In 2009, shortly after the Appeal Court, Ibadan, dismissed his suit against the electoral victory of Otunba Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala in the 2007 governorship election in Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi granted me an interview published in The Westerner Magazine, based in Lagos.
In the interview, Ajimobi, the then candidate of the All Peoples Party (APP), expectedly sharply disagreed with the judgment and pointedly declared that next time, it would be Alao-Akala that would be heading for the courts.
Indeed, that declaration proved prophetic as in the 2011 governorship elections, despite being an incumbent, Alao-Akala lost and headed for the courts where he also lost out on all counts to Ajimobi.
In that 2009 Westerner interview, Ajimobi, argued that his opponent perpetrated a lot of atrocities during the polls but that his supporters all over the state comported themselves in the belief that the court, as an impartial arbiter would right the wrongs and restore his mandate.
He vowed that in the next election, his camp would return fire-for-fire with anybody and all of them would later go and prove their cases in ccourt. Just as he said, Alao-Akala lost the elections in 2011 and also lost at the courts despite his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) being at the centre.
Besides, in that interview, Ajimobi described Alao-Akala’s personality in less than flattering adjectives. According to him, though a jolly good fellow, Alao-Akala is not a material for governor of a state which requires a serious personality. He hinted at the use of jewelry and somewhat ostentatious lifestyle of the then Governor to buttress his point. Ajimobi also hinted that if he became governor, he would not be an ATM like Alao-Akala and would do away with all the unwholesome attitude of the then Governor.
We will return to these issues later to see if he kept to his vows of outperforming Alao-Akala in ostentation or seriousness that the state deserves.
One of my beats as Ibadan Bureau Chief of The Westerner at that time was the Governor’s office. Hence, the first assignment I covered after the inauguration of the new government that replaced Alao-Akala in May 2011 was the interdenominational service held on the grounds of the governor’s office. During the service, one of the Pastors who ministered apparently went beyond his brief, when while praying, prophesied a second term in office for Ajimobi. The new governor, won a lot of admirers that day especially amongst the civil servants and labour as he immediately stopped the pastor saying he had barely started one term and the pastor was speaking of second term. According to him, the issue of second term was not on the card at that point in time. He was, however, quick to add that if God helped him to perform creditably in his first term, then a second term in office would not be a bad thing to consider. Again, like he said during the 2009 interview, this also appeared like a pointer that the people of the state would witness a refreshing departure from the depressing days of the thent recent past.
Indeed, one of the major things Ajimobi achieved as Governor that stabilised his eight-year government was the enduring peace he achieved in the state. Before he became governor, the state was a sort of jungle. Hardly would a week pass without thungs linked to the National Union ofoRoad Transport Workers (NURTW) causing pandemonium in one area of the state or the other, leaving in its wake, death and destruction.
Immediately he came in, precisely two days after his inauguration, the thugs struck again at the Iwo Road area, leaving scores dead and property worth millions of naira destroyed. It was like the thugs wanted to dare the new governor to see what he could do. Ajimobi rose to the occasion unlike those before him as all those involved were fished out and visited with the full wrath of the law, a development that was to usher in peace and tranquility in the state.
The uncommon courage and determination with which he tackled the menace of the unions and restored peace to all the garages was also employed in his general administration of the state. It is recalled that some government property that were taken over by powerful individuals years ago which previous administrations lacked the courage to revoke, were restored to original owners. A case in point is the area around the ‘Molete Palace’ of the dreaded strongman of Ibadan politics, the late Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu.
However, this uncommon courage might have been his undoing in the saga that eventually culminated into his unceremonious ousting from office and the rejection of his senatorial bid. As they say, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The office of the President of Nigeria or the governor of a state is like an absolute Monarchy, indeed an Emperor. Once, he can pocket the State House of Assembly one way or the other, he can do as he wills and no one can question him. Ajimobi understood this perfectly, and this was why he perfected his moves absolutely, knowing that he could do as he wanted and talk to anybody anyhow.
