Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State is under pressure to surpass the record he set in his first tenure, which were taken apart by the succeeding government
In the course time, as we travelled from the airport in Akure, Ondo State, heading out to Ado Ekiti, capital of Ekiti State, I couldn’t help thinking how the main journey to our destination was shorter and less distressing than the effort to get to the airport in Lagos. Flight time to Akure is 35 minutes; add about 80 minutes by road to Ado Ekiti, still it is nothing compared to nearly three hours of moving from home to the airport in Lagos. Many of the passengers on the Air Peace flight had Ekiti as their final destination. With no airport in Ekiti, they are left with the choice of flying to the closest airport in Akure. In a couple of years, the distance into town (for those going by air to Ekiti) could be shorter when Ekiti Airport is fully built and commissioned.
Within living memory, some pioneering Nigerian governors have used the benefits of air transportation to maximum advantage to drive development in their states. In the Second Republic, the late Governor Sam Mbakwe ignited a sense of belonging in every indigene of Imo State by asking them to contribute a token sum for the building of the Imo Airport. In recent years, former Governor Victor Attah of Akwa Ibom State built the airport which was completed and commissioned by his successor in office, Senator Godswill Akpabio. The airport is now named after Attah. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, who is on his ‘second missionary journey’ is in a hurry to leave irreversible landmarks in his last tenure as the state’s chief executive.
One of the assignments that he is giving deserving attention is the airport project. He began by inaugurating a nine-man committee chaired by legal luminary, Chief Afe Babalola, to look into the possibility of siting an airport in the state as soon as possible. Fayemi is eager to shoot the state into limelight with its emerging economy and attract investors as well as tourists. The Ikogosi Resort, the state’s flagship culture and hospitality melting port looks good to play its anchor role. Fayemi tested the viability of Ikogosi in his first tenure when he developed it to an impressive standard that supported the hosting of such continental and national events like the Future Africa Award, Nigerian National Merit Award (NNMA). Ikogosi is famous for being home to a natural attraction that produces a warm and cold spring which meet at a confluence. Fayemi had placed a premium on the allure of Ikogosi, which also attracted film makers and committed a lot of resources to its transformation. Ikogosi is also increasingly known as the production base of a popular brand of premium table water, Gossy.
Ikogosi was a sore point to Fayemi as we commenced an interaction in his office. Being of a calm disposition, he did his best to address the issue without getting angry. He responded in a manner that expanded the scope of the discourse, taking it from the local to a national realm.
Like many of the projects initiated in his first term, Fayemi was disappointed to return after his re-election to find Ikogosi completely ruined, the multi-million Naira he sunk into the development, had been wasted. “Disappointed. Not surprised because my predecessor had no campaign. There was no manifesto. There was really nothing to hold him down to as promises to the people,” he responded calmly. Beyond this local challenge, Fayemi sees a national malaise that must be dealt with through legislation. His idea of dealing is to adopt a universal approach which he is willing to test in Ekiti, “I feel that government is a continuum. All of us, regardless of political party, that we belong to, owe a duty to, as much as possible, complete unfinished project because if you don’t do that it is ultimately going to be to the detriment of your state. It is the state resources anyway, it is not the governor’s personal resources expended on such projects. Take a place like Ikogosi Resort, coming back and seeing it in total ruins was one of the most disappointing feelings I have had since returning.”
He has since fashioned an Executive Bill called the Transition Bill that articulates in very simple language what should be the framework between a departing administration and an incoming administration. If it succeeds in Ekiti, there is a good chance that other states may adopt the Ekiti model to address that problem, which is not good for Nigeria’s growing democracy. Though, he may not be able to ram it down the throat of his colleagues in the Nigeria Governors Forum, Fayemi hopes to exploit the non-partisan nature of the institution advise incoming colleagues and departing colleagues.
When my colleague, Chelsea Konye and I arrived his office with the Chief Press Secretary, Yinka Oyebode, he was reading through a file. He raised his head to acknowledge our presence, then motioned us to sit across the table from him. He went back to his work for a moment, then dismissed the official who was standing by. After making a joke about the cluster of files on his table, he insisted we move to another side of the office with a set of sofas that would provide a more conducive mood for a conversation. He was wearing his trade mark cap, which has become a token that serves as a constant reminder that he seeks to have a place in the pantheon of all-time great politicians like Chief Obafemi Awolowo. I ask what he is doing differently since one of prevailing opinions against his previous administration was that it was too elitist; that he did not really come down to the people at the grassroots.
“What does that mean?” He shot back
“Meaning you don’t eat ‘akara’ or corn with the people on the road side.”
