GOV. Kayode Fayemi
Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Olukayode John Fayemi, is not your archetypal politician. He has neither allowed the appurtenances of power to get into his head nor the lure for second term, given the fact that he is in the middle of his first term, to stop him from following his convictions. In this interview with Olawale Olaleye, Fayemi spoke frankly on some national issues. Excerpts:
People are saying that with what has happened during the public hearings on the constitution review, Nigeria may end up getting a document that will still fall short of the aspirations of the people.
What is your take on this?
I don’t accept that we have gone about this in the most appropriate process; a process driven by the people. Having said that, I think it is an advance from where we are coming from. When the last constitution review process got halted at the altar of third term or no third term, many of the issues that Nigerians were passionate about were lost in the process of that debate then and I think fundamentally, Nigerians are still worried about the structure of the Nigerian state and they feel strongly that something has got to give in terms of devolution of powers to the lower level of the Nigerian state. Many feel that the federalism that we claim to practice is fake and that ownership is not in the hands of the Nigerian people and that whatever we are going to do, we will ensure that we focus on that.
Even if there are disagreements on state police, principles of derivation, on revenue allocation formula, essentially, I think there is a broad agreement that there is over concentration of powers at the centre and that a lot must be done to reduce that over-concentration of power at the central; but not in the manner that becomes unaccountable because accountability at the lower level to which power is being devolved to is also a critical component of the debate. So, essentially, what is happening all around is a road show.
How do you think we should have gone about the exercise?
Our power brokers are still ultimately going to define what eventually transpires and that is why some of us are totally in favour of referendum at the end of this process. The House of Representatives attempted a process to bridge that by saying that they are doing 360 mini-conferences all over their constituencies. But if you saw the way and manner that went, it was really not a people-driven process and it is going to be very difficult to collate the results of that exercise if we can call it an exercise at all. As a matter of fact, there are those who feel that what happened at the zonal level, driven by the Senate, was much more robust and authentic.
And even at that, it is still not a product of the people. So, I think we still have a long way to go and I think that there is no shortcut to a genuinely driven process in which the people take ownership and that can really come in the form of referendum. I have heard the argument in the National Assembly and I consider it as self-serving because the current constitution says they are the final destination; that a referendum cannot come about. I think it is such a false notion. There is nowhere in the British Constitution where a referendum is said to be the defining and ultimate determination of any issue but when a matter becomes critical, the referendum is always the process use in unlocking a gridlock.
Even in the most recent America presidential election, there were almost a 100 issues in some states, same-sex marriage, the use of cannabis, abortion, death penalty and other series of issues that are local to a particular state that we didn’t talk about because the main issue was the election. I think we just have to be honest with ourselves. What is this country called Nigeria? And who are we, the inhabitants of Nigeria? Are we subjects or are we truly citizens with right and responsibilities? To a large extent, we are being treated as if we are subjects to some people that we have no control over and I think the essence of democracy is to let the people take ownership. I have very little faith in this process producing an outcome that will be overwhelmingly acceptable but I know it will produce something at the end of the day and whatever it produces will be the result of elite consensus rather than the people’s wish.
It is the deal that can be struck by the elite, in the National Assembly, amongst the governors, in the presidency and in the state assemblies that will determine what eventually comes out at the document. If I want to be charitable, one could say that all of those people that I have mentioned are the representatives of the people, so they are speaking for the people. That is one view that one takes and it would not necessarily be a wrong view. But is it as robust as the process that gives the people the direct opportunity to really speak for themselves after a comprehensive enlightenment process either by national dialogue or a public mass mobiliszation effort on the part of all the players?
One of the most controversial issues during the public hearings is the issue of state creation. In view of the fact that most of the states we have now are unviable, do you subscribe to the argument that we should not create more states in this country?
I have issues with creating states that are not viable. We are a beneficiary in Ekiti State and I would probably not be sitting here as governor if Ekiti State had not been created. So, when you look at it, I think that the direction we should even be going for is viability. However, we should be moving towards regional compact. I think we are seriously at risk as state because very few states are viable on their own. That is the fact and when people make the comparison, they don’t just stop as if that is a game of number.
If you take Akwa Ibom and Ekiti States, what Akwa Ibom gets in a year from the Federal Government, Ekiti State does not even get 10 per cent of it. Ekiti State gets about N36billion a year and yet if you compare N36 billion to about N400billion you will understand what I mean. But, it is not the fault of the person that collects N400 billion. I think what is fundamentally wrong is that the sharing nature of this federation is what undermines and leads to this relentless yearning for state creation because you feel that once a state is created, your share will come.
In your view, what is the alternative?
The way to arrest that in my view is to let of us live by our own resources and contribute to the federation purse. There must, however, be a decision on what represents an irreducible minimum that we must contribute as taxes to the federal coffers which in turn get shared to states that are not endowed as others. In other words, I think what we need is for regions to gain control and manage their resources and then for the federation to have an equalisation fund that enables us to cater for the weak.
This will do two things: It will make us more innovative and creative. It would ensure that states like Ekiti or Ondo where proceeds from cocoa were used in developing the whole of the western Nigeria, take agriculture more seriously because we have no choice. And I still believe that our greatest resource is the human capital that we have rather than this over-dependence on oil and all sorts of mineral resources that are wasting assets. So, I think state creation is not the solution, regional compact is the way to go.
Given the political diversity of Nigeria and its peculiar brand of politics, could you shed more light on how to enforce such a policy where states will need to contribute to the Federation Account?
This is not something that would not happen but it depends in the first instance on how the compact was put together. If it was done on the basis of collective result of everyone, there may be no problem. A country must have the capacity to enforce it wishes and if it does not have it, then it needs to die. If the state cannot enforce it own laws, it has no business been in existence. There has to be a mechanism to execute the policy.
Just as we have the revenue sharing formula now, there has to be a mechanism that would enable us to contribute if we say we belong to the nation called Nigeria. There are responsibilities and we must figure out precisely how to remain a constituent part of that federal entity called Nigeria. I don’t believe in this feeding bottle federalism that we are practising which just forces people to go to Abuja regularly to share money; and this is not even done in an accountable and transparent basis because even as I speak with you, no one knows how much the Nigerian state earns.
The states have been at loggerheads with the Federal Government over the authentic resource base of this country and nobody is going to give that information. We have put a committee together at the National Economic Council to investigate this further because it is what the NNPC tells you that it realises from oil that we all take. There is no transparency at all in the way the nation’s funds are being managed. That is why we need Accountant-General of the Federation, to handle the nation’s finances and the Accountant-General of the Federal Government that will handle that of the central government. However, the present situation whereby one person performs the two roles does not encourage transparency in the way the federation funds are being handled.