What kind of leader does Nigeria need? Governor Abiola Ajimobi attempts an answer in this interview to mark his 1,000 days in office.
Are you satisfied with the system of government being practised in Nigeria?
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 system and the parliamentary system is that there is no consensus built in the latter, whereas, in the presidential system, the president or the governor is the Chief Executive. You will see that during the electioneering 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 donâ€™t believe that they are mutually exclusive. In fact, they are very much inclusive. And I am in a 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, understandably, presidential system is preferable because I am currently participating in the presidential system but I never participated in the parliamentary. Some people are saying â€˜donâ€™t you need a very strong leader in order to make a difference?â€™ From my own little experience, you need a strong leader; a leader that has vision and intellect to visualize, 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 galvanizing 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 donâ€™t challenge our leaders enough; we donâ€™t ask them questions. For any country to make progress, we need to do things right. Same Nigerians who will not break the law abroad find it difficult to obey the law here. And what does that mean? It takes a strong mind to enforce the law.
Above all, you must be God-fearing and be fair to others. It is really a balancing act like the story of the tortoise beating his wife, telling people that she misbehaved and continued to beat her until people were accusing him of wanting to kill the wife. The point is that you must balance it. For instance, when we started educating the people that they must leave the road and not trade on the streets, some people were condemning our action.
Ironically, the same people have been calling us to say, â€˜Governor, why are you allowing them (the traders) to go back to the street?â€™. I ask them if they werenâ€™t the same people complaining before and they say that, now, they can see what we were doing and appreciate us. Unfortunately, that was the time the YES-O Cadets were misbehaving and we had to release them; we dissolved the whole structure and we have now completed our restructuring programme. Very soon, you will see the cadets back on the streets; we shall remove all those trading on the street. What I am promising you is that if we donâ€™t achieve anything else, we will make sure that Oyo State becomes very clean and environmental-friendly; a state that we shall be proud of.
A strong leader? That is something like a despot.
Do not equate strong leadership with impunity. A strong leader is different from a dictator or an autocratic leader. A strong leader is one who has vision and who pursues it compassionately but ensures that he achieves success. A dictator is one that does things with absoluteness; a strong leader is not necessarily an absolute ruler. When you have impunity anywhere, people are breaking the laws; impunity means doing something without regard to the law.
In Nigeria today, I can tell you there is hardly any law that they have in Britain that we donâ€™t have here. It is just that we donâ€™t obey the law. So what I am saying therefore is that there is a whole world of difference between the two, that is, a strong leader and a corrupt, absolute or dictatorial leader.
What can you say about the suspension of the Central Bank Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi?
If I were the President, there was no need removing the man. He is supposed to be like the head of the Federal Reserve of America. He is supposed to be independent and to be nominated by the President for confirmation by the Senate. If he has been nominated and the Senate has confirmed the nomination, the governor has a term and if we have not established that he has broken any law, you donâ€™t have the right to suspend him and, if you are suspending him, you do not appoint another person to be a substantive governor.
There is a woman whom you have directed to be acting and then, the President also nominated somebody else as the substantive governor. Honestly, since Sanusi had few weeks to go, let him shout; let him talk; that is what democracy is all about. Everybody has the right to air his own opinion, and some of the issues being raised by the man are those that need to be attended to. They are questions begging for answers. As far as the legal aspect is concerned, the lawyers have gone to court. I do not believe they should have suspended him. I think that is not a good measure of strong leadership.
But, they claim Sanusi breached the laws.
What does the law say? The law says any money accruing to Nigeria must be deposited in a particular account. What we have been told is that accruable incomes are now being spent and there are other accounts that have been opened where money is being deposited which is illegal and against the law. Two, you are not supposed to spend any money that is not budgeted for, but what we are now being told is that as money is coming in, not only that we are not putting it in the right account, we are also spending from it on what has not been budgeted for. I think this is a double-barrel illegality.
If I were the President, I would have preferred to ensure that all accruable income goes to the Federation Account where it is then dispensed in accordance with the budgetary provisions contained in the appropriation law.
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 region. Then, we were noted for firsts in many things. We then found out when we came in, all these firsts that we were known for had been destroyed. We found out that even Ibadan, that would boast of being the intellectual capital of Nigeria, where free education 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 disheartening.
We then said, â€˜look, maybe education was so bad, letâ€™s go to other areasâ€™. We went to agriculture, to health and other sectors and we found out that it was the same story. So we came up with a tripod of development which would be based on restoration, transformation and repositioning. When something had been destroyed, the next thing is to repair and restore it. Having restored it, we believe the next step is to transform it to the level where it is supposed to be.
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. Itâ€™s like the Maslowâ€™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.
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 destination for investors.
When it comes to social infrastructure, we have also done very well. For instance, for the past 17 years, taps stopped running in Ibadan metropolis and environs. Two months ago, we ensured that we have water running in our taps. So what we are doing now is changing the rusty pipes. Although electricity is essentially federal, we are trying to make a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement with some of these power generating companies to actualize our objective of improving on electricity.
