By Olayinka Oyebode
It was an uneasy task for me last week when the lot fell on me, as Mr Governor’s Spokesperson, to make a public announcement that Governor Biodun Abayomi Oyebanji would not be marking his 55th birthday on December 21st, and would rather have his friends, associates and well wishers convert their planned events, gifts and advertorials into material and financial support to some state owned schools for the physically challenged. The fact I was privy to some private arrangements by some groups and individuals to celebrate the Governor on his special day made me put up a little case for some form of waivers. I was overruled, as the Governor insisted that material and financial donations to the three schools would be a more appreciated birthday celebration for him, stressing that the country is at a point where well-meaning citizens should make deliberate efforts at reaching out to the less privileged in the society.
In his characteristic exemplary leadership style, Governor Oyebanji immediately directed that gifts and cash be sent to the three schools – Government Special School for the Deaf, Ikoro-Ekiti; Government Special School for the Physically Challenged and Mentally Retarded , Ido-Ekiti; and Government Special School for the Blind, Ikere-Ekiti as his “birthday gift” to the students. The interesting thing is that shortly after the Governor’s directive was published on December 17th, many citizens of the state both at home and in the Diaspora started making enquiries on how to donate to the schools. Immediately the account details of the three schools were made public by their management, rains of credit alerts followed. Again, a caveat from the Governor’s office followed, urging the schools management to keep proper records of the donations and assuring the public that every dime would be duly acknowledged and accounted for.
For those who have followed Oyebanji’s trajectory from his student days through pro- democracy agitation and the current political participation, his action did not come as a surprise. He is guided by the social democratic principle of lifting the weak and vulnerable in the society and the biblical injunction of love your neighbour as yourself. His three and a half years stint as Secretary to the Government of Ekiti State between October 2018 and December 2021 witnessed a massive turn around in the fortunes of many young Ekiti men and women. Many of them got seed funds for their businesses, trading as well as financial and material support for sundry requests including payment of hospital bills, scholarship for indigent students, empowerment for widows and massive support for youth development programmes. Oyebanji’s genuine concern includes how to support the weak and make them stand on their feet; how to defend the defenceless; how to instil the ‘I can do’ spirit in the younger citizens and how transactional politics can be replaced with transformational leadership. Whereas some critics faulted those ideals then, describing them as unsustainable, but his consistency in identifying with and doing good to the less privileged was the genesis of his ascendance to political greatness and created a permanent space for what is aptly described as the “BAO Phenomenon” in the innermost sanctum of the hearts of Ekitikete.
Oyebani’s penchant for human capital development and insatiable desire to get the government to provide for the weak and vulnerable in the society informed his administration’s huge investment in social security support, free, compulsory and compulsory primary and secondary education; comprehensive renovation of roads, human capital development, welfare of workers and pensioners a la prompt payment of salaries, pensions and deductions.
Regarded as a promoter of peace, BAO demonstrated his statesmanship and penchant for peace and social justice with the unprecedented way he set aside political differences, visited and held consultations with several Ekiti leaders ahead of his inauguration as Governor.
He has also made some deft moves which culminated in reconciliation with former political foes with attendant peace and stability within the ruling APC and across party lines. His reputation as a lover and promoter of peace has been on the rise since then, making him a reference point in pragmatic leadership style and peace initiatives.
BAO, in his bridge building efforts, creates relationships that cut across the lines of conflict, helps to forge ties across borders, cultures, religions, power bloc. He establishes relationships, and build trust between conflicting people and groups which helps opposing groups of people to understand each other and behave well towards each other. His political handlers who anchored his governorship campaign on three key words- Character, Competence and Compassion didn’t make any mistake. BAO has, within a short period, successful exhibited these three virtues to the admiration of the vast majority of the people of the state who see him as the governor, in whom they are well pleased. His testimonials as an “Omoluabi Governor” by the likes of Aare Afe Babalola (SAN); Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN); Chief Deji Fasuan. Prince Julius Adelusi Adeluyi as well as his predecessors in office speak volume.
