We’re All Jonathan’s Men, Says Fayemi

18 Jul 2013

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Dr. Kayode Fayemi

In this interview with journalists in Lagos, the Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, spoke on some of the developments in the country. Olawale Olaleye presents the excerpts

Your party leadership has endorsed you for a second term; what does this mean to you?
I have become very wary about the word endorsement. It has become a bastardised word courtesy of the Nigerian Governors' Forum’s election. Seriously speaking, I think it is a burden when people say that you have done well. It means you have to consistently do better in order to sustain the acclamation from the people. That is what has come out of the endorsement that our leaders gave to me last December and the affirmation by Chief Bisi Akande and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu during their recent visit.

I also think seriously that what we have learnt from Lagos and Edo experiments is that if good governance is to be entrenched, it will be useful and helpful for political parties not to change candidates arbitrarily unless there are compelling reasons to do that and those reasons listed in the Nigerian constitution like temporary or permanent insanity, ill-health etc, so if we are to consolidate on things that we have achieved, it makes sense to keep the team unless the candidate chooses not to contest.

It's great that our leaders recognised the work that we have done so far but the election is not going to be a child's play. We are preparing for a very tough election because we know full well that the other side is targeting Ekiti in 2014 as part of the dress rehearsal for 2015.

What is your take on the ongoing constitution review and the submission of the House ad hoc committee for the removal of immunity for some public officers?
I have both conceptual and practical problem with constitutional reform as being carried out by the National Assembly. With the greatest respect to members of the House of Representatives, when they claimed that they held 360 meetings in their constituencies to gather feedback from the people, I think it is a fundamentally flawed and disingenuous way of conducting constitutional reform process. Either in terms of global best practice or even in terms of elementary feedback mechanism, I don't think it qualifies.

Some of us have argued for more than a decade that the process is as important if not more important than the product of constitutional reform process. What has happened has not met the basic requirement of legitimacy. Some of us believe that this process will end up in referendum that all Nigerians will have a say in. Constitution is a serious matter to exclude the citizenry from it. No matter how intelligent people's representatives are, we thought we're likely to get to this position.

My opinion is that the current constitution we operate says it is only the National Assembly that can amend it and that could be done with the ratification of two-thirds of the State House of Assembly of the 36 states to become a legal and accurate constitution amendment. But then, it comes back to the question: is everything legal legitimate?
On immunity, although my own position tallies with what the House of Representatives recommends, in the sense that I have consistently said immunity should be limited to only civil matter and that anyone who commits a crime and expect to be protected by the law is first, not democratic and second, not interested in good governance. Since we all agree that the bane of our country today is corruption, criminality in high office, whether it is electoral criminality or grand theft of the public treasury, criminality is criminality.

I have always believed that the only justification for immunity is when pedestrian and irresponsible cases are filed in court to distract public office holders. That has nothing to do with criminality and I think I still hold strongly that view. Immunity for civil matters should be adhered to. I don't think immunity is a matter for just the National Assembly to decide.  Majority of the proposal that I have seen from the lower chamber have truly undermined the spirit and the law of federalism throughout the world.

Nigeria is presently faced with security challenge; what is the way out of the situation?
We have almost moved to a point where we need an economic cum security strategy. I don't know how that is going to happen but the Council of State and opinion leaders might need to step back and look at the possibility of organising Security Summit. One, there is a body led by the Minister for Special Duties, Turaki, talking to the various players in this unfortunate development. But I do think what we are confronted with now is poverty- insecurity complex. That is the challenge that we must address.

The most prominent aspect of the Boko Haram issue is the religious angle but it is not as devastating as the economic strand. It is when people feel they have nothing to lose that some of these things happened. That is why we need the equivalence of a Marshall plan for the areas ravaged by terror and insecurity. We ought to also pay more attention in involving the military in civilian affairs. I know the implication is that we appear not to be in charge and that the military should come and rescue us.

That rescue can be defined in elastic terms involving military in civilian matters. You are sending a subliminal message to the military that you cannot take charge of the situation and that must be worrisome in the light of what we have seen in the last two days in Egypt. It should worry us that we are playing with fire. Those who are in the power corridor seem to be totally detached from their people. We certainly need a coherent strategy and that strategy must be a Marshal Plan.

State of emergency should have been a component of the comprehensive marshal plan that we need in this country. And the plan must be based on special economic security because we must be able to cut off the oxygen that is fuelling what is going on. If you don’t cut that oxygen off, it will continue to spread to other parts of the country.

We need to make a clarion call to Mr. President and all of us in leadership positions to begin to respond to issues. This is one of the issues discussed at NGF and we proposed that we should make resources available to the afflicted states. In our view, you cannot have about 10 million idle children out there and not see the correlation between helplessness and hopelessness of these young people. There is correlation somewhere, poverty and violence are related and we must do specific things to separate them. We can take specific steps.

With the security challenge in the country, do you see state police playing a key role in this?
Well, my position is that I am an advocate of multi-level policing. If you bring me from Ekiti to go to Zamfara and you dumped me at Talata-Mafara and you give me a gun to protect people; who am I protecting at the place when I don’t have clue about the language? I see multi-level policing having a key role to play in the country.

In the light of what we have also seen in Rivers State, I can tell you that some of our colleagues who are opposed to multi-level policing are changing their views now because they could see the blatant abuse of federal police within a local entity simply because somebody is not on their side of the debate. Many of us are setting up alternative security forces in order to protect our people and our environment. That is what Zamfara State wanted to do that led to the debate at the National Assembly.

