Oyo state Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi recently fielded questions from a team of Editors on his stewardship, politics of second term in the state, his relationship with political heavyweights in the state, his transformation agenda, the issue of federalism and other national issues. Excerpts:
How will you assess the mileage made so far on the road to democratic politics in Nigeria?
I am one thousand and ten days old in office and as they say, democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people. The underlying fact there is ‘the people’, and when you say ‘the people’, like anything in life, you go through various levels of training and experience.
If you look at the Nigerian environment over the years, we started with colonialism, and from there, we experienced the parliamentary system which was truncated by military incursion.
During the parliamentary system, it was democracy, and it worked relatively well to some extent until, of course being human, some human factors came into play and the military came in. Before the advent of the military, there was still what I call relative value system where everybody knew what he wanted to become; either he wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer. You want to be a professional. And you go to school.
Those who took to trading were good traders, relatively speaking. By the time the military came in, it was no more of a value system. It was more of force; it was more of survival of the fittest and by the time we ended the war. The value system had been destroyed and then everybody was looking for money. So, there was no value system any longer. It had more to do with what you could get from the system and I think that was the time the psyche of Nigerians, as it were, started to change.
Since then, we have tried to go into another form of democratic governance which we call the presidential system, fashioned after the American system. In that system, we had a lot of debates on the need for consensus. But because of our background, we found it difficult to operate on consensus, and so we began to have the mentality of impunity where people do what they want. And when you are the boss, the chief executive, you can do and undo, especially in a country where the only thriving business is government. This is understandable because in an industrialised nation, it is the industries that control the system. But in a developing nation, it is the government that controls the system. So, everybody goes cap-in-hand to meet the government for whatever he needs and once there was government, the kind of hero-worshipping that you witness is unbelievable, and then you begin to think that you are a superman and therefore, you can do and undo. Some can even come to you to say that if you leave office today, they will die tomorrow, though they know they are telling lie. The fact, however, remains that democracy, generally speaking, is at a stage in Nigeria that reflects our experience over time.
Many have also blamed the presidential system of government being practiced in the country today as one of the factors of the underdevelopment. What is your take on this?
The presidential system, of course, is like the oldest democracy where you have the Emperor, the President or the Prime Minister. The only difference which I see between the presidential and parliamentary systems is that there is no consensus building in the parliamentary system. In the presidential system, the president or the governor is the Chief Executive. You will see that during the campaign. The party is always supreme but the moment you have chosen your candidate and that candidate wins, the party goes to the background.
In the parliamentary system, the party is always there to decide for you. But in a presidential system, you must all agree. It is not like, once you are the president, the governor or local government chairman, you run government as your private business. I don’t believe that they are mutually exclusive. In fact, they are very much inclusive. And I am in favour of the continuation of the presidential system.
In a country like our own, I think we need a presidential system; a strong leader, a visionary leader. But if you look at the parliamentary system, it is more of the party. My own little experience in politics, particularly in the area of consensus building, is that you discover in the end that people are fighting for themselves and not for the masses. So, when you are saying parliamentary system, everybody comes with his own demand which may not necessarily be in congruence with that of the masses. So, I still believe that, understandably, presidential system is preferable. This is because I am currently participating in this presidential system but I never participated in the parliamentary system.
Some people are even saying that ‘don’t you need a very strong leader in order to make a difference?’ From my own little experience, you need a strong leader, a leader that has the vision and the intellect to visualise, as well as the courage to implement. Unless you have such a leader, it will be very difficult to make a difference. I honestly believe that a leader will take people to where they want to go whereas a great leader will take people to where they ought to be.
Leadership is not about Father Christmas; it is not about missionary work. It is about having a vision of how you want a place to be; how you want your people to develop and to find ways and means of galvanising them and making them to buy into your vision and then guide them towards the Promised Land. I very much favour strong leadership. I believe that a country like Nigeria needs a strong leader in order to change the country for better because by our nature, we are used to this element of impunity where you do what you like. Even when you preach, you practice something different from what you preach to your followers. And in Nigeria, we don’t challenge our leaders enough; we don’t ask them questions.
