OPINION: Recent Lessons From Ekiti

May 5, 2013

THE death, eulogies and burial rendered in honour of the departed deputy governor of Ekiti State, Olufunmilayo Olayinka exposed certain aspects of Nigeria’s political system that deserve prying into, and perhaps, one or two lessons could be drawn therefrom.

Amid the sobs and outpourings were some details that might have passed as footnotes to the larger ceremony, but because there should be no end to learning, this narrative has decided to recall some of these and place same against the larger political picture, for analysts to contemplate.

Many elegies were written, in prose and verse, and they were all good. But I decided to pick just two, which were those written by Governor Kayode Fayemi and his wife, the First Lady, Erelu Bisi, for this discourse. I find it instructive, that the governor and his wife, in the midst of crying and fixing the ceremonies were able to write two detailed, but separate recollections about the woman they worked and related with between 2007 and 2013. The two pieces were distinctly separate, but they connected so easily at critical junctions of fact and history. Erelu’s only added more details, just in the effeminate manner.

The fact that those two pieces were written at all is to me, a testimony of a working relationship that went beyond the ordinary, in this same country where governors are in a hurry to offload their deputies. It was not just politics, but the blending of two, no three soul mates that did not see the game as an end, but a means to purse the most essential goal of humanity, sharing love.

In his search for a deputy to work with in 2007, Fayemi had latitude to look for someone he could work with, without some persons breathing menacingly down his neck. There were suggestions though, but the core of the business was his, to sort out a deputy with whom he could blend. Now that is strange. The impressions we have had since 1999 is that deputies are imposed, if not by some godfather, then by some weird processes, like arrangee marriages, no blending, no bonding; just two strange individuals struggling to patch up a make believe relationship.  That did not happen between Fayemi and his late deputy.  Two, three previous attempts by him to find a deputy had been fruitless, because the first two people approached had rejected the offer. How curious; that in this same clime, some persons still reject such offers. We didn’t have the details of why those two declined, maybe out of fear, because of the unfriendly political atmosphere in Ekiti then, or the feeling that they could be tasked with the burden of campaign funds. All the same, it is still an issue; that persons still show restraint when they are tempted with the possibility of political office, whether out of fear or modesty.

Now, going to meet his would be deputy for the first time, for Fayemi was like going out on a first date. He had seen her bio and he was impressed. When he saw her, he wasn’t disappointed by her looks and manners. And you know what, she gave him tough time. Mrs. Olayinka did not jump at the offer. She consulted, because she wasn’t just looking for a job. She had a good banking job and the last thing on her mind, apparently, was to go and saddle herself with some political troublemakers uptown.

Fayemi literally pleaded, because he saw what she had, intellect, beauty and manners. Just take a moment and compare that with the manner Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State and his ‘divorced’ deputy, Jude Agbaso met, at some strange and weird political meeting. The former deputy was said to have been used as a bargaining chip, by the elder (Martins) Agbaso and his camp to give Okorocha some leverage in Imo’s fluid politics. Having achieved result and finding no further use for the deputy, Okorocha worked swiftly to offload Agbaso, before he becomes a burden in 2015, when another round of bargains will begin. The man was accused of demanding bribe, but instead of asking the EFCC to professionally bring him to account, a more politically convenient way of discharging him was procured, using the House of Assembly. The man was impeached, a euphemism for giving a dog a bad name and hanging it quickly.

Or, have we forgotten how former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu liquidated his former deputy, Kofoworola Bucknor, who according to political history, was imposed on him by some elders in the former Afenifere politburo? The tough woman was disarmed and she went home sulking and took her political wares to market elsewhere. She is now in the PDP.

We also cannot forget the fate of Eyinaya Abaribe, sound and well-educated former deputy governor of Abia State. Orji Uzor Kalu, his former principal suffocated him out of office, for no serious offence other than intolerance.

So far, 13 deputy governors have been prematurely discharged ignominiously since 1999, for no serious offence. There is no respect for the office and those who often agree to serve in that position do not also wait to count the cost.

Mrs. Olayinka counted the cost. She didn’t just want to go and serve in the manner of the average politician. I’m sure she finally agreed to serve because of the calibre of the person who asked her to join him. She saw a man who embodies the details of nobility and gentility, not a principal who would lock her office and throw the key into some obscure river and ask security details to embarrass her. She deserved respect and love; she searched through the man who offered her a job and she was convinced. She couldn’t have been disappointed and that was what we all saw, for two weeks, the state was shut down, the tears flowed and her memory was engraved in hearts. Politics and humanity can blend; after all, there is enough for all.

Another aspect of the lesson is that a deputy governor is indeed, a good spare tyre. It is not derogatory, except for those who are wicked and misguided. No reasonable motorist would handle his vehicle’s spare tyre with levity, because those who do are often stranded where and when it hurts most.

Some governors are not fair to their deputies; they handle them roughly. Some aides and cabinet members also do not have high regards for deputies, because they do not sign the cheques. But one day in the affairs of men, the deputy who is lowly and scorned could get elevated to the position of a front tyre.

This is no fable. Goodluck Jonathan was a vice president and a lot of people scorned him. Some in late President YarÁdua’s Federal Executive Council did not reckon with him; some governors, particularly some from the Southsouth did not accord him the respect his office demanded as a vice president. They thought he was lame. Today, the man is our President and it is only the fear of God that will teach him to treat all men fairly, because tomorrow, it could also be another’s time to shine.

The cases in Kaduna and Taraba States are similar, but not quite. Kaduna lost a governor, Ibrahim Yakowa in an air crash. Kaduna has a history of a north/south dichotomy, so sharply divided, in ethnicity, religion and politics. The contrast is so sharp and there are no pretences about it. Once Yakowa was dead, it was like a good leap for a deputy who had been largely ignored. Those who did not accord him due respect did not expect to be well favoured in his administration.

In Taraba, Danbaba Suntai, loved flying. Today, the man is in the hospital, somewhere in Europe, on account of a plane accident. The man has been away since October 2012, but the state has been running. Reports say his deputy Garba Umar, is working hard to deconstruct the structures, at least, before his principal returns.

Apparently, Suntai never took him on some flying lessons; just in the manner governors push deputies to the far corner. Today, the man is in charge and working hard to build his own team. Part of that conspiracy is the impeachment of the Speaker of the Taraba House, Istifanus Gbana and his Deputy, Abel Diahat, to give some legislative space for manoeuvring.

Then we hear he has put on lease an aircraft belonging to the state to Arik, to generate money for the state, instead of it rusting away. Since he does not have flying tendency, let the state make some money.

Too many lessons from Ekiti. Finally, Erelu Fayemi remembered the crisp, kind voice far away on the other side of the phone, ‘I Just Want To Hear Your Voice’. That was the regular voice of a deputy governor, to the wife of his principal. They blended perfectly, two women who had no relationship until politics joined them. They shared everything, their private lives, political lives. There was enough for everyone and the space was large enough. It was not perfect, but it was a model of politics with human face, so loving and so kind. I’m not ashamed to confess that after reading Erelu’s piece, I struggled with tears. Politics without bitterness.


By Alabi Williams

This article was first published in The Guardian

Last modified: May 5, 2013

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