We are actually running the police. Many of our colleagues train police personnel even abroad. If we are doing all these, how can someone turn back and talk about federal police. Many of these things are a clear distortion of federalism.

But we are made to understand that all the governors agreed to the one per cent deduction?
Not all the governors agreed to the idea. Some governors came out to address the media on it. I have raised it with the Chairman of NGF. I wasn’t there when the idea was tabled to governors and I know that some governors who were there did indicate they will go to court. I’m elected by Ekiti people. I cannot subscribe to that deduction without going to my people first. It’s their money. Do you just sit at one economic council meeting and decide on your own to accept the deduction because they put a paper before you to agree to one per cent deduction from federation revenue?

What is the modality for that? Will one per cent deduction from our allocation address Ekiti State security challenges? Who dictates what happens with the one per cent? Is it Abuja or Ekiti? Do I have total control over what Commissioner of Police in my state? Even with what we bought for police; we don’t have total control on them. In this country, we just keep dodging fundamental issues which are structural. It is the nature of Nigerian state that we must address, not the symptoms of the malaise as it is manifested in the police. Once we do that, even if everything will not fall into place, we’ll begin to get a direction.

As an insider, what actually happened with the NGF election and the fallout?
Our colleagues who have found themselves defending this albatross round their neck also know that this will come to haunt them. A lot of them have lost their credibility. First, they said there was no election. When we came out with tape, Nigerians knew that there was an election. When the ballot was counted, they said the chairman did not vacate his seat. We had about three hours of debate before the election. This is what most people are not aware of. Before we got to 35 votes being cast and counted, we have had three hours of debate on one, consensus. We said at the last meeting we concluded with the decision that Okauru, the NGF DG, was going to organise the election and whoever wins becomes our chairman.

Later they said we should vote via open ballot, show of our hands and we said we are adults; we were not doing show of hands, we would vote by secret ballot which is recognised in the country’s electoral act. They agreed again. We moved to the issue of agents for the candidates and both candidates agreed on one agent, he was there with the DG. We all sat, voted and the agent supervised this. They knew the truth and that is why it saddens me because those who are against the result of the election are highly respected people. They came back and said there was no voting when every single one of them voted.

Of course, you have seen Niger Sate governor’s comment; you have heard Kano, Jigawa, Adamawa and Sokoto governors’ comments on the issue. They have come out to say who voted for whom. Ours was clear because we voted en bloc. It was those who joined us that were not clear to Nigerians. And those who did it have come out to say they did it.  Really it is worrisome. What is worrisome there is the reaction from the other side. We felt Mr. President is the president of all. Our president is not a candidate in the NGF election. He has no interest because he made that very clear to us that he has no interest in the NGF election and I don’t want him to be dragged into this NGF issue because it diminishes the Presidency. The occupant of that office should not be diminished. We must not do anything to diminish the office and the occupant. That is why some of us are vociferous in our own meeting.

But we have been diminished before Nigerians because they don’t really make difference between 19 and 16. They just say these governors can’t even hold simple election and they want Nigerians to come and vote in 2015. I think the president must find a way to exercise his moral authority on this matter. We must also find a way to meet the president in supporting him to exercise that moral authority because it doesn’t augur well for us, for some people to be hiding or creating the impression that they are the president’s men.

We all are president’s men. We are the president’s governors. So, we are all his men. The president was once a governor, a member of the forum.

So, he knows that he must not do anything to denigrate the forum. He must not allow people to hide under his apron string to undermine the forum. The truth of the matter is that, there is only one NGF that is running.

When we talk of programmes, NGF is still NGF. We still run programmes and all the 36 states still run programmes for NGF. We have programmes that are jointly run with the World Bank, DFID, other institutions of state and the workers there are about 50. I think we need to do something. It is not about Amaechi. This is another problem I find disturbing. The issue is not Mr. President versus Governor Rotimi Amaechi. It has nothing to do with President Jonathan and Amaechi as many of us in the Governors’ Forum don’t see it that way. For many of us, it has to do with integrity and independence of the NGF. There is a danger in presenting two forums.

Let’s go to Ekiti, are you worried about the PDP in the state, particularly ex-governor Ayo Fayose; are you afraid of him?
What will be the basis of that fear? Do you know Fayose very well? Anyway, I try as much as possible not to make any derogatory remarks about my predecessors in office. Do you know Fayose and his antecedents? Let me give you an insight into his character for better understanding. He woke up one day and was on his way to Afao, his home town. He claimed some people chased him and shot at him while driving along. ACN hierarchy responded that as the party in government in Ekiti State, we are concerned about security of every citizen.

We thought former governor Fayose ought to have reported this case to the police and if he hasn’t, we hope the Commissioner of Police will take this up because it’s about security of a very important citizen in our state. I insisted that the commissioner of police must follow the case up. The commissioner replied that the police were in touch with the former governor many times to bring the vehicle and to come and tell us what happened, how it happened?

If you know how far Fayose used to draw attention to himself, you must give him credit for his ‘Alawada’ politics. Why should anyone be afraid of Fayose? He was a senatorial candidate in the last election in 2011, in Ekiti Central for Labour Party. What were his votes in that election against Senator Babafemi Ojudu? He ran election for one-third of the state and lost. Now, you are saying he would come back to become governor of the state. He has to make sufficient noise to attract Abuja people, so that they will say he is the solution to their problem in Ekiti. You know he calls himself the Architect of modern Ekiti, we shall see!

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