After months of speculations about his political future, John Kayode Fayemi, Minister of Mines and Steel Development, has finally cleared the air, telling his constituents and followers the Ekiti State branch of All Progressives Congress that he would like to return to the job he lost more than three years ago. In this interview with Shola Oyeyipo, the governorship aspirant, whose declaration of intention to run is already changing the political equation in his state, talks about his aspiration and expectations. Excerpts:
You had hinted at a possible governorship run at a recent meeting in Ekiti, graced by a huge crowd. Now, what was the significance of the time and place of that pronouncement?
First, let me say that I’d never really said I would not run. I have always said there is unfinished business in Ekiti and we would cross that bridge when we get there. I have been consistent in my message as far as the gubernatorial project in the state is concerned. You may then ask, if you knew you were going to run, why did you wait this long to throw your hat in the ring? Two things, whatever I come into, I give it a lot of thoughts and planning and I am not just an independent variable. I am an accountable, not just the consistent in Ekiti. I am a minister in the federal cabinet; I have been a former governor; I have a range of people to consult before coming to the conclusion on whether I would run or not. That was why I wasn’t definitive either way but I always advised my people to be patient. Wait, at the appropriate time, I will convey my decision to you.
The second reason, apart from my own consultations, relates to electoral guidelines. I am a stickler for due process. I work for someone, who is absolutely committed to due process, President Muhammadu Buhari, and it would be really irresponsible on my part to do things that would put him in a bad light. The election management body came out a few days ago with the notification as to when campaigns for Ekiti elections could start and I felt it was the appropriate time to, having consulted and having secured the nod from critical stakeholders that I believe I needed to consult to get their go ahead about the project.
What was left for me was to make sure that I do it in accordance with due process and then use the opportunity of my Easter visit home to host the regular quarterly engagement that I hold with our party stakeholders. And I have done this. This is not new. I started this in December 2014. I left office in October 2014, but I recognised the importance of keeping the party together. So, I started a meeting of the executives at the ward level right to the state level. We hold this meeting quarterly. We held the last one in December 27, 2017.
Beyond hinting at a possible governorship run, one thing that was very instructive at that gathering was the mammoth crowd. How did that come about?
I had already mentioned that this was a regular gathering of all party executives. We have 26 party executives in Ekiti in every ward. So, if you multiply 26 by 177 wards you get roughly 5000 people. You then have local government executives, you have our LCDA executives, you have the senatorial executives and then the state executives. Those are officials of the party. Then you have the leaders of the party. So, what you had in that place you’re talking about is the structure of the All Progressives Congress in Ekiti State and because it is a regular gathering, everybody is always prepared. They knew I would call the meeting.
What we use the meeting for prior to this period was just to review the state of the party in our state, in the nation; issues that we believe we need to take on board: ‘INEC is doing registration, what is our mobilisation process going to be? This is happening by the state government, what is our reaction to it? How do we keep our party relevant in the minds of the people, how do we ensure that ward meetings are going on regularly and so on. These are the kinds of issues that come up in this meeting. As to the crowd, it was the party’s presence. We didn’t have any external people.
Are you supposed to be doing this while still in office as the Minister of Mines and Steel Development?
I think part of the problem is that people don’t read and they are not conversant with the law. I take the pain to follow due process in what I do. There are grounds in the Nigerian constitution translated into the Electoral Act on qualification and disqualification for running for the office of the governor. In section 182 of the Nigeria constitution, it is very specifically stated – any public officer, who intends to run for an elective office must vacate that office at least 30 days before the election, not before the primaries. This is the constitutional provision; this is not Kayode Fayemi saying this – any public officer.
The framers of the Nigerian Constitution then went ahead to define that there is a distinction between a public officer and an elected political officer. That is the Constitution of Nigeria.