The General David Jemibewon administration in the old Oyo State in 1976 built an overhead bridge linking the state secretariat with the road leading to thethe Governm House, Agodi, with the busy U.I. Secretariat road, passing underneath. The Military Administration that built the bridge left it for the use of all and sundry especially civil servants. Also, subsequent administrations allowed every citizen the use of the bridge. However, upon the coming of Ajimobi, things changed as I was personally soon to discover.
Shortly after Ajimobi’s inauguration, I was moved to Lagos to head the political desk of our sister newspaper, The Nigerian Compass. That fateful day, I had left the Ministry of Information and headed for the state Universal Basic Education office which was adjacent to the Government House, Ibadan, so I had to use the bridge. I had barely driven about 10 metres when I was accosted by an armed mobile policeman who I had thought needed a lift. He ordered me to drive back as the bridge was meant for only the governor and his wife!
I was taken aback. He asked me to look around to see whether any other parson apart from me would attempt to use the bridge. And truly, no other motorist tried to use the bridge . I tried all tricks in the books to persuade him to let me pass, but he would not budge. I had to go back when I was getting late for my appointment.
Something akin to this had only happened during the era of Dr. Omololu Olunloyo as governor of the state in 1983. The governor’s office, Agodi, since the colonial era was an open area with the building being accessible to all. It serves as a link way of sort to other ministries and departments.
From the state Assembly Complex and the Civil Service Commission, you have free access to the Ministry of Education, to the Water Corporation and the Ministries of Finance, Local Government Complex.
But following the violence that attended the 1983 General Elections as a result of allegations of massive rigging and electoral fraud that brought Governor Olunloyo into office in the ousting of incumbent, late Chief Bola Ige, the governor’s office was ‘militarised’ with gates erected and access road blocked. Since then, successive governments have continued to erect one gate or the other to make it impregnable.
THE MAKING OF AN EMPEROR
In 2003, the then Governor of the State, Alhaji Lam Adesina, now of blessed memory, backed Ajimobi to replace Senator Peter Adeyemo to represent Oyo South Senatorial District, though from a different party. He was in APP while the governor was in AD. Fresh from the private world, after clinching the party ticket, Ajimobi went on to win the election proper that got him into the Senate where he emerged as one of the Principal Officers of the highest legislative body in the country.
After his four-year stint in the Senate, he took a shot at the Agodi Government House but lost to Alao-Akala in 2007. That 2007 governorship election was fortuitous. Though he was not really on ground and not much known in the state at that time, he became a formidable candidate by proxy, courtesy of the incumbent governor, Senator Rasidi Adewolu Ladoja.
Ladoja had been pitted in a mother of all wars with the strongman of Oyo State politics, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, now late. The war had culminated into the impeachment of the governor and his replacement by Alao-Akala, his then deputy in December 2005. But in a landmark judgment, after a series of legal battles that eventually got to the Apex Court, the impeachment of Ladoja was declared illegal and he was ordered reinstated in December 2006 after an 11-month ouster from office.
But by the time he was restored into office, the process for the emergence of the PDP’s governorship candidate for the 2007 election had already reached advanced stage. And Ladoja who was interested in a second term wanted to hijack the process but had to contend once again with Adedibu who had already settled for Alao-Akala. All efforts by Ladoja to become the party’s candidate were frustrated by Adedibu who had already discovered in Alao-Akala an oil block. Adedibu eventually muscled PDP in endorsing Alao-Akala as its candidate with Ladoja loosing out, thus fueling the feud between Ladoja and his deputy who was regarded as a serial betrayer.
In frustration and obvious discontentment with his party, the PDP, Ladoja picked on Ajimobi, the APP candidate and funneled government resources into his campaign in an effort to checkmate Alao-Akala’s ambition. The election thus became like that between Ladoja and Adedibu. In the end, the old war horse, Adedibu won and Alao-Akala emerged victorious.
In an irony of fate however, that backing by Ladoja of Ajiand Alao-Akala emerged victorious.
In an irony of fate however, that backing by Ladoja of Ajimobi’s failed ambition was to be his own albatross or Golgotha, when Ajimobi eventually became governor of the state in 2011. We will come to that shortly.
