How Unequal Treatment Breeds Resentment In Nigeria – Fayemi

February 24, 2014

Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State speaks with the WALE OJO-LANRE and SAM NWAOKO on various national issues, including the forthcoming governorship election in the state, national conference and money politics.  Excerpts:

How do you see yourself as a Yoruba in governance in the present polity?
I have always been very conscious of my identity as a Yoruba man, my identity as a Nigerian, my identity as a pan-Africanist and I have always put a high priority on culture as a vehicle for development. The Yoruba as a race have a very keen sense of culture and of history and even of political organisation. When you locate that within the context of the Nigerian state today, clearly all ethnic groups in Nigeria will talk of marginalisation in one form or another. Everybody feels marginalised because the state is not providing for its citizens. So, we all revert back automatically into our ethnic cocoons because that is one area where you think you feel best protected. You either go into the ethnic shell or you go into the religious shell because they’ve become the alternative providers of succour for our people. But, it is still escapism if we are interested in this nation that we belong to. We have enough history of integration, and I mean social integration, in Nigeria now 100 years after amalgamation, to even ignore a thought of disintegration. Yet it is an ever-present danger in Nigeria today. The more you say it is a ‘no go area,’ people must not talk about it, the more people want to talk about it. In fact, the way to demystify it, in my view, is actually to say all bets are off.

Today, no part has voluntarily left Ethiopia, in spite of a post-1991 Constitution in Ethiopia, which guarantees the right to secede. The Oromo are there; the Tigray are there; the Amhara are there. They are all there and it has served as a basis of even knotting the rather disintegrated nation together now. Not that there aren’t tensions; there are tensions but, the tensions are not based on ethnicity per se. It is more on social hierarchies, economic superiority and inferiority, and I think that is where we are in Nigeria today.

The poor in Nigeria are poor not because they are Yoruba or Hausa or Igbo; they are poor because we have a policy framework that privileges poverty over wealth creation. And once we have a framework that treats all Nigerians as citizens rather than subjects, it will be easier for us to relate across the table without necessarily putting it first that the name I hear is Igbo or Yoruba before we do things together. But, you know, for the political elite, who see that as an advantage, they will always want to promote ethnicity over class in the society. I’m not saying this to diminish the importance of ethnic background. I’m just saying that by my own training and my own experience in life, I do not think in and of itself, ethnicity is a sufficient variable to determine the trajectory a nation is going to take. If it were to be so, Somalia would be the most successful country today because it is only one ethnic group that is in the country. Yet, it is the most confused nation in Africa today.

So, what the Yoruba culture teaches you is character as beauty, Iwa l’ewa. Everything that you may be in Yoruba land, when they say ‘omo ti ko n’iwa,’ or ‘omo ti ko n’iran’.… Pedigree, character defines everything. That is why for some of us, and most Yoruba people that I know, who have come from that tradition, it is very difficult for them to do certain things because they will always be mindful of their name. ‘My name is going to go into the mud and I would destroy everything my family has worked for.’ But then, the clash of modernity and tradition is also one to contend with. You have people out there who would say ‘I don’t care a hoot about that; anything that will give me money I do. It doesn’t matter how I get it.’ So, it is very difficult for us to ignore the place of culture in national development.

And you can also look at it, the countries that were (if you like) at the same pace with Nigeria in the 60s just immediately after Independence – South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, even Brazil and ourselves – Gross Domestic Product [GDP] was at the same point in 1964. Culture has been a big factor in those countries’ development today. They’ve not slavishly embraced all that the colonial authorities left. In fact, they went back to their own history and an acculturisation process started all over which has helped them. A study published in a book Culture in Development in 1992 measured statistically how those countries have been on the upswing and Nigeria has come down. It came out clearly that culture is central factor in the economic development of all the nations. Therefore, I do not think for me, my Yorubaness, if there is anything so called, is something that I want to constantly flaunt on the faces of people but, it is my being. I am a Yoruba man before I am a Nigerian. So, the notion that I am a Nigerian before I am a Yoruba man because I want to sound very nationalistic and patriotic is a misnomer. It is a misnomer to me but, I believe that I can use my Yorubaness and the recognition of that culture to begin to address fundamental national integration issues [as key].

