INTERVIEWS: I’ve No Reason to be Intolerant of Opposition –Fayemi

February 4, 2014

How did you score yourself in terms of fulfilling your promises to the Ekiti people in the face of what we have been reading from the opposition that you have performed poorly, claiming that you are having crises with teachers, local government workers, civil servants, etc?

Let me start by commiserating with the EkitiState Broadcasting Service on the loss of its chairman, Mr. Sesan Ogunro, who incidentally is very close personal friend, who was lost to the dastardly acts of the men of the underworld. In his short time here as the chairman, he was able to register what it means for a professional to be at the helms of affairs.

Well, God knows best and we hope that the legacy of honour and professionalism he has tried to instil would be imbibed by all. Coming back to your question, my simple answer to you is to examine in an objective and non-partisan manner, take the roadmap to Ekiti recovery, with which I campaigned all round Ekiti State in 2006 and 2007 after I became the candidate of my party; it is popularly called Eight Point agenda now, but when you take that and put it side by side with my inaugural speech on October 16, 2010, and take one by one every paragraph in that inaugural speech, it is not for me to say how I have fared it is for you to look at that inaugural speech and say ‘ok, he promised this, he has done it; he has not done this; he has done that, he has not done that.’

These are things that are specific, measurable, identifiable, and palpable, you will see them. The only thing you may not be able to tangibly see, is when you talk of values, when you talk of peace, when you talk of safety by and large; even that is measurable, because you can measure what Ekiti used to be in the days of one week one trouble, I was also here then, many of us were here then and what it is now.

For me, talk is cheap. It is a political season, anybody can say what they chose to believe, but I just a tour round a hundred and thirty one communities in this state; and I was able to interact directly with the people in all of those communities and in the course of that, I commissioned roughly about 80 projects in those communities. So if somebody says ‘he has not done anything,’ we will leave that to the judgement of Ekiti people.

Recently, you won a suit against Nigerian Compass newspapers and you were awarded about N2 billion, the judgement was delivered at the High Court here; given your background, do you intend to collect that money?

N2 billion would be nice, but I really did not go to court on the account of the pecuniary benefits that would accrue from the litigation, I went to court just on one issue: my name. In politics it is so common place for people to believe that politics belong to the dregs of the society; for the charlatans and the brigands; so it is cheap for anybody to say that Governor Fayemi takes N1 billion every month from local government coffers, with no evidence, with no verifiable information; and I pleaded with the Nigerian Compass, ‘withdraw your statement,’ I gave them 14 days to withdraw that statement, but they did not. It was only after their refusal to withdraw their statement that I went to court.

So if I had spent 18 months in court trying to clear my name and integrity and the court in its own wisdom felt that the damage that had been done to my name was worth a particular amount, it was at the discretion of the court and I leave that to my lawyers to address.

But the most important thing for me is the signal it sends to those who may indulge in character assassination and don’t forget that I happen to come from the profession; I am very passionate about journalists being professional about what they do.

It is in journalism that we say facts are sacred, but opinion is free; you can say whatever you like, but don’t treat your opinion as facts and don’t malign my reputation simply because I am a governor. Anybody can abuse the governor and get away with it, but if you malign Fayemi, you can’t get away with it.

If other governors don’t take people to court, may be they have their reasons for not doing that, but I do not have any iota of tolerance for people who malign other people’s reputation. It is either you have the evidence that I don’t have the reputation that I claim to have and then go to court and say ‘yes, I say he is a rogue.

He takes N1 billion from local government coffers monthly and this is my evidence for saying so. Let him challenge me.’ The Nigerian Compass did not have any defence in court and I am glad the chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, is here and this something that the NUJ should look into; and also as chairman of Correspondents’ Chapel, I know that there is a lot of junks that people send to you, in your own wisdom, many of you don’t use the junk. I just read some silly junk by some funny character who says he is the chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, about this institution, about some deals being done with Television Continental, TVC. I don’t know who is doing deal with TVC.

