“Punctuality is the soul of business, nay, of Journalism”. This is one of the basic ethics editor drills into a cub reporter on his first day in the news room.
Having learnt bitter lesson from personal experience and that of others I’d always taken care not to be caught on the wrong side of this golden rule.
However, a wave of panic and apprehension such as the unfortunate photojournalists felt assailed me as I walked into office of the Governor of Ekiti State on Monday, May 7, 2012 and was informed that the ‘Tiger’ has already settled in the lair. Tiger is the code name their security minders use to refer to governors in state houses. In this instance it alluded to Dr. John Kayode Fayemi currently in the second year of his four- year tenure, secured after three years of grueling legal duel and a judicially ordered poll rerun of the controversial governorship election in the state, of which he complained he was cheated.
“He is already in his office. He arrived some minutes ago. Yinka Oyebode, the governor’s Chief Press Secretary announced, and went on to worsen my condition as he remarked: “I think he noticed you were not at the Lodge (Government House) because I just received his text asking about you. We’ll go and see him, so you can at least say hello, but I understand the Speaker (of the State Assembly) the SSG (Secretary to the State Government) and the Head of Service are with him right now. Let me just mark the papers in the interim and then we can go up”. With that the governor’s spokesman sank back into his seat and busied himself with scanning the dailies for reports on the state government to be brought to the attention of his principal.
I consulted my wristwatch and involuntarily grimaced on noting it was fifteen minutes past nine in the morning.
I was in the state on an assignment to study a typical day in the life of the governor. My brief covers observing him both from home and at work. So, save for invading the privacy of his official residence, I was supposed to have started the day’s activities with him the moment he stepped out of his inner chamber. I’d been advised that the governor’s day normally started about eight when he had breakfast and prepared to leave for office. Usually he arrived the office between 8.30 and 9.00 am, because he may spend some time attending to early visitors, including political associates on matters best settled outside office hours. But, here I was at 9.15am yet to even set eyes on the object of my mission. How do I fill the missing gap in my report? I brooded, feeling the mission doomed from start.
But my feeling of embarrassment was only slightly alleviated by the absence of any sense of guilt or culpability for the circumstance at hand. I had arrived Ado-Ekiti the state capital, the night before and checked into a hotel not far from the Governor’s lodge.
The understanding was for me to expect a chaperon to fetch me early in the morning as I was sure to be denied access without a familiar officer to conduct me through the strict security protocols of the Government House. Because of the crucial nature of the assignment, I did not enjoy a sound sleep, as I intermittently woke up severally through the night in order to be up early. By six, I had showered, ordered breakfast and settled to reading while waiting for the one to pick me. I became worried after over an hour of wait by which I’d even dressed up and set with my notebook and tape recorder nobody showed up. Agitated, I tried severally but unsuccessful to put a call to the governor’s media aide, Oyebode. When finally we linked up about 8.30 am, he had a car drive me straight to the governor’s office, with an explanation that it was late to catch the governor at home as he would already be leaving for work at about that time. Despite the furious racing, Governor Fayemi’s convoy was a few minutes ahead of us. Later I was to learn to my chagrin that I missed a weekly ritual in which the governor reviewed a colourful parade and guard of honour mounted by police officers in ceremonial dresses on alighting from his official vehicle at the entrance of the magnificient Governor’s office. He did that only on Mondays and the ceremony barely lasted two minutes, my source informed me. Thereafter, he stepped into the expansive foyer of the complex and climbed briskly to the first floor of the edifice where he has his office amidst a rampart of armed police security details.
‘Never A Dull Moment Here’
Soon Oyebode was done with his task. He then led the way to the governor’s room on the upper floor after getting me a special visitor’s tag that allowed my admittance through various swathes of protective cordon for the chief occupant of the building. The location of the governor’s own room in relation to those of his staff in the structural layout confesses to an architectural genius that primes his personal safety in the event of any risk or trouble. To get to his ante-room, the visitor has to pass through a labyrinth of offices and corridors where he is repeatedly stopped, quizzed and/or frisked at every turn by State Security Services (SSS) operatives and uniformed policemen.
