, Alake of Egbaland, Emir of Ilorin and the Sultan of Sokoto among several others. The regal and royal attendance of these first class monarchs was matched by the colourful presence of very distinguished and eminent Nigerians including Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as well as several governors, captains of Industry as well as diplomats from across the world. The inimitable fuji maestro, Wasiu Ayinde KWAM 1 and some other bands were fully on stage across the road bellowing tunes to the ecstatic response of the mammoth crowd that spread beyond the horizon.
However, despite his best efforts as well as those of the committee saddled with the organisation of the event, the event was almost ruined by the tendency for gross display of indiscipline and unruliness typical of most Nigerians, be they mighty or tiny. Unlike other parts of the world where protocols are scrupulously observed at public functions, a mix of chaotic disorder, lack of any observable pecking order and visual harmony. Sometimes you wonder why our public events including university convocations, governorship inaugurations and musical concerts are so utterly disorganised and reminiscent of the bedlam that was Oshodi Motor park before Governors Tunde Fashola and Akinwunmi Ambode managed to restore some semblance of order, peace and beauty to the relief of most decent Nigerians.
And so it almost was at the installation of Oba Adetunji; chaos had fully descended onto the stage: literally hundreds of photojournalists had overrun the stage; scores of uninvited masters of ceremony had thronged the space; aides, police orderlies and other miscreants had overcrowded every inch of the stage such that it was practically impossible for the celebrant to find his way up the coronation stage. It was the very definition of bedlam, a place where uproar and confusion prevails. That was the state of things until Mr Constituted Authority sprang to his feet, tearing through the crowd until he found his way to the overcrowded stage. Everyone, including the dignitaries gazed in wonder at what the Chief Host was about.
In a fit of righteous indignation, he personally took physical charge of the stage, ordering any and everyone who had no direct business (including some of his own commissioners, an intruding professor and the scores of unruly security operatives and journalists) to get off that stage in an instant. Many observers (including me) looked in askance, a little embarrassed at whywhy ‘a whole Governor’ had to personally take over the rearrangement of the stage. But that was only for a moment. Almost instantaneously, I realized what major disaster he had averted by seizing the initiative and rescuing the event from from its potential collapse into anarchy and disgrace for Oyo State.
Within minutes, significant order was restored on the stage and so thankfully, we were finally able to behold the beauty of the elegantly laid out throne, surrounded by the leading monarchs who sat gracefully across on a red carpet; the incoming royal father soon arrived in his majesty and was officially installed and given his staff of office to the roaring applause of the hundreds of thousands who were at the historic Mapo venue and the millions who watched on television screens and handheld devices across the globe. Almost two years afterwards, that event is still adjudged to be one of the most colourful and glorious ceremonies ever organised in the entire history of Ibadanland; a typical exemplar of the Ajimobi dogged insistence on excellence.
To the unreflective, this kind of fastidiousness and unrelenting focus on details may come across as facetious. But to the knowledgeable, such commitment to the finer aspects of life is great testimony to a mind that is attuned to the essential character of God’s manifest presence in nature. It is the evidence a man conversant with the meaning and significance of the harmonious relationship between the colors of the rainbow, the symmetrical character of the forces of nature, the balance and beauty of God’s creation. As is well known and accepted among all the great philosophies and civilizations, the single most defining attribute of the Godhead and all the divinities is Order, that universal foundation and pyramidal structure that pertains to all that is good and perfect. So, Ajimobi’s untiring pursuit of perfection is in fulfilment of man’s ultimate duty to stretch ever closer to God’s design for humanity. Paulo Coelho has written that “when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”
Eminent scholar and diplomat, Emeritus-Professor Jide Osuntokun wrote as follows barely six months after Ajimobi was sworn into office in 2011:
“Governor Abiola Ajimobi has done what nobody believes could have been done to bring Ibadan, a largely traditional African city to modernity. He has removed or he is removing all the shanties that constitute an eye-sore to every visitor to Ibadan. If the Governor can finish all the projects that he has embarked on in modernizing the city, his name would go down in history along with those of Lagelu, Oluyole, Ogunmola and Latosa as the builders of Ibadan.……….”
My birthday wish: that his good works and the forces of good combine under the unction of the Lord to s him a worthy successor who would raise the barometer of governance further than Ajimobi did.
Happy Birthday to “The Man for These Times”!
Yomi Layinka is the Special Adviser Communication and Strategy.