Ekiti state governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, recently hosted a team on journalists during which he fielded questions on issues in his state and the state of the nation. Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, presents excerpts:
How do you see your recent endorsement for a second term in office by some leaders and groups in your state?
It is a humbling experience. I was not a party to what they did. I have not announced to anyone that I am running for a second term. I think I just have to take it as a fact of political life. I think we are only midway into the tenure. Some politicians may intend to do that kind of thing, midway into their tenures. But for me, I still have a long way to go to fulfill the promises I made to the people.
Many of the promises are being fulfilled. Some have not been fulfilled to the level I would have loved to see by midterm. But essentially, we still have a lot of work to do. Politics will happen; it is a fact of life. But governance should not be sacrificed on the altar of politics.
What are the major constraints that have slowed down some of your projections?
One of the first things I learnt in graduate school and also read in one of Chief Awolowo’s books is that educated people are easy to govern, but very difficult to manage. The reason is simple. Everybody knows what is going on. We are 2.5 million people working in this state and you can almost reach the conclusion that those 2.5 million people are up to the task of assessing you as governors themselves. They all have opinions on what the governor is doing well and not doing well; how he should handle a particular issue and how he is not doing that.
I don’t want to jump into the conclusion that that does not occur in other places too. But I think there are few places that are as challenging to run as Ekiti State. Because the resources are also very limited, you are bound to have difficulties. I have just met with the Council of Obas and taken a very tough decision that most governors avoided before now. You can call it a folly on my part or courage, depending on which side of the pendulum you belong to. There were communities that have been agitating for autonomy in this state for so long. Past governors had avoided it because of the political implications in communities that did not want them to be independent and in communities that are becoming independent.
But we discovered that every process that ought to have been followed had been followed. Some of these communities went as far as the Supreme Court and judgments had been given. Yet, previous governments had been reluctant to do anything about it. I granted those communities autonomy. Of course, within those communities, there were joy and gratitude. Interestingly, the communities they were leaving are, politically speaking, larger communities; more populated and more damaging, if I don’t manage that situation properly. It is not a bread and butter issue. It is not about putting structures in schools or tarring roads.
Within a period of one month, they started calling me ‘Governor Autonomy’. I have been taken to court by one of the communities. We made pledges to the people. They never believed that any governor could come and fulfill them, especially paying benefits to elderly people.
The elderly people would say ‘He doesn’t know me and he gave me money, I don’t understand it.” Having done that for one year now, they know that we are serious. A laptop per child initiative in secondary school is unprecedented. Akwa Ibom is not even doing it. Delta and Rivers are not doing it. This is the only state in Nigeria that gives computers to secondary school students. You will see a lot of computer laboratories in other states, but not one laptop per child that we do here. As people have come to believe that government can be trusted, I think it is a critical component of reclaiming governance in Nigeria.
Damage has been done to the social contract between the governed and the government.
The governors have failed to fulfill the pledges made to the people. The people have deserted the government. When you desert government, charlatans take over and they cannot be controlled and you have yourself to blame for disconnecting from affairs that should concern you. I really think that is the greatest challenge. It was last week that I described my state as the most prolific rumour mill in the country.
And the opposition has asked you to apologise for the remark…
I have nothing to apologise for because people have a way of getting clarifications, but they don’t explore it. The social media, which is uncontrolled, should be a tool for empowering people. It has become something else. A lot of falsehood is being peddled on facebook. Newspapers will never do that because there are standard rules of ‘who, where, when, why, what and how’ that must be answered. Some people put it on the facebook that you are not well and your family is sent into panic. Many people will start to call you to verify.
The jokers, the entertainers who call themselves the opposition in my state, who asked me to apologise, said I had been airlifted on an emergency. The previous day, people saw me at a public event. They put it on the internet and people were commenting on it. They said my deputy had resigned. Are there no processes for reaching government? These are the kind of things I was referring to. In serious journalism, facts are sacred, opinions are free. Not anymore in the social media.
I had read a feature article on the health status of somebody who wanted to resign as the basis for cabinet reshuffle or some other things that are bound to happen in Ekiti. It is just bizarre. Even, as a public officer, I don’t deserve to be abused. I don’t deserve to be insulted. I wrote something on vision and mission a few weeks ago. I said that, for public officials, this period has become reminiscent. I am not unmindful of the fact that the populace are very angry with us, and rightly so. If governance does not improve my life, I have a duty, even if it is not correct, to blame somebody for the suffering I am encountering.