When you finally emerge from this maze you enter the waiting room, where another set of plain-clothe security men and the governor’s orderly kept the guests company. The governor’s secretary’s office separates this room from the governor’s. As you settle into one of the exquisite sofa, you surmised the architect must be a skillful chess game player who knows just how well to position and shield his queen on the chessboard against attack.
I was allowed in with only my notebook, my phone having been temporarily confiscated at one of the security points, where visitors including some commissioners and government officials were made to submit all electronic devices. The measure, I was informed was to forestall espionage or distraction. But, I noticed the CPS was allowed to keep his own phones and asked why. He explained to me that he was one of the few aides to the governor privileged by virtue of their duties to hold on to the gadgets. “You know, I could be with Oga and he asks me to call some people for him depending on the matter at hand”, he explained.
I was anxious to save my mission from becoming a flop and so requested for the governor’s itinerary for the day, while hoping his meeting with his “war council” would end soon. It was not ready yet, one of the officers, who went to consult with the secretary, returned to inform us. After a little longer wait, a man I recognized as Dr. Ganiyu Owolabi, Secretary to the Government stepped out alongside three other persons who Oyebode identified to me to be the Speaker, Dr. Adewale Omirin; Mr. Bunmi Famusayo, Head of Service and Hon. Dapo Karounwi, Special Adviser on Legislative Matters stepped out and departed.
We sat watching the giant screen LCD on the office wall as the traffic of people we met grew light as they took turns to go in and see the governor. Among them were Works Commissioner, Sola Adebayo, the Minority Leader and Minority Whip in the state Assembly.
As the latter duo were ushered out of the office after a prolonged discussion two ladies and a young man identified to be children of former deputy governor of old Ondo State who died recently and was buried the previous Friday, the late Chief Akin Omoboriowo walked in and were immediately allowed in. I was told they came to thank the governor for the support and role the state government played in their late father’s funeral at the weekend. The deceased politician hailed from Ekiti which was later carved out of the defunct Ondo State.
I was eventually ushered into the presence of the governor at about 11.38am. This Tiger’s lair is the size of one huge hall with Governor Fayemi seated on a table positioned at the middle. Facing the door on the far left a conference table and gilded chairs. Two flex prints with life-size photographs of Fayemi and birthday messages congratulating him stood at the corners of the airy ambience.
We waited at the door for the governor to dismiss a rotund dark-complexioned middle aged woman with an oasis of grey on her head and a man later introduced to me as his Special Adviser, Governor’s Office, Chief Akin Fasae, who were with him.
‘Toyosi Omope: Five Governors And Still Counting’
The woman was the first to leave. As she made towards us, she gave a warm smile and turning to the CPS she chided in mock indignation. “Won’t you introduce us? (pointing to me). Afterall, we are to work together today”. I smiled back at Mrs. Toyosi Omope and told her how much pleased I was to formally meet her.
Mrs Toyosi Omope is perhaps the only secretary who has served five governors. She was secretary to Governors Adebayo, Fayose, Olurin, Oni, and now Fayemi. Oyebode who I had grown fond of calling sake (we bear the same first name) had earlier pointed out the governor’s powerful secretary to me on one of the few occasions he peeked into the waiting room and had obviously hinted her about my presence and mission too. We broke off after saying further pleasantries and noticing the governor has finished with Fasae.
