By Yinka Oyebode

Last week, December 12th to be precise, Ado-Ekiti, the capital of Ekiti State witnessed an unusual development. Pensioners in the state under the auspices of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) organised a special prayer session for Governor Biodun Oyebanji and his administration. The sole purpose of the one- day intercessory programme by the senior citizens was to prayerfully support the Governor and his administration. On that day, the pensioners, in their hundreds, thronged the Jibowu Hall, venue of the programme and devoted the entire time praying for the Governor, who on invitation, attended the programme accompanied by his deputy, Chief (Mrs) Monisade Afuye and some members of the state executive council.

The message being passed by the pensioners was loud and clear. What they were simply saying was that they might not have silver nor gold to give the Governor for his demonstrated commitment to their welfare and wellbeing, through prompt payment of pensions and consistency in defraying outstanding gratuities as well as other policies and programmes that have directly impacted their lives. But what they have- prayers- they would freely offer to God on his behalf.

Elder Joel Akinola, the state Chairman of NUP, said the pensioners had never organised such an intercessory programme for any sitting Governor of the state. He said they were moved to do it because of the Governor’s has prioritised their welfare in such an unprecedented manner.
If the pensioners premised their support for Governor Oyebanji on the new lease of life he has injected into their union through prompt fulfilment of government obligations to them, the three former governors of the state that publicly endorsed Governor Oyebanji some six weeks earlier, hinged their decision on BAO’s performance and exemplary leadership style, which has united various tendencies within the state with concomitant peace, stability and massive development in the state.

Former Governors Adeniyi Adebayo, Kayode Fayemi and Ayodele Fayose as well as the Senate Leader, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, gave what is aptly an endorsement that is unprecedented, during the thanksgiving service commemorating Oyebanji administration’s first anniversary on October 22nd. Former Governor Fayose spoke on behalf of the trio, drawing a thunderous applause from the congregation. Former Governor Segun Oni, who was not present during the thanksgiving service made up for his absence some weeks later when he joined the Governor for a Sunday service at the Government House chapel.
How BAO is able to garner the support and cooperation of all his predecessors in office as well as all candidates of other political parties that contested the June 2022 election with him, remains a classical lesson in political maturity and demonstrated leadership capacity.

Those who have followed Oyebanji’s trajectory right from his student’s days, through the period of pro- democracy movement, the period of agitation for the creation of Ekiti State as well as his foray into public service, would readily admit that his unique approach to governance does not come as a surprise. BAO, as he is fondly called, is guided by the social democratic principle of lifting the weak and supporting the vulnerable in the society as well as the biblical injunction of love your neighbour as yourself. His genuine concerns include how to give a voice to the voiceless; how transformational leadership can replace transactional politics; how to build strong institutions instead of strong men; how to make government wear a human face; how every citizen can feel the impact of government regardless of their social standing; and what mechanism should be put in place for genuine and effective empowerment of the citizens, especially the less privileged, towards the attainment of the good life for all.

Governor Oyebanji is disarmingly unassuming. Those who have come in contact with him, and, indeed a vast majority of Ekiti people, believe his simplicity has brought a new level of zest to governance and redefined performance with emphasis on excellent service delivery, measureable impact, prudent management of resources, zero distraction, minimal noise and maximum benefit to the people, in line with the shared prosperity agenda of his administration.

As a change agent, BAO believes it is not enough for a leader to lead the people. He believes a leader must live in the hearts of the people by serving them diligently and sincerely. He believes trust is a public good without which no great thing can be achieved collectively. Hence, he believes trust has to be earned. As a leader, he combines integrity, creativity, character, competence, compassion with passion for excellence and development.

Many people have tried to explain the uniqueness of BAO’s exemplary leadership style. Some believe it is the “homeboy factor”, while many believe he got the necessary grooming having served two former governors in six different capacities before becoming governor. But while these assertions are correct, Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of World Economic Forum seems to have the right answer. According to him, “there are four ingredients in true leadership: brain, soul, heart and good nerves.” BAO, no doubt, possesses these four attributes, especially when one considers the outcomes of many of his developmental efforts.

His decision to fix the power issues that had put several communities in about four councils in darkness for over ten years by connecting them to the national grid almost at the same time the state’s Independent Power Project (IPP) was commissioned for use is a game changer that has brought a remarkable boost in the socioeconomic development of the state by people and helped to resuscitate some dying businesses. His huge investment in agriculture as a pathway to industrialisation has also attracted an army of youths into commercial agriculture just as his efforts at making Ekiti a digital hub is already yielding fruits, what with the recent $80 million support from the African Development Bank. His local content policy as well as the inclusion policy are daily redefining government –citizens relationship for the betterment of the state.

Born on December 21, 1967, in Ikogosi-Ekiti, Oyebanji had his early education 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 bagged a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science from the Ondo State University (now Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti) in 1989 and Masters’ degree in Political Science (International Relations and Strategic Studies), from the University of Ibadan in 1992.

He started his career as a Lecturer at the Department of Political Science, Ondo State University, Ado-Ekiti, and worked for four years (1993 – 1997) . He 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.

Since embracing public service in 1999, he has served in various capacities. He started as Special Assistant to the Governor (Parliamentary Affairs, June 1999 – July 2000); Special Adviser (Parliamentary Affairs, Aug. 2000 – Sept. 2001); Chief of Staff to the Governor (September 2001 – May, 2003); Chairman, Governing Board, Citizenship and Leadership Training Centre, Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development (June 2009 – December 2010). He served as Commissioner, Ministry of Integration and Inter-Governmental Affairs, Ekiti State ( December 2010 – December 2011); Head, Office of Transformation, Strategy and Delivery (OTSD), Ekiti State (December 2011 – January 2013); Commissioner, Ministry of Budget, Economic Planning and Service Delivery, Ekiti State (January 2013 – October 2014).

He also served as Secretary to Ekiti State Government between October 2018 to December 2021, when he resigned his appointment to join the governorship race, which he won on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in June 22, 2022. He was inaugurated Governor of Ekiti State on October 16, 2022.
Oyebanji is a devout Christian who sees his career in politics and governance as a divine calling. His belief is that he is not only accountable to the people, he is also accountable to God. This philosophy remains his guiding light as he continues to serve God and country diligently as a loyal party man and conscientious public servant. As Governor, Oyebanji runs an inclusive administration and makes the welfare and well -being of the people a top priority. Through a combination of prudent management of resources, aggressive industrialisation drive and infrastructure upgrade, he has been able to reposition the state for economic growth. His strategic deployment of technology to block leakages has also led to a remarkable improvement in internally generated revenue for the state.

In recognition of his inspirational life journey, BAO has received many awards and recognitions. His most cherished is the Ekiti State Exceptional Achievers (MEEA) Award, granted in recognition of his contributions to the creation of Ekiti State as Secretary, State Creation Committee and Secretary, Ekiti State Development Fund.

Oyebanji is married to Dr Olayemi Oyebanji, a senior lecturer in the Department of Educational Management, University of Ibadan. They are blessed with three children.
From the rolling hills of Ekiti comes fifty- six hearty cheers for an enigmatic leader, a man of honour from the land of honour, an innovator and change agent- BAO the people’s Governor, as he turns 56 today.

• Oyebode, Special Adviser (Media) to the Governor, writes from Ado-Ekiti

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