But most of these malicious stuffs on the social media are actually engineered. Some are from the opposition. Some are also planned. So, serious public officers now have a rapid response team for the social media. It is distracting, I must confess to you.
To what extent have you been distracted by all this?
Let me give you an example: from the eve of Christmas to the first week of the New Year, I received over a thousand text messages over the story I told you. ‘We learnt that the deputy governor is sick.’ We heard that you have been airlifted’. I said, how can I be airlifted because of an emergency health problem and I am still talking to you? That is a distraction. So, the choice was not to answer my phone. But then, I missed important calls. Either way, it affects governance.
What is the relationship between you and Honourable Opeyemi Bamidele?
Opeyemi is representing us here. Anybody that is representing Ekiti in the House of Assembly, House of Representatives and Senate is my person. To the best of my knowledge, he has been delivering on the task given to him.
But following your endorsement, he made some remarks that there were ways of nominating people for governorship in the ACN and that sounded like he was not comfortable with it?
I am an avid reader of newspapers. I am a journalist too. If I am quoting him well, he said the party leadership has the right to endorse anyone they want to endorse, but there is a process in the party for choosing candidates for elections. And he is right. What is wrong with that? What he said is factual.
There is a process in our party for deciding who a candidate should be. Whether Ekiti Parapo in the US says Fayemi will be this or some other persons will be that, that process must be fulfilled at the end of the day and everybody who is a party member is entitled to contest for that post. I don’t think you can fault what he said.
Are you running for a second term in office?
I have not come to that conclusion yet.
So, what will make you not to run?
Did you read me on Sunday? One of the critical things I said in the piece, in response to what I described as unfounded patriotic attack on public officers who really want to serve, is that, is this the only way I can serve my people? Is it not possible for me to serve my people in the shadows and still derive a lot of benefits in being a servant of the people?
But I also argued that every time I run into old women when I visit the communities, people I don’t know come to me to say ‘Thank you, I am a beneficiary of the N5,000 you give us every month. I wouldn’t have had any means of livelihood.’’ They say that they also have four children who left school, they don’t have a job and so on…
In terms of achievements, how much ground have you covered in the last two years?
The universities were glorified secondary schools when we came in and we merged them into one. Initially, it didn’t go down well with some people but because of the way we went about it, eventually people bought into the idea. We were able to do it with speed. We recruited a first class vice chancellor to run the university. The university has been relatively peaceful since then. I was at the graduation of the College of Education. I declared to them that, for us, we were not ready to play politics with the lives of our people.
I could easily have told them, ‘Don’t worry, you want a University of Education, you will get it’. But I made it clear to them: “No University of Education now, until we have the resources to run a proper university, not a glorified secondary school.’’
There were some in the audience who did not probably like what I said. But if they reflected carefully on it, they would agree. Coming to the secondary schools, we have done what was thought to be unimaginable, virtually rebuilding, renovating and refurbishing all secondary schools in the state. We are ensuring that students study under a conducive atmosphere.
All of those came with furniture. We don’t have mega schools here because we don’t need mega schools. We just need basic schools for proper education. There is no child studying under a tree in Ekiti State. These were the things we promised when we were campaigning and we have not deviated from the promises.
We are building markets in all the local governments, providing tricycles for farmers and other users on micro-credit basis. We are giving them ownership by setting up school-based management boards to manage the schools we have built and refurbished. Also, we are encouraging them to use their own money as counterpart funding, in addition to what the government has provided so that they can take ownership. Already, many Ekiti communities have built town halls, civic centres. All we are just doing is assisting them in building palaces, erecting other structures.
The way we make budgets here is this: between October and November every year, I go round and collect issues that are very dear to the heart of the communities and those are what we incorporate into the budget making process. Towards the middle of the year, I meet with them again and I also meet with them at the end of the year to review whether we have fulfilled what we promised. A committee has been set up under the former Managing Director of Federal Mortgage Bank, Chief Falegan, who is from Ekiti. We deploy the money on the basis of what is identified: health, water provision, micro-credit cooperatives. The committee determines that in conjunction with the government and monitors the implementation of the projects. That is why human development, or what our people call personal infrastructure, is important here.
