By Bashir Adefaka
Senator Abiola Ajimobi has paid his due as a major player in Nigerian politics. After a very successful career in the oil and gas sector spanning over three decades where he became managing director/chief executive officer of the National Oil and Chemical Marketing Company, he felt there was need for him to seek public office to be able to give back to the society what the society had given to him.
This informed his decision to go into politics, although he was born into a very influential political family in Ibadan. In 2003, he became a senator. He was a principal officer in the upper legislative chamber as the deputy minority leader of the Senate.
In 2005, he established the first and largest free vocational training centre in Oyo State, offering training in computer engineering, computer operations, telephone engineering, tailoring, hair-dressing and tie and dye. He contested the 2007 gubernatorial election in Oyo State under the umbrella of ANPP. Although he lost the election to alleged rigging, he says he leaves everything to God but never gives up his desire to serve. The 61-year-old politician spoke to Sunday Vanguard in his residence in Ibadan, recently. Excerpts:
As an experienced player in the oil and gas sector, how do you feel when faced with the fact that oil boom has become oil doom for Nigeria?
I think basically it is all about management of resources and we all know and it has been confirmed by those who should know that our economy is not being properly managed. I believe, somebody even put it aptly that a country that produces oil is now a net importer of oil; a country that manufactures gas is now an importer or is unable to provide sufficient gas for the turbines that power our electricity system to work.
I am sure you would realise that nowadays, everybody uses, mainly, gas-generated electricity. We are producing gas in this country and we are exporting it yet, we cannot channel a very insignificant percentage of that gas that we export to generate our electricity. So also a country with a very large arable land is unable to feed its people. A country with so many water resources could not even provide water for its people’s various needs. So, I think, we are talking about our inability to manage our resources properly for the benefit of the people.
So, mismanagement is a major issue. The second issue is corruption. Along the chain of production, corruption has been embedded in the system and where you have corruption, it negatively affects the system: it affects efficiency, it affects effectiveness. The third aspect is ineptitude – the inability of those who manage our economy right from the top down.
Politically, we have the wrong party heading the system, that is PDP.
So, what we are saying is: we have corruption, we have ineptitude, we have mismanagement and, as a fourth element, we are talking of incompetence now by those people who don’t have the moral standard to do things right. Because, if you fear God, you will not steal people’s money and you will not even steal anybody’s money. Most of these people don’t have the pedigree that can avail them the opportunity to be able to perform.
In the end, you cannot give what you don’t have. Many of these people, as we say in management, have been promoted beyond their level of competence; they’ve been promoted to their level of what we call Peters level of incompetence. That’s where they are and you can’t expect much from them.
Generally, you can see that it’s a system problem. They have polluted the system.
As Chief Olu Falae told me that he regretted not being allowed to assume office as president, do you also regret not being allowed to assume office as governor of Oyo State due to alleged rigging in the 2007 gubernatorial election?
Chief Falae, I think, has retired from seeking public office but, in my own case, I have not been disallowed.
I think I was rigged out by the court temporarily and you can see that from what is happening in Osun, Ekiti and so many other states. I have no regret at all because I believe I will still be governor of Oyo State by the grace of God. I believe that my mandate will be given back to me and I believe that those who stole it are already packing their loads from the Government House. I don’t care, once I’m lucky to be nominated as the candidate of our great party, Action Congress of Nigeria, it’s a matter of days before I’m sworn in as governor of Oyo State.
You contested the last election on the platform of ANPP but now you are in ACN. What informed your defection?
Don’t forget, I have always been an AC member. There was misunderstanding and I had to go to ANPP to use it as a platform and we’d contested we came back to where we belong. It’s like saying you can’t see what informed your changing from being a Muslim to Christian.
You can change and once you’ve been a Muslim you try Christianity and you discover that I’m basically a Muslim, you will come back. I think we’ve come back to our natural habitat. We were only away for a couple of months; it wasn’t like for years.
And, at the time we defected to use ANPP as a platform, so many other people also left AC for other parties. Some have come back now and some didn’t.
What confidence do you have in ACN and how would you describe its chances in the coming elections in Oyo State?
ACN is the party to beat in Oyo State. If you look at the last gubernatorial election results, let even say for the purpose of this discussion that PDP won, I won in about 15 local government areas; PDP also won in 15 and the AC won in three. So, the combination of us now and ACN plus all those who are now even leaving PDP to come to ACN, even if we are to repeat what happened the last time, PDP cannot win again.