In the countdown to the 2011 elections, Ajimobi, with the support of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu again received the backing of Lam Adesina to bag the ticket of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), having dumped others in the party before him. Thus, with the Lam Adesina political machinery, Ajimobi was able to defeat Akala’s PDP which had been depleted by lots of factionalisations.
One of them was former Governor Ladoja, who had single-handedly and overnight formed the Accord Party when the PDP crisis in the state remained intractable. The Accord Party which he became its leader and governorship candidate made a strong showing in the elections and won sizeable number of seats in the state House of Assembly elections. Consequently, it became a beautiful bride as the ACN which won the governorship seat did not control the majority in the house.
Thus both the PDP and the ACN began to woo the party with mouth-watering offers. This is where the paths of both Ladoja and Ajimobi, now governor-elect crossed again politically.
Ahead of the inauguration of Ajimobi’s government on May 29, 2011, the governor-elect, perhaps anticipating the looming disaster for his party bravely took the bulls by the horns but without carrying his party and leaders along in the discussions with Ladoja. He was said to have entered into an alliance all alone with Ladoja.
But Ladoja had the luxury of choices. While Ladoja was discussing with him, the PDP, his former party also wanted to do business with him. They offered him an offer they thought he couldn’t refuse. They offered his party the Speakership of the State Assembly while the PDP will take the Deputy Speakership. However, Ladoja did not trust them, perhaps knowing the kind of people he was dealing with and what they were capable of doing. Besides, an owl within the PDP had squealed to him that after the inauguration, the PDP plans to remove the Accord Speaker and install their own as Speaker.
Besides, the alliance Ajimobi was asking him to enter into with him was more attractive as it was mouth-watering. It included offer of Deputy Speakership, commissionership, chairmen and members of boards and parastatals. Indeed, it was an offer Ladoja could not ignore, as a seasoned politician and businessman.
However, with the alliance with Ladoja, the gulf between Ajimobi and his party leaders especially Lam Adesina distinctively widened. He began to sideline his party especially in the formation of the new government. It was a betrayal too soon, but the party realised too late. A new Sheriff has come to town. A new emperor has been born.
Cut below the belt
For Ladoja, he too soon realised too late that he was dealing with an emperor in the making. Immediately after the inauguration, Governor Ajimobi became a different kettle of fish altogether. As governor-elect, Ajimobi will sometimes quietly come into his Bodija residence alone or driven by his driver for lunch or dinner, after which they would retire for discussion over some drinks. But after the swearing in, things changed dramatically. Though he complied with the agreement on the Deputy Speakership for Accord Party, he only conceded a couple of commissionership positions of no consequence and conveniently forgot implementing the others which involved sharing of positions.
It was a bad time for Ladoja who blamed Ajimobi for reneging on their agreement. But the governor kept on insisting that he never violated the agreement. It became a ding dong affair until Ladoja threatened to pull out of the agreement, seeking to pull the rug off the feet of the new emperor. Ajimobi called the bluff of Ladoja, daring him to pull out. Unknown to Ladoja, Ajimobi had reached out to many Accord Party members including members of the state assembly to switch their allegiance to his party. As the government in power, he used a combination of carrot and stick which worked perfectly for him.
Thus by the time Ladoja called out his men to leave Ajimobi’s government, only a handful obeyed him. He was left high and dry as many of them stayed put due to the perks of office. It was the start of a new era. The emperor has started to bare his fangs. He had Ladoja, who stabilised his government where he wanted him. And by this time too, he had totally sidelined the party leaders and taken full control of the party structure as the leader of the party in the state. No more was Lam Adesina called ‘Leader’.
Early in the life of the administration, shortly after the breakdown of their accord, Ajimobi had caused Ladoja to be arrested by the police in the state. Ladoja had gone to Olomi area on a courtesy visit in company of a notorious muscle-man in the state known as Sunday Igboho. Ajimobi had warned against the visit sayinge in the state. Ladoja had gone to Olomi area on a courtesy visit in company of a notorious muscle-man in the state known as Sunday Igboho. Ajimobi had warned against the visit saying it threatened the peace and tranquility of the state. Of course, during the visit, pandemonium broke out and Ladoja himself escaped by the whiskers as all hell was let loose leaving casualties in the wake. Thus, Ajimobi used it as a perfect opportunity to settle scores. It took the intervention of many prominent citizens before Ladoja was let off the hook after spending hours in police custody.