Do you think these achievements would be enough to ferry you through for a second term?
It will be presumptuous of me to give a yes or no answer. People can go out there and assess. Our tourism hub, Ikogosi, had been abandoned for, at least, a decade before I came in. The Brick Factory, Ire, had been comatose for 21 years. The textile factory that we have just revived has been lying there since 1991 without being put into use, not to mention the roads that are very important to our people in Ekiti. I think the difference is clear. People will tell you all these effortlessly.
Well, they may also tell you that he doesn’t throw money at people and does not sit with them in local joints the way somebody used to do. But if you talk to the average Ekiti person out there, he will tell you that what we have done in two years has not been witnessed in the last seven and half years of the previous administrations.
The outcome of the Ondo governorship election is certain to slow down the South-West integration agenda of your party.
It is about development and not about politics. Governance and development are different from partisan politics. There is nothing in the book that says that we must all belong to one party for integration to thrive. And I have never said that. What I have always said is that it is, of course, easier if we all belong to the same party and we respect the ideology and manifesto of our party to work together. The people of Ondo also belong to this same region. They feel the pains Ekiti people feel.
They have the same issues that we have. Even if the political leadership there is reluctant about integration on account of not belonging to a particular political party, the people may not necessarily share that view. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t think the governor, in all fairness to him, is averse to regional integration. The meetings of Oodua, he has been present there. When we held integration meeting, he was here with us. We also over-play this political difference. At the end of the day, it is about improving the lot of our people.
I have had cause to praise Ondo programme on Abiye. Ekiti runs a unique social security programme that Osun has sent people to understudy. Ondo is interested in all these because they have elderly people in the state too and they have them in their own party who will be saying to them, ‘How much is the allocation to Ekiti that they can give money to the old people?’ Why can’t he do the same here too?’’ So, the pressure is both from below and above. That is the nature of integration. The other point I will like to make is that integration does not necessarily fail because one leg of its membership is reluctant. If you look at the integration experience in Europe, for a long time, it was driven by France and Germany.
Britain was always reluctant. In referendum after referendum, they refused until Winston Churchill became the Prime Minister of Britain. That was when they joined the EU. An EU of two became an EU of six, and nine, and now it is an EU of 27 states because the benefits far outweigh the losses to those who are members. Greece is being bailed out of its crisis now because it is a member of the EU. That is on a country-wide situation. But in our own case, regionalism is not to take power from anybody. What we have argued is that we should have a mechanism that can stand between states and the federal and have a commission to which we all belong, a secretariat that brings out this comparative advantages and also where we can pull our resources together to do things.
If I do roads, how much do I have in Ekiti? But imagine a situation where we need an alternative road to Lagos because Lagos is a big market for us and we are discussing it and we don’t want to go through this road block of Federal Government road. Is there no way that we can build a road that goes through all of our states that we can put a rail to Lagos, which is one of our large markets? The rudiments of that are beginning to happen. There is a road the governments of Ogun and Osun are working on now that will by-pass Ibadan, straight to Ago-Owu, and come out in Ijebu, and they’ll find their way to Lagos, if Lagos is the destination.
We can also take the advantage of Ondo’s link to the sea because the gas pipeline is easier in Ogun/Ondo border, to help us achieve faster development since energy is a key problem for us. Even those of us, the ACN governors, are committed to integration, but there is a degree also. Without a doubt, we want it to work, but there are always drivers in every agenda of that nature. It is a challenge, but I don’t think it is fair to say that the government of Ondo under our brother, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, is not interested in integration. It will not be a fair assessment.
It has been alleged that the Governors’ Forum is frustrating the constitution review process and oppressing the Federal Government and should therefore be scrapped
Who is the forum oppressing? To the best of my knowledge, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum is not written in any constitution. It is a voluntary body; funded voluntarily and meetings attended voluntarily by members. Its decisions are not binding on the country. Its resolutions are shared with the press from time to time. If it is driven by politics, I will not be saying this.
I am not a member of the political party that is the majority in the Governors’ Forum. It is only things that we agree that we push collectively.
This article was first published in the Nigerian Tribune
Last modified: February 1, 2013