Dr. Fayemi rose to welcome me, flashing his trademark genial, gap-toothed grin as I tried to cover the long gap between the door and his table. It was the third time I was meeting the governor at such a close up level. The first was when he hosted me along with a few journalists to a dinner at his Idi-Ishin private residence in Ibadan, Oyo State on the eve of the launching of a book promoted by the Afenifere Renewal Group and Yoruba Academy of which he was one of the spearheads about two years ago. The occasion had facilitated a reunion between me and two former colleagues now based in United States- Wale Adebanwi, a Professor of African Studies at the University of California, Davies, USA and Remi Oyeyemi, ex-editor of The News Magazine who was forced to exile in Uncle Sam’s country by the heat of Abacha’s dictatorship in the middle 90s. I have also had an interview with Fayemi while he was in the trenches battling to reclaim his stolen mandate and had on one or two occasions been part of a teleconference he had with reporters at the other end during the struggle.
I noticed a flash of recognition registered on the governor. As we pumped hands, he threw Oyebode an “I-told-you-so”, look which was meant to confirm his suspicion that I must be an old acquaintance when I was earlier discussed. But the governor’s aide corrected his boss that he has confirmed from me that I was not the same person he had thought I was. As it were, the governor had in mind another person with the same name who read philosophy from the University of Lagos and who incidentally was my own old childhood friend and neighbour in Ebute Metta, Lagos, back in the 80s.
But the governor was sure he knew me too. I confirmed he was right in his guess, filling him in on our past meetings and saluting his power of recall in spite of the ensuing communication gap and the number of people he must have met since then.
I expressed regrets at my not being at the Governor’s lodge that morning and explained the warranting circumstance. He showed understanding but said I could still have things to report especially if I stayed till the next day when he is scheduled to inspect some projects in town.
“How about today, sir? “ I asked.
The governor’s response plunged me into the pit of disappointment and despair. “Ah, I’ll be busy indoor. I have all these files that I must treat. There is quite a pile of them”, he said, leaving me wondering what I would be doing with the idle hours before me and how to explain the extension of my brief to suit the original purpose in my report.
I took leave of the governor after it has been agreed that we would meet by six pm, when he would have become less busy to grant an interview and resumed my watch at the outer office I spent the time watching live broadcast of the House of Representatives probe of the near collapse of the capital market even as a firm instruction was passed to the security men that the governor would not receive any visitor. Some commissioners and officials who came were firmly, but politely turned back by Mrs. Omope. At about 3.00pm, however, Fayemi’s deputy, Mrs. Funmilayo Olayinka, breezed in. She spent about 40 minutes consulting with her boss and then left.
By four in the afternoon, I felt a riot in my stomach and weighed the risk of leaving my post to find a late lunch. But, most providentially, Mrs. Omope came in the nick of time and asked her assistant to serve me tea and biscuits. However, rather than quell the hunger, the fare seemed only to incite the placard-carrying greedy worms into a fiercer revolt. No longer able to bear it after about 30 minutes, I was forced to take an excuse from the governor’s secretary and hastened to one of the local bukaterias adjoining the governor’s office to quaff a plate of Eba and Egusi soup. I’d asked Mrs. Omope if the governor has had his own lunch. “No”, the secretary said, “He only eats corn, when it is in season. He eats once but usually later in the day”.
Returning from lunch, I was turned back by the governor’s security officers who insisted I must again be accompanied by the Chief Press Secretary to be let in. I found that curious and overzealous on their part, considering that we’d been together all day and were informed of why I had to go out.
I went to his office downstairs, to wait for the CPS, who, I was told, was attending some meetings chaired by the deputy governor. He returned about 7 p.m and together we went to see the governor. This time, we met a crowd of officials at the outer room, also seeking an audience with him. They included: Women Affairs Commissioner, Mrs Fola Richie-Adewumi, her counterpart in the ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Mrs. Eniola Ajayi, Mr. Bbajide Arowosafe, (Agriculture); Mr. Paul Omotosho, (Environment) as well as the Director General of the State Job Creation Agency, Mr. Folorunso Aluko.
There was also a three- man team of professors from Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, who were on appointment to discuss the blueprint of a programme in Strategic Studies which Dr. Fayemi developed and wanted included as part of the university’s curriculum.
