OBITUARY: Ajimobi, the ‘constituted authority’ who wanted to die at 70 - Uju Ayalogu's Blog for News, Reviews, Articles and More

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Thursday, 25 June 2020

OBITUARY: Ajimobi, the ‘constituted authority’ who wanted to die at 70

OBITUARY: Ajimobi, the ‘constituted authority’ who wanted to die at 70

“I normally tell God that if I clock 70 years of age, that would be enough. My father died two months to his 70th birthday, so I used to say even if I make it to 70, that would be okay. Now that I am 70 and enjoying life, I tell God, ‘Seventy is small’…”

That was Isiaka Abiola Ajimobi, former governor of Oyo state, unveiling the irony of life a few months ago. He was a guest of Splash FM/Lagelu FM in Ibadan, the state capital, wearing a face mask and discussing with hosts on the Muslim perspective to life as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic.

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On June 25, 2020, he breathed his last at a Lagos hospital after succumbing to the complications of COVID-19. Although sources told TheCable that he had tested negative to the virus before his death, the former deputy chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) had suffered complications to his internal organs and had been into a coma for weeks. It was just a matter of time.

He still died at 70, as he used to wish. He would have loved to recover from the disease and continue with his life, as he also wished, but it is all over. The irony.

His associates described how he fought a gallant battle to stay alive but succumbed eventually.

On May 1, 2020, he had paid a glowing tribute to the efforts of the government in the fight against the coronavirus. Little did he know he was going to be consumed by the pandemic.

“My dear compatriots,” he said. “It is with gratitude to the Almighty and a deep sense of appreciation that I, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, the APC deputy national chairman (south) commend the federal government, the NCDC, our health workers, security agencies and others in the battle against the menace of coronavirus.

We applaud your sacrifices, your devotion, professionalism and patriotism. You risk your lives for Nigerians to live by ensuring the curb of the pandemic. Yours sincerely, you deserve our eternal gratitude and a standing ovation.”

He was in a white outfit, with his signature moustache and cap, which had the peak tilted to the right as usual. He looked the picture of health as he sat in the swivel chair, moving from left to right. It didn’t seem likely that the former governor imagined that the 44-second recording would be his last Workers’ Day speech on earth. He ended the presentation on his feet, with applause for the  frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19.

More known as a politician than in business, the tale of his political life was one of intense highs and disappointing lows. However, politics or business, Ajimobi had a penchant for breaking records.


OBITUARY: Ajimobi, the ‘constituted authority’ who wanted to die at 70

Born into a generation of politicians on December 16, 1949, to the family of the Ajimobi of Ibadan, resident at Oja-Oba, it was only a matter of time before he toed the line of generations before him by leaving business for politics.

While his grandfather was the sobaloju of Ibadanland; N.A. Ajimobi, his uncle, was minister of works and transport in the western region, and his father was a member of the house of assembly in the old western region.

He attended St. Patrick’s Primary School, Oke-Padre in Ibadan, but completed his primary education at Ibadan City Council Primary School, Aperin. He went on to become games prefect at Lagelu Grammar School as a result of his interest in in athletics, table tennis, and football.


OBITUARY: Ajimobi, the ‘constituted authority’ who wanted to die at 70

Before venturing into politics, Ajimobi made strides in the world of business for more than two decades. He laid the foundation for that path by studying Business Administration and Finance at the State University of New York, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree.

He, afterwards, got an MBA in Operations Research and Marketing at Governors State University, University Park, Illinois, and took the New York Insurance examinations, after which he was engaged in Buffalo, New York as a state certified underwriter by Equitable Life Assurance Corporation.

Then came the rise and rise through various managerial positions, which began on his return to Nigeria in 1977 . He worked in various positions before hanging his ‘business suit’ and delving into politics in 2003.

As a businessman, some of the positions he held included operations controller in Nestle Foods PLC, where he later became the marketing controller; consumer products manager at National Oil and Chemical Marketing Company — he is said to have been the youngest manager to occupy the position at the time, and he was promoted in less than two years to divisional manager; lubricants manager at Shell International Oil Company, then as chief executive of West Africa, and later as the operations director of Shell Marketing Company in Togo.

