Celebrating Abiola Ajimobi at 70

L-R: Wife of the Vice President, Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo; Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo; celebrant and former Governor of Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi and wife, Chief (Mrs.) Florence Ajimobi, at the 70th birthday celebration of Ajimobi, held in Ibadan... recently

Kemi Olaitan writes that the 70th birthday celebration of former Oyo State governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, was not just a shindig but also an avenue to dialogue on managing the dynamics of Nigeria’s advancement and its socio-economic perspectives

He came into political limelight in 2003 when he defeated an incumbent Senator to be elected Senator representing Oyo South Senatorial district. Since then he’s lived to serve humanity.

Senator Abiola Adeyemi Ajimobi, a management consultant and politician was the immediate past governor of Oyo State where he served for two terms between 2011 and 2019. While he contested and lost the Oyo South senatorial seat in the last general election, there’s no doubt that he has contributed his quota to democratic ideals both as Senator and governor.

A peep into the biography of Ajimobi, who recently marked his 70th birthday during a four days ceremony, reveals a man prepared by destiny to play major roles in the life of Oyo state.

Born on December 16 1949 to the Ajimobi family of Oja-Oba, Ibadan, he started his primary education at Saint Patricks Primary School, Oke-Padre in Ibadan and completed it at Ibadan City Council Primary School, Aperin. He moved to Lagelu Grammar School for his secondary education; and as a high school student, was active in athletics, table tennis, and football, including serving as the school’s games prefect.

His university education was in the United States, where he studied Business Administration and Finance at the State University of New York, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science. His MBA was in Operations Research and Marketing, with a concentration in Finance at Governors State University, University Park, Illinois. As a result of his academic credentials and excellent performance at the New York Insurance examinations, he was engaged in Buffalo, New York as a state certified underwriter by Equitable Life Assurance Corporation, which was then the 2nd largest Insurance Company in the U.S.

He came back to Nigeria in 1977 and joined Management and Industrial Consulting firm as a Senior Consultant, and thereafter worked briefly with Modulor Group (an architectural firm) as the Finance and Admin Controller, before joining Nestle Foods Plc., as the Operations Controller and later as Marketing Controller. In 1979, he joined National Oil and Chemical Marketing Company as the Consumer Products Manager and was the youngest Manager to occupy such a sensitive position. His performance quickly earned him promotion to the level of Divisional Manager within one and a half years. Thus becoming the youngest Divisional Manager to be thus appointed. Ajimobi was later promoted to head a newly created Corporate Credit division, reporting directly to the Managing Director. As a top flyer in the company and based on his problem solving ability, he was deployed to Ibadan Business District as the Area Manager to ensure the repositioning of the company’s entire activities in the area. The company and the district experienced landmark achievements in its modern retail network resulting. In 1987, he built the company’s first 3 in 1 and the largest petrol station retail outlet in Nigeria. The district office built during his tenure still stands out today in Jericho, Ibadan.

In 1987, based on a worldwide international strategic positioning of the lubricants business desired by Shell International Oil Company, he was appointed the Lubricants Manager. Ajimobi successfully built a new lubricant division which became the most profitable business of the company and the largest contributor to the corporate profit. Having completed the strategic repositioning of the lubricants department, he was moved to manage another troubled business arm – the aviation department.

By 1993, he had acquired broad exposure in virtually all the marketing arms of the company. As part of the grooming programme, he was posted on an international assignment to Shell International storage company of Togo, serving the whole of West Africa as Chief Executive. He also was the Operations Director of Shell Marketing Company in Togo covering some West African countries.

Ajimobi returned to Nigeria in 1995 and was appointed in 1996 as Oil Sales Manager. In 1998, he was appointed to the board of the company as Executive Director, Marketing, a position he held before his appointment in February 2001 as the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the National Oil and Chemical Marketing Company. As Managing Director he substantially improved the profitability of the company and the shareholders fortune. In 2003, he voluntarily retired after 26 years of service in the oil industry. In his successful professional career spanning a period of over three decades, Abiola Ajimobi was quick witted and positively impacted on the businesses and people he interacted with.

Ajimobi entered politics in 2003 when he became a Senator of the Republic of Nigeria. He was a principal officer in the Senate, serving as the Deputy Minority leader. During his senate days, in 2005, he established the first and the largest free vocational training center in Oyo. This center has been recognised and certified both as a partner and training center by the Industrial Training Fund of the federal government.