Instinctively, I knew it would be late before I could see the governor. But I never reckoned it would be such a long wait of six hours as it turned out. One after the other, the rest left -the Women Affairs Commissioner at ten past eight o’clock, the Education Commissioner at fifteen minutes to ten pm. The hands of the clock kept crawling 10 pm, 11pm. By midnight only the Agriculture Commissioner, the three profesors, myself, Oyebode and the governor’s security details remained.
At last, at exactly twenty minutes to 1.00am, the governor called for us, after the others had left. We met him still poring over some files. As we entered, he again stood up, threw up his arms, with an apologetic smile on his face. I noticed he did not have his Awolowo cap on. The head dress lay on his massive desk, suggesting he must have been working hard. He suggested we postponed the interview till breakfast the next morning, not because he was fatigued but to allow him clear his desk. I gladly accepted as I confessed I was already dog-tired merely keeping vigil on him. As Oyebode drove me back to my hotel, I could not help wondering where the governor derived the incredible energy to stay up so late and still report for duty 8.30 the next morning!
‘This Governor Not The Partying Type’
But that is a routine those working with him are accustomed. “We don’t have a definite closing time”, a security aide with Michelin built had told me in a chat. “Sometimes we are here till between 1.00am and 2.00 am. There was a day, we left the office only for him to go and attend a meeting at the Deputy Governor’s Office. Our people call us late hours and are surprised we are still in the office at such odd hours. But that doesn’t mean he won’t wake up by 5.30. It’s not that you’ll knock his door and he hasn’t dressed up, with his eyeglasses in place” the body guard said.
And how did he know that? I pressed. “I know because if you send him text by 5.30 when we might have retired, he will reply you almost immediately. For instance, when we have emergencies, such as fire incidents, robberies, assassinations or communal conflicts, we have to brief him on the security situation and whether he needs to come or not. For example, there was a night fire gutted the School of Nursing, we called him about 5.00 am and we were not surprised to find him up. The day Ewi’s (of Ado-Ekiti) palace had a fire incident, we had just closed in the office at about 1.30 am, he wanted to go and visit the place immediately, but we told him not to bother, that everything was under control because the fire has abated. So, because everything revolves round him as the chief executive and chief security officer of the state, he monitors everything.”
Governor Fayemi, his aides also told me hardly attended parties or social occasions, on weekends, except on rare occasions such as chieftaincy installations, where his official presence was required. Even so, he often left the ceremonies only to drive straight to the office to do some work, the security aide disclosed, stressing that this was also the pattern on public holidays.
But the governor’s schedule could sometimes be daunting and hectic especially if he has engagements outside the state, straining the capability of his security team. Said another security man: “Sometimes we have to divide ourselves into three units-some will be in Abuja, Lagos and Ekiti. Like last Saturday, when he did inspection of projects in the state, he moved to Ibadan and then to Lagos. The next morning to Benin (to commiserate with Governor Adams Oshiomole on the death of his slain aide) and from there to Ibadan and Osogbo before we finally returned home. As he came in, the HOAS are waiting for him at a meeting.
“When he has meetings to attend at Abuja and the meeting is concluded early enough, say by 2.00pm, he will quickly return while his brother governors stay back. From Abuja he arrives Akure by 3pm. When we go to pick him, we prepare in two ways. He is going either to the office or home to continue work or attend to visitors –commissioners or politicians already waiting to see him…. No room for contractors”.
Sometimes the pressure from a daily throng of members of the public, party men, youths and associates seeking one favour or the other from the governor is so much that a plan was devised to have aides such as his chief of staff, CPS or the security agents deal with, at their level, said an aide: “Much as he is a people’s governor and likes to meet their needs, not everybody can see him. Here, we see a lot of visitors- expected and unexpected, those who need school fees, jobs and several with other problems or seeking financial assistance for a musical CD or book they want to publish. We ask them to reduce their requests in writing and they will all get to him. Some he refers to the relevant commissioners or the Chief of Staff, who then handle them. Still, he has to read and minute on intelligence reports we send him from time to time, because we don’t just manage his immediate physical environment, but what’s going on in the entire state”.
