The governorship election in Ekiti State will hold next year but the battle line seems drawn already even in the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria. Governor Kayode Fayemi is believed to be eyeing a second term in office but he says “I have not come to that conclusion yet.” In this interview with Olawale Olaleye, Fayemi speaks on his endorsement for second term by some leaders and groups in the state, the response by Hon. Opeyemi Bamidele, his main challenger in ACN, to the endorsement and his achievements so far in the state. Excerpts:
You were recently endorsed for a second term by some leaders and groups in Ekiti State. What significance does this hold for you?
It is a humbling experience. I was not a party to what they were doing. 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. It does not play much on my approach to politics. 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 people.
Many of the promises are being fulfilled. Some are not 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. Party men will always do what they want to do. It is within their right to decide on how they will pursue their own political agenda. But I don’t want to be distracted by that.
What are some of your major constraints in governance?
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 a 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 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. There are communities that have been agitating for autonomy in this state for so long. Past governors have avoided it because of the political implications in communities that did not want them to be independent and in communities that are becoming independent.
Don’t you think this might have adverse political implications for you?
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 judgement 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 joys and gratitude.
Interestingly, the communities they are leaving are, politically speaking, larger communities; more populated and more damaging, if I don’t manage that situation properly. It is not about 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 the court by one of the communities. When you have people who are well informed, probably wrongly informed in some cases, they tend to create a lot of distractions for the government. I think that is the greatest challenge that I face here. But what has also helped me is that educated people are easy to govern. We made pledges to the people. They never believed that any governor could come and fulfill them, especially paying benefits to elderly people.
How are you trying to overcome the challenge of public distrust for government, which has been built over decades of failed promises to the 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 all have yourselves 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.
But 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 the 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.
Do you feel embarrassed or insulted by the alleged misinformation?
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 for The Nation 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 rapid response team for the social media. I don’t have to complain when you apply for a job like this. You must be ready to face the heat in the kitchen. But it is distracting, I must confess to you.
But how much of a distraction have these negative views on the social media been to you?
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 and then, I missed important calls. Either way, it affects governance.
How is your relationship with Hon. 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 said there were ways of nominating people for governorship in ACN and that sounded like being uncomfortable with the approval you have secured.
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?
I have not come to that conclusion yet.
What could make you not to run?
Did you read my piece in The Nation on Sunday? One of the critical things I said in the piece, in response to what I describe 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; that they also have four children who left school, they don’t have job’ and so on…
How much ground have you gained in the last two years in terms of fulfilling your promise?
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 that 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. A pupil has his own desk, instructional materials and books. In the secondary school, you have your own laptops and every other facility that we provide for them. These were the things we promised when we were campaigning and we have not deviated from the promises.
How far have you gone in the area of economic empowerment?
Talking about human capital development, in the second leg of it, and that is where you are going to see concentration. If you see the budget for this year, we have something we call community empowerment. I have been meeting with town unions because I find them to be more effective than even the local government structures imposed on those communities. Our approach is to ensure that, in terms of water provision, rural electrification, cooperative services for farmers, market women, we can accomplish much.
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.
What is the extent of community participation in your government’s human and infrastructural development programmes?
The way we make budget 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. So, we have done a lot in terms of rural infrastructure, road to farmlands and solar borehole. We are doing a major water refurbishment in the state, which is a World Bank/ADB initiative.
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 you merit another term with what you have achieved so far?
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 had been lying 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 have not been witnessed in the last seven and half years of the previous administrations. If the answer you want from me is an objective one; that is what you are going to get.
The Governor Olusegun Mimiko administration in Ondo State has not been favourably disposed to the South-west regional integration agenda. Do you think his re-election for another four years would be a major setback for the integration idea?
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 State 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. In 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.
But the Ondo State governor does not appear to be averse to economic integration, except, of course, political integration. Have you, for instance, identified specific areas of need and advantage that will drive cooperation among the South-west states?
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 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 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.
Transportation is one area where the benefit of integration seem easily manifest. Are you working on any region-wide transportation links within the South-west?
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 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. As you have drivers, you also have people who want to be part of it and ensure that we derive maximum benefit from our cooperation. It is a challenge, but I don’t think it is fair to say that the government of Ondo under our brother, Dr. Mimiko, is not interested in the integration. It will not be a fair assessment.