For us here, we came in and said this state must start having a festival of arts and culture. Ekiti has been created for 17 years; there was nothing like that. Let’s begin to connect with our roots. Let’s promote our language by using it in the early years of pedagogy for children so that, consciously and unconsciously, they begin to internalise these values. There is no doubt that there are also values that should not be internalised in our tradition and culture. We must be able to separate those values that are not fundamentally negative to human rights protection. So, for me, in Nigeria today, I still see myself as (yes as you put it) ‘a Yoruba Governor’ but, it is a democratisation process that we are confronting. And at the risk of sounding exceptionalist, there is something inherently democratic in the Yoruba culture because it resents dictatorship, even from the king. It promotes accountability and checks and balances within its political tradition. Yes it can be obsequious about age and respect for the elder, but at the same time, if the elder is not careful, he would be brought down to size. It could be a contradiction in terms but those are the values that I think have sustained us this far, and they will still have a critical role to play in our development in future.

That question came because of the national conference, the Yoruba nation, the governors and the party. How difficult is it for you as a governor to articulate the Yoruba opinion at the conference? Have you been able to galvanise the Yoruba, to really focus on an ideal for the Yoruba nation at the conference. What are we looking at?

I don’t think it is difficult because, again, when you look at our history, it has been a consistent history of struggle, of differences among ourselves, of difficulties and it has been a conscious attempt over time to organise us as a federation of states even within the Yoruba nation. If you refer to the Yoruba wars, when the Ibadans were coming here, the Ekitis knew that they could not face the Ibadans individually. That was what led to the federation of Ekitis, known as Ekiti Parapo. That was the background to Ekiti Parapo and the Ekiti Parapo further aligned with their Ijesha brothers in order to resist their own internal colonialists from Ibadan. And I think that is what has guided the Yoruba history and politics ever since. When Yoruba people talk about regionalism, it’s almost a natural thing to them to bond and then to organise in a way that they can take on an external force with their cooperative power.

Is that still there now?
I believe that it is still there. What the military did to it, we must recognise. But we need a unique sense of leadership to bring it back together. It is clearly a leadership issue but it is still there.

So, how do you resolve that because you are a critical player in the race?
I am a critical player. One of the things I’ve had to do and my colleagues have also demonstrated that…. The fact that we are even considering sending delegates to the national conference is about that resolution that we reason above a party position. We are not opposed to our party’s position. But we come to a point where we say we are not just leaders of our party members; we are also accountable to all Yoruba people. On the basis of that and without prejudice to the outcome of the conference, it may be bad; it may be a distraction, it may end up being a total failure as we had predicted in our party; but we would not have deprived our people of the opportunity to put their own position forward. That’s leadership.

But, in the articulation of the Yoruba position, you are talking about personalities who are in your party, who are top Yoruba men and women. You also have a meeting which you normally hold somewhere at Ishara or somewhere at Ijebu-Igbo or even somewhere in Lagos, to articulate a particular position, which is also meant for the Yorubas. So, what will now be the meeting point because even last week, a meeting was held in Ibadan and a number of people known to belong to your own bloc were not at that meeting? Even Senator Bola Tinubu said you were not even invited. Who would now articulate the Yoruba position?

This is precisely the point I’m making to you. Next Thursday, in that same Ibadan which has become our political capital, we will have a meeting of the Yoruba Assembly that will bring together both contending elements, if you can call them that. This is because at the end of the day, we know that charity must begin at home. So, if we don’t figure out what it is we want to go and discuss in Abuja, it may end up being a jamboree from our side. It is bad enough if it is a jamboree from the other side; planned as a jamboree, executed as a jamboree. But if we, who have an agenda and are clear about what that agenda is, refuse to then take it serious enough to say even though you have done what you want to do, this thing would develop a life of its own. You know you may have a terrible agenda and somehow fate beckons and it develops a logic of its own. And it is not impossible that this conference, as suspicious and as sceptical as we are, could develop a logic of its own. I don’t know who the leadership of the conference would be in terms of chairperson or deputy chairperson but, the reality is it is possible if, as I know that my colleagues have done, by sending our ‘first eleven’ to this meeting.