If you go to the APC constitution, it also states unequivocally that only people who are holding party position – and I believe again, the framers are looking at it from the perspective that you cannot be judge and jury in an election in which you are a part. People holding party positions must vacate the office at least 30 days before primaries, although the same constitution makes a consideration for a waiver of that, which you must apply for. So whether you are quoting the party constitution or you are quoting the Nigerian constitution, which supersedes everything, I am not bound to leave cabinet, because I am running for an elective office and there is precedence.
When the president is running or re-running does he vacate his office? These matters have also been settled in law. There is a case, Adeyeye versus Dada that the Court of Appeal ruled on. To the best of my knowledge, no Supreme Court judgment has changed that subsisting position. But that is the law. There is also what I consider the morality of the situation, which is why I am going to resign anyway. I have outstanding leave, so, I am on leave. When that leave ends, it will be preparatory to my exit. So, I don’t even see an issue here. But people choose to hide behind one finger even in matters already settled in law.
Clearly, the governorship election is not going to be a walk-over for anybody. Is it?
No, no, it shouldn’t be.
What can you hint as the likely challenges ahead of you in particular?
The challenges ahead of me – clearly as a governor, who served the state for years – everybody is important. I could not have been governor without offending people. That means I am an ineffective governor. There are people, who for reasons best known to them just don’t like Fayemi. You also have to contend with that. That is a reality of politics. And such people may for one reason or the other want to pitch tent with other side, equally competent hands that have the capacity to govern. But the reality of the election we are going into is that it is not just an ordinary election. It is an election that precedes the fortunes of our party at the national level.
So, what that then means is that you require someone, who is able to muster all of the elements that will be crucial to the election, political, material, you name it. So, for me, I want to be judged by the delegates on the basis of my capacity to ensure that APC retrieves Ekiti for the good of Ekiti people but also for the good of my party, because we need that positive victory after the Ondo election. That will bring all the states in the South-west into the APC kitty by the time we do that. Is it going to be a tea party? Not at all! It is not going to be a tea party but I am going to run on my record.
Is it your record as governor or as minister or both?
You have to judge me on my record as governor and as minister, but for most Ekiti people, what is crucial to them is what I did when I was governor. Others may judge me tangentially from what they read in the newspapers and I am in a sector that is not fully understood anyway. So, I don’t think that is something that will be of concern to Ekiti people. What will be of concern to them will be when this man was our governor here, he did this, he did that, he did not do this, he did not do that and on the basis of that, comparing him with what they witnessed after he left office.
Its either the devil we know in this primary is better than the angels we have not seen or let’s give the unknown angel an opportunity than the tried and tested hands that have been there. It could go either way but that choice belongs to the delegates. They own the party. I commenced full blown listening tours in all the local governments on April 9. That is really what we should expect people to do look at it what we have to offer.
There are a lot of you in the APC, who are seeking to fly its flag. A lot of people are actually thinking why is it not possible for the aspirants to come together and work as one to confront your common opponent?
I believe we will do that anyway but people should be given an opportunity to showcase their interests. If we say we are a democracy we must not limit the opportunity of those, who want to serve and I believe many of the people who have expressed interest want to serve, but I don’t want you to jump to any serious conclusion about who is running and who is not running. Let us wait to see who picks up the nomination form out of all those who have expressed interests. It is only at that point that we can come to this conversation that you are putting forward.
Do you think there is anyone around who can actually ruffle your feathers in the race?
Well, I am not going to go into that business of ruffling feather. It’s a market place. People should market themselves as much as they can about what they have on offer for Ekiti people. The only advantage and disadvantage by the way that I have is that I am tested and in the course of that there are people who would say we know him. I don’t need any recognition parade again in Ekiti.
Some of the people running are not known. They don’t even know the delegates. There is no ward I can get into in Ekiti that I will not tell you what I did in that ward – the schools that I built, the hospitals that I renovated, the town hall that I fixed, the number of people that were on social security in that village, I can tell you because that was my work and it is an advantage. There is no running away from it. But you also have people who would say “you did not give me a job and for that I am not going to support you.” You are going to have that because all politics are personal and also local.
