Governor Ajimobi comes across as a technocrat-politician that could have barely survived the landmines that dot the political landscape of the State.
Being asked to be lead presenter at a Roundtable to interrogate the tenure of the redoubtable Executive Governor of Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, is indeed a very rare honour for me. After almost completing two terms as the Governor, it is most auspicious to beam a searchlight on his time in office, and interrogate his leadership directions and governance efforts as the helmsman of the State. Let me say from the start that it takes a huge courage for a helmsman to subject his tenure as a Governor to the critical assessment that this Roundtable is set to achieve as a means of allowing for the kind of cross-fertilization of ideas, insights and paradigms that the successor and other serving or to-be Governors in the Nigerian Federation will most benefit from. I consider this to be quite a significant dimension of the legacy spirit of any leader. A good leader should be motivated by the dynamics of learning and sharing that opens him, and others, up for a continuing conversation both with the predecessors and the impending successor within framework of leadership succession and mentoring.
Governance is an interesting endeavor, and governing a state is not just a walk in the park, and this is especially so in a State like Oyo that has lots of political issues and political gladiators contending for the soul and the resources of the state. Governor Ajimobi comes across therefore as a technocrat-politician that could have barely survived the landmines that dot the political landscape of the State. Yet, survived he did! First, he was a Senator who became a Governor. And against all odds, he became the first to overcome the famous “no-two-terms” jinx that seemed to have undermined the ambition of former Governors of the State. This earned him the sobriquet of the “Koseleri” Governor (the governor that is one of a kind). Any other Governor who had the capacity to break a jinx would have been sufficiently satisfied to rest on the oars of just that fact. But that was not what Senator Ajimobi had in mind as a governor.
And it is precisely this “go-getting” spirit that makes him the personality around which political discourse can be generated. Political scientists and public intellectuals can begin to excavate the interacting elements that bind politics, governance and leadership together: What democratic dividends have the Ajimobi administration left behind for the citizens of the State to enjoy while he is no longer in the saddle? In what ways has the policy architecture of this outgoing administration led to the empowerment of the State and its citizens? Where did Ajimobi meet the State on his assumption of office, and how far has he taken the State since then? What is the governance profile of Oyo State now? Where does the State stands in terms of infrastructural development? These and many more questions are those which should apply specifically in the assessment of this administration and its time in office. But in general terms, they are questions that generally serve as the point of entry for any governance critique of any government.
There is no one who knew the then Senator Ajimobi who would not have wondered about the success chances of a corporate and boardroom-bred technocrat whose leadership model is the technical-rational management style that prioritizes knowledge, competence and performance over everything else? Now, this would be a good source of legitimate worry. This is because Oyo State typifies a context where the need for a really developmental ideology competes with the frivolity characterized by “amala politics” and “stomach infrastructure.” Add to this the personality of a Governor who often comes across as being too brusque and blunt. There are so many who would disagree with a political communication strategy that calls a spade a spade. A politician is expected to be a master of tact and diplomacy, especially within a context where he or she has to juggle so many expectations and options involving so many constituencies. A forthright and blunt personality combined with the many complexities of governing a State founded on so many rivalries and cleavages is bound to make for an ambivalent assessment of any leader’s achievements in office. There are too many eyes looking at the same things and issues, but perceiving different and often seemingly contradictory results.
However, what does anyone expect in a state that requires a huge investment in governance to be able to achieve the transformation required for distinct success? Reforming for transformation are not joking matters. And I know what I am talking about, having spent more than twenty-seven years of my life attempting to jumpstart the institutional reform of the civil service system in Nigeria. I have the institutional experience to empathize with the personality and the governance context that Governor Ajimobi had to confront and engage with. Let us place that context that Governor Ajimobi inherited in its proper perspective. What was the governance state of Oyo State in 2011? The governance context could best be described as a “garrison command.” And this was characterized by acute insecurity featuring thuggery, armed robbery and brigandage on rampage. For those with a long memory, that was the period when the likes of Tokyo and Eleweomo, the two National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) warlords had Oyo State at its jugular. And the outsourcing of the governance initiatives to the godfathers led to the widespread perception that politics was essentially that of exclusion. The common patrimony was hijacked by the few powers that be. It was therefore no surprise that Oyo State was 32nd in terms of safety index. As was to be expected, this glaring insecurity had its negative effects.
The negative statistics was piling up: Despite its geographical significance, human capital and resources, and huge size, Oyo was ranked 21st in terms of economy buoyancy. In terms of quality of life, Oyo came a disappointing 18th position. Her internally generated revenue profile was a paltry 0.73%, and it had a place with the last twelve states of the federation with recurrent expenditure at 70%. Economic growth, human capital development and infrastructural development were a terrible mess. One good reason for this was that economic growth was stifled by the glaring absence of the private sector in economic stimulation. No private investors would pay obeisance to any godfather nor find a climate of ‘might is right’ as enabling to invest in. We therefore had a serious economic situation in which many micro-enterprises were confined to the informal sector which not only made taxation difficult but also failed to provide further job that could trigger productivity. How does a serious-minded leader respond to this context of governance headaches, if not with sternness and a straight face?