He started with a sentence he is becoming famous for. “Government,” he said, “is serious business.” Pointing back at his desk, he presented the ever present evidence. “Look at the time you are in my office (it was close to 11 at night). Look at the number of files I have on my table. Government is not a tea party. I do not make any apology that I take my work seriously. As a student of History and Politics, I have moved around the world. We may be in the post-truth age. I cannot recall any of my icons in politics eating ‘boli’ or corn by the road side as a means of validating their popularity. My leader, President Buhari, at least, you and I can agree or disagree, I have not seen him on the street and he has a cult-like following in many parts of this country. He is responsible for his popularity. Where I come from, we are pretty proud as a people. Generally, people look up to their leaders. They don’t want their leaders to come down to them. They are aspirational. They aspire to be where their leader is; by benefit of education, being serious minded, delivering on promises and being an embodiment of the values that we are proud of. I am giving a philosophical answer.
The fact is I am not going to eat corn on the streets, but I have conducted government business in as grassroots a manner as I can. My government, at least in my first missionary journey, if I can call it that was the only government that, in the whole of the South-west, at the time, focused on participatory budgeting. We don’t sit in this office to do budget. Every year, I go to the 132 communities in this state to ask their three topmost priority. They give me what those priorities are. I do not stop there, we incorporate the priorities in the state budget. We also allow them to implement, at least, one of the priorities. We give the town unions money. We allow them to manage it. It turns out that it is cheaper for government. In many cases, the failure rate is almost zero. If you go to those communities and say, ‘Fayemi does not run a grassroots government’, they will say what are you talking about? It is true I don’t eat on the streets, in that manner, but you know what? I also don’t know many governors in this state who eat as much corn and ‘boli’ as I do, but I eat it in my office, because I don’t see any reason for that any reason for that dirty display of popularity.”
While some people may not understand his fixation with returning to the core values of Ekiti, he is happy that a distinguished group of indigenes, Ekiti Council of Elders visited him recently and their conversation centred mainly on this. Even the state’s of arms boldly pronounces the direction, ‘Ile iyi, Ile eye’ (Land of honour, Land of integrity). That is Fayemi’s Ekiti! However, a major challenge that he is tackling head on is how to turn the state’s famed knowledge basket to wealth. Already, one of the pillars of his administration is what he calls the Knowledge Economy.
He explained, “We go to school. Many of us are professors and professionals in different fields, but we haven’t quite succeeded in turning our knowledge to wealth. We have first class medical doctors, but many of them are outside Ekiti. We have architects, IT professionals. In the last 10-15 years, an Ekiti son, not necessarily the same person, has been the head of Cisco. In a whole of range of fields, we are exemplars, but they are not necessarily excited about coming home. What do we do to turn our brain drain to brain gain? What enabling environment do we create around? How do we convince these smart people to give back to this place? In my first tenure, I used to run Ikogosi Graduate Summer School. We used to gather Ekiti academics, mostly from abroad; the Niyi Osundares of this world, Professor Bolaji Aluko who are really top flight academics in American universities and their colleagues for one month and then we gather Ekiti PhD students across Nigerian universities for an intensive, very well exposed four week programme.”
In the 2019 fiscal year, the Fayemi administration plans to spend about N129,924,472,135.01. Whether the N57,214,891.72 or 44.0 per cent of the amount set aside for capital expenditure can accommodate his ambitious projects can only be imagined. But he is hopeful that it can be achieved through a working relationship with the African Development Bank and an unquantifiable remittance from Ekiti in Diaspora. He enthused, “We have one of the best hospitals in this country, right here in Ado Ekiti. It may be a surprise to many, who may think I am taking the love for my state too far. I am talking about Afe Babalola Univerity Teaching Hospital. It is a 400-bed hospital. There is none like it in this country. Open heart surgeries are being done there. It is a private sector initiative supported by the African Development Bank. Why can’t that hospital, with the exemplars that we have in every field of medicine, become Apollo Hospital of India? How much do Nigerians spend every year going to Apollo for breast cancer, cervical cancer, prostrate? We spend billions. That is one example of how we can turn our knowledge to wealth.
We are trying to turn that whole area where you have Afe Babalola University into a Knowledge City; that is medical hub, an IT hub, an Agric-tech hub, innovation hub. Investment can then come to Ekiti and we turn the place to a hub for commercial activities. Government is providing infrastructure. We just received a positive nod from the African Development Bank to help not just with the conceptualization, but also the development of this city. It is going to be a go-to place because there will be 24-hour electricity. It is going to be an out-sourcing centre. It is going to be an academic centre. It is going to be a place for research and development in a whole range of fields. Who is better placed to do this in Nigeria than Ekiti, given our antecedent.
The discussion went on for close to one hour with the Ekiti governor saying that he is poised to do things differently in this tenure. We took note that he looked at his timepiece a couple of times as a subtle hint to allow him return to work. The next morning he was at our lodge inside the Government House to bid us farewell.
“I did not go to bed till about 3 O’ Clock this morning,” he said after inquiring of us if we slept well. There is a reason Fayemi is in a hurry to get things done. He has a wonderful opportunity to go down in history as the builder of modern Ekiti.