There is no doubt that when the political history of Oyo State is being written, the name of the incumbent governor, Senator Isiaka Abiola Ajimobi will feature prominently. There are many reasons for these. In the modern democratic history of Oyo state, Governor Ajimobi is the first civilian governor to enjoy two terms in office. But his tenure goes beyond such feat. Never in the history of the state have there been infrastructural developments that have been witnessed under the watch of this astute administrator. Indeed, his desire to turn Oyo state into a modern 21st century city has earned him different sobriquets, ’The Builder’, ‘ Game changer’, The pathfinder, among others . One would not be too far wrong to state that many are unaware of his giant strides in the development of Oyo state or how he is giving Oyo state a new look. It is also easy to underplay his achievements. But to the discerning and those who have keenly followed happenings in the state, never in the history of modern Oyo state has any governor achieved such feats in infrastructural development.
To understand Senator Ajimobi, it is important to know what motivates him. His words give a clue as to what drives his passion. “I want to be a noble. A noble is a man who serves God and has integrity. I do not want to be too rich or too poor. A poor man will not sleep because he would always think about how to meet his needs, while a rich man would equally not sleep because he would always worry about his wealth. I want to be remembered as a man who made a difference in the lives of people, in the state”.
He is a governor whose burning desire is to take Oyo state into modernity, a city of the 21st century. He is a governor who is convinced that Oyo state must retain its ‘pacesetter’ status in the political and developmental history of the South West, Nigeria and Africa.
Oyo state (Western Nigeria) had always set the pace. It was where the first television station in Africa was established. It was also the region that had the first radio station in the country and Africa, the first stadium and the first university – the University College, Ibadan now known as the University of Ibadan.
True to his words, when his administration was sworn in on May 29, 2011, he had a clear vision of what he wanted and where he was taking Oyo state- to reposition the state in terms of developments and retain its many firsts in developments. His desire to do this was anchored on three planks of Restoration, Transformation and Repositioning. To achieve his objectives of restoring the glories of time past and changing the face of the state into a modern one, he knew the appropriate foundation must be established. He realized that no development would take place without a secure environment. To this end; his first task was to re-launch and reinvigorate the state’s joint security task force, Operation Burst. He did this by making available 20 new patrol van through the efforts of the state’s Security Trust Fund (OYSSTF) which he had earlier inaugurated. Close Circuit Television Cameras (CCTV) were also installed in black spots, under the Safe City Project, embarked on by the Governor Abiola Ajimobi-led administration. All these seem to have paid off with absolute peace and security of lives in the state. This fact was reemphasized recently by the state police chief, Mr. Abiodun Odude when he described Oyo state as the most peaceful in the country.
Taking off from there, Senator Ajimobi identified five crucial pillars for developmental purposes and achieving his agenda. For a 21st century state of his dream, education and technology are appropriate and complementary tools that must be properly situated in the development agenda. He realized that the strength of leading, developed and developing countries is in education and technology. “An appropriate, functional education tailor made to fit our environment”, was how he puts it. He quickly identified three things wrong with the current education, the education was not functional and not suited for the environment, two, and it lacks entrepreneurial mix which should make it result-oriented and lastly, it lacks character which is the building block that would turn out responsible and respectable citizens. Indeed, he was scandalized at the total lack of respect exhibited by students. He was of the view that character building is also part of the complete education package. Products of such education must be upright citizens, have respect for elders and be the epitome of good and proper behavior. The problem with the current education was forcefully brought home to him during his encounter with students of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology which led to the “constituted authority” scene. To him, as much as students should have the freedom to express themselves, it should be under the ambit of respect for elders, colleagues and acquaintances. He sees that as good breeding, complete education and the ‘complete man’. To Governor Ajimobi, education that is unable to imbue students with good breeding and character is incomplete. To achieve this concept of complete education, he set up the Schools Governing Board (SGB). Apart from the above stated reasons; the idea was also to ensure that parents are fully involved in the education of their children. Like all changes, this came with its opposition, but the governor was resolute about the way to go. With the inauguration of the board, education in Oyo state took a different turn. A stop was quickly put to the strange idea of promoting students to the next class or on trial, irrespective of performance. Today, Oyo state is reaping the result. In the last West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) result, Oyo state recorded the best result in 18 years. The state government ensured teachers’ salaries were paid, they were duly promoted and the teachers repaid the gesture with performance. A Technical University, different from the universities of technology, was established, to create manpower in the much needed technical areas. Graduates of the institution are expected to have at least three vocational skills, to ensure their independence and be self-employed after graduation instead of looking for ‘white-collar’ jobs. Indigent students were offered scholarship by the institution. Senator Ajimobi’s second pillar of development is in the area of agriculture. In the southern part of the country, Oyo state has the largest expanse of land suitable for agriculture. The state also has the highest number of research institutes in the country. The government has tapped into these advantages. The state has about 360,000 hectares of land, 250,000 hectares is now devoted to agriculture. Presently, Oyo state is the number one producer of cassava. Cassava alone has about 15 different value chains which the administration has tapped into. The governor is encouraging farmers to plant and he is creating buyers, even beyond the shores of the country, for the output. Cashew nut is gradually becoming a money spinner and there are several Indian nationals in the Ogbomoso axis of the state who have equally tapped into this money spinner. Governor Ajimobi’s next focus was on tradition and culture. With a state rich in culture- History of the old Oyo Empire, the use of the Oyo’s Yoruba in the WASSCE, establishment of first radio and television station, establishment of the first university in Ibadan, he decided to build on these legacies by making Oyo state the film capital of Nigeria. The groundwork for this had already been laid and work to this effect has already begun within the expansive premises of the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS). The fourth pillar is provision of affordable health services. This led to the establishment of the state health insurance scheme. The last of the pillars is industrialization. To assure this, the government embarked on massive road construction with particular targets of roads leading into and out of the major cities in the state. Here, the government also established a first. It became the first administration to dualize roads in each of the zones in the state. Major towns and zones like Oyo, Ogbomoso, Iseyin, Ibarapa, Saki, etc have all become beneficiaries of these massive roads construction. No government has ever done this in the history of the state. The administration equally created a development corridor to achieve the objective of industrialization. To further give Industrialization a boost, the state went into partnership with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Another first in the country. The aim is to establish an integrated agro industrial park and to support small and medium scale enterprises. China has also bought into the industrialization project with a planned injection of $5billion (N1.8trillion), at first instance, to develop the newly established Polaris-Pacesetter Free Trade Zone, along the Ibadan-Lagos expressway. As at today, close to 150 investors from Asian countries have signified interest in investing in the state’s free trade zone. These are some of the outcome of Gov Ajimobi’s trips outside the country. It was also what informed his recent trip to Denmark. The Denmark trip has started to yield results. Cattle farmers in that country would soon visit Oyo state with the aim of transferring knowledge in ranching and ultimately enhance local beef output in local and international markets. Also, Arla, a major international player in the diary business is in talks with the state government to enhance opportunities in the cattle rearing business and further encourage farmers in modern agriculture method. All these were embarked upon to fulfill the desire of Governor Ajimobi to make Oyo state the food basket of the country. But more importantly, Oyo state has the appropriate and conducive environment for doing business, indeed, it is ranked 4th in the ease of doing business in the country.
*Tunji is Special Adviser, Communication and Strategy to Ajimobi.