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The imprints of a reformer

By Wale Adediji

IBADAN, the capital of Oyo State (the largest state in Southern Nigeria by landmass) is a place of history and high political drama. Since the return of democracy to Nigeria in 1999, Oyo State has experienced a paradigm swing from one extreme to the other, leaving the vast majority of the populace happier and more satisfied with the progress made.

But the remnants of the old order – political jobbers and speculators eager to return to the discredited and decrepit recent past – have already started rearing their ugly heads again even before the great reformer, Senator Isiaka Abiola Ajimobi, the Governor of the State since May 29, 2011, leaves office two months hence.

Before Ajimobi took over the reins of service eight years ago, Oyo State was famous for what was referred to as “Amala politics.” The most prominent exponent of this was the late Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, the “Strong man of Ibadan politics.”

Oyo state governor, Abiola Ajimobi

The then President Olusegun Obasanjo renamed him “the Garrison Commander of Ibadan” (perhaps an allusion to the historical position of Ibadan as the war camp of the ancient Yoruba military forces and the fact that Adedibu, through his “Amala politics”, dictated the politics of the state from his home in Molete, Ibadan).

Successive governors were forced to share the resources of the state with the political godfathers who, in turn, sustained their followers with the money they extorted by feeding and solving their daily sundry problems. It was obviously from this concept of political control that former Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose (who grew up in Ibadan), propounded his theory of “stomach infrastructure”.

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While political godfathers thrived off the state’s treasury and their followers had a false sense of belonging, the city of Ibadan and Oyo State in general fell far behind in terms of the basic amenities that make modern living worthwhile.

For years, the state capital bore the shame of being called the “dirtiest city” in Nigeria. Motor park touts (or agbero) kingpins were a law unto themselves and most of them graduated from hoodlums to political kingmakers who arm-twisted governments to bow to their wishes.

Market women traded in the already narrow streets and flooding was a routine tragedy due to poor environmental governance. Ibadan that used to pride itself as the pacesetter for Nigeria in education, health facilities and infrastructure development was no longer a force to be reckoned with even in the South-West Region.

Successive governors found it impossible to assert themselves so as not to offend the insatiable political godfathers and the traditional institutions which had long become set in their ways. However, it took a well-rooted Ibadan son with strong royal connections like Ajimobi to challenge the status quo.

Systematically, all these blood-sucking syndicates were dismantled. Ajimobi’s government launched the Operation Burst combined security outfit and took care of crime and the menace of touts.

However, the erstwhile troublesome National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, members who accounted for much of the security crises and violence of the past were accommodated in the reconstruction of motor parks and procurement of new buses to enhance their businesses.

For the first time in the history of Ibadan, a city master plan was created, based on which the perennial flooding of the city is being gradually addressed. A massive urban renewal and beautification programme took off. The many narrow roads in Ibadan have been expanded through the no-nonsense reclamation of portions of the roads encroached upon by house developers.

Apart from renowned musician, Mr. Yinka Ayefele (whose Radio House partial demolition raised a dust of emotions which was immediately resolved), Ajimobi’s father-in-law and prominent billionaires,

Chief Kola Daisi and Dr. Mike Adenuga were among those whose properties had to be tampered with to reclaim the public right of way and make Ibadan and other Oyo cities much more motorable and a beauty to behold. With that, it was much easier to clean up the state capital and bring out its beauty through the construction of flyover bridges and well-paved urban roads with walkways for pedestrians.

Ajimobi has also rebuilt many dilapidated schools and reformed the education, health, lands and housing, agriculture and tourism/hospitality sectors. By so doing, the economy of Oyo State has picked up dramatically and currently ranks as the fourth largest in Nigeria after Lagos, Ogun and Rivers. It is also the 17th in Africa.

Oyo now enjoys security and safety, even at night. The dividends of ensuring that public resources are invested in uplifting the lives of the people instead of funnelling them to prebendal political warlords for “stomach infrastructure” are all too evident.

Oyo people now know the difference between the old and the new styles of governance. They, for the first time in history, broke their own attitude of allowing governors only one term in office and gave Ajimobi two straight terms of eight years. His detractors are now jeering at him that he failed to install his successor and go back to the Senate because of the toes he stepped on. Ajimobi was deliberate in the choice he made, and I am pretty sure he has no regret for laying a solid foundation for the modernisation of not only Ibadan but the state at large.

It’s now up to the people to decide which of the paradigms – the old and the new – they will demand from the new kids on the block.

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