On leave-of-absence from one of the commercial banks, Mr. Akin Aiyegbusi was relatively unknown in Ekiti State until he defeated other contestants to emerge the governorship flagbearer of the Social Democratic Party, SDP. Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes about the dark horse in the race for the July 14 election

He was among his colleagues in the banking industryworking at the treasory. As he temporarily quitted the job, his colleagues from various banks gathered at the exclusive restaurant on the Penthouse of Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos to honour him. Anyone outside this circle of friends and colleagues may have been intimidated to hear the Master-of-Ceremony announce the presence of Ecobank’s N61 billion Gang-an elite group of bankers who raised that huge sum. Mr. Akin Aiyegbusi, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), governorship candidate for Ekiti State belongs in that class.

Aiyegbusi is on leave-of-absence from the bank to pursue the urgent goal of ruling his home state, if given the mandate in the impending Ekiti State governorship election on July 14. A fresh face on the political scene, he was not known until the day he went to SDP secretariat to purchase the form, signaling his interest to take a shot at the top office. Not a few were surprised. Where did he come from?  What are his antecedents in politics? These questions were decisively answered when Aiyegbusi posted a shocking defeat on three opponents including a former Nigerian ambassador to Canada and a former member of the House of Representatives at the Ekiti gubernatorial primaries of the SDP. Suddenly, his name is on many lips. Everyone was aghast at how he accomplished such a huge achievement.

The big day is yet ahead, however, the early victory has boosted his confidence, even in the manner he answered questions. “We came with so much energy and determination. We did not need to give anything. We were never given a chance to make any head way in politics. I have been in the treasury of Ecobank in the past seven years. Because I did not have history of serial contesting, nobody gave me a chance. We entered the primaries and we emerged victorious against all odds. The same determination with which we faced the primaries is how we will face the general election to make sure that we defeat the two strong parties.”

For all his obvious intelligence, he is yet to show that he is able to do any other thing apart from banking. This leaves a curious question mark about what other things define him. One thing is clear, however, Aiyegbusi is not handicapped by shortcomings that have stymied many promising careers in banking; otherwise he would have been head-hunted at different junctures until he landed at Ecobank. If Aiyegbusi is a genius, it will be clear to everyone who is watching in the next few weeks. If he becomes Governor of Ekiti State, the world would be waiting to see how his ideas are applied to transform Ekiti from the valley as one of the lowest earning states to the pinnacle of glory. If he loses the election, Aiyegbusi would be expected to take his insatiable curiosity and professionalism to new chapter.

At 44 years, he is one of the youngest contenders for the office of governor of Ekiti state, which many political pundits have narrowed down to a two-horse race between the candidates of the major parties, the APC and the PDP. His powerful mixture of charm, surprise and chutzpah presents him like an unfolding spectacle which many are watching with their mouths open in amazement.  The legitimacy of his appearance on the scene is the much-needed option that the populace who are tired of recycled politicians yearned for. He is convinced that the multiplying cases of irreconcilable differences among politicians in the two strong parties will work in favour, eventually.  “One of the things that we did is that we got our support across party lines, both APC, PDP to ensure our victory. Before and after the primaries of the two main parties, we have been talking to the main stakeholders in Ekiti politics, that whatever happens, come and support us and somehow, we have been getting a lot of support from them. We have been having a lot of meeting with main power brokers within those parties. Some of them will say we are coming to work with you. Others say we will not leave our party, but we will support you, even financially. Some of them have given us campaign vans. There are many of them like that. A lot of meetings are being held in our favour. To show that our mandate is generally acceptable, we were with the Ooni of Ife who eventually gave his endorsement. We were with Baba Fasoranti, that is the head of Afenifere. Somehow we have been getting royal fathers to give their blessing here and there.”

His colleagues at the dinner had a glimpse at the oratory of the man who may become His Excellency, Governor of Ekiti state. Smiling, but a little demure as he got up to speak at the dinner, he started slowly, revving up the engine to speak louder as he progressed. It looked like the speech was a bit long, but it did not matter, he was applauded in the end. Some of the things he said would form the basis of my interrogation later. “I took leave of absence to enter politics. When I set my mind on something, I don’t see challenges, I see me getting there. I always want to know the end of something from the beginning. This election is actually between me and those two big parties. Those two big parties have election between themselves. But between me and them, people will vote for me. They will speak with one voice, against those two big parties.”