Ajimobi is a bold student of history. A Machiavellian to the core. He understands perfectly the dynamics and fragile nature of power. For this school of thought, to maintain your steady hold on power, those who helped you into power and those who helped stabilised your government at the initial stage must be routed out, otherwise they will undermine your authority and power. That was what happened to ‘Great Lam’ and Ladoja. For Lam, it was inconceivable. That development contributed to his ill health that landed him in hospital in Lagos. The icing on the cake was when Dapo, Lam Adesina’s son, a commissioner in Ajimobi’s cabinet traveled to Lagos on a Friday to check on his sick dad after informing his boss. By the time he returned to office on Monday, he got a query from Ajimobi for absconding from his duty post! It was not long after this that the old man died. Till today, no edifice of significance or even a street has been named after the ‘Great Lam’!
For Ladoja, if he thought that by pulling out of the alliance following the reneging on the pledge by Ajimobi was the end of the matter, he was greatly mistaken as a catalogue of events was soon to follow that would culminate into his being dragged to court for alleged embezzlement of over N400 million said to have been realised from the sale of shares of state companies. It was a sad experience for a man who was regarded as frugal with state resources during his tumultuous stay in office, a development that was to have actually brought about the feud between him and Adedibu who allegedly wanted a share of the state’s resources. For the major part of his term in office, Ajimobi used the instrumentality of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to hound the old man, who incidentally was a high chief in Ibadan and a member of the Olubadan-In-Council. Indeed, not a few people believed that it was in order to get at Ladoja that Ajimobi dabbled into the affairs of the council, which hitherto had been revered by previous administrations as inviolate. The uniqueness of the system had been a source of attraction to many as a new Olubadan always emerged flawlessly without any contention whatsoever. But that is by the way even though, that development, also contributed immensely to the mounting dissention against the emperor who shunned all entreaties to leave the Ibadan chieftaincy issue alone and face the serious affairs of state.
But the irony of the fraud case against Ladoja is a study that confounds all logic and human constitution. How far should one go to even scores or get at an opponent? Someone might ask. Unconfirmed sources told this writer that part of the money that was skimmed from the sale of shares for which Ladoja was standing trial was allegedly used on the funding of the electoral campaigns of Ajimobi during the 2007 elections which he eventually lost to Alao-Akala! What double jeopardy for Ladoja.
For the emperor, there was no institution too sacred not to be demystified. There was no individual too great not to be degraded. The traditional institution suffered greatly. Throughout the eight-year period of his administration, the state council of Obas and chiefs was suspended. The first meeting of the council ended in a fiasco. This in the main was due to the banana peel put in place in that area by his unhappy predecessor, Alao-Akala.
Alao-Akala, for the respect he had for the Alaafin, had during his administration done what many administrations failed to do – make the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, the permanent chairman of the state council of Obas and chiefs. This did not go down well with the Olubadan of Ibadan and the Soun of Ogbomoso who went to court to contest the decision. However, things soon turned awry between the governor and the Alaafin to the extent that Alaafin publicly raised the alarm that Alao-Akala wanted to kill him. In his response, the governor said he had no such plans stressing that if he had issues with the Alaafin, all he needed to do was to dethrone him instead of killing him. Alao-Akala, a former senior police officer was indeed investigated by the police over the allegation despite his immunity. Things soon got to a head when Alao-Akala installed the Alago of Ago Oja, a quarter in Oyo as a second class traditional ruler without the consent of Alaafin.
The Alaafin’s response was decisive and it cost Alao-Akala his governorship nd it cost Alao-Akala his governorship seat when the election came. As the election approached, the Alaafin summoned all the chiefs and Baales in the four local governments of Oyo to a meeting. At the meeting held inside the Alaafin palace, the Oba gave them one task, that Alao-Akala must not win the election in their areas. He reportedly collected all their instrumentality of office with a threat that anyone who loses his area would cease to be a chief. Thus it was no surprise that it was the four local governments in Oyo that ensured victory for ACN in block while other areas like Ibadan, Oke Ogun and Ibarapa were shared amongst the candidates.