And, like I said, don’t forget that the performance of this incumbent has underscored his inability to perform; has underscored the inability of PDP to solve the problems of Nigeria and, particularly, Oyo State. In the list of developmental assessment, Oyo State is about number 34 on the list of the least developed. Look at the governor, he can’t even pay teachers’ salaries and they are going round just window-dressing the roads spending huge sums of money.
I think it’s very callous. It’s ungodly to do that and I am very proud that once my party comes into government, we are going to be paying teachers. Don’t forget that our leader, Alhaji Lam Adeshina, was a teacher and he appointed many teachers into his cabinet when he was governor of Oyo State.
But, there is this allegation of imposition of candidates in your party in Oyo State?
I think our leaders in ACN, particularly the leader in Oyo State, Alhaji Lam Adeshina, have ensured and encouraged amity within the rank and file by making sure that all of us, the aspirants for the office of governor, work together. And, we are all going to each other’s houses to eat and so on. I think that is commendable on the part of Alhaji Lam Adeshina who has ensured that everybody comes together as a family.
Second is the fact that the leaders combined, nationally, are also encouraging lasting co-existence. Third is the fact that in Oyo State, the selection process is such that, at the end of the day, we will continue to see each other as a family.
You are a major aspirant in ACN for the governorship position. What achievements are you bringing to the contest?
I was the only senator in Oyo State that established a free vocational training centre that has so far turned out more than 15,000 students.
Even while I am not in government or in any public office, I’m still running and maintaining the training centre and it’s on up till now. Second, in the last gubernatorial election, I believe that we won though the mandate was stolen and it affords us the opportunity to try again if nominated. And, lastly, we must ensure that we encourage our people to vote this time round, to come out en masse, to make sure that nobody rigs the election and that whoever rigs there dies there!
I was the only senator from Oyo State that had his bill passed; I sponsored the bill and the bill was passed.
What was the bill about?
It was on prohibiting people from using telephone in certain sensitive areas and what prompted that was when I went to the National Hospital in Abuja. As we were there, a phone rang and the owner picked it up to receive it. Not more than 10 minutes after, a doctor came out and asked, ‘Who used a phone here now? Does he know he has just killed a child?’
Because that telephone, according to him, affected the equipment they were using in treating the child. That prompted that bill.
Not too long after, somebody also died at a petrol station when the telephone rang because there is radiation emitted by all these electronic gadgets that we use.
There was a report that you took money from Governor Alao-Akala, thus your silence since after the court judgment.
Now that we all see what happened in Osun and Ekiti states, a lot of people are saying he has taken money from Alao-Akala, that is why he didn’t go to court to finish him. I think those who are saying that are ignorant of the facts of the case.
All governorship cases have two stages: Tribunal and Appeal Court. I went through all the stages. That’s number one. The only difference is that, if our case is heard now, we would stand a better chance because all those who were more or less compromising are no longer on the scene. That’s one reason. And, to the issue of taking money from Akala; since I knew Akala and his group, I have never been given any money by anybody. And, even this is me that was given N50 million by the third term people and I refused to take it.
How many Nigerians can see N50 million on their table, each person, and will refuse to take? But I rejected it. So what will Akala now give me that I will take? This is man that if he gives you Ramadhan ram, he will list it on pages of the newspapers. So, why would I take money from him at all? God has been kind to me enough that under no condition will I take money from such people. It’s like selling the mandate of the people. I worked in the oil industry for many years. I’d never taken bribe.
Governor Rashidi Ladoja, during the 2007 gubernatorial election, was said to have worked for your success. Both of you are apart now politically. Aren’t you?
Governor Ladoja, who is former now, is my cousin and he has always been very supportive. But I think to put the record straight, it was three days to election that he decided to support me and he said, “Vote en masse for the most qualified candidate” and that person he mentioned was me.
If Ladoja helped me, why didn’t he help others? Because he saw that I was not only better but also the best candidate for the governorship election, he supported me and so, his support was very meaningful but wasn’t the all in all or the major factor in my (stolen election) success. It wasn’t so and any time I am running, I pray he will support me again. Not even only Ladoja, I pray that Akala supports me to defeat him.