It’s incredible how eight years have ended as a two-word parable: constituted authority. That’s what Governor Abiola Isiaka Ajimobi would be mostly remembered for – the epigram from his encounter with students of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology. That episode was perhaps one of the most catastrophic PR disasters of Ajimobi’s eight-year tenure.
A teacher’s strike over the status/funding of the school two years ago left the students stranded for nearly one academic year. When the governor finally met them, all he needed to do was to climb down from his high horse and show some empathy.
Tell them he felt their pain and frustration, and what he was doing to end it. Tell them that anyone of them could have been his own children and the last thing he would wish was for his children to be out of school for one year, no matter what the problem was, with still no end in sight. Soothe their pain, calm their nerves and come down to their level.
He did not. Instead, as tensions flared and a few in the crowd taunted him, he railed back like a village headmaster, desperately looking for a scapegoat or two among the students to give a few strokes of the cane on bare buttocks. How dare the students challenge “constituted authority!” Never mind that it took this “constituted authority” nearly one academic year to discover that its own university was shut down.
Ajimobi yo-yoed with the idea of unleashing the police on a few vocal students in the crowd, then pulled back when he saw he was playing with fire.
But it was too late. The video went viral and the governor earned himself a new name, a moniker, which I’m told even cabinet members use to mock him behind his back: constituted authority.
Later the same year, the governor expanded his battleground to include the Olubadan in a suicidal political mission to downgrade the palace to his Boys’ Quarters and make the Olubadan just one of the numerous tenants.
Whatever the governor’s rationale for tampering with the chieftaincy laws, the malicious intent was not going to be forgiven easily in a state with a long memory, a sharp tongue, and a deep, unashamedly old-fashioned attachment to its myths and traditions.
But Ajimobi still didn’t get it. Not even after the initial ruling by the court that he was out of order and many high-powered representations to dissuade him. He stuck to his guns and increasingly assumed an air of infallibility. He had, in fact, done what Napoleon could not do, so where was the mountain left to conquer?
He is the first governor in Oyo State’s history to have a second term. And this historic feat had created a certain sense of self-assurance and immortality that banished that intuitive sense of danger, sometimes vital to self-preservation.
The primary question was always, who’s next to conquer? In that sense, the demolition of the music studios of Yinka Ayefele, after the governor’s personal assurances of amnesty to the distraught Mrs. Ayefele who begged Ajimobi in tears in the Government House the night before the bulldozers moved in, was just a blip. There was nothing too hard for the governor to do.
Insiders said the governor came only inches from demolishing the fence of Tribune newspapers in Imalefalafia, brushing aside attempts to restrain him each time, with the reminder that even if he turns out wrong in the end, “It’s not my money that will pay for restitution. It’s government money!
The summary of Ajimobi’s eight-year tenure is that he did not know how to talk – and worse, he did not know how to listen. I wish I could say it in elegant English, the Ibadan way. If he killed himself by not knowing how to talk, he might have been redeemed from the political dead by listening before choosing a candidate to carry the party’s flag. Unfortunately, even that potentially redemptive act, became the final nail in his own political coffin.
This is not how it was meant to be. After years of turbulence and rancour, which left Ibadan as a glorified village and most parts of Oyo backward for decades, the coming of Abiola Isiaka Ajimobi as governor was supposed to be a breath of fresh air.
Ajimobi had 26-year private sector experience and was a cosmopolitan as they come. He did not seem encumbered by the provincialism and identity politics that were the albatross of a number of his predecessors.
A one-time senator and two-term governor, how benefitting it would have been to crown his modest achievements in infrastructure with another ticket to the Senate and a successor to carry on his work.
But that is not to be. Instead, for some time to come, his tenure would be a standard reference in Sunday school on the perils of pride and the vanity of hubris.
Ajimobi is not in entirely without comfort, though. Rochas Okorocha, the outgoing governor of Imo State, is facing his own moment of truth. After eight years of Iberiberism, a homegrown political philosophy which lavishes the state’s treasury on family and in-laws, while using what is left to build statues and honour crooks. Okorocha is finding out the hard way that foolishness digs its own shallow grave.
At a time when he would not pay salaries or pensions, he found money to create Africa’s longest Statues Street, lining up images of whoever he fancied, as if the people would eat statues for their labour.
When teachers were on less than half salaries, Okorocha still found enough money to make large billboards, with pictures of himself in benevolent smile over a state in misery. In the summer of 2015, he famously celebrated his visit to the U.S. on Buhari’s entourage by erecting a large billboard in Owerri, with a picture of himself smiling sheepishly before former President Barack Obama.
The lowest points for me were the times when school children whose teachers were on half pay and whose parents didn’t know where the next meal would come from were brought to perform for the governor and to sing his praise. It was iberibe on a whole new level.
Apparently, the fellow doesn’t not know it’s over now; or maybe he knows but just lacks the grace to accept it and compassion for the long-suffering people of Imo. Okorocha still put himself forward to represent Imo West in the Senate; his son-in-law as candidate to succeed him; and his wife as the state’s matriarch-in-chief.
When it became clear to him that his bid had failed, he put a gun to the head of the returning officer – the same way he has held Imo at gunpoint for eight years – to declare him winner.
Let’s see how far that gets him.
If the All Progressives Congress ever sits down to take stock of the 2019 elections, it would find that in a number of the states where it lost – or could still lose – its governors were the party’s worst enemies.
The only exception, perhaps, is Plateau, where the governor’s obsequiousness in handling the herdsmen-farmer’s clashes could cost him his second-term bid.
As Governor Abdullahi Ganduje’s fate hangs by a thread in Kano, it is clear that he is not the oracle that he pretended to be. His attempt to humiliate and depose Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi over the so-called dodgy palace expenses; his spectacular fallout with his former boss, Rabiu Kwankwaso; and the controversial video of him lining his pocket with wads of dollar bills, have eroded his popularity and diminished any modest achievements.
After last Saturday’s election, thanks to an extraordinarily courageous and professional Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Wakili, it must have dawned on Ganduje by now that the one million people who voted for Buhari on February 23 did so not at the governor’s behest, but in spite of him.
Whatever Ganduje promised Buhari or thinks Buhari owes him, he forgot that in Kano politics, it’s charity and honesty, above all. That’s how it’s been since Aminu Kano. Kano does not follow the crowd; it creates its own crowd and makes its own choice. It voted Buhari not because of what he has done or not done, but because Buhari promised to jail thieves. Now, voters are pointing him to a piece of red meat in the Kano Government House.
The wind that swept away Ajimobi in the south west and claimed governor Okorocha’s senatorial ambition in the south east, has just arrived in Kano. It’s hard to see how Ganduje will survive it.
Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network.