In 2007, he contested the gubernatorial election under the umbrella of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) but lost the election bid. He contested again in 2011 under the Action Congress of Nigeria, and was elected in a keenly contested election. As the incumbent, he contested for a second term in 2015 under the All Progressives Congress, against two of his predecessors, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala and Senator Rasheed Ladoja and won, achieving a remarkable feet by becoming the first person to occupy the highest seat twice, and as well in succession.

A man of the people, to mark his 70th birthday, various programmes which include a Jumat service/lecture, medical outreach, interdenominational service and roundtable with the theme, “Managing the dynamics of Nigeria’s Advancement: The socio-economic perspectives”, were put together as part of activities marking the ceremony.

Like or hate him, for the eight years he held sway as governor, Ajimobi succeeded in entrenching his name in the annals of Oyo, no thanks to the various landmark achievements traversing every sector of the state, such as education, health, security and infrastructure.

At the grand finale of the birthday ceremony held at the International Conference Centre, University of Ibadan, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and his wife, Dolapo; the First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, represented by Mrs. Tanko Al-Makura, led other prominent Nigerians that included governors, traditional rulers and clerics to honour Ajimobi and his wife, Chief (Mrs.) Florence Ajimobi.

Present at the event were Governors Babatunde Sanwo-Olu (Lagos), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo), Abdullahi Gaduje (Kano) and Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi). In attendance was also the Oyo State deputy governor, Rauf Olaniyan; the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola; Gen. Alani Akinrinade (rtd); Alhaja Serifat Aregbesola; former Osun state governor, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola; former Oyo state governor, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala; former Ogun State governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; the Catholic Archbishop of Ibadan diocese, Gabriel Abegunrin; Chief Imam of Ibadanland, Shiek Agbotomokekere; wife of the Ekiti State governor, Mrs. Bisi Fayemi; former governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba; former Minister of Industries, Chief (Mrs.) Onikepo Akande.

Others were Prof. Tunji Olaopa; the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi; the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi; the Oluwo of Iwo, Oba Abdulrasheed Akanbi; former Chairman of First Bank Plc., Mrs. Ibukun Awosika; Hon. Shina Peller; wife of former Lagos State governor, Dame Abimbola Fashola; the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Saliu Adetunji, represented by former Minister of Sports, Prof. Taoheed Adedoja; wife of Edo State governor Mrs. Betty Obaseki; former Interim National Chairman of the APC, Chief Bisi Akande; the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu and Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, among others.

Vice President Osinbajo, speaking at the roundtable, restated the federal government’s commitment to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty through its various social investment programmes launched to address the gap between the rich and the poor. He described the programmes, particularly the school feeding programme which the government embarked upon, as the first in Africa and endorsed by the World Bank. Describing the impact it had made on the lives of hundreds of Nigerians, he declared that there was no going back.

Osinbajo said the school feeding programme has provided jobs for over 500,000 people. While admitting the challenges of unemployment, and poverty despite the intervention, he said the government was unrelenting in its target, mentioning the ongoing infrastructural development, especially the massive investment on rail transport, and the provision of an enabling business environment to take the country to the next level.

Aregbesola in his own remarks said, one of the best ways to address the challenges confronting the country was to tax the privileged rich Nigerians and to use the money to create wealth to help the poor. “We must mercilessly tax the rich if we are to cure the problem of poverty. We have two contending forces, the poor and the privileged rich. The rich have no problem, they are comfortable. The problem is the poor, and they are in the majority. And the point is, if the rich fail to address this problem, the comfort of the rich will be taken away. So they must release much of their money to help the poor.”

The former governor of Osun State said though the social economic investment programmes of the current administration may be few, they have been impacting positively on the lives of the poor, especially the school feeding programme, cash transfer, and N-Power.

To cure the problem of growing poverty and unemployment, he maintained that those who have made their money from the Nigerian state must release more of it to help the poor and generate jobs for the teeming unemployed Nigerians. He nevertheless disclosed that in an attempt to tackle the problem of inequality, infrastructural deficits, unemployment and poverty, the current administration under President Muhammadu Buhari, has launched several social and economic investment programmes, but that the lack of funds remains a major constraint.

The celebrant who could not hide his excitement in clocking the biblical three scores and 10 years, acknowledged the presence of eminent Nigerians led by Vice President Oshinbajo, who came from all walks of life to honour him on the occasion. He specifically appreciated the Ibadan Elders whom he said, have been his ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ all along, stating pointedly that what was being celebrated was ‘the grace of God’, having served as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and a two-term governor of Oyo State.

Ajimobi who believed that he is now more a statesman, remarked that by attaining 70, he is no longer concerned about politics for elective offices but politics of service to the people.