So if you take someone like that to court now and he loses, what happens? By the way, the Nigerian Compass has been in touch with me at the very highest level, trying to talk and I told them, first and foremost, go and do what the court has asked you to do: get the three newspapers that the court has asked you to publish an apology and run it for one week; before we even talk about whether I am going to collect money or not collect money.

If they do that, if they run the apology in the Punch, the Nation and run it in their own newspaper, well ; at least for that week, majority of your suspecting readers who had come across the story before would read and see that they have admitted that they impinged the character of Governor Fayemi, they lied and they have no evidence for what they did and they are apologising. That is the first stage. The money? We will come to that.

About a month ago, you met with workers in the state and a lot of promises were made vis a vis car loans, housing loan, leave bonus, 13th month, etc; secondly, the civil service conducted interview for numerous candidates from Ekiti State and they are yet to resume work, what have you to say about all these issues?

It is my nature to meet with civil servants since I became governor not only recently.

Let me say, and whatever I say again is independently verifiable, not only have virtually all the promises I made to them when I met them have been fulfilled. All of them have received their leave bonuses; all of them have received the 13th month salary – a percentage of it, as their Christmas bonus, it was an improvement on what they received last year; so no civil servant will tell you that he has not received the Christmas bonus, the leave bonus and all other entitlements due to them.

Secondly, the people who wrote the civil service examination and were called for interview, I believe that very soon, those who are successful would assume duties, so I don’t think they should exercise any fears. There are two parts to it: there is the administration cadre, and there is the professional cadre.

In November, 2013, during the Cooperative Day, you highlighted the role that cooperative societies played in Ekiti State and you approved N300 million for these cooperative societies, what are the other steps your administration is taking to support the cooperative societies in the state?

If you know the history of cooperative in Nigeria, you will know that this is the area where it really started from, with a very progressive focus on empowerment for the informal sector, so to speak, farmers, artisans, and so on and so forth. But it has grown, grown to become a bank, we used to have a Cooperative Bank in Nigeria, but in the banking consolidation, tit became one of the legacy banks that formed Skye Bank.

And we still think that it is a vehicle that we can use to empower our informal sector, particularly our farmers and suffice to say that every community in Ekiti State has a cooperative society, multipurpose cooperative or farmers’ cooperative or teachers’ cooperative, we also have institutions, that have very solid cooperative societies; and we believe that our own contribution is to help them become micro finance institutions; but before they get there, we can at least help empower them.

And that is what the N300 million that we have put in place is all about. Also, we have successfully negotiated a matching grant from the Bank of Agriculture, making it N600 million which was meant to start in the New Year. That, for us, is a way of strengthening the cooperative societies, because it also makes a huge economic sense, the record that we have in Ekiti is that the repayment amongst cooperatives is one of the highest. If they borrow money, they pay back and they pay back almost 90 per cent of the money they borrow, so it is not just a gesture of government, it is not what our people would call ‘ajemonu’ (incentives), it is a business arrangement to empower them so that they can thrive and the small and medium enterprises, SMEs, constitutes the largest part of our business sector in Ekiti.

We don’t have huge industries here; so it is important for us to empower those who are at the middle level and lower cadre in order for them to be able to stand up on their own. That is what our own philosophy of governance is all about. It is about pulling up the weak and the vulnerable and this is one vehicle for doing that.

There is talk in town of systematic flushing out of okada riders, to be replaced with Keke NAPEP. Is it really true that your government is embarking on that line of action?

You know politicians are interesting breed; and when they have nothing to say, they rake up murk. I saw it cartooned the other day in the Vanguard, which was presented to me during the Nigerian Media Merit Award, NMMA, in Ikogosi and you know the cartoon said something very interesting. It has about 10 things: education, he has done it; health, he has done it; roads, he has one it; this, he has done it; that, he has done it; and there were some opposition politician in the cartoon, scratching his head saying: ‘what am i going to campaign with again?’

