By Shokanmi Michael
Several years ago, the only reason I visited Ibadan, the Oyo state capital, was to attend “compulsory” social functions…mark the word: “compulsory”! And hardly did I spend nights there. The only hotel l felt safe in was Premier Hotel. As a matter of fact, to me it was the only “correct” hotel in the city. A city I rather referred to as a large village. It was too sleepy for my liking. The roads were terrible and the sights were an eye sore. You needed to see the heaps of filth that had become hills and mountains.
That was the Ibadan I knew. Today, I know a new Ibadan. The beginning of the new Ibadan for me, started last year when l grudgingly embarked on a journey to the city for another social event.
Confusion greeted me right from the toll-gate end of the city on the Lagos Ibadan Expressway. In the past, I needed not watch out for signboards that greeted “Welcome to Ibadan”. I only looked out for the filth, the decay and blood red eyed young men. But on this day, I was confused because the “signs and sights” of “Ibadan” were nowhere to be found? I wondered if I had wandered into another city. Where is the Ibadan that I knew? Behold, it was gone! At that point I recalled what I had been hearing about the activities of the state governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi. Transformation, Restoration, Urban renewal, I thought it was all “politricks” but here it was, staring at me like “politruths”
Ibadan was wearing a new look – clean roads, good roads, new structures, orderly parks and befitting markets. I thought I was dreaming- the same dream I saw happen in Lagos. After having a pleasure drive round the city, I attended my function and still decided to find out what happened or better still, find out who this man, Ajimobi was. I suddenly envied the people of Ibadan for being blessed with such a visionary leader.
I never got to meet him then but the impression was that he was not popular with the people. What! Why? A man who had so transformed the state and instituted peace, security and development that had long eluded the people? Something is definitely not right here, I said to myself.
My curiosity got the better of me and l began to grab every opportunity that would help me get a better and perhaps true picture of how people really felt about this man. l got a few but the most recent one got me thinking the more. I had the opportunity of observing at closer quarters, the people’s feelings and perceptions during the governors recent tour of local governments in the state. My findings jolted me.
First was the reaction of a people who from findings were skeptical of the administration since inception only to witness magical transformation within two years. I am not talking about the very evident Ibadan now. I am talking about areas other than the city that were hitherto forgotten territories – Ibarapa, Oke Ogun, Ogbomosho, Ono Ara and all the places visited.
During this tour with the governor, the people trooped out in their thousands to see him. Based on what I had read about him not being popular with the people, I expected that as they trooped out in their thousands, the governor would also get a thousand stones and missiles hurled at him!
But no, the joy on their faces was priceless! They were clearly happy to see their Governor. Men and women, old and young, professionals and artisans, everyone seemed ecstatic to see the Governor.
At nearly all the rallies too, there was a semblance of cooperation between the security men and the crowd. Even the crowds from the notorious Bere area to Mapo hall were not as unruly as they used to. Agreed, everything could not have been very perfect because we live in a complex and heterogeneous society. An example of that were few cases where over-excitement almost marred certain aspect of the occasion, but these were quickly curtailed.
All that joy and happiness said a lot to me. Why are the people so happy? If they did not like Ajimobi, why did they come out in all the local governments to welcome him? Why did they not stone him and curse him for whatever reasons were cited by those who wrote in various media that Ajimobi was not liked by his people?
I tried hard to justify the unjustifiable. I tried to separate Ibadan from the other towns. Quite right, Ibadan had been lavished with new roads, a new bridge and infrastructural development as well as aesthetics. First it was one Shoprite coming to Ibadan, but now they have two. Ibadan now has neighborhood markets springing up, taking care of those traders who were displaced from the roadsides when the governor began his urban renewal programme. I also saw the Agodi gardens which was upgraded from nothing to become somewhere where families could go for relaxation.
So, these other towns, these hinterlands, what did they get in infrastructure because there was obviously no flyover bridge like the one in Mokola Ibadan? I realized that these people were happy because their narrow and bad roads had been repaired and widened, thereby facilitating their movement with their agricultural products. Farmers now had access to tractors. Their children – university and secondary school graduates had been employed into the civil service while others were part of the 20,000 engaged in the Youth Employment Scheme of Oyo state (YES-O). The governor’s free health mission by American doctors was majorly taken into the rural areas, so the people were healthier. The presence of Operation Burst, the state’s security outfit, was in every part of the state. Finally l happened on a book that enumerated some of the other things thte governor had done in the state in four years. The numerous businesses that have suddenly found home in Oyo State, taking care of the welfare of the people by providing free buses for the civil servants and students, dualizing roads so that movement can be easier. With all these and others too numerous to mention, why would the people not be happy with Ajimobi? Why would they not like him?
Now, I have been able to end my confusion. My feeling is that what those newspaper analysts and commentators meant to convey to their readers is that some people are afraid of Ajimobi. The people love Ajimobi but some people are afraid of him.
So, who is afraid of Ajimobi in a new Oyo State? Definitely not the same people who feel so lucky to have such a visionary leader. Not the people who never knew that succor could come to them. Not the people who can now sleep with both eyes closed. Not the people who love him so much that they would cast their vote twice for his second term bid, if voting more than once was possible.
These are the group of people who I think are afraid of Ajimobi: Unrepentant hoodlums whom the security forces have caged; unscrupulous politicians who want a return to the old order where money meant for infrastructure were shared among them; enemies of the state, physical and spiritual, who want the state to remain in perpetual darkness and backwardness!
Who is afraid of Ajimobi? Definitely those who want him out of power by all means. Members of the opposition who instead of joining the governor to move the state forward, just want him out even when they lack the unbeatable qualities of the governor. They confuse the people with the need to maintain a belief that no governor ever gets a second term in the state. They forget that the state has always rejected “under-performing” governors who intended to come back for a second term.
I believe this governor has out-performed the rest and performed beyond the people’s expectation. Ahead of the 2015 elections, the people’s choices have been easier because they only have to choose between governors who achieved nothing for the state and a performing governor. They have to choose between inexperienced leaders and a vastly experienced Ajimobi. They have to choose between conservative personalities and a progressive governor.
Who is afraid of Ajimobi? Not those who are enjoying the new lease of life in the state. Those who are afraid of Ajimobi are those worried that the governor is educating the people so much now that they are better exposed and now know what true leadership means. They are worried that the governor is not “sharing” money but “sharing” happiness, development and good standard of living. They are worried that the youths who they normally use as political thugs are now so busy with developing the state through the YES-O programme. They are worried that the people would no longer sell their votes for N1000 or a few “congos” of rice.
I believe these are the elements that are afraid of Ajimobi and they are shaking really bad because the people are set to return the governor for a second term.
•Shokanmi Michael, Consultant, Olsphere Investment Limited.