TWO years to the change of guards in Oyo State, the stakes have gone so high on who would succeed Governor Abiola Ajimobi and how he or she would emerge.
Some candidates are already openly in the race, with posters, banners and all the elements of a clear campaign for the office. Some are busy consulting elders and sounding out their constituents. Others have surrogates in large numbers at work all over the state while advocates of their cause are mounting the soap-box on their behalf, asking the people of Oyo State to look in their direction.
Oke Ogun, the most unjustly treated of the zones in the state, of course, already has a dozen or more candidates on the stump especially because all sentiments favour the zone for 2019. And more than a few of those jostling are positioning themselves as front-runners.
Interestingly, one man whose name keeps cropping up as having the most active advocates of his candidacy remains the most quiet about his interest in the job.
Debo Adesina, Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian Group of Newspapers, a native of Okaka in Itesiwaju Local Government Area of Oke Ogun zone of the state, has not openly come out with a declaration of his intention but it is hardly a secret that the journalist is, as one of his champions told the Nigerian Tribune, a person of special interest.
Discerning watchers have been tracking his appearances at different forums where members of the Oyo elite are gathered and his presence at sessions on ideas for the states development.
So far, he has played the thorough professional and largely down-played all talks about 2019.
In Ibadan last week, to address a group of serving and former legislators in the state, an occasion put together by a very senior lawyer believed to be one of his advocates, Adesina was at once in his most eloquent element on ideas but most self-effacing on personal ambition.
I will never be tired of saying this: the easiest thing to do is to announce yourself a candidate for governor. It is even much easier to print posters and leaflets to that effect. But the most important question to ask yourself or which the people should ask you is: what would you do with the office?
To the gathering, he must have come the closest to a disclosure when he said “We would relish the opportunity to do things differently from the way they are done now, improve on the things already done, initiate things not yet contemplated, institutionalise a culture of service and build a state for today and the future.”
“Sacrifice,” he told the audience, “must be life, not just the lifestyle, of any man or woman who would lead this state successfully.
“As a leader, one must show great compassion. I believe that in leadership, symbolisms work as well as substance. We must not only show that we understand the pains of the people, we should make a show of living their pains as we work for the alleviation of such.”
He then went on to lament the level of poverty in all corners of the state and non-payment of salaries to public servants. He, however, located the problem within the context of over-dependence on federal allocation, saying the truth is that Oyo State, like many others, does not have much of an economy outside the monthly allocation from the federation account. The result is that there is very little that can be invested in capital projects once the cost of running the government takes the lion share.
He took pains to acknowledge achievements within the resources available but also list where the Abiola Ajimobi administration could have changed the story by cutting the cost of governance, properly prioritising resource management and creating an Oyo State of Enterprise.
Adesina was quick to admit that for the state to really develop, pains would have to be endured. Many actions that ought to have been taken would not have been politically correct but they would have been morally and economically so in the sense that the state would have fared better. The future would have been better assured with a resolute refusal to pander to the conveniences of the immediate.
With an appropriate investment of time and resources, he said, agriculture, the states vast mineral resources and tourism sites, ought to have fetched Oyo State much more than the oil wells in the Niger Delta.
An unrepentant advocate of federalism in its purest form, he told the gathering that the structure of the country today incapacitates states like Oyo and keeps the people in the throes of poverty even when they sit on abundant wealth.
“The constitution and the other laws of Nigeria’s warped federation, I admit, are skewed against us all, but there is also too much waste.
“The questions are very simple: Can Ibadan fare better as a modern city? The answer is yes. Can Oyo, Ogbomoso, Saki, Iseyin, Okeho and Eruwa be more liveable? The answer is yes. Can these towns be centres of entrepreneurship and classy living? I believe that is what they should be and what any government should strive to build. Can all of our people in the big cities, towns as well as in the rural communities where wealth is sitting untapped live a better life or be better served? I believe making this happen is the work at hand,” he said.
Adesina then delved into the findings of a think-tank he is associated with and whose members have gone round and came up with the report of how much material and human potentials abound in Oyo State. According to him, therefore, creating life more abundant for all, urban renewal and rural renaissance should not be difficult in a state brimming with so much blessings.
“What has been found in our people is an uncommon spirit of industry, perseverance and a certain will to thrive. The people of Oyo do not just have a zest for life, they have the zest for a fulfilling life. They are growers who enjoy the labour of planting, the miracle and thrill of germination and the joy of nurturing before the enjoyment of the fruits.”
Continuing in a tone a shade poetic, he concluded: “Our people relish the ardour of work but cherish the pleasure of the reward for their labour.”
And he asked, to the wild applause of the audience: “Why would any government fail to tap into such a huge reservoir of positive energy?”
With the strident agitation for an Oyo State governor of Oke Ogun extraction, Adesina may not have formally joined the race but it is hardly surprising that many say it is only a matter of time before he is offered as the breath of fresh air the state needs.
Not for him talks of personal ambition, at least not yet, but he had this much to say about the politics of the state to those who asked him: “The quest for an Oyo State governor of Oke Ogun origin is just. For justice and equity to reign, that is the right way to go. But a more fundamental quest by all should be ideas for the end to poverty and the development of all parts of the state from Ibadan to Oyo, from Ogbomoso to Oke Ogun and Ibarapa regions of the state.”
He continued: “Giving priority attention to the development of the areas in which the wealth of a state is embedded, with a view to making the most of the enormous resources there, is simply a smart thing to do and not a favour to those areas. If the mineral resources are tapped and processed, if the agricultural resources are fully harnessed and the tourism potentials are tapped, the state would be richer and there would be enough money to go round everywhere.”
According to him, Ibadan, a great city, needs first-class infrastructure which will not come cheap. Federal allocations or tax from public servants cannot yield the kind of money needed for turning it into the kind of city it should be. There must be a huge and purposeful tilling of the ground in every sense of it for us to find the money we need to develop all parts of this state.”
He commended the example of Igbeti Marble Company, the reviving drive of which was started with the inauguration of a new board just a day before his delivery in Ibadan.
How far gone would we have been in Oyo today if that dream by the late Emmanuel Oyedele Ashamu had been given proper life and not slept upon? Maybe Oyo marble would have been the choice instead of Italian marble! After an analysis of the states agricultural wealth, Adesina then named many other mineral resources in the state, what can be done with them and by how much they can enrich Oyo and its people.
It is, of course, a bit early for any correct permutations on the 2019 elections but the peculiarity of Oyo State is already throwing up a frenzy. Names of candidates are being bandied while speculations are legion about aspirations.
Oke Ogun, the richest part of the state in terms of natural resources but the most marginalised in terms of political control, has been one bee-hive of activities on one hand and a subject of sundry analyses on the other, all these because all eyes are on the region to produce the next governor, for the first time.
Many illustrious sons of Oke Ogun are already openly in the race.
But the intriguing thing about Adesina seems to be the contrast of the frontal approach by his advocates with the self-effacing style of the man himself.
Arguably one of Nigerias most decorated journalists, he has won the Editor of The Year Award more than any other journalist and was awarded the Young Global Leader honour by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to make him one of the world’s acclaimed new generation of leading lights. This was before President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua appointed him a Federal Commissioner in the Fiscal Responsibility Commission in 2008. His vast network of friends at the highest levels in politics and business has continually kept the talk of his bid for governorship alive but his associates say even if that would be the case, it is too early in the day.
Certainly, however, even those friends can hardly dispute the fact that what Adesina said at that meeting was not the typical lecture he would deliver to a regular audience but ideas intended for execution someday in Ibadan.