You alluded to being tested and trusted, is that all it takes to want to come back?
Oh no, what it takes to want to come back is not just being trusted and tested. Frankly, if I were to be a selfish politician, who does not care a hoot about my people, being at the federal centre is most attractive. I have the confidence of my boss, I do my job to the best of my ability, I am confident I am adding value at the federal centre and it’s a space that I can play comfortably in. But is that what politics is about? Politics is about making a difference in the lives of my people, particularly my community.
My community is Ekiti. Nigeria is important to me but first and foremost I am an Ekiti man. And there were things I did in Ekiti that have been destroyed by this succeeding government and it needs someone to occupy the governorship seat, who is able to hit the ground running not scouting around for “how am I going to do it, because the enormity of the challenge whoever is going to become governor in Ekiti is going to confront is better imagined and if you do not have the experience, the expertise, the knowledge, the network and the capacity to really fundamentally hit the ground running, you are going to be a non-starter.
Is it correct to assume that you might be going into this election with a cloak of burden? Recently, the state government set up a commission to try you and it came up with an indictment and indeed the government had issued a white paper and that is pending.
It’s a legitimate right of any succeeding government to review the activities of its predecessors in office. There is nothing wrong with that but a lot is wrong with if you are doing that in a premeditated manner to arrive at a preconceived answer. It’s very clear, even to the blind that Mr. Fayose is mortally afraid of one and only one person in that state. Anyone who knows him knows that he is just not given to clarity of thought and action. For him, governance is about drama, market dance and political chicanery. There is only one person he wants to stop from getting to Government House, any other person he doesn’t mind. I am not even sure to his so-called baby governor that he wants to make. As long as Fayemi doesn’t get to this seat, it’s okay. You have to ask yourselves. What is he afraid of? And coming down to the white paper, it’s in court. We are challenging it. We have matter pending both in the state High Court, the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal.
But let us leave that aside. Again, what does the law say? Is a white paper by a panel of enquiry sufficient to debar anyone from running for public office? I am afraid, no. The matter is also settled in Atiku vs the federal government at the Supreme Court. The court made this very clear. It used to be that you could use a white paper, prior to 2007 and a number of people were caught in that. If you remember the Okadigbo, Gbenga Aluko saga in the Senate; they were caught in that. But after the Supreme Court judgment the National Assembly actually altered the constitution. Look for the alteration section of the Nigerian Constitution and you will find this.
Only a court of a record can ban anyone from public office. The entertainment that took place in Ekiti, to the best of my knowledge, and did not take place in the court of law and that is why it is not even worth the paper it’s written on. The only reason I have gone to court to challenge the legality of their action is because my name is the only thing that I brought into polities. I cherish my integrity, so, if you are going to associate me with anything that is untoward, I owe it a duty to challenge it. And that is why having ever bothered, not that it can debar me or does anything, but I want it trashed out.
Anyone who needs to know what I did in office, I left almost a thousand page handover note. So, if he has had the presence of mind and gone through my handover note, the record is clear, the record is very clear! And there is nothing that I did in office that was done outside due process. So, I don’t even have any reason to dignify that. I can see that both Fayose and his agents even in my own party, they are making a mountain out of a mole hill. But you then have to ask yourself, if you say this man is not important, this man is not popular; this man is not wanted by Ekiti people, why don’t you let him stew in his own juice? Still, why are you all out to stop him from even running?
You are quick to say the governor is afraid of you hence he is doing all he is doing to stop you. But are you not worried that he can pull a lot of incumbency weight to actually unsettle you further?
Well, isn’t that what he has tried to do with his white paper? As I said to my people, the party executives, I have a red card for him. Let him wield incumbency, we will wield our non-incumbent weight and we will see who is going to be on the street after October 16 in Ekiti, walking free. He is running helter-skelter now, going everywhere begging, even going to certain officials and influential people in government begging that he wanted to be the campaign manager or President Buhari in the South-west.