I was also told that whenever he traveled the governor always had “Ghana must Go” bags packed full of files, mails and other documents in the boot of his vehicle, while he treated some others occupying the back seat with him!
Why does Fayemi want to break his back for the state so? A top source says he does not blame the governor for being so finicky. “You know some civil servants. They like to stack up the files so much, so that he probably won’t have the time, or be able to go through the submissions and ask questions. But, he is a very careful and meticulous person”, the source said.
The governor, Oyebode disclosed extends similar attitude to speeches written for him: “You can’t write a speech for him, without his adding or altering some things. You won’t believe it, but he typesets his speeches on his laptop, which is always by his bedside if it is urgent. So, you must not only be physically strong, you must be intellectually sound and have technological expertise to work with him. You must know how to use laptop or black berry, because he is constantly sending you texts and mails on what he wants done” said Oyebode.
The governor, I understand, also does not appear to have a daily exercise regimen. So, how does he manage to keep looking atheletic and fit as he does? Oyebode explains that he participates in a once a month keep fir exercise that he also makes compulsory for all state functionaries, who all gather at the stadium on the said day to do work-outs.
I asked His Excellency later at our breakfast interview, how he got the strength to cope with the punishing schedule. He attributes it to his nature as “a not-so-social person”. His words: “There are people who would in fact, regard me as anti-social. I attend social functions because of the nature of the work I do. You must be people’s person to be in public office, but I’m sure because I grew up as the youngest in the family and I was the one that remained when my siblings had got married, there was a part of me that was very comfortable in my own company. So I have no issues dealing with being alone. That also forced certain life style on me –reading, writing, reflection. Things that do not naturally sit well with somebody that is a public personnel. For example, when I first came into politics, many people do not know who I was, in spite of the fact that I was very active in political movement right from my younger days. I was not the typical activist who had the prominence that the media associate with activism. So, I would say it’s more to do with understanding who I am and being able to deploy my God- given talent in a productive way.”
‘My Wife, My Sparring Partner’
Fayemi’s new life as governor has been helped by the understanding his wife, Erelu Olabisi Fayemi, who, I understood, equally keeps a similar regimen as Chairman of the State Committee on Culture and Tourism and sometimes closed as late as 10.00pm too.
Oyebode, who once served as media aide to the First Lady before being redeployed to the governor’s office as CPS says: “Other workers used to ask me to talk her into closing. Her reply usually was: “If you want to go, you can go. So, you too want to join the civil servants and I tried to tell her that it’s not about me, it’s about you taking a break to rest. If ever she was persuaded, she’d say, okay, we’ll go, when I finish what I am doing and when she leaves, she’d still take her laptop along to continue the work when she gets home”.
Has this not killed romance and close family life? “Naturally”, the state’s helmsman agreed: “If you spend 16 to 18 hours in a day at work, you clearly don’t have as much time as you would normally have with your spouse in terms of doing what you used to do as a young couple. I’ve been married now for 23 years and it’s clearly not that hot and heavy romance as the earlier years. And we are both middle aged confronted with the challenge of public office. Don’t also let’s forget that I have a wife who is also married to public service herself. So there is nothing that I do now that is strange to my wife. Even as an activist. At times we used to exchange domestic notes at airports. But, the most important thing is to devote some of the quality time to family when you are in this type of situation, although you are always told you’re public property”.
