A Journey Within A Journey: A Review Of Regaining The Legacy

October 29, 2013

For those who read his autobiography, Out of the Shadows, nothing strange has happened. For his book about his formative years and his entanglement in the battles for democracy and justice in his fatherland foreshadowed a life that some authors familiarly characterised as the unfinished life. He ponders in that book whether he is not too young to write his life story, knowing full well, that his odyssey has only probably just begun. In the words of the poet Thomas Mordaunt, “one crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name.” He has experienced episodes of glory.

Like the sort of thrill, and some may call vainglory, that triggered such epochal men of history like Jean Jacque Rousseau and St. Augustine to confess their epic personal and ideological stories, Dr. Kayode Fayemi thought that he had lived, in barely four decades, what many would have called a full life. He wrote it as somebody who had just jolted himself out of the shadows. Out of the shadows of a military authoritarianism. Out of the shadows of a tormented and tormenting exile. Out of the shadows of fear and gallantry. Out of his own shadows of privations, democratic comradeships with fellow travelers in the perils of exile. Out of the shadows of his own past, of Radio Kudirat, of the ominous overhang of Abacha’s gulag.

He has over the past decade after the diminution of Abacha’s dream and the resurgent light of democracy recast himself in another incarnation. This time he morphed from an activist into a man of power. As if he had to play out that activist destiny to affirm his trajectory to the pedestal of governor, his mandate took on the nature of another heist like the June 12 mandate he had to fight and risk his life for.  His victory in the April 2007 governorship poll was swindled from him, so the activist defaulted again to the trenches to unleash more salvos, and this salvo called not for exile or the retreat to the shadows. It was his own mandate that was in the shadows. He had to do what the Yorubas call Ijaigboro, a frontal battle where the faultlines were stark and dark. And in the odyssey some faithful fell, some faithful fell out of grace, some faithful lost their first love. He also sometimes suffered the angst of the solitude of the long distance runner.

But the foe was strong and trenchant, full of guile and dagger, and the battle took place in the courts, but the court battle took on silhouettes on the streets like killings, protests from half naked women,  the atrophies of ballot boxes, the narrative of a man whose could have been arise but could not stand – no pun intended.

It was a battle of clashes and silences, of deferred hope in which sometimes the very strong lacked conviction. In the end, when victory came, it was as if it did not come. Many acted as those who were afraid of their own happiness. It reminds one of the song, now that we’ve got love what are we going to do with it.

He became Governor KayodeFayemi, a description that took yours quickly quite a struggle to come to terms with, even though I personally inherited quite  a few of his antagonists even among most esteemed colleagues of the pen because of my occasional interventions in the epic tempest.

It is fitting that after a life in the shadows, and ascension to the high throne of governor, his ultimate goal is to pursue a legacy, to ensure that his tour of duty does not fall out of the bright sunshine into the shadows. That would have been the ultimate irony of the most savage kind, to fight for a vision while out of the shadows only to govern without any legacy worthy of a place in the sunshine. This very venue, I daresay, speaks to the power of endurance of memory, and it is in such spirit that he has titled his book, Regaining the legacy.

The book is a collection of his speeches, and going through the book, you get the sense of a man in an odyssey, a restless picaresque enthusiasm that moves in eclectic trajectories. Regaining the Legacy comprises 28 chapters, each chapter devoted to one public intervention. The venues are as much a journey as the intellectual engagement of the speeches. Most of them take place this year, whether it is the speech in Harvard where he tells his story from his activist days to the present of legacies, or his fellow feeling with his Yoruba folks in Canada or at Chatham House in London, or whether in Nigerian academic circles like the speech at the Pan African University in which, both in rhetoric and thought, he soars like anyone in the ivory tower. Or here in Ekiti State, where he recalls with poignant nostalgia the M.K. O. Abiola legacy in the aftermath of the June 12 struggles.

This is certainly a book of many themes. He looks at the nature of struggles as an activist, and this a theme that shines through virtually every theme and topic he engages. From this he seems to be aware of the moral burden of his past. If he fought for this society of legacies, he must as what Theodore Roosevelt calls the man in the arena, translate all those years of blood and tears and idealism into the heres and nows of fulfillment. As he himself quotes in his speech at the 80th anniversary of his alma mater, Christ School Ado –Ekiti, Franz Fanon said, “Each generation must discover its mission, and fulfill it or betray it.” From his writings, it is quite clear he confronts the epic battle of not betraying his mission.