Like the American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century, Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Oyebanji, no doubt, is already trotting where there seems to be no path and leaving a trail – impactful leadership, peaceful atmosphere and accelerated progress.
As BAO turns 55 years old today, the question is no longer about what he is capable of doing as a leader and statesman. He has been able to demonstrate his capacity as an innovative, credible, competent and compassionate leader. Rather, the question will be about what he would not do as a leader as many believe that his past has adequately prepared him for the present and the future.
Born on December 21, 1967, in Ikogosi-Ekiti, Oyebanji was inaugurated as Governor of Ekiti State on October 16, 2022. As a “Homegrown” Ekiti man, his entire early education was in his home state and in institutions such as Baptist Primary School, Ikogosi-Ekiti, Awo Community High School, Awo-Ekiti, C.A.C. Grammar School, Efon-Alaaye, District Commercial Secondary School, Aramoko-Ekiti and Federal School of Arts and Science, Ondo. He acquired a Bachelor of Science degree from the Ondo State University (OSUA) (now Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti) in 1989 and continued his quest for honours at the University of Ibadan in 1992 where he bagged his Masters’ degree in Political Science (International Relations and Strategic Studies).
Oyebanji started his career as a Lecturer at the Department of Political Science, OSUA, and worked for four years (1993 – 1997) and later proceeded to work as Manager, Treasury, and Financial Services at the defunct Omega Bank Plc (now Heritage Bank) till May 1999, when he commenced an illustrious career in politics and governance.
He is one of the longest serving political office holders in the Government of Ekiti State, having served for over 11 years in various capacities. He was Special Assistant (Parliamentary Affairs) to the Governor of Ekiti State (8th June 1999 – July 2000); Special Adviser (Parliamentary Affairs) to the Governor (1st Aug. 2000 – Sept. 2001); Chief of Staff to the Governor (September 2001 – May 29, 2003); Chairman, Governing Board, Citizenship and Leadership Training Centre, Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development (June 2009 – December 2010); Commissioner, Ministry of Integration and Inter-Governmental Affairs, Ekiti State (23rd December 2010 – December 2011); Head, Office of Transformation, Strategy and Delivery (OTSD), Ekiti State (December 2011 – 9th January 2013); Commissioner, Ministry of Budget, Economic Planning and Service Delivery, Ekiti State (10th January 2013 – 16th October 2014); Secretary, Ekiti State Government (16th October 2018 –till December 2021).
Oyebanji is a devout Christian who sees his career in politics and governance as a divine calling and has being serving God and country diligently as a loyal party man and conscientious public servant in different capacities right from inception of the Fourth Republic. Fondly called “BAO”, “Home Boy” or “Tiwa n Tiwa” by his teeming supporters, Oyebanji describes himself as a product of divine grace in apparent reference to his grass to grace story that has become a source of inspiration to many Ekiti youths.
In recognition of his inspirational life journey as a successful businessman, farmer and devoted public servant, Oyebanji has earned many awards including the Distinguished Alumnus Award by the Alumni Association of the Ondo State university, Ado-Ekiti (now Ekiti State University). His most notable award is the Member, Ekiti State Exceptional Achievers (MEEA) Award in the order of the Ekiti State Honours Roll Law, 2020, granted in recognition of his crucial contributions to the creation of Ekiti State in 1996. By providence and by a remarkable show of patriotism and sacrifice at such a young age at the time, he notably served as Secretary, Committee for the creation of Ekiti State and Secretary, Ekiti State Development Fund.
Oyebanji is married to Dr Olayemi Oyebanji, a senior lecturer in the Department of Educational Management, Faculty of Education, University of Ibadan, and a seasoned scholar with over 80 publications in the field of instructional Administration, Higher Education, Quality Assurance in Education, Human Resource Development and Leadership in Education. They are blessed with three children.
Today, I join millions of admirers to shout 55 _gbosas_ to this exceptionally compassionate leader, bridge builder, innovator, child of grace and a man of honour as he takes the fifty-fifth step in the ladder of service to our dear state, country and humanity. The celebration has just begun!
Oyebode, Special Adviser (Media) to the Governor writes from Ado-Ekiti.