When we got back to his room in the hotel, I tried to make him comfortable before probing further into his governorship ambition. Aiyegbusi admitted that there was pressure for him to throw his hat in the ring, but he would not say who dragged him into politics.  “Ordinarily, I will talk about them. They are politicians. Some of them were my customers in the bank. They kept telling come and do this thing, especially for this party. We don’t want people who had been in politics before. We want fresh faces, fresh thinking and fresh ideas. They specifically wanted me to come.”

A common question that he has tackled since he entered the race is the clamour to zone the governorship to Ekiti south senatorial district, an argument that he punctures. Lie the APC governorship candidate, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Aiyegbusi is from Ekiti north senatorial district. “Two of the contestants that contested against me in the primaries were from the south and at some point, we had pressures that I should step down and we said the two people should allow one of them in the race. But they did not. If a region does not win because they are not always able to put their house in order, whose fault is it? From that particular senatorial district, we have more than five candidates from different parties contesting, from my own north senatorial district, there is just the APC candidate, Fayemi and myself of the SDP. In Ekiti, Ikere has the largest voting population, the you have Ado; the next place is Ikole, that is my town. Ikere is divided among four people already, even if they are not going to vote for me, you are sure that the vote there is going to be divided among those four people. You have Ado, that is a battle for everybody to contest and I am sure, conservatively, I should get between 50 and 60 per cent of Ado, then you have Ikole, I am going to have the bulk vote from there.”

As a banker, Aiyegbusi miffed at the bad economic reputation of Ekiti. He thinks the place to start in order to put the state back on the path to recovery is to take some radical steps in agriculture. “A state cannot feed itself is not fit to exist. Ekiti collects N2 billion on average on monthly basis from the federation account. If you get that kind of money, you don’t need to spend it immediately, there should be some kind of investment. With the revenue coming from the federation account alone, I can increase IGR. Everywhere in Ekiti, there are money making opportunities. To activate the economy of the state, we need to get investors that will bring in money to stimulate the economy. The farmers will tell you that it is not all about going to farm, if they go to the farm and there is nobody to buy, the perishable goods would have been destroyed before they get a buyer. That is why they will not want to go the farm. They will rather ride commercial motorcycles. If you give them good seeds and good produce, and there is a ready market for it, people will come out to farm and the economy will start booming and when the economy starts booming, we will start generating more IGR in addition to the less than N400 million that we currently generate monthly.”

Born in Ekiti, Aiyegbusi schooled in Kaduna-from primary to the university at ABU. His father served his mandatory one year national service in Kaduna, got a job and decided to remain there. Though, he is widely travelled, Ekiti is always on his mind. “We are blessed with one of the most beautiful topographies. Ekiti means hills. Ekiti people live among hills. We have a cave in Ekiti that 4000 people can conveniently go inside and come out. It is one of the wonders of the world. We have waterfalls. We have Ikogosi. It is a place that is so serene. It is a fantastic location for cinema, if well developed. Ekiti is the ideal destination for a holiday.”

All the while, Mr. Yemi Akinbode, director general of Aiyegbusi’s campaign kept a close watch as the interview progressed, but said nothing. He spoke with his eyes; passing some unspoken messages that were understood by the governorship aspirant. The Aiyegbusi campaign is hinged belief that he is ‘most credible alternative’. He is also identifying himself with the Omoluabi philosophy, a Yoruba school of thought which among other things promotes the virtues of gentlemanly agreement and selflessness. “The worst thing that can happen to anybody is to beg, when you beg, you lose your self-esteem. It makes it attractive for people like that who have the wherewithal to come and force their way into peoples’ mind by giving them water because there is no water, giving them rice because there is no rice, giving them kerosene because there is no kerosene. They use this populism concept to buy peoples heart. That is what we are telling that you can do better. What you have in Ekiti now is degree holders operating commercial motorcycles. That is what they want you to do so that they will always come to use you every four years.”

One thing that is not fabricated is Aiyegbusi’s readiness to demystify all the Goliaths of Ekiti politics. He feels all the more fired up after he became the SDP’s flagbearer. I do not have a godfather. Nobody can tell me to take an oath. I am independent and free minded. I will do what I think is best for the people of Ekiti. My coming is about the people. It is not about myself. It is not about a godfather. It is not about somebody that I have signed a pact with that if I win this election, 70 per cent comes to you and private pockets. I have not gotten a dime from any one.”