Quote me. He knows that I know what I’m saying; that they should leave him to be Buhari’s campaign manager in the South-west. He has allies even inside the APC that he is working with and they will all be disgraced and shamed.
If you make it back, what specific areas of development are you looking at?
For me, anything that is not people-centred is not going to receive my priority. Look, Ekiti has been plunged into the pangs of poverty. We will take Ekiti out of it. Just recently, BudgIT released the state of the states’ assessment that they did, which had the health indices of the states. As at the end of 2014, Ekiti ranked lowest rate in HIV prevalence, one of the lowest in infant mortality and maternal mortality, one of the lowest in out of school children. Today, it has the fastest rate of out of school children and what is the difference made? We made sure that education was free and qualitative when I was in office. Now, they are asking kids in schools to pay 2000-3000. This is a lot of money in a poor economy in which parents are not receiving salaries regularly. Local government workers, state civil servants are owed averagely six months.
You have to ask yourself how people are surviving in this poverty-stricken situation. So, for me, that is the first level of attack – the Ekiti poverty index and you cannot do it without social investment. All of the social investment programmes that we had here have today been destroyed. There is no social security support for the elderly, there is no free healthcare again in Ekiti, there is no recruitment into key empowerment programmes like the Peace Corps that I introduced; the traffic management authority, the nurses are leaders that we recruited. There has been no recruitment since I left and there has also been no wage increase. When I was governor in Ekiti, I increased the salaries of workers three times in four years. Not one naira has been added to their salaries. I introduced the rural teachers’ allowance. I introduced core subject allowance. So, if you’re teaching Sciences; Mathematics, English and Integrated Science, you get an additional incentive because we need those subjects so critically in our schools. You get 20% of your salary. If we now post you outside of Ado-Ekiti or Ikere, to some rural communities, you get an additional 20% on your salary, and we have series of capacity building programmes that we were running for teachers and civil servants.
Civil servants were receiving trainings. It was even sending many of them abroad – many of them to royal Institutes of public administration in UK, some of them to Kenya, some of them to Ghana. All of these things I am saying to you they do not even happen! In any case, how can they happen in a state where they don’t hold executive council meeting? There is no state council that meets in Ekiti. I should know I was governor there. I still have people there. So, that template just has to be deepened in order to get our people out of this debt of hopelessness and heartlessness. For him, his strategy is simple, reduce them to nothing so you automatically reduce their sense of self-worth, you can keep throwing N100 and N200 at them and cup of rice to keep shouting that you exist – you are the one and only. This is in Ekiti that produced the first graduate in 1867. So, what are we talking about?
There is the belief that the APC has its internal challenges and it could rub off on your election in the state. Are you worried?
Am I worried about what?
I mean the state of your party ahead of your election?
State of our party in Ekiti?
Our party in Ekiti is united. I believe every committed APC party member in Ekiti wants us back in Government House and I believe they will do everything to get us back into the Government House. Are there differences of opinions on how we would get back? Of course!! In any human setting, you are bound to have differences of opinions and we are not immunised to that. We have people in our party who felt that APC should not put back a former governor in office. There are those who have those views, but would that be enough reason for them to jump out of our party simply because their preferred choice did not win? I don’t think so. I have seen this. In 2006, when I won the primary, some gubernatorial competitors of mine, left the party, but they were shocked that the bulk of their supporters stayed in the party. They didn’t leave with them because for them, they are progressives.
Yes, their preferred choice did not have sufficient grounds for them to move away from their party. And they didn’t. We don’t want to be complacent. We want to ensure that everybody comes together as far as this race is concerned but I have already said I am running on my record but that record, naturally, will also include the record of my party at the centre. But what is our record at the centre? That we have brought back Nigeria from the brink of collapse; people can only imagine what would have happened to this country if the PDP had remained in power. The vice president, God bless his soul, gave a very graphic analysis at the Tinubu colloquium. People don’t do the math. When you do the math, you will appreciate what we have done in this country in the last three and a half year.