Adieu, Koseleri!

Abiola Ajimobi

By Olakunle Abimbola

Oyo governors from 1999, men of means all, preened with upcountry grace.

But Isiaka Abiola Ajimobi (1949-2020; governor from 2011 to 2019), the Oyo Renaissance man, if ever there was one, blazed a different trail.  In him, Oyo native wit, cohered with cosmopolitan poise, with breathtaking grace.

The late Lam(idi) Adesina, Oyo’s first governor in 1999, was a respected teacher and avowed Awoist.

But not even that twin-respectability, coupled with an indifferent governorship, could shield him from election-time Ibadan ancestral wars, that as a rule, eliminate each governor, after a single term.

Rashidi Ladoja, shipping magnate, anti-Abacha struggle NADECO subaltern, but ace gubernatorial serf, never rose above the Lamidi Adedibu serfdom which, with the ruthless Obasanjo-era “federal might”, propelled him to power in 2003.

His, therefore, was a legacy of gubernatorial chaos, triggered by a feeble serf, comically springing self from the tight leash, of his feudal lord — an exercise in futility, with tragicomic results: rogue impeachment, judicial restoration and final humiliating usurpation, via a suspect “election”, by own deputy!

Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala, Ogbomoso ace in the volatile, pre-Ajimobi Oyo  governorship cast, was the very opposite of Ladoja: the mild-mannered, easy-go-merry fellow; and gubernatorial serf that knew his place in the Adedibu feudal court.

He kept faith, even as the Alaafin Molete (dis)order consumed itself, with its federal backers — and promptly got voted out, after a term, by the regnant mood of the time.

In Seyi Makinde, the sitting Oyo governor and Ajimobi’s successor, the grains of pseudo-nativism and pseudo-cosmopolitanism sit in awkward cohabitation, such that you can hardly vouch for the genuineness of either.

Little wonder, then: just over one year into his gubernatorial tour, he appears well trapped and truly lost in the quicksand of politics and policy.

With his “Auxiliary” Oyo motor park romance, it’s hard to say whether Makinde romps into the future; or ricochets, with a vengeance, into the neo-Adedibu political Stone Age!  Yet, those seedy characters were the first Ajimobi clinically took out, to launch his governorship era.

It’s little wonder too: no Oyo governor, since 1999, has measured up to the Ajimobi galaxy — a million stars, in sparkle, class and dash, complete with own dust.

Yes, own dust!  Ask the gubernatorial gladiators that cut-and-thrust for the 2019 Oyo All Progressives Congress (APC) ticket, and not a few would swear to, in Ajimobi, an alleged IBB-like ruthless power-succession trick and streak: that penchant to invite the multitude to a position that either was not vacant, or was already tailor-made for a not-so-secret protege.

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Even then, for those who lost out in the sweepstakes, it was opportunism and counter-opportunism gone awry.

The growlers-in-chief, over the alleged Ajimobi wild goose chase, would have been unfazed crowers-in-chief, had that path earned them the coveted diadem!  It’s back to the very basics of high-stake politics: win some; lose some; nothing assured!

Still on politics: in Ajimobi’s umpteenth demonization, Makinde thought he had found a sword of Damocles, which though never comes down, appeared a potent partisan blackmail(?) threat, in four years at least.  Poor guy!  That sword vanished with Ajimobi’s June 25 exit!

Indeed, speaking after Ajimobi’s death, Makinde volunteered, cant or frank: that the Oyo government now rolls on a “blueprint” the late Ajimobi had put in place, in some of its activities.

Earnest or frivolous, that would appear a frank endorsement of Ajimobi as an acute mind and brilliant policy wonk, who left Oyo better than he met it, more than any of his governorship peers since 1999.

At 70, Ajimobi neither died young nor lived especially long.  In a video released after his death, he said he pleaded with God to make him attain 70, since his father died some two months shy of that landmark.

But after attaining 70, and seeing life’s sweet “mudu-mudu” (Yoruba for gravy and lollies) — there, the quintessential Ajimobi the wit, cracked up everyone and got them to double up with laughter — he beseeched God to further extend his life!  Well, he died months later.

Still, eternal youth and tidiness clung to Ajimobi all his life — a handsome face, winsome smile and dapper frame, impeccably dressed in tidy, smart, stylish cuts, native or foreign.  And you never saw a wittier, smoother, more fluent or more urbane orator on the horizon, English or Yoruba!

These may all be personal traits.  But in Ajimobi’s policy thrusts, in his infrastructural interventions, and in his radical clean-up of Ibadan, pre-Ajimobi, one of the dirtiest cities around, you saw the Ajimobi re-birth: clean, tidy, spick-and-span.

Indeed, driving round Ibadan, either via Challenge and its beautiful and well-cultivated flora, or via Iwo road and Bodija, you saw a glorious re-making of Ibadan in the late governor’s clean, tidy and classy image.

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In Bodija, a certain short bridge, whenever flooded, for eons, led to untold catastrophe.  But no more! It was one of the simple but effective solutions Ajimobi put in place, very early in his governorship — just like the Mokola flyover, which later snowballed into an infrastructure bloom, in gleaming roads, that enhanced the Ibadan metropolis, and drove up the value of real estate.

But Ajimobi was incomplete without his courage of conviction.  On virtual election eve 2019, he ordered the partial demolition of musician Yinka’s Ayefele’s Music House, a part of which the city planning authorities said infringed on town planning rules.

The flak that came — mostly emotive — could have downed a jet.  Yet, the governor stood his ground, and negotiated a win-win, if painful, settlement.  That move saved Ayefele’s property from any future censure — courage of conviction!

But it also cost the “intensely hated” governor dearly.  Indeed, the Ibadan electoral nemesis, which he had escaped by his Koseleri gubernatorial feat, turned his Koseleri 1 governorship triumph, into a Koseleri 2 senatorial defeat, en route to the Oyo APC governorship candidate losing to the rival PDP.

Many an APC partisan still blames Ajimobi for that gubernatorial loss; while glorying and gloating over his botched senatorial run.  But the man took both in his strides and moved on.

Indeed, on reading “Koseleri 1 & 2” in this column (The Nation, 19 March 2019), Ajimobi put a call through to Ripples.

After good natured chit-chat that lasted some 20 minutes, the former governor asked point blank: do I really have a sharp tongue? — to which Ripples responded in the positive.  That piece had closed with this quip: “The gripping epitaph of the Ajimobi era?  Policy brain and beauty ruined by the tongue!”

That telephone conversation brought memories of earlier wit and joke-suffused

Ajimobi encounters: at Ibadan and Osogbo during The Nation’s now rested South

West integration confabs; at Elder Ayo Afolabi’s 70th anniversary Monday morning bash, at the University of Ibadan International Conference Centre’s main auditorium, where Ajimobi left everyone reeling with laughter, while speaking extempore!

Adieu, Isiaka  Abiola Ajimobi, the Koseleri of our time, self-named “Constituted Authority” and true founder of modern Oyo State.  When comes another?

Adieu, Koseleri!
Abiola Ajimobi

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