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. If you also look at the area of physical infrastructure, we are modernizing 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 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. Besides, virtually all entries into major cities in Oyo State are being currently dualized, while new roads are being constructed and the existing ones being reconstructed and/or rehabilitated. We have gone to many foreign countries to sell Oyo State. They usually tell us that we speak good English and that we understand governance; there is integrity in governance; the civil servants are very proud now.
When we first came in, many of the civil servants could not make power point presentations. Today, many of them are experts in power point presentations. We are also establishing new things in Oyo State. For instance, we will be introducing e-learning in our schools. In Ibadan now and in Oyo State in general, we have seen big malls springing up everywhere. Oduâ€™a Investment has just finished one while another one will be opened in April in Ibadan which will be the largest shopping mall in Nigeria.
We are doing what I call a Leisure Center right at the Agodi Gardens where we are going to have recreation facilities like lake, botanical garden, health farm where we are going to be doing acupuncture; where we are going to be doing massaging; we are also going to have chalets, among several other things. The project, when completed, is going to be what I call one-stop shop where, once you get there in the morning, you will spend the whole day without knowing. Let me also say that the South Africans who are planning the centre are telling us that they have gone round the whole of Africa and that that place will be number one in the continent.
How rich is Oyo State now?
Some of us are lucky to have exposure in managing organizations, and when you have financial problem in your organization, 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 donâ€™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.
We look for people who are reputable; people with track records, with international exposure. If you look at the major roads that we are doing, we gave them to those big contractors. Some people will say â€˜you are not patronizing Nigerian contractorsâ€™. 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 later. These contractors, they trust you and see your sincerity; they will work for you and that is exactly what we are doing.
Secondly, when we first came in, we went to some foreign countries, talking to development partners and many of them bought into our vision and they were able to give us support. Some of them are doing a lot of things for us and we are not paying them anything. There are many foreign establishments that are willing to give us intervention fund. Even the World Bank.
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 advantage of 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.
What you have done in education, for instance?
In education, there are three levels that you look at; the students; the teachers and the infrastructure. As far as the students are concerned, we believe that many of their teachers needed to be trained and re-trained. We have trained over 17,000 of them. Not only this, we have signed an agreement with the University of Ibadan and we are using them to complement our inspectorate arm in the Ministry of Education.
This has contributed, among other things, to moving our position from 34th position in public examinations when we came in to 13th position now and in core subjects, Oyo State came first in some and third in others.
How do you ensure the sustainability of some of the projects your administration is executing?
What I see in Oyo State is that our people are very good; they are very kind-hearted; they are very hard-working and God-fearing, but they need good leadership. Even now, when you go round, people who used to complain about our resolve to stop traders from selling on the road are now commending us. Go to Oje Market now, the traders are already selling off the street. These were places you could not drive through before. But now, how do we sustain it?
believe that people are now inculcating it in their heart and in their mind, and they are beginning to change. We will not relent. The YES-O Cadets will soon come out to maintain sanity on the streets and, by Godâ€™s grace, we will try to sustain the environmental sanitation and urban renewal policy for our first four years and by the time we do something like this for eight years, it would have been part of our peopleâ€™s system.
It seems the construction work on Apete Bridge has stopped. What is the problem?
At a point, there was this flood that 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 could continue the work. But if you go back there now, they have resumed because we have paid them.
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, 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.
Why the establishment of Oyo State Technical University?
The Oyo State Technical University is the first of its kind in Nigeria because it is a university where you do two years in Nigeria and two years in the University of Texas and you can earn the certificate of either of the two institutions because 40 per cent of our faculty members will be from Texas University and the curriculum will include specialized courses.
We have gone very far; we are siting the main campus on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. The second part of it, which is Campus Two, will be at the Ajoda New Town. The university will take off in September from Ajoda, while we continue to construct what we have on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway which is a very unique design. In fact, one of the best architects in the world came there to do the design for us and we believe that with that design, we must take our time because it will cost money.
But we are already getting partners and we are going to have a PPP arrangement where people will build certain parts of it for us. For instance, the Central Bank of Nigeria is building some structures; other Nigerians will build some too. While that one is being built, we already have good structures that will accommodate the new intakes in September. It is a university that will give scholarship and bursary awards to deserving students.
The institution is specifically targeted at those people who go Europe and other African countries in search of quality education and pay huge sums of money. We believe that they can spend the money here once we have a very good university.
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 Gov. 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 â€˜can I be writing for you?â€™ â€˜Can I be abusing people for you?â€˜ They are political jobbers. You (journalists) are lucky you have jobs that you are doing. Some of them donâ€™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 donâ€™t think it is Sen. Ladoja in particular that has problem but he has his own people who can only make money by abusing us; by fighting; by cursing. How many times have you seen Sen. Ladoja coming on stage to abuse me? He will never do that. It is all politics, and I think gradually those ones too will realize 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, some people 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 donâ€™t play it with them, the more they change their tactics. So with Sen. 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.