Aside other positions he held, at the time he decided it was time for politics, he was the managing director and chief executive of National Oil and Chemical Marketing Company.


OBITUARY: Ajimobi, the ‘constituted authority’ who wanted to die at 70

Ajimobi with wife, Florence, who also reportedly tested positive but recovered

His marrying Florence wasn’t as straightforward as he would have assumed, but according to the former governor, the first time he set his eyes on her, he was convinced she would become his wife. But convincing her to accept his offer began with a rainy day and the offer of an umbrella.

Speaking on how he became Florence’s husband, he said: “We met initially in London, then we met in Nigeria; then we met at the bank. It was then I told myself: ‘this is my wife.’ I went to her and said ‘hello’ and she replied ‘hello!’ The person with whom I went to the place asked, ‘How did you know the woman you are greeting?’ I said ‘go and ask the woman, don’t ask me.’ She then went away and I went my own way.

The third time it was raining and I offered her my umbrella and she accepted my offer of umbrella. I then asked, ‘Do you remember me?’ She said ‘no.’ I said, ‘Well, we met before’ and she said, ‘Okay, what’s the problem? You want me to use your umbrella or you want to toast me?’ Many things later happened and in the end we got married. The particular attraction I saw in her was honesty, very hardworking and that, she still has.”


OBITUARY: Ajimobi, the ‘constituted authority’ who wanted to die at 70

For a man who ruffled the feathers of many ‘seniors’ and contemporaries within and outside the political sphere, of all his achievements since becoming senator in 2003, perhaps the most significant would be winning a second term as governor of Oyo; this was a first in the state. However, becoming Oyo’s number one man didn’t come on a platter of gold.

He contested in 2007 as a candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) but lost. Four years later, he was back again, but this time, on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).

He won. For a second tenure, this time under the All Progressives Congress (APC), despite contesting against heavyweights like Adebayo Alao-Akala and Rashidi Ladoja — both were former governors as well — he not only defeated them, but put to rest the popular belief at the time that no governor’s second term ambition would be successful.

For those in the know of the workings of Oyo politics, this was no meagre feat, as Ajimobi acknowledged in his inauguration speech.

“I stand before you today, acutely aware that I am standing at the threshold of history. I stand before you, humbled by that same history, the history of our 39-year-old State and the evergreen story of the labour of our heroes past in the old Western Region. I stand before you, humbled by your resilient patriotism and abiding faith in me in the April 11 election,” he had said.

“I am eternally grateful that you rose above the massive hate and smear campaigns designed to demonise our huge sacrifices and achievements of the past four years. You cared not for the tale that no governor was ever re-elected in our state. You would not allow that past history to determine your approaching future. You chose not to succumb to fear or fable.

You voted as your conscience and beliefs led you. You used your votes to break the alleged jinx that hovered over our politics. We clearly heard you when you said that, like every human being created by the Most High God, our human limitations as individuals and as an administration were inconsequential, placed side by side our monumental commitment and passion to make a difference in Oyo state. We heard you clearly.

“Since 1976 when our state was created, seven of us have stood before you to take the gubernatorial oath; 26 in all have administered our state, either as the defunct Western Region or its eventual reincarnation as Oyo State. The Almighty, in His wondrous ways, ably assisted by the audacity of your votes, has made me the only of those numerous men to take the gubernatorial oath a second time.”


OBITUARY: Ajimobi, the ‘constituted authority’ who wanted to die at 70

His political life was not without whispers of allegations about his seemingly overbearing attitude regarding subordinates. Ajimobi was widely known for his way with words, and eventually, the whispers manifested in the full glare of the public. One of such incidents led to his being christened ‘constituted authority’. This was in 2017, when students of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) protested against the closure of their school.

While addressing the students, he had told them government didn’t have funds but the students didn’t seem too pleased with the comment, and the former governor appeared provoked by their attitude.

