I remember my first visit to Oyo state Government House in Agodi, it was at the invitation of the former first lady ÔÇô Chief (Mrs) Mutiat Ladoja ÔÇô the founder of Idera De Foundation. Situated at the strategic nexus that joins the highbrow quiet and serene Agodi GRA with the ever busy noisy Agodi Gate ÔÇô home to the biggest car spare parts market in the entire south western region of Nigeria, the governor's official residence offers its legal occupant a vantage view and overview of the predominant social statuses in the state ÔÇô the very rich and the very poor. For the entire period, visitors to the impressively fortified building savour beautiful works of architectural, engineering and horticultural genii who spent, and still spend long hours to keep the power house of the old western region sparkling clean, enticing and attractive.
Chauffeur-driven or self driven, you are bound to inhale the powerful aroma in the air, right from the entrance where an array of security personnel comprising policemen and the governor's "personal security officers" welcomes you to the first point-of-call (there are several of those). During those days that I frequented the Government House, a dark complexioned soft spoken hard built man in his mid-forties whose handsomeness was accentuated with full Gombo tribal marks on both cheeks was the head of the security detail. Way back then, he spent several minutes bragging on his prolixity, and proximity to the governor who he described as a friend to the child of his grandfather's third wife's brother's cousin, or something like that. He rapped on while awaiting confirmation of your appointment via the intercom. Just at the expiration of your patience, you are shown the way into what I can simply describe as another world.
The Government House's church and mosque are on the left side of the well tarred road, separated by a white building and the first reception where you are told to wait before getting summoned by whoever is looking for you. The receptionist then was also "close" to the governor and exuded the same powerful aura that I felt at the entrance. For several minutes, you are assessed by the human 3D machine called "receptionist" and you can only imagine several other eyes looking at you via the various security cameras that are dotted around the waiting room. When you are finally invited over to the main house, the glass panes, gold plated tinted state-of-the-art cars, exotic upholsteries, architectural designs, lawn tennis court, dutiful and beautiful service providers and courteous doormen can get you transfused with some litres of powerful oomph that seem to be ubiquitous in this highly restricted access area which only a selected few that enjoys nepotism can visit. This is just the experience of a visitor. Now consider what it feels like to be the man at the centre of all attention ÔÇô His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Oyo state.
Be it old or new, Oyo state is always in the news. Nigerian historians cannot forget the slain former Attorney - General of the federation in a hurry. As state governor and serving federal minister, his indelible marks and unforgettable utterances are quite legendary; yet he didn't get a second term to stay in Agodi Government House for another four years. Political aficionados are still bereft of words to describe what worked against uncle Bola Ige's (SAN) second term ambition and why Oyo people reportedly set aside opportunities to allow him to provide more free education, essential services, infrastructures, purposeful, resourceful and result-oriented leadership. Instead, they went with the now familiar Yoruba slang "omo wa ni e j├ę ├│ se├ę" (it's our child that should do it) and opted for a mathematician ÔÇô Dr Omololu Olunloyo, who spent statistically insignificant three months in office and was booted out before he could make significant impacts apart from his short knickers.
Unlike his predecessors, Lam Adesina had everything sailing smoothly for the major part of his tenure and looked like a second-term governor. Despite the numerous strong rumours and accusations of extravagant lifestyles of the pensioner's children including Dapo who is now seeking legislative post, very few doubted the certainty of his second-term. But when the results of the 2003 General Elections were announced, the no-second-term jinx proved stronger than what the white bearded statesman could break especially at a period when he reportedly "scared" teachers and other civil servants with compiled lists of those to sack if he returned to power.
Rasheed Ladoja was the delight of the workforce. Civil servants in Oyo state loved his highly punctuated tenure which was characterised with higher wages and fatter bonuses. In his cheap Ankara cloths which reminded Oyo state citizens of Omololu Olunloyo's knickers, he led a thrifty government that was only generous to the civil service but frugal to politicians. His godfather (late Lamidi Adedibu) was embittered with his completely changed attitudes. According to him "He (Ladoja) is collecting sixty five million Naira every month as security vote. Am I not entitled to a quarter of that money? He should go away". Sitting on Adedibu's right side when he made this statement, and beaming with smiles was Senator Teslim Folarin. In the early hours of Tuesday November 22, 2005, muted clandestine arrangements reached the peak when thugs invaded Oyo state government house in Agodi.
And in another interesting scenario, the slain former head of NURTW in Oyo state ÔÇô Chief Lateef Salako (also known as Elewe Omo) reportedly presided over the Oyo state House of Assembly that sat on the day Senator Ladoja was impeached. According to the recently released footage of the seating, Elewe Omo said: "On behalf of Oyo state House of Assembly, today twenty two December year two ÔÇô two thousand and five, we are now impeach Governor Rasheed Oladoja of Oyo state. Thank you".
In another comment that will definitely make you laugh, a lawmaker in Oyo state House of Assembly Hon Hammed Esuola said "The house direct because there shouldn't be vacant in that position. The house direct in accordance with Section 109 Sub-section 2 that the deputy speaker, I mean the deputy governor should immediately take up the position. And the house has directed the acting Chief Judge to sworn in the deputy speaker. . . I mean the deputy governor as the new executive governor of Oyo state."