It has been alleged that the Nigerian Governors Forum is frustrating the constitution review exercise and working as a hindrance in the way of the federal government. And some have even suggested the scrapping of the forum. What is your take on this as well as the clamour for local government autonomy?
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. It is always driven, not by politics. 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 Nigerian Governors Forum. It is only things that we agree that we push collectively.
There are a lot of things that governors do that they don’t do together. So, I don’t know how anyone will come to the conclusion that we are frustrating the country, oppressing the president and not allowing the constitution review process to progress. This is a federation, and in a federation, as a political scientist now, and not as a governor, we have two federating units. When you have two federating units, they are not subordinate units. They are coordinate units. That is the language we use in political science.
It means that they are sovereign, and if you are sovereign, this notion that the federal government is the one protecting the nation against the excesses of rascals, criminals at the state level, who Nigeria must be protected from, is what I call feeding bottle federalism. It is totally absurd and nonsensical because I don’t know of any federation in the world that operates that way. In the United States, the president cannot relate to the governor of California or the governor of Massachusetts, who is from his own political party, that way. If he crosses the line, they will tell him, “Mr. President, are you really sure of what you are doing?” You cannot hijack the powers of a coordinate federal unit. But that is what happens here, and because governors are not the most popular public office holders, people confuse logic with logicality.
How would you react to the mixed reactions to the idea of state police?
On the issue of state police, we have raised fundamental questions. What people refer to as state police – our argument has not been about state police; the media described it as state police. It is about multi-level police. We have never been against the federal police. We have said that the federal police have their own role in a federation. State police have their own role. Local police have their own role. Even, the university campus police have their role in that multi-level approach to security, particularly law enforcement.
But everybody refused to take our line. They insisted on federal police. I don’t know any governor that has ever said that the federal police are unacceptable and unwanted. We have always asked for a multi-level police force to tackle our security challenge.
The governors have also been feuding with the federal government on the issue of funds from the Federation Account.
We have a religious interpretation of Section 162 of the constitution in the Nigerian Governors Forum, which is why we are in court on about four cases. Sectionn162 of the constitution makes it very clear. Every penny that comes to the coffers of the Nigerian state goes into only one account, the Federation Account. Not JP Morgan, not Citibank.
But because we run this federalism as a unitary state, of course, our authoritarian military past is affecting us, people do not pay fidelity to this critical issue. Monies are collected by NNPC. We don’t even know the amount. No governor in this country can tell you how much this country earns on a daily basis. I am part of an entity. There should be accountability and transparency, and nobody gives me a full picture of what we earn? Governors have raised these issues at every forum. We have four cases in the Supreme Court. The federal government has been requesting for an out of court settlement in the cases.
Does someone who oppresses you go to the court to seek reprieve? We are the ones being oppressed and nobody is coming to our aid. May be, we have not sufficiently made it clear that the states are the ones being oppressed by the federal government. That is actually what is happening. Some people are used to collecting money in an unaccountable manner. Let us render it to the Nigerian people. We like what Ngozi, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, has been doing by publishing what goes to us. That is fine. Our people should know what we get so that they can monitor us. We too want to know the actual money earned by the Nigerian state to which we belong, so that we can also challenge it with our own independent analysis. People should support us, instead of haranguing us.
What about council autonomy?
Now, you talk about local government autonomy. The argument of states has been validated by those who were architects of local government reforms in this country. Two of them have spoken recently. I find it very insightful and interesting. Alhaji Dasuki and Professor Mabogunje talked about the scrapping of the local government to let each state decide how they want to run their local government structure. Local government has been smuggled in through various subterfuges to what they call a tier of government. In my own political science book, a tier of government is not a federating unit. This country has two federating units and it is not the business of Abuja to be listing the number and names of local governments in the constitution.
The American constitution that I have seen is 34 pages, plus the amendment. When you fix a federal road in America, the state can toll it and get a contribution of up to 80 percent from the federal government, and the state decides which road to toll and which not to toll. There are federal government roads that I am fixing. In the first instance, why should there be roads called federal government roads? Adjoining roads? Yes, because the federal government is responsible for inter-boundary issues. But when it gets to my state, it should be my road.