Ten people can define the character of the conference even in a 400 or 500-member conference. We see it in the National Assembly. All of us here can mention 10 lawmakers, who we know any time, they are the most articulate and will define what happens in the Senate and the House of Representatives. So, there is nothing that says that is unlikely. But in order to even prevent that sort of problem, that is why the harmonisation of the Yoruba agenda has now been placed pretty firmly in the laps of someone like General Alani Akinrinade, who cuts across.

We relate very well with him on what you call to be “my side”… I don’t have any side, but you say I have a side. And the other side too, they relate very well with him. So, as the convener of the Yoruba Assembly, it will be easy for him and I know he has been at the Ishara meeting that you talked about regularly. He’s now involved with Chief Olu Falae and Dr Kunle Olajide in harmonising the various lists that have emerged going to the conference. But, the important thing is that there is a desire on both sides for the Yoruba not to lose out and I think that is one thing that is worthy of commendation.

Beyond the South-West, your colleague, the governor of Borno State, Ibrahim Shettima, was at the Presidential Villa and he painted a very scary picture of the state of the nation, even beyond his own state. He blamed the whole thing on failure of leadership. Do you agree with him? Are you also scared?
I do not only agree with him, I think he understated the case. When I heard that statement that he made, he wasn’t playing to the gallery but he didn’t want to scare Nigerian beyond what had already happened. What he described publicly was not what he described to me privately the day he described what happened at the Air Force Base to me. I developed goose pimples when he told me what happened to the Nigerian military in the hands of the so-called rag tag people. So, when he was saying it, I could see that he was papering over what he knew. That is why I found it really irresponsible on the part of my brother, Dr Doyin Okupe. What is there to deny? Three years down the line; 100 people, on average, have died in the last one week, every day on average! In standard military parlance, any conflict where you’ve had over a thousand deaths is defined as a war. And I’m saying this to you as a military scholar now, not as a governor. If you have a conflict in which you have lost over a thousand lives, the dynamics change. Yes, you are not fighting a conventional war but clearly, the axis of attack is defined.

It is defined and when we used to have solid military, you knew what happened in 1983. A certain gentleman called Muhammed Buhari, even without orders; many of us would say that was wrong, that he didn’t wait for orders from the constituted authority, marched into Cameroun in pursuit of elements that had come to raid Borno State. He was General Officer Commanding (GOC) 3rd Armoured Division at the time. I have met a number of soldiers who had gone to serve in the Joint Task Force (JTF). My brothers, the story is not palatable. And we are indeed playing the ostrich; the leadership is playing the ostrich.

So, if you were the Commander-In-Chief, what would you do?
I’ve had cause to say this repeatedly. One is that this is not a religious war. The more we continue to describe Boko Haram as a religious war, the more we give ourselves an opportunity for escapism. It is also not an ethnic war. It is a war that has taken on different flavours. But, the most significant flavour is its economic angle that has made it easy for people who see themselves as having no future to become willing tools in the hands of these elements. The whole of that axis is un-policed; it’s ungovernable. Niger  Republic is a country of about 120 million square metres; Chad is about 130 million square meters in landmass and both are bigger than Nigeria. Chad has been at war in the last 30 years. It is still at war now, whether you call it low intensity or full scale war. Mali next door, you know what has just happened there and these elements, Al-Hakim and Al-Shabab are all integrated. And you have Nigerians, who have lived in Sudan for the better part of the last century, who still have link in Kano and Borno states; who have links in Cameroun. So, you need to study the political economy of even the war; get the strategic context right, have full intelligence. We all say that borders are porous. True, borders are porous but how come these elements don’t go into Niger easily or Cameroun or even Chad? All of these places, they have French-Nigeriens on that border for the last 40 years, since Independence. What is now worst, in that same axis is that you have the Central African Republic [CAR] that has gone up in flames. What I’m saying in essence is that you have proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the entire sub-region. So, we need, in my view, an economic-cum-security strategy to reduce the level of disaffection in the North-East, a Marshal Plan so to speak, but very well-coordinated; not a slush fund for politicians, a Marshal Plan that will take out these elements. You then need comprehensive intelligence. Part of the problem is intelligence rivalry.

