When Debo Adesina, Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian spoke at a public event the other day, he took enormous pride in introducing a particular gentleman in the audience: Dr Zaccheus Olusegun Ajuwon.
Ajuwon is the former personal physician to President Olusegun Obasanjo while the Owu Chief ruled Nigeria. He later became the Chief Medical Director of the National Hospital, Abuja.
But that was not Adesina's interest. He called Ajuwon the 'President of the United Republic of Oke Ogun and Commander-in-Chief of its Defence Forces!'
It was a humorous compliment, no doubt, to the man from Ago-Are who has just assumed office as President of Oke Ogun Development Council, ODC, after the late illustrious Professor Dada Adeniyi, but one delivered from the heart and with sufficient reasons.
The Oke-Ogun region of Oyo State is one of the materially richest part of Nigeria, one that has a lot to contribute to the development of Oyo State and Nigeria but which, for many reasons has remained the most undeveloped and the most marginalized in the country.
The resources of the region, according to experts, commissioned by Adesina, shows that the area is richer than some African countries, including Botswana which is rich in diamond and is one of the most prosperous African countries.
In solid minerals, Oke Ogun has no equal in Nigeria. In almost all sectors of agriculture, the region is beyond compare.
Marble, dolomite and others are in Igbetti, Olorunsogo Local Government and in Oriire. Tourmaline is in Komu, Itesiwaju, Tantalite in Sepeteri, Quartz in Itesiwaju, Columbite, talc and several other minerals in all parts of the region.
Indeed, the economic development of Oyo State can be taken for granted on account of the mineral deposits in Oke Ogun.
On tourism, that same region is blessed with almost too much. There is the Ado Awaye suspended lake, Igbo Oba in Kisi, Ebedi Hill in Iseyin, Asabari Hill in Saki, Akomare Hill in Igangan and many other natural tourist attractions waiting to be developed. The Ikere Gorge Dam, which has the capacity to boost the agro-industrial development of the whole of Nigeria as well as supply power to the people has been abandoned for years.
And the human capital in the area is comparable to what obtains in any part of Nigeria.
Yet the people have suffered too much neglect and underdevelopment. They live in abject poverty and are regarded as second-class citizens in their state.
Poverty is very much alive there and the educational institutions there are dilapidated.
Successive governments in Oyo State have treated Oke Ogun as the backwater of the state to which leaders only go for votes at election time alone.
The land is rich and is suitable for agricultural and agro-allied uses but 70 per cent of the population are engaged in subsistence farming and related activities. The people are brilliant but are deemed fit for second fiddle alone.
Oke-Ogun not only has the land and mineral resources, it has a hardworking, honest people to whom integrity and humility are second nature.
There is no exploitation of their God-given resources on commercial scale to yield abundant wealth and there is no respect for their human skills or talents. Farming is still done at subsistence level, and the grinding poverty in Oke Ogun seems impossible to arrest.
Many in Nigeria who are familiar with Oke Ogun's pathetic condition believe that its people are the cause of its under-development as divisions among them and inability to speak with one voice on the leadership of the state have combined to deny them their rightful place.
Since the creation of the state, for instance, no indigene of the area has been elected governor. The best that has happened is that they have produced the deputy governor as Ibadan and Ogbomosho have consistently taken advantage of the division in Oke-Ogun.
But Oke Ogun has people who should be able to call the shots, if the people would be wise and follow their lead.
There is Chief Micheal Adeniyi Koleoso, the Babalaje of Saki and former Secretary to the State Government under the late Lam Adesina. Koleoso was indeed the engine room of that government and party in power. Blunt as bluntness comes, he is regarded as the one who should be able to whip everybody into line politically because of the respect he enjoys over his years of service to the people.
There is Pa Adelere in Iseyin, a staunch politician, though in relatively poor health, who knows Oyo State like the back of his palm. There is also Chief Gideon Titilade Awakan, the Asiwaju of Okaka, a renowned economist who was the all-powerful Chairman of the Local Government Service Commision under Lam Adesina. And there is the irrepressible Alhaji Abu 'Olododo' Gbadamosi of Ilero, who served as Chairman of the Teaching Service Commision. Chief Micheal Dokun Adegbite of Iganna is well regarded in both the conservative and progressive circle for his tirelessness and commitment to principles. Former deputy governors Hameed Gbadamosi from Saki and Iyiola Oladokun from Ado Awaye are also well respected.
As the jostling towards the next general elections has begun, opinion leaders and even traditional rulers in the region are known to have started underground work to get the political class to speak with one voice.
Names of some indigenes of the area are already being bandied as likely governorship aspirants. But picking a candidate is not the issue now. Can Oke Ogun speak with one voice? Would the super stars among the elders and the young turks running for the office of governor of Oyo State find wisdom? Especially among the elders, would enough consensus be found to empower one of them to lead the charge?
Would Oke Ogun people work together and not dissipate their energies in all available political platforms?
Apart from speculated aspirants like Debo Adesina, Deolu Akande, Adebayo Shittu and others who are from Oke-Ogun, Ibadan, whose indigenes have ruled the state more than any other zone, is warming up again. Former Governor Rashidi Adewolu Ladoja is believed to be interested in returning to Agodi Government House. A deputy governor in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) from the state who is son of the famous Adegoke 'Penkelemeesi'Adelabu is also being named as being in the race. Soji Akanbi, who represents Oyo South in the Senate and his predecessor on that seat, Senator Femi Lanlehin, are known to be running. Not to talk of a former candidate and an indigene of Ibadan, Seyi Makinde.
Equity and justice, of course, speak for Oke-Ogun but the people have a lot of work to do on themselves.
This is what has made some indigenes to begin the process of what they call 'auditing' of potential candidates.
In this, Sunday Vanguard learnt, many groups are evaluating the likely candidates on the basis of their disposition to Oke Ogun before now and their actual interest in the welfare of the people.
This is a region that is practically cut off from civilisation or even from the rest of the country. There are two inlets to Oke Ogun, Oyo-Iseyin Road and the Abeokuta- Iseyin Road through Maya/AdoAwaye. Both are not only the worst in Nigeria, each inlet has a bridge, the narrowest in any part, and the worst maintained. Infrastructure is zero in Oke Ogun. The Abiola Ajimobi administration, after six years in office, has only executed one project in the whole of Oke Ogun which is the dualisation of the Iseyin township road. No potable water, no educational institutions. The hospitals are mere sheds and the schools are hardly fit for learning. The agricultural potentials are not tapped and the mineral resources are not being exploited for the people's development.
Who will save Oke Ogun? Who can best represent Oke Ogun?
Time will tell.