The restoration, transformation and repositioning agenda of your administration, what are they about?
This same Oyo State, particularly Ibadan, served as the capital of the then Western Region where the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, administered the whole of the region. Then, we were noted for firsts in many things. We then found out when we came in that all these firsts that we were known for had been destroyed. We found out that even this same Ibadan that would boast of being the intellectual capital of Nigeria, where free education first started, had become a place where our students who sat for the West African School Certificate Examinations came 34th out of the 36 states in Nigeria. It was very disheartening.
So, we then came up with a tripod of development which we said would be based on restoration, transformation and repositioning. When something had been destroyed, the next thing is to repair it and restore it. Having restored it, we believe the next step is to transform it to the level where it is supposed to be. It is not enough to restore but we must also update it to a level that is contemporary.
Then we believe that the next level after reforming is to reposition it to be a preferred state in the comity of states. So we came up with our own tripod and the tripod is based on safety and security of lives and property. There is nowhere in the world where you can develop without safety, without security and peace. They are foundations for development. It’s like the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. So we now have this pyramid of safety of lives and property; next to that are social infrastructure, health, education, electricity and water which are all basic requirements of a modern society.
Therefore, we believe that so far, we can say we have done commendably well. In the area of peace and security, we can give ourselves first class. Since we came in, we have been having peace in Oyo State. We are happy with the safety of lives and property and Oyo State is now becoming a preferred designation to investors.
In the area of social infrastructure, we have made an appreciable progress. In health, we have introduced free medical services; we are also refurbishing hospitals, establishing mobile clinics all over the state and providing health services in some of our remote areas across the state. So in health, I believe we are also doing well. If you also look at the area of physical infrastructure, we are modernising our roads. We are making sure that our own roads can stand the test of time; we are making sure that any road that we do, we can use it for the next 25 years minimum, without worrying about all these disappointments that we have witnessed in the past.
Of course, we have also built a flyover at Mokola in Ibadan, the first to be built by any civilian administration in the history of Oyo State. Though we have people who dreamt about building flyovers, for us, we dreamt about it and we were able to actualise our dream. Besides, virtually all major entries into major cities in Oyo State are being currently dualised, while new roads are being constructed and the existing ones being reconstructed and/or rehabilitated.
So I think generally when it comes to restoration, we have restored our pride. Oyo State is now becoming cleaner.
Oyo State must be swimming in billions of naira.
Some of us are lucky to have exposure in managing organisations, and when you have financial problem in your organisation, you try to look for ways and means of doing what we call forward financing. The first thing we did was to get reputable contractors who are financially viable and who can go the extra mile to finish the job; contractors that you don’t need to pay money immediately, and so we ensure that all the major jobs that we are doing, we give them to those contractors. If you look at the major roads that we are doing, we gave them to those big contractors.
Some people will say `you are not patronising Nigerian contractors’. We have given more jobs to Nigerian contractors than foreign contractors. We have done more than 250 roads with Nigerian contractors. So when you add them all, they are more than what you are seeing here. And the major contractors, these are people that you give jobs and you tell to go and start financing them, and they will finance them and later on, they can be negotiating their money. But our own is like what they say in Yoruba `a man sees a snake, a woman kills the snake, what is important is for the snake to be killed.’ I think what we have done, we can manage it successfully and once we talk to these contractors, they trust you and they believe you and they see your sincerity; they will work for you and that is exactly what we are doing.
However, we are getting to a stage where we just must take a bond and we are one of the few states that have not taken the advantage of the bond. If you go round, you will see some other states with hundreds of billion naira bond but we are just trying to get about N23.5b and it is already over-subscribed. That is to show the level of trust and confidence that the investors have in us, because they have seen the way we are managing it and they see what we say we are doing. So we are very comfortable with what we have been doing but I will not tell you other tricks.