My understanding is that the new person who is coming in as the Defence Minister has insisted, partly because of that, that he has to be the Coordinating Minister for National Security, not just Minister of Defence. It’s quite a strange arrangement because it will be interesting to see what his relationship would be with the National Security Adviser and it will also be interesting to see how the Service Chiefs would subordinate themselves to the coordinating minister of security. But, it has one advantage. Most of the Service Chiefs were probably Lieutenants when he was the head of the military and in the military, the hierarchy does play a role. That may help. But I do think we need a comprehensive strategy that does not just focus on law and order.

Right now, they are doing law and order but, we don’t have the capacity to do law and order; we don’t have the motivation to do law and order. People have just become sitting ducks pretty much. Our soldiers have become sitting ducks. These guys have surface-to- air missiles; they have stingers; they have tanks. They have collected our own limited weapons that we have.

They’ve run our soldiers out of town and collected their tanks, their weapons and are using the same weapons to terrorise! So, when Dr Okupe said they are on top of it, I don’t know what they are on top of because the elementary evidence before all of us is clear.

But, he also said international conventions were hampering war against terror. Why?
What international convention? The international convention that is not stopping drones from going to kill people in Pakistan? This is Nigeria. If Nigeria wants to take any step on the African continent, I’m sure nobody will challenge us. No country on this continent would dare to challenge us.

Maybe, that was in the past?
Even now. The only thing is that we have not lived up to our leadership responsibilities. If we can’t even protect our own borders, how are we going to go and protect some people outside?

This is not just accidental; we are talking three years of intensity, a decade, at least, of Boko Haram or even more than that.

In the midst of all these, your own election will come up in June and the entire focus would be on Ekiti. How do you intend to cope?

This is not the first time I’m having an election that is the focus of the whole country and even the entire world. I’m sure you know that. So, I have some level of experience of having to cope with this kind of election. But, there is an advantage to the whole world focusing on the election too and the advantage is that the back of the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] is up for scrutiny. The last election that the commission did was, by its own admission, a disaster. When they were in Ekiti recently, they could feel the palpable sense of lack of confidence in them by our people who attended the INEC stakeholders’ engagement, regardless of party. I do think it is a bit unfortunate that the election is not now really going to be about what really it ought to be about. The election is about Ekiti; what the government in Ekiti that is seeking re-election has done or has not done; what the performance rating is whether the people have enough trust in the people being re-elected. Unfortunately, by tying the Ekiti and Osun elections to a national presidential time-table, because I don’t see the connection quite frankly, I don’t see the connection in announcing an election that is eight months away from the presidential election together, except you are making a point directly or indirectly that we want you to look at these elections because there are destinies tied to these early elections. I do think INEC should be challenged. They cannot refer to the Electoral Act as a basis for doing this because they do not have to announce the presidential election until 120 days or is it 180 days before the election.

They don’t have to. So, when you do that, a signal is being sent that the national referendum starts from June 21, 2014 and hardly do you see any commentary on television and in the print media that does not tie the two elections together. Even the Americans, the assistant Secretary of State said on the television recently that they wanted to help with the 2014 election and the 2015 election. So, in the sub-conscious of everybody, these elections are linked. They are one and the same; one is just the first phase of the two-phase race; a kind of relay race! So, we don’t have a choice; we have to take it as that. As much as we would want people to know that this is an Ekiti race, it is a purely Ekiti business; it is not a national business. The 2015 February will come when it would come; the bridge would be crossed when we get there. This is Ekiti election for Ekiti people to determine whether they have enough confidence to continue with the government in office or they are not to reject the government to continue in office. Be that as it may, we are ready. We are ready because ultimately, this is going to be about the ground operations here. It is not going to be about how many soldiers and police and security agents that Abuja can import into Ekiti. It is also not going to be about intimidation or harassment of the governor and his team.

I hear many things my friends on the other side say and I find it interesting. They seem to be so confident that they don’t need to work. Somebody, who claims to be a party chieftain, says he is coming to spend N1 billion here. I’m surprised that the INEC has not invited such a person when there is a very clear clause in the Electoral Act about how much you can spend in an election. They came here and said they are going to have all the posters and billboards removed because they are a clear case of violation of the Electoral Act; you cannot start campaigning until 90 days to the election. If you can do that, it will seem to me that you can call the person who says he can spend N1 billion on Ekiti election and N1 billion on Osun election.