Yet, we cannot escape the fact, that Governor Fayemi does not fail at any time, while addressing issues whether when he addresses an audience even in Kenya that he has done good in Ekiti State, whether in the laptop per student programme, his setting the pace for other states in instituting the welfare scheme of N5,000 a month for the elderly or his agriculture empowerment programmes, or his foray into a large-scale infrastructure renewal, or modernization of rural reaches of the state.

He also writes about governance, and his ideological position, and this is another theme that penetrates everything he says. He writes about bridging the gap between the elite and the ordinary people. The government cannot assume that it knows what the people want more than they do. So the people must reckon in this vision and its implementation. This sort of vision again comes to the fore even when he examines the donor world in the Open Society Institute in Ghana where he draws attention to the alienating generosity of donation and its capacity to denude the people of their sovereignty. He seems to be saying, “You cannot take my pride from me because you put food on my table.”

So he connects his community empowerment programme in this context, and each village has its cheque to do what they want for themselves.

Even when he makes the case for the national question, a debate raging today, he recalls that politics and policy must take its root from our sense of community and the village square sentiment.  As democracy goes, this classic is rooted in what scholars call the Greek city states.The struggle between the vast national question for equilibrium of interests must chime in with the various strata of society. Hence he asserts, quoting Lenin, about the “possibility of waging both a class and national struggle together at once.”

You cannot miss out in this book his speech to the Verdant Zeal Marketing Cmmunication’sInnovention Series, where he waxes philosophical on the subject of rebranding Nigeria, in which he asserts that the values are the precondition for any branding, and that is why he asserts that “most Nigerians expressed the position that the problem (with Nigeria) was with the brand and not with rebranding.”

Other than politics, governance, activism, he also engages piety, not only in his soulful tribute to the late Arch Bishop Joseph Adetiloye, but also in his letter to the new Pope Francis as well as his address to the Apostles of the Marketplace. All three are fascinating. His letter to the new Pope has the resonance and flashes of St. Paul, himself an intellectual,in which Dr. Fayemi interlaces the personal with the pious and philosophical. More potent to me is the address of the apostles of the market place, a name that amuses him. Are they apostles in a metaphoric sense in which case they could be Christian apostates or even atheists? Or are they Christians who are neo-liberal economists. On reading the speech, it was clear he was addressing Christians in love of capitalism. But what struck me was his blend of the personal and communal. He berates the obsession with materialism and jettisoning of thepuritanical grandeur of holiness in the past.

The rigour of intellectual forays did not forget the personal, whether it is tribute to BekoRansomeKuti, or to the towering image of GaniFawehinmi, we cannot but see that the author cruises home with full realization that all we do, whether in the lofty mountains of national questions or battle-fraughtvalleys of civil society engagements, we are, at bottom, human. Hence we see him pay tributes to two important women in his life, his wife Labisi whom he calls a renaissance woman and his late deputy, Mrs. Funmi Olayinka. On Mrs. Olayinka he tells the story of their meeting, and the growth of mutual respect and struggle together and how her struggle with cancer was an integral narrative in her public struggle. It comes across as a tender story of humanity that undergirds all we do. That is, in the final analysis, every struggle has its human end and apotheosis.

For his wife Labisi, the self-confessed detached and cerebral man in the arena cannot escape spilling well-hidden emotions of love and affection for a wife who is also a fellow traveler both intellectually and in the public good. He documents, as he does in Out of the Shadows, her domestic` heroics, and their picaresque narratives as lovers and family.

This is a book I recommend for its sincerity, and depth and study in governance on the go. The weakness? The book suffers from an evenness of tone. For a public officer who meets various audiences, we tend to see the same cerebral and linguistic temperament. I would have expected a less intellectual outlay in his June 12 remembrance. But that perhaps is compensated for, if insufficiently,by his tributes to both his wife and late deputy. Well, an intellectual will always be an intellectual.

The book is an accolade to a rare feat for a governor in active service who has not delegated his writings to another person or a coterie of speech writers as many do. It is obvious that this is a man who would not let another take his glory, so he has devoted his energies and mind, with lucubration, to a jealous telling of his legacy. And other than his roads and schools and welfare programmes, etc, telling his story is another way of telling his legacy. If you like, you can call it the poetry of poetry. Congratulations.

 By Sam Omatseye


Last modified: October 29, 2013

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