Anybody who wants to know should come to my school and be ready to pay the price!
It seems the construction work on Apete Bridge has stopped. What is the problem?
At a point, there was this flood that really destroyed the bridge and it became unmanageable for the contractors handling the reconstruction. So, we now brought in an Israeli construction firm, Nairda, and they started with it but along the line, they ran out of fund and they now insisted that we must pay the money we are owing them before they can continue the work. They suspended work, but if you go back there now, they have resumed. They resumed last week because we have just paid them. So, some of the contractors, like any other business concern, may also run out of fund because they are financing some of these projects by themselves.
And let me say this, virtually all the road projects we are currently doing will be 70 per cent completed by April. The Apete Bridge project will be completed by August this year, and I can assure you that any contract awarded by our government should be completed on schedule because it is part of the contractual agreement, otherwise they (the contractors) will pay penalty.
What is your disposition to gender issues?
I am very concerned because if you know my own family make-up, I have five children and four of them are female with only one boy. I found out that the female gender is extremely devoted and brilliant. Therefore, I am very female-sensitive because, for every female I see, I see my daughters. But I believe that the female gender is not doing enough for herself and if you wait for somebody to do what you should do that will benefit you, you will wait for a longer time than if you are to do it yourselves.
Life is about lobbying; they must ensure they intensify their lobbying to better their lots. If you look at the achievements of this administration, especially from the gender angle, I cannot imagine not having my wife beside me. She has taken the job with so much passion and in terms of women empowerment, health facilities and even empowering widows, distribution of foods every month, she has been doing her best. She also takes good care of the low income earning women but I think we must begin to go beyond that. You must begin to fight for women to be in positions of authority.
What is government doing to repair Iseyin-Okeho Road which is currently in bad condition?
Government is already looking into the road and I can assure you that very soon, the contract for the repair of the road will be awarded. The project is on our priority list.
What is your relationship with former governor Rashidi Ladoja?
The funniest thing about politics is that even your twin brother will disagree with you, especially when you are looking for the same position. The fact is that former Governor Ladoja is my egbon; he is older than me; he is my cousin and I respect him a lot. We have a good relationship.
Recently, one of his daughters got married and I was there. I sat next to him and we were eating and drinking together. Like anybody, if your father wants to take your wife, you will fight. So if we are looking for the same position, we must definitely fight.
Let me tell you however that most of the things they are ascribing to former governor Ladoja, he is not the one doing them. There are some political mercenaries with him; they work with every governor and once they work with you and you are no longer the governor, they go to the next person. Some of them will say `can I be writing for you?’ `Can I be abusing people for you?‘ They are political jobbers. You (journalists) are lucky you have jobs that you are doing. Some of them don’t have jobs; so they must look for job desperately and that is fighting for their principals. If I give them job tomorrow, they will also work for me and abuse people on my behalf.
So, I don’t think it is Senator Ladoja in particular that has problem but he has his own people who can only make money by abusing us, by fighting and by cursing. How many times have you seen Senator Ladoja coming on stage to abuse me? He will never do that. It is all politics, and I think gradually those ones too will realise that what we are doing here is politics of development; politics of intellect and not of lying, rumour mongering, name-calling and character assassination. The moment they tell lie against us, we debunk the lie and you will see that gradually, they will go down. There was a time they started condemning the bar we put at the footage of the Mokola flyover but when we told them that in Lagos, New York and Washington, their flyovers have bars, they kept quiet. One day, they went to the flyover at night and they took something to cut the bar and it fell down the following day. You will see that the more they play this pedestrian politics and we don’t play it with them, the more they change their tactics. So with Senator Ladoja, I have a good relationship and I have no fear about him. If he wants to run (for governorship), we will meet on the field. We are ready for him.