He must be a very rich man. Isn’t he?
Well, I’m sure. I’m sure he has more money than sense. There’s absolutely no question about that because what he doesn’t know but most people know about Ekiti is that we are the smallest of the Yoruba states, but we are the most recalcitrant. Some say stubborn but principled is the word that I will use. You can spend all the money in the world here but still end up with eggs on your face. So, I have got news for the gentleman who says he has N1 billion to spend here: We are waiting for him, for his N1 billion and for whatever else he thinks that he can bring to the table.

Could it be that you intend to match him naira for naira.?
The only thing that we have is our people. We don’t have naira for naira. We don’t have that kind of money here but we do have the Ekiti people who are very jealous of their independence. Even within the Yoruba race, they will tell you that we don’t want the Ijebu and the Ibadan to come and dictate to us here. The whole business of the Ekiti Parapo war had nothing to do with anything beyond an external aggressor coming to lord it over us here. That historical sense is still very deep here. Anyone who recalled our history very well in Ondo State would know that for the better part of that union, it was a big war until they said ‘let them go.’ In fact, the day Ekiti left Ondo, Ondo people were celebrating.

What do you think makes you a better option for the Ekiti people? What stands you out among the array of those jostling for your seat?
In the first place, no one is actually ‘arrayed’ against me yet. There is actually none, no candidate that is against me in this election yet. So, I might even walk away with the prize without any contest.

Could that be why you announced at the swearing-in of local government caretaker chairmen in the state that you would conduct council elections before December? It sounded like ‘there is no competition…’?
No. No. I gave a context to it. I said now that the legal encumbrances that prevented us from holding local government elections have been sorted out. We look forward to local government elections taking place this year. I didn’t put a date to it; I didn’t put a month to it.

Do you intend to conduct it?
Well, local government elections will be conducted this year.

So, what stands you out?
First, I campaigned on a platform. The platform I campaigned on in 2006/2007 was about a roadmap to Ekiti recovery. Ekiti was in a state of anomie when I ran for governorship here. Ekiti was very low in the statistics: education, health, infrastructure, Ekiti was totally down. When I became governor here, Ekiti had a 20 per cent pass rate in the public examination (WAEC) for secondary schools. The Ekiti University, if you can call it that (the three I used to call glorified secondary schools), had about half of its courses accredited, including the 30-year-old university. Today, Ekiti moved from 20 per cent pass rate in WASCE examination to 70 per cent. Today, all the courses at the Ekiti State University (EKSU) are accredited by the National Universities Commission (NUC). The state produced the best result in the Law School this year. And I can go on and on about that. When we go to the health indicators, you find the same thing: highest life expectancy in the country, lowest maternal mortality and child mortality rates; lowest HIV prevalence, extensive renewal of the infrastructure in healthcare and so on.
If you go to tourism, the Tribune has done so well in exposing what has happened in that sector. So, it bears no repetition for me. But, let me just say that for our tourism hub, Ikogosi, that was the home of reptiles and rodents before I became governor, to experience a surge of over 20,000 people just during the Christmas/New Year break, is not an infinitesimal development. It is significant. Today, Ekiti boasts of one of the best internal road infrastructure of any state and it was not like that before.

In addition to that, if you move to human development, Ekiti is the only state in this country today that has, apart from standard salary for its teachers, a rural teachers’ allowance of 20 per cent for teachers who are teaching outside of the urban areas; another core subject teaching allowance for those teaching Mathematics, English or Integrated Science; another 20 per cent, on top of the Teachers’ Peculiar Allowance, which is general, for everybody. These same teachers, when I became governor, their minimum wage was N8,500 but today, it is N19,300 plus all of those things I mentioned. So, if you are a teacher in Ekiti that is on Level 6 (and very few teachers are on that anyway because most of our teachers are NCE or graduates), your take-home pay is definitely enough to take you home and look after you. Ekiti is that state that pioneered the Social Security benefit scheme in the country. Of course, Bayelsa, Osun and Anambra states have joined, although Anambra placed their own bar at 70 years rather than the 65 years that we pegged it at in Ekiti.

