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Make Oyo State Great Again! How Ayodeji Ismail Karim is Changing the Way We See This Nigerian State

I love looking at pictures of African cities from the early fifties and sixties. The promise of new independence and the hope of what would come radiates through those monochromatic images. As the decades passed, our continent has achieved great things, and it will continue to do so. But have we lived up to the expectations our newly liberated nations had? I spoke to one Nigerian hoping to restore his state to its past glory days. Driven by passion and ambition, Ayodeji Ismail Karim is actively working towards bettering Oyo State. As the All Progressive Congress (APC) candidate for Oyo State Governor 2019,  one way he plans to continue doing this is by effecting “tangible differences” in the everyday lives of everyday people.

Oyo State is a region of firsts, not just in Nigeria but in West Africa. It is home to one of the first universities in West Africa, the University College of Ibadan. Ibadan had the first radio and broadcasting company, the National Television Authority (NTA).

University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, 1960

It also had the first football stadium in Nigeria, Liberty Stadium. Nigeria’s first skyscraper, the Cocoa House was built in Oyo State. The lists of firsts continue into various industries, both political and commercial.

The Lagos Railway (which runs through Oyo State), 1900

With this history, it is no surprise that Oyo state was once a hub of social activity, trade and commerce. Over the years, cities like Abuja and Lagos have become more popular destinations both nationally and internationally. Karim believes he has what it takes to get us all talking about Oyo state again.

Civilisation in Nigeria today started in Ibadan.

Although one of the youngest candidates running for the position of Oyo State Governor, Karim’s experience has prepared him for this role of responsibility. During his adolescence, he came to the UK where he joined the army and completed a bachelor degree in Materials Engineering and Engineering Design. For the past 25 years, Karim has been living and working in Nigeria. In 2007, Karim joined the Costain West Africa team as Operations Director after being headhunted from his position as Executive Director of the Fortis Construction Company. After six years of hard work with this construction and engineering company and a year of shadowing the Managing Director, Karim took over the role. Since then he has made considerable changes to the company as CEO, improving its efficiency and productivity.

How does this experience translate into the world of Nigerian politics? “I know the people,” this businessman says. “I know the language. I know the system. I’ve spent enough time in the system to know what needs to be done. And I’m young, I still have the umph in me to…get into the trenches and deal with the issues..” Coming from a history of business management gives Karim a unique perspective on the needs of his fellow statesmen. “I follow politics. Everything we do is political, it governs our lives so we must get involved. I’ve travelled through Africa. I then go to the UK and US and wonder why we cannot make that transition as they have…The educated and well-travelled ones have to get involved. People who understand the dynamics of how a government should run need to get involved. That’s why I’ve put my hat in the ring, so Africa can surpass where it is now.”

The Africa solution must come from Africa. You must engage people. The government needs to provide an enabling environment.

What is Karim’s main objective? “I want people to feel that if they have not been to Oyo State for education, qualitative healthcare, to enjoy themselves and have a good time, they haven’t been anywhere.”

In a few years we need to be the best state in Nigeria.

His background in construction means that Karim is often on the ground, talking to and working with the people of Oyo State. As his hometown and having returned to in his early adulthood, Karim understands the nuances and potential of this region. He has seen how local and international governments exercise their democratic authority to better the people, giving him the opportunity to comparatively assess their strengths and weaknesses before considering how these can be used to better Oyo State. What are some of the issues on Karim’s agenda? It comes in the form of an acronym, ISHAPE: Industry, Security, Health and Hospitality, Agriculture, Power and Education. Karim wants to capitalise on the assets the state already has. He wants to provide greater opportunities for work and create more social spaces for recreation and enjoyment.

Ayodeji Ismail Karim meeting Oyo State expats in Manchester.

This candidate is hopeful that very soon Oyo State will be the go-to place! If you need to get away from the hustle and bustle Lagos, Oyo State will be the destination to escape the city, and you won’t even have to leave the country – an hour drive is all it takes. This could be Nigeria’s new megacity. Imagine the potential here. With a revived transport links, better roads, luxury malls, opportunities to invest and grow, who wouldn’t want to be in Oyo State? For international visitors, this region will provide a taste of Nigeria in style, comfort and security. Using the experience he has gained in his travels and the insight he has developed from his work in various businesses, Karim believes that he can indeed make Oyo State great again.


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Images of UCH and The Lagos Railway via travelstart.com.ng

Ama Badu
I am a storyteller. We are part of a world which is getting smaller as our modes of communication broaden. With the advances of social media and modern technology, more voices have a platform to share their stories. But as our globe gets smaller there are still narratives that go untold, we still have voices in our communities that are marginalised, especially those of women. These are stories I am most interested in.
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