The import of what I am saying is that you have a lot of jokers out there, who just seat in their joints, and concoct all sorts of stories of their imagination. Of course, there is no truth in it. I have not been anywhere in this state where I said I was going to phase out, either systematically or abruptly, okada riders. Why do we have okada riders in the first instance? If they do not satisfy a yearning of the citizenry, they won’t be there.

Am I for the safety of the okada riders? Absolutely, yes. Am I going to insist that they use helmets and that they use protective gears for them to be able to run and protect themselves and protect their passengers? I have no apology for that one. I will do that and I have been telling them that. But phasing them out? It is the figment of the imagination of the mongers of such balderdash.

There has been this allegation from the opposition that the bill boards of their aspirants have been pulled down whereas your own bill boards continue to remain standing. The opposition is accusing you of being intolerant, what is your take on this?

I am sure you go sound the state and know better. But I know and I can say categorically that there are more posters of the opposition on the streets of Ekiti than my posters. I have not put a single poster on the streets.

My campaign organisation has not put a single poster on the streets. I saw some posters now, Fayemi’s posters, just now coming from Isan; and I was asking the Special Adviser in the Governor’s Office, ‘who is doing all these posters?’ It turned out, as he intimated me, that one of my House of Representatives members, has decided to put posters out on my behalf.

And everybody knows, when they say ‘nitori ojo ola wa’, (because of our tomorrow), they know who that is, that is not something new, but I know I have been seeing posters of all manners of people in town more than six months now. And I am not aware that anybody has pulled down anybody’s posters.

Billboard is a different matter, because there are laws. I paid to put bill boards out. If I want to put Fayemi’s bill boards out there, there is signage agency law, which was not even the creation of my administration; it was one of the things that the Segun Oni administration put in place and because you just have to have a structure, you cannot just litter everywhere with bill boards; the site where you want to put up a bill board must be approved, it is known to all these politicians who are saying all these and they know that I come from the school of’ let a thousand flowers bloom’, put your posters wherever you want to put them, put your bill boards wherever you want to put them, as long as it is in accordance with the law.

I have no issue with that. I see bill boards all over the place and I laugh whenever I see them. Some are nice, some photographs are not too impressive, I said some copies are not intelligent; a better copy could have been written. Many of the people going round saying they want to be governor are people I know, so why would I be intolerant of their activities? They are free to run and they are free to campaign but there is what we call the law and part of what I was elected to do is to uphold the law and adhere strictly to it.

Your administration gives top priority to elderly citizens of the state, and during your third year anniversary celebration, there was the launching of the second phase of the social security scheme. What are the other steps your administration is taking to ensure life more abundant for the elderly?

People talk a lot about the social security scheme, the monetary side of it, but it’s actually an integrated package. When people talk about the N5,000 monthly stipend, they seem to forget that all of our elders are entitled to free health. Anyone who is above 65 years in this state has access to free health. In addition to that, there are people who get N5,000, but not quite in a position to prepare their own food; so I’m sure you have heard of Ekiti Food Bank. If you listen to the news a couple of days ago,

you would have found me in some parts of this state serving food in a soup kitchen, we have soup kitchens all around the state, which particularly take care of the elderly people. Also, there are some people who are not elderly, but who are not being taken care of. So, it is not just the N5,000, that is a significant part of it, because you asked what other steps are we taking; they are entitled to free health care, and if you are vulnerable, you are entitled to one or two free meals from the soup kitchens, depending on the area where you are.

And we also give raw food; the Food Bank provides raw food. So you will definitely fall in one of the categories; if you don’t get the N5,000, which 25 people we talk about are entitled to, you get the hot meal a day from the soup kitchen. So for us, it is a philosophy. No person ought to be left behind; you cannot have a society that privileges only the rich, that will be a survival of the fittest society and I am not a survival of the fittest politician.

My philosophy, my politics is driven by a social democratic agenda and that agenda simply stresses the importance of pulling up the vulnerable, pulling up the weak, pulling up the poor, in order for us to have a more equitable society. An equitable society is not a more equal society.

