Fayemi at 54: Service, Battles and Victories

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Kayode Fayemi

SATURDAY TRIBUTE

ByOlayinka Oyebode

Coming barely two weeks to his birthday, the judgement of the Ekiti State Election Petition Tribunal which re- affirmed Governor Kayode Fayemi as the validly elected governor of Ekiti State in the July 14, 2018 governorship election is seen in many quarters as a befitting birthday present to Fayemi who clocks 54 years old today. For Fayemi, the tribunal’s victory- sweet as it tastes- is but another in the series of battles and triumphs that have become the hallmark of his public service life. The victories he has earned are almost in equal measure to the battles he has fought to be where he is today.

Breaking out of his shadow to contest the 2006 primaries of the Action Congress (AC), was perhaps the first major battle of his public life. Even though he had previously waged a war, alongside other pro- democracy activists, against military dictatorship in the country as a member of the external wing of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). The 2006 primaries was for Dr Fayemi the first baptism of fire in the country’s political terrain. It was a keenly contested battle among the very best of the party in the state. The echoes of that battle of the titans had yet to fade out when the 2007 governorship election was held. The 2007 election battle in Ekiti, no doubt will have a generous mention when the political history of the country is fully written.

The powers that be at that time had decreed the direction the 2007 governorship election in Ekiti should go. But the army of the people felt otherwise. At the end of the day the powers that be had their way. But Fayemi had the last laugh after about three and a half years challenging the dubious victory given to the PDP at the tribunal, leading to a re-run of the election in April 2009. Victory however came at the eleventh hour via the Court of Appeal ruling on October 15, 2010.

Fayemi must have thought that there couldn’t have been any better way to appreciate the people of Ekiti who stood by him throughout the three and a half years battle to reclaim his mandate other than to submit to their service. And that was exactly what he did for the four years he served as the Governor of Ekiti State between October 16, 2010 and October 15, 2014.

He demonstrated unparalleled penchant for development and his insatiable desire to get the government to provide for the weak and vulnerable in the society led to some policies including the social security scheme which paid N5,000 monthly stipends to elderly indigent citizens above 65 years; free and compulsory primary and secondary education; computer per child initiative in the public secondary schools; comprehensive renovation of all public schools and hospitals; free health care for the vulnerable in the society. The need to spread development across the nooks and crannies of the state also led to the introduction of five kilometres road project implemented yearly in all the council areas. These roads complemented the networks of roads he constructed or rehabilitated for use in the urban areas.  And when you add this to the structured empowerment programmes for the youths and women, you have a government that had something for everybody in terms of development and provision of good life for the citizens.

Fayemi’s administration was guided by the social democratic principle of lifting the weak and vulnerable in the society. In those four years, Ekiti State witnessed a sincere and consistent effort at banishing poverty and sickness, resulting in massive improvement in all the indices of development. His major concern has always been how institutions of state can be strengthened in order to ensure effective service delivery.

His controversial loss at the 2014 governorship election in the state was not enough to discourage him from serving his people in other areas. Moments after leaving office, he devoted his time, energy and resources towards working for the success of the APC in the 2015 presidential election. At the inauguration of the Buhari administration on May 29, 2015, Fayemi was among those tapped by the newly inaugurated government to play some crucial roles in the government. Again, there arose a massive war by a section of the party in the southwest aimed at stopping his nomination. What started as an ordinary media war later snowballed into a full scale battle. For those at the frontline of the battle, the mantra was “anybody but Fayemi”.

Again, through sheer doggedness and his own unique diplomatic approach to issues, the plot collapsed and Fayemi was named Minister in charge of the Mines and Steel Ministry. At the ministry, the battle shifted to those who hitherto had been making fortunes through illegal mining. So, while thinking through the right policy mix that would help reposition the mining sector to meet the economic diversification and job creation plan of the Federal Government, he had his eyes fixed on the economic saboteurs and he never blinked until he halted the reign of one of the most notorious among them, who was reputed to have defrauded the country of well over a hundred billion naira through illegal mining activities. The planned concession of the Ajaokuta Steel Complex after it was successfully taken over by the Federal Government also sparked off a battle between Fayemi, as minister, and the National Assembly as the latter preferred a further injection of fund into the complex. Fayemi stood his grounds.

But what is arguably the mother of all battles was one he had with the immediate past government in Ekiti, his home state, under the leadership of Ayodele Fayose. But like a cat with nine lives, Fayemi overcame all. And the crowning glory was the victory in the July 14 governorship election.

As declared by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo “It is not life that matters but the courage you bring to it”, Fayemi, as a firm believer in the philosophy of the great nationalist, brings courage, resilience and tact to bear on every battle. The same way he drives his public service with great vision, working with imagination, insight, and boldness, his eyes fixed on the horizon, not just on the near at hand but the big picture and thinking strategically.

Perhaps, his name “Folorunso” plays a role in the way he emerges victorious even in battles that are considered high wired. As someone who served as an altar boy in his local catholic parish during his youthful years, JKF as he is fondly called, realises the divine dimension to his victories. Thus, he is ever magnanimous in victory, harbouring no bitterness against his foes both current and expired.

Born on Tuesday, February 9, 1965,  Fayemi attended Christ’s School, Ado Ekiti and subsequently earned degrees in History, Politics and International Relations from the Universities of Lagos and Ife in Nigeria, and a Doctorate in War Studies from the King’s College, University of London, England.

He is a Fellow of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Ibadan. He is also a Georgetown University Washington DC Leadership Fellow (2000). Dr. Fayemi served as Minister of Mines and Steel Development (2015-2018).He was the founding director of the Centre for Democracy & Development (CDD), a research and training institute dedicated to the study and promotion of democratic development, peace-building and human security in Africa. As a central figure in the coalition of civil society actors that resisted oppressive military rule in Nigeria, he was instrumental to the founding and running of opposition radio stations while in exile.

He has received several awards and recognitions at home and abroad, and holds the national honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON). He is married to Erelu Bisi Fayemi, the renowned women’s and children’s rights advocate, writer and social entrepreneur.

Today as we raise glasses in celebration of 54 years of impact- a life defined by battles which at the very peak always turn into victories, one of Fayemi’s favourite songs that readily comes to mind is:  Oye ka dupe, ara san, ategun fe, iji ja kogbe wa lo oye ka dupe. Happy Birthday, JKF!, the victory song has just started.

–––Oyebode is Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Ekiti State