Thus, in obvious retaliatory and punitive measure, Alao-Akala on the eve of his departure from office reversed himself on the permanent chairmanship for Alaafin and reverted to the rotational chairmanship. So, by the time he was going, he made the Olubadan, the late Oba Samuel Odulana Odugade, chairman of the council.
So for Ajimobi, this was a difficult situation he found himself. Though he owed the Alaafin a debt of gratitude, he could not at the same time reverse what Alao-Akala had cleverly did without attracting opprobrium from the people of Ibadan. He himself coming from Ibadan, how would he explain that he denied his own paramount ruler the exalted position of the chairmanship of the state council of Obas. That was the beginning of the rift between him and the Alaafin.
However, fortunately for Ajimobi, the first meeting chaired by Oba Odugade ended in a fiasco, as one of Alaafin’s loyalists was somewhat rude to the Olubadan, hence, he was roundly lampooned by both the then Otun Olubadan, the late Chief Omowale Kuye and the Osi Olubadan, now Otun, Chief Lekan Balogun.
Ajimobi thus used the opportunity of the rift to suspend the council meetings since then, especially as the case instituted by the Alaafin against the reversal by Alao-Akala was still ongoing.
Alao-Akala also used another banana peel to cause disaffection for Ajimobi at the tail end of his administration. He approved a new wage increase for workers in the state, something he failed to do while in office. He managed to pay just one month before he left. However, one of the very first things Ajimobi did was to cancel the increase and this brought him into collision with the workers. Notwithstanding that Ajimobi was to later pay 13th month salaries to the workers, this confrontation in the early life of the administration caused a dent in the relationship between the state administration and the workers and labour unions till the end of his government.
He was also bold and courageous to a fault. Added to this is the way he talks down on people, indeed, anybody no matter the position. So a lot of people preferred to keep quiet in order to escape his cutting tongue. Besides, there is no question about his brilliance and intelligence; quest for perfection and his capacity for hardwork, but his Mr. Know-all attitude was what the Americans would call the killer punch. According to the Yoruba: ‘kinni kan ba ajao je, apa re gun ju itan lo’. For Ajimobi, his own major fault is his caustic tongue and disrespect to elders. There is nobody no matter highly placed or sacred that he could not insult or talk down on. And there is nothing regarded as too low or petty that he could not get involved in. indeed, he can be regarded as pettiness personified. A case in point was the ‘Constituted Authority’ episode, which greatly exposed his underbelly and brought him against students generally.
There is no denying the fact that his era brought a lot of physical development of infrastructures like roads in major areas of the state, but the Emperor-like attitude, as if it was his money that was used even in paying workers’ salaries did not earn him the respect of civil servants and labour. At best, they feared him, they did not respect him. And that was why many of them, even his inner caucus worked against his senatorial aspirations.
Another issue that brought about the routing of the APC and Ajimobi in the last elections was the way and manner many of the candidates emerged, especially the governorship. The governor, as the emperor dictated who becomes what and if you don’t agree, you can go to blazes. He alienated many of those he considered were opposed to his autocracy. Of course many left the party to form alliance with other parties while some stayed but worked against him and his party even from within. Thereafter, there was wild jubilation in the streets following the announcement of the results that proclaimed his loss and that of his party in the governorship polls. Therefore, one can safely conclude that Ajimobi was the architect of his own fall from grace. He had ample opportunities to be a real great leader but flunked it on the altar of ego and arrogance.
Some less charitable people also accused him of being stingy unlike Alao-Akala who was described as ATM or buje-budanu. They say his own is buje as he only enriched his and family pockets. They alleged that he has bought up a lot of properties in Ibadan, Lagos and overseas and are only waiting for his term to expire for the biggest exposé of the century.
He must have learnt his lessons the hard way. Will history be kind to him? Your guess is as good as mine.