Its motto is “Land of Honour.” It might as well have called itself “Land of Intellectuals” instead, and it would not have been amiss; it holds the record as the state that has produced the largest number of doctorates and professors in Nigeria, notably, Professors Jacob Festus Ade-Ajayi, Nigeria’s leading living Historian who celebrated his 85th birthday on Monday, Niyi Osundare, a literary giant and ace columnist, and the late Sam Aluko, the radical-conservative (never mind the oxymoron) economist who was the brain behind the economic policies of Chief Obafemi Awolowo as Premier of Western Nigeria.
For a state which prides itself as the most bookish in Nigeria, it is an irony that one of the accusations the governor of the state, Dr John Kayode Fayemi, has had to fend off in his campaign for the forthcoming governorship election in the state on June 21 is that he is too bookish. Perhaps it is a reflection of the quality of the opposition candidates. Perhaps it is a reflection of their level of desperation, considering the almost certainty that Fayemi will retain his job in a free and fair election. The fact, however, is that the integrity and soundness of his academic background as a holder of a doctorate degree – unlike that of you-know-who – has been made to look like an albatross rather than the virtue that it is.
“I am an academic,” he said somewhat defensively in a newspaper interview the other day, “but I am also a politician; I am not an Ivory Tower academic. I am on the streets.” (The Nation, May 19).
Anyone who has been to Ekiti State since the man was sworn in as governor on October 16, 2010, following a three-and-half-year legal battle over the outcome of the April, 2007, governorship election in which Chief Segun Oni, the candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, was declared winner, will testify to the fact that Fayemi has truly been on the streets changing the fortunes of the people of the state for the better.
“I always,” he said in the interview in question, “ask anybody who raises this type of questions to do two things: read my inaugural speech on October 16, 2010 and mark paragraph by paragraph what I said I was going to do that I have not done in office.”
Ekiti, created out of the old Ondo State by military head of state, General Sani Abacha, on October 1, 1996, is one of the smallest in the country by size (2,543 square metres and 31st out of 36 states) and by population (2,737,186 million and 29th out of 36). In terms of the much depended upon revenue allocation to states from the centre, Ekiti is also near the bottom; it receives an average of N3 billion monthly compared to, say, Bayelsa which was created out of the old Rivers State in the same year and is bigger in size (8,158 square metres) but smaller in population (1,998,349) and collects 24 billion a month on average.
For a state with such a meagre revenue allocation it is a miracle that Fayemi had been able to achieve most of what he promised nearly four years ago, especially in the areas of education, infrastructural development and social security. Part of his secret is that he is one of the most urbane and cosmopolitan politicians in the land, virtues he apparently cultivated during his self-exile under General Abacha’s five-year rule.
As governor he seems to have used those virtues to attract sizeable grants from abroad to build the infrastructure that were so much lacking in the state before he took charge.
The other half of his secret is that he has been able to raise money from the capital market to deliver on his promises. For opposition candidates, this is not a good thing and they could be right; only in this case they aren’t.
The leading opposition candidate, Chief Peter Ayodele Fayose, for example, has condemned Fayemi for putting the state in debt, among his other alleged crimes against its good people. “Fayemi,” the New Telegraph (May 15) quoted him as saying, “has destroyed education, put Ekiti in debt, impoverished Ekiti people through capital flight. Nobody really wants to return APC (Fayemi’s All Progressives Congress) to power in this state. APC is like leprosy to the people.”
Ekiti may be in debt but in making his charge against Fayemi, Fayose obviously conveniently ignored the purpose of the debts and to ask whether their costs have been more than their benefits. Debts, as the Peoples Democratic Party governorship candidate knows all too well, are bad only if, as is all too often the case in Nigeria, they are incurred only to be stolen or mismanaged rather than invested wisely and efficiently. So far, no opposition candidate, not even Fayose, has accused Fayemi of kleptomania.
In any case Fayose is hardly in a position morally to accuse anyone of such a crime. After all, it was allegations of corruption against him which seemed credible that led to his impeachment by his state House of Assembly in which more than half the members belonged to his own party. This was the impeachment that led to the crisis which, in turn, provided President Olusegun Obasanjo with an excuse to impose his constitutionally dubious emergency rule on the state in October, 2006.
It is doubtful that the good people of Ekiti State would want a return to those locust years under Fayose and his PDP, a party he himself had called some of the nastiest names and even left to contest unsuccessfully for a senate seat on the platform of the Labour Party in 2007, following his terrible encounter with Obasanjo. Here it is instructive that only two weeks ago or so, the majority leader of the Ekiti House of Assembly under his administration and the commissioner of land under Segun Oni’s subsequent PDP administration, Mr Kayode Babade, defected from the party to APC.
Apart from Fayose, the only other credible opposition to Fayemi is his estranged friend and former APC compatriot and member of the House of Representatives, Chief Michael Opeyemi Bamidele. Bamidele eventually left after his apparent wish to take over from Fayemi after only one term was spurned in December, 2012, by his political bosses, including Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu whose government he had served in as a commissioner, the elderly Chief Bisi Akande, a former governor of Osun State and acting chairman of APC and, before then, chair of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and Chief Niyi Adebayo, a former governor of Ekiti. In reaction he rejected their pleas to remain in APC and instead left to join the Labour Party.
Personal ambition is hardly a vice in itself. However, it is hardly enough to persuade an electorate to change horses even after crossing the stream, in a manner of speaking. As Fayemi asked rhetorically in an answer to a question by editors of Tell in an interview in its edition of November 11, 2013, concerning his estrangement from his friend and compatriot, “What is it that we promised that we are not doing? What is in the manifesto of our party that is not being implemented in Ekiti?”
As with Fayose, it is also here instructive that when Bamidele left APC, not a single local government chairman of the party was known to have followed him to his new party.
Clearly, the most serious obstacle to Fayemi retaining his job from June 21 is the PDP’s formidable rigging machine, which threw out Chief Adebayo from the Government House, Ado-Ekiti and installed Fayose there in 2003, and Oni in 2007. And in what sounded like the party’s willingness to crank up this machine, Vice-President Namadi Sambo, during a rally in Ekiti in support of its governorship candidate last month, equated Ekiti and the neighbouring Osun with “war fronts” which the PDP must “capture” in the governorship elections coming up in the two APC states in June and August respectively.
Hopefully, the vice-president’s words were no more than the usual hyperbole of an over-excited politician on the stump. However, in case it is, the best, if not the only, way to avert a “war” in those states is for the Independent National Electoral Commission to use the Voters Card Reader machine as the best guarantee of free and fair elections. At any rate, it is safer not to take any chances.
So far INEC seems reluctant to use the machines before the general elections next year. The vice-president’s unfortunate words which he probably never meant, given his mild nature, has now made it incumbent for INEC to use those machines. With the limited number that will be required, the commission has enough time to deploy them. Indeed, INEC should seize this as an opportunity to test run them.
It is only if it does so that it will help remove any excuse for Fayemi and Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the Osun governor, to cause havoc in their states should they lose their jobs in June and August because everybody would’ve seen that the elections had been free and fair.
By Muhammed Haruna
This article was first published in The Nation on May 27, 2014
Last modified: May 27, 2014