Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State is increasingly becoming the Rochas Okorocha of the South West. With very little effort, he might surpass the latter, the self-acclaimed exponent of iberiberism (an Igbo slang which roughly translates as “the act or state of foolishness”).
In a rare moment of lucidity, Okorocha, the accidental governor of Imo State and its first and, hopefully, last emperor, said the political equivalence of iberibe (the Igbo word stupidity) and its most fitting literary description, is taking much from the people and, in return, taking them for a ride.
It could be boreholes or a few lamp stands for hundreds of millions of naira. Or, as it was in Okorocha’s case, lining the streets with statutes worth hundreds of millions of naira instead of paying pension and salary arrears.
And as we saw in one of the crudest manifestations of foolishness on the streets of Ibadan on Sunday, it could also be the deployment of bulldozers to level the property of citizens whenever their political loyalty is in doubt.
That was what Ajimobi did with Fresh FM radio station in the early hours of Sunday, when the station refused to retract a story that offended the government – in this case a claim on a talk programme that Ajimobi’s company gets a cut from every cow slaughtered in Oyo State’s new abattoir.
The government framed the story differently. It said that in June, the radio station was notified – for the second time in a year – that its building was in contravention of town planning laws. It said the Fresh FM building was structurally defective and constituted a grave danger to the occupiers and the general public, citing at least three deadly accidents that were traceable to the location of the building.
On the face of it, the Oyo State Government appears to have a reasonable case. Not only were notices of contravention issued twice between August last year and June this year, it claimed that Fresh FM did not respond to any of the notices or present a new building plan to reflect the original approval as requested. The untold story, and obviously the last straw, was the “offending” broadcast.
Beating Fresh FM over the head with claims of violation of physical planning laws appears to be just desserts; but the devil lies in two important details: 1) the public confession of Ajimobi that he had been under pressure to demolish the property because of its critical views, and 2) Ajimobi’s tendency to weaponise the law when it suits him.
The governor had granted an interview to the same station earlier, during which he confessed that he was under partisan pressure during his first term to crush Fresh FM.
“I did not see any reason why I should demolish the studio,” he said. “If (Yinka) Ayefele (owner of the radio station) is not for us today, he (will) support us later in future. Ayefele is beside me now and I pray the business will keep flourishing.”
As surely as a finger that runs through the butt, however clean, never smells the same, Ajimobi is wielding the big stick not necessarily because he is suddenly aware of the contravention, but because Ayefele has refused to dance to his tune.
Had Ayefele waxed an album for him as he did for his arch foe and predecessor, Adebayo Alao-Akala, the whole business of contravention of physical planning laws and the demolition of the property might never have arisen. And as one insider confided: “The governor would not have kept Ayefele’s wife begging on her knees for hours on Saturday night, agreeing to withhold action, only to send in the bulldozers the next morning.”
I don’t believe we can continue to live in our present urban jungle and shed crocodile tears each time dozens of lives are lost in collapsed buildings. Tough – even unpopular – decisions will have to be made sometimes. But there’s a minor, important detail in this case.
Fresh FM had been cited in this very location three years before Ajimobi decided to expand the road in 2012; so, the road met the building. Also, the owners seemed ready to show evidence of substantial compliance in court.