“I’m not gonna talk to you, and If you want to start trouble, go ahead. This government will not tolerate nonsense from anybody. If you want to be troublesome, I dare you. I’m ready for you. Let’s see what happens then,” Ajimobi said, while switching between Yoruba and English.

“What we’re saying is that some of you should have little respect for constituted authority, no matter what. Whether I pay salaries or… this is the constituted authority for Oyo.”

His second tenure was not without more drama, with another significant reference being the mass coronation of 21 traditional rulers in August 2017. That singular move saw him at loggerheads with the olubadan of Ibadanland, as well as Rashidi Ladola, former governor of Oyo, who saw Ajimobi’s action, which had been swept under the guise of reviewing the 1959 Ibadan chieftaincy declaration, as an affront on traditional leadership.

However, months before he was to exit office, he insisted that he didn’t step on any toes during his tenure. Addressing journalists shortly after observing the Eid-el-Adha prayers at the Agodi Yidi prayer ground in Ibadan in August 2018, he said: “You will see that as a leader, anytime you want to make a change, some people, enlightened, unenlightened, ignorant, and mischievous, will play politics with them, but a good leader must have the courage to go ahead. If you remember the Great Prophet Mohammed, when he was talking about the Almighty God to the people, they sent him away from his hometown.

“So, anytime we, as leaders, head of government are trying to make changes, people talked but we forged ahead no matter what they say. We will never allow this state to become a banana state. We will not allow it to be an animal farm.”


OBITUARY: Ajimobi, the ‘constituted authority’ who wanted to die at 70

In spite of his varied struggles with political leaders within and outside the state, he was instrumental to addressing the brigandage that had become commonplace in Oyo, usually perpetrated by members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). And he didn’t mince words telling of his efforts to bring NURTW under state control.

While delivering a public lecture with the theme: “Peace and Security Architecture for Sustainable Development in Oyo State”, which was organised by the Society for Peace Studies and Practice (SPSP) and held in Ibadan, he highlighted efforts he put in place, beginning in 2011 when he first became governor.

“When I came in 2011 and the leadership of NURTW came on a visit, saying ‘Your Excellency, we are for you’, I said ‘No! Be for peace. If any of you steps on the law by fomenting trouble, you will be arrested and jailed.’ They conformed with the directive and peace was back,” he said.

“To make an omelette, you must break eggs. For you to make sustainable changes possible, you must step on toes. When the elders in the state realised I would not budge, they came to beg me and I insisted that for the state to escape the siege of brigandage, where students of universities were killed in broad daylight at Iwo Road, it had to stop. They grudgingly agreed that the reign of terror had to stop and today we are talking about the prevalence of peace in the state.

“I make bold to say that if peace is the only achievement people will remember of this administration, I am happy about it.”


OBITUARY: Ajimobi, the ‘constituted authority’ who wanted to die at 70

Ajimobi with Adams Oshiomhole, suspended APC national chairman flanked by Umar Ganduje, Kano governor

The plan after his second tenure as governor was to go back to the senate but that was not to be. In a loss not many of his allies saw coming, he lost his bid to continue his representation of his senatorial district where he left off eight years before. Aside that, his ‘christened’ governorship candidate, Bayo Adelabu, for whom some major players had to step down, lost the battle for Oyo’s seat of power, and all to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Although relatively brief, he bounced back into some glimmer of limelight after he was sworn in as the APC deputy national chairman (south) in March 2020, following Niyi Adebayo’s appointment as minister of industry, trade and investment. He held this position until he died on June 25, 2020.


OBITUARY: Ajimobi, the ‘constituted authority’ who wanted to die at 70

‘The builder’ his helmet says

He lived in the full knowledge of wanting to be remembered for something significant and he stated this in clear terms as far back as February 2011, when he emerged governorship candidate of ACN at the time.

“I want to be remembered as a man that came and left the world better than he met it,” he said.

If that dream came to pass, is a matter best left to individual interpretation.

Photo credit: Tolani Alli

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