We are not going to have the same amount of money, but at least, let everybody have a shot at living a reasonably decent life. That for me is why we are doing what we are doing. And I am glad that others are copying it; Bayelsa state is doing it, Anambra is doing it, Osun is doing it. I look forward to the day when all the states in the federation would adopt the social security benefit scheme.

What about the old peoples’ home?

The old peoples’ home is the final. We are building the old peoples’ home in 2014. In fact, it was the initiative of the local government chairmen; they were the ones who started it before I joined them in working on the old peoples’ home, so that is certainly coming for those who don’t have where to stay.

I am aware that there are some legacy projects going on like the Governor’s Office, Government House, Civic Centre and the Pavilion. What is the state of progress on these projects? Now people are saying that the over N100 billion bonds collected from the capital market cannot be paid back in the next 100 years, what have you to say about this?

I’m sure Ekiti people are more intelligent than that and may be the people saying that are not from Ekiti, because this is public information; this is one government that thrives in openness and transparency. We went to the capital market, to raise a N25 billion bond; in December 2011, we raised the first tranche, bond comes in tranches, of that bond which was N20 billion.

That N20 billion is what we have been using for all the projects you mentioned. The balance of N5 billion, is what we are collecting in a day or two to complete the projects highlighted. So the bond is N25 billion maximum.

That is what Ekiti State has gone to the capital market to raise and it is simple. If you doubt Fayemi, if you think N100 billion has been raised, you can go to the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, and google it; SEC is a professional regulatory body and it is owned by the Federal Government; we don’t control the Federal Government in Ekiti State, you can get specific information, not just on the amount; but also on the projects, because you cannot raise a bond without specifically saying what you are going to do with the bond. And they must come and do an assessment. The projects that we are doing are palpable. They are measurable, you can see them.

Take the roads, you can actually drive anywhere in Ekiti State today; there are probably about foru five roads that are not motorable and our agenda is to make all roads motorable.

The four, five roads as I speak to you, you can go to Omuo- Isinbode- Ode-Agbado road, it is on as I speak to you. You can go to Awo-Ara-Ijero-Ipoti- Ayetoro road, it is being constructed; you can go to Esure-Eyio-Awe-Ifaki road, it is being constructed as I speak to you. Those are the roads we have not touched before, not to mention those we have done. The Government House has just been roofed and would be completed in a matter of months and it is there for all to see. The Pavilion is also been roofed. Ikogosi is finished.

In fact, over 10,000 people have visited Ikogosi in the last few days. That is to tell you that all the projects are to generate income. In Ire, the burnt brick factory in Ire is done. So if people are asking what they have done with the bond, it is mischievous.

On top of that, the bond has been used judiciously. Every month, Ekiti pays N400 million on the bond, just to answer those who said that it cannot be repaid in 100 years and that it is a debt for their sons and daughters to pay in the future; so it means that in the last two years that we have taken the bond, if you do your mathematics, you would see that we have paid over N9 billion.

That is why I say that for people who went to school, who are intelligent, who also want to govern the state, at least that is their aspiration, to be saying things that are patently false, unintelligent and illiterate and they expect Ekiti people to take them serious, when the people can see the evidence of what have been done with this money.

We have even done more with this bond money than what my predecessor and the only person who has ever done anything that can still be referred to as tangible in this state today, was Otunba Niyi Adebayo who took a bond of N4 billion but was able only to spend the first tranche of N2.5 billion. He built Ekiti House from the first tranche in Abuja for n700 million; we did a valuation of Ekiti House not quite a year ago, it was N4.7 billion, a house that was built with N700 million.

We have done the valuation of Ikogosi after the money we put in, it was doubled already. So if you don’t have a sense of what governance is all about, I think it is better to shut up rather than make a fool of yourself distorting facts.

This article was first published in National Mirror

Last modified: February 4, 2014

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