So, on all counts, I’m going to be campaigning on what I have done, not what I will do.

And if you reduce it to party also, luckily, we’ve all had a run at it. A party had been here for seven and a half years before I came, so we can compare records. The debate can be about what was done and what I am doing. It will also be on record that the only governor, who ever came here and completed projects by his predecessor, is Governor Kayode Fayemi. And my logic is simple: it was Ekiti money used on these projects so, why [should I abandon them? Is it because I don’t want to give credit to the person who started it? I will now say no no no… that’s Fayose’s project, no way! That’s Governor Segun Oni’s project, I’m not going to touch it.

Governor Segun Oni started the dual carriage way to his home town; you can drive on it now. It’s virtually completed. So, really the records stand out, but it’s not also just about records, it’s about compassion. It’s about one’s word being one’s bond at the end of the day; it’s about a new politics without bitterness. It’s about restoration of honour. If you ask me, the one thing that I think I have done that most Ekiti people praise me for, outside of all these physical infrastructure and these tangible and palpable things that we talk about, is helping them to admit that they are from Ekiti because at a time, many of our people would rather claim that they were from Lagos or Ibadan because of the shame associated with being called an Ekiti person them. But now, at least they know that their governor is not going to go out there and put his foot in it and I will not be caught in anything that would demean the office and I would like to think that I am probably one of those public office holders who Nigerians are prepared to give the benefit of the doubt. They are not prepared to give that to many politicians, but at least here and even around the country, people know that I have not given an impression that for me, it is just about self or about what I can grab in office. It is about how to make a fundamental difference in the state and to our people. I think that stands me out.

Do you think there is a deliberate scheme to deny Ekiti of some privileges? The SURE-P intervention programme; the irrigation system, Ekiti is out of it; and even the reconstruction of roads to make them dual carriage ways. Ekiti seems to be at the receiving end. What is the sin?
I don’t want to suffer from persecution complex but, you do have a point that we have been short-changed across a whole range of developmental areas. The Federal Government has 348 kilometres of roads in Ekiti. It is one of the smallest and we are on all of those roads, apart from the Ado Ekiti – Itawure Road that links Osun State. We are responsible for Aramoko – Ijero – Ido – Usi – Ayetoro – Otun – Ifaki – Ado back again; Oye, we are the ones fixing all these roads. We are owed to date, on roads alone certified N8 billion.

The president came here about two months ago to the Afe Babalola University, and I had to raise this issue pointedly. I said, ‘look except you are telling us that we are third class citizens, we are your twin brother in Bayelsa because we were created the same day. You have an airport; you have less than a million people with N22 billion every month and we have 2.5 million people in Ekiti with N3 billion every month (if we get it but talking averagely).’ I don’t think there can be any better contrast to what obtains and our civil servants earn the same thing; the teachers earn the same salaries. We even have a larger civil service than Bayelsa State. So, this unequal treatment is what breeds resentment which a nation really doesn’t need. That is why we said for us, autonomy provides an opportunity for us to be better creative, more innovative.

No state in Nigeria is unviable. I know that there is a common saying even in the media that apart from Lagos, every state is unviable. It is absolute rubbish. Give us our independence in Ekiti, let us go hungry until we create the opportunities that would make wealth available to us and I think that is the only way we can build the nation, on the basis of competitive federalism; not this one that Abuja wants to be involved in primary school education, in roads, in healthcare. It is just a slush fund for people in Abuja and that is what we are seeing in the debate on whether $20 billion is missing: no, it is $10.4 billion, no it is $49 billion. What are we talking about?

If this conference is going to have any value, that is the only value it will have for me if it arrives at the point of certifying our regionalism, endorsing derivation, returning us back to parliamentary system, insisting on local development, including if I want to have 100 local government development areas in Ekiti; that is the prerogative of Ekiti people. It does not take us away from being Nigerians. I don’t know of any federal entity in anywhere in the world for example that has a unitary police. Not one. All have multi-level policing. Some even have university campus police which is different from town, mayoralty or even state police and once a criminal leaves his jurisdiction, he hands over to the man who runs the town police. We are the only one. So, I think we just need to be more serious with ourselves as a country.

This article was first published in The Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 24 February, 2014.

Last modified: February 24, 2014

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