But thanks to the judiciary, Ladoja was reinstated and he completed the tenure. He however lost the second term bid when his partyÔÇôthe ruling partyÔÇôgave the gubernatorial ticket to Alao Akala who pitched his tent with Adedibu (and Obasanjo) and won the highly controversial poll which Senator Abiola Ajimobi (candidate of the All Nigerian People's Party) claimed he won "the mandate". Now armed with Action Congress of Nigeria's (ACN) famous brooms and neighbourhood support, Ajimobi is poised to give other candidates stronger challenge for a fresh mandate.
The forthcoming gubernatorial election in Oyo state is peculiar in every ramification. It's clearly not about the citizens or plans for the state; it's all about the three favourite contestants who have scores to settle, and are ready to go to any length to prove that they are the strongest of the lot. In other states of the federation, INEC can ideate free-and-fair elections; but in Oyo state, the commission must be prepared for free-for-all fights. Alao Akala is not cash-trapped. Ladoja who was once thrifty has become generous in the twinkle of an eye. And Abiola Ajimobi can count on funds and other "logistics" from Lagos, Osun, Ekiti and Edo states where ACN is the ruling party.
None of the top three candidates is playing it safe and no one is taking anyone or anything for granted. Akala is recruiting. Ladoja is waxing stronger. And Ajimobi is more vocal. Apart from the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS) that only airs Akala's adverts and songs, other media houses are smiling to the bank with fat political cheques. NTA Ibadan for instance would have pocketed millions of naira for televising Akala's declaration live on air. Splash FM's popular thirty-minute Yoruba news review has been extended to an hour to accommodate more political adverts.
Every available outdoor advertising space has been taken over by political parties whose high quality campaign banners are dotted across the state, and desperation to stand out has led to several ingenious ideations and innovations. Governor Alao Akala for instance had to award a road expansion project to get rid of Ladoja's intimidating billboard in front of Oyo state PDP secretariat. The opposition is also not relenting. There have been rumours of government-masterminded food poisoning, mass murders, rituals, occultism, assassinations, kidnaps, and fetish practices ÔÇô all against the incumbent governor and aimed at setting him against the electorate. To some extent, the strategy is working.
On a fateful unforgettable weekday in February, hell was let loose in Ibadan. News went round that the governor was poisoning primary and secondary students with akara (fried beans) and Indomie┬« noodles. Fathers marched to their children's schools with bold steps, mothers skittered to the institutions and students were scattered across the city ÔÇô they protested against the government's rumoured ritual intentions. It's clear that many citizens believe the messages of the various circulating CDs ÔÇô Asiri Nla (Great Secret), Aroba (History) and Eru Ibo (Electoral Malpractices). Hence Oyo people are politically conscious.
The other day, I was taking blood samples from a patient who was down with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis when I got a better picture of how obsessed Oyo state people are with politics. I tied the tourniquet and was about to insert the needle when he removed his face mask and asked who I'm voting for. My tongue drooped. In taxis, at newspaper stands, after church and Jumat services, and almost anywhere that two or three people are gathered, politics is the initial and final subject of discussion. The state is polarized, the atmosphere is charged. Every citizen has caught the virulent political virus.
The politics of Oyo state is bigger than the state itself. What happens here is an extension of, and extends to neighbouring cities and states hence to a larger extent, surrounding states are part of the conundrum known as Oyo state politics. No wonder the PDP in Oyo state during the voters' registration exercise cried foul when it sensitized INEC of ACN's "importation" of voters from Osun state to register and vote in Oyo state. Accord Party frequently accuse the state government of planning to assassinate the party's gubernatorial aspirant.
As we count down to weeks and days before the D-day when votes will be cast at the polling booths, it becomes imperative to have a better understanding of what to expect in Oyo state where the party that rigs and bribes most will surely win. Also, we need to decipher why issues are not the issue here, but pure hardcore old-school politics that had pitched people like Auxiliary (of the PDP) and Sugar (Accord Party) against one another. In the same vein, Akala's political maturation from a governor that used to prostrate almost on per second basis, to a strong politician who can now challenge the yet unbroken no-second-term jinx that had held the state spellbound for decades is quite impressive.
The no issues, strictly personal gubernatorial conquest in Oyo state is a sign of hope for politics in Nigeria, and bad omen for governance in Oyo state. It's a sign of hope considering the fact that citizens are now actively interested in the polity and they freely express their opinions on state issues. Bad considering the fact that since Oyo state's thirty-five year history, governments are substituted after a maximum of one term. When a new government comes in, it's often after a fierce battle with the incumbent who endeavours to loot the treasury and makes the early days torturous for the new government who is faced with the challenge of starting afresh. No government has enjoyed continuity; they all have to start afresh. And except Akala wins, the cycle is set to repeat itself again. And can Akala win, despite the numerous seemingly insurmountable and unprecedented hurdles before him? Subsequent articles will give an insight into the leaps of faith, the locus standi and intriguing revelations of what seems to be the closest, fiercest, toughest and most anticipated gubernatorial battle in Nigeria.