Fayemi pays tribute to his wife for her support and role in the success of his government. He described her as his intellectual sparring partner and “the much more passionate activist” between both of them. Said he: “Our house is a philosophy seminar class, Political Science, Gender Studies Class. Most of time I will give her greater credit of being a better politician and if given a chance, she will be a great president or governor. She is commited to what she does and also to project my political career with great effect. I hardly attend social functions, I’m happy that she’s there, I can always deploy her to do that for me and she is very effective. And as a governor’s wife, she’s been very active. First ladies as they are called are supposed to be seen with beautiful headgear, lace materials and all that. They are not supposed to be intelligent, they are not supposed to have an opinion, they are not supposed to be heard and she has refused to abide by all that strictures that you put on those who occupy that position because for her, she doesn’t believe that her view should be silenced, simply because she is the wife of the governor. And I agree, as I often said to our people here, actually you are getting two for the price of one because what she brings to the table, very few wives of governors bring that much passion to the job, because this it something she has done for the past two decades, working with women, projecting women working in public life, insisting on women’s right and looking for ways to empower women in the various spheres. She’s done quite a number of things in this regard and she’s responsible for my having a woman as my deputy. She is responsible for the number of women we have in Ekiti State House of Assembly, we have four women now. She is responsible for the number of women we have in the cabinet and she’s my greatest critic. She would tell me things people are saying outside that some of my own aides will not have the courage to tell me. She basically will call the drivers, the cooks and ask them what are people saying about me, including people on the streets and they’ve come to know that she will do that. I cherish that support”.
Yet, one question begs for answer from this work bug, an academic in government, does he still have time to read? If he does, what manner of literature? His response surprises me: “I read because it’s important to me to learn from the lessons of those who have come before me. Most time I travel, my car is full of either my official files or books on important peoples. There was actually a time I was reading four or five books differently. People around me see that as strange but I’m reading them for different reasons. I’m reading a book now by Frank Chikin, he is a South African political activist who served as the closest minister to President Thambo Mbeki. He was the Minister of State. So, he gives his own insight about how president Mbeki was taken out of office in South Africa. He entitled the book: ‘Eight Days in September’. At the same time, I’m reading a book by Dimgba Igwe and Mike Awoyinfa on one of the most fascinating figures in journalism in Nigeria and then moved to political office, Aremo Olusegun Osoba. At the same time, I’m reading another book by President (Barrack) Obama’s sister, Homa, on how her brother got involved in politics, the role she played, how they first met and how she introduced him to the family back in Kenya. You could notice that there is a trend in all these books. They are either political biography or journalism, or history, both contemporary and ancient history. I take time to read a lot of work on public policy as well, because one of the things I’m doing right now is preparing for a programme that we’re establishing at the state university on Peace and Strategic Studies, that is my area of scholarship and naturally, I want to keep abreast of what is going on in that area, even as I still focus on substantive issues of government”.
An early morning downpour that continued till noon aborted the governor’s planned outing. But, I did not feel that I have missed anything as I departed the governor’s office on Tuesday. There was hardly anything to add, with what I had heard, seen and experienced in the last 24 hours, except, perhaps the echo of Oyebode’s remark as he saw me to the door. “Superficial people only see the frills and glamour about the office of governor. They envy governors as they go on the streets in a convoy. They don’t know the immense challenges and pains the people suffer”, the govenor’s image maker said. Although I knew that statement was intended as a PR payoff point for my benefit, I could not help, but agree with the observation. Except that any generalization could be false. Certainly, there are governors who imagine that holding a scepter in his hands, without exercising the obligations attached to the office alone makes one a king. I know of a former governor of a state in the South West who while in power filled the working hours with hedonistic indulgences. Once I had an opportunity of interviewing him as late as 10.00pm, the avuncular politician, notorious for flamboyant dressing and lifestyle kept taking swigs from a bottle of liquor tucked out of view behind his table. It was obvious he had been on the drinking binge since he resumed work early in the morning, with his bleary eyes, slurred replies to my questions and occasional belch reeking of foul alcohol.
I don’t envy Governor Fayemi and his hardworking wife. But I certainly do envy the people of Ekiti State for having a couple with kindred spirits of love, sacrifice, zeal and commitment to the task they have assigned them.
By Yinka Fabowale
This article was first published in Sunday Sun on May 20, 2012.
Last modified: May 26, 2012