For Now, I’m Committed to Finishing Well

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Ahead of his 56th birthday this Tuesday, February 9th, Ekiti State Governor and Chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, addressed some topical national and regional concerns. Contrary to swirling talks about his presidential bid, he said the 2023 presidential election would eventually sort itself out. But, for now, he’s only committed to finishing well as Ekiti State governor. He spoke to Victor Ogunje. Excerpts:

When you came on board as Ekiti State governor, you did so with a five Pillar policy thrust. How well have you been able to prosecute these?
Well, when I came, I was very clear about what I intended to do that could make tremendous impact in the lives of our people, I mean the average Ekiti person. Consequently, I had to narrow down my first term eight point agenda to five-pillars of Improving Governance, Agriculture and Rural Development, Infrastructure and Industrial Development, Knowledge Economy and Social Investment all geared towards making poverty history and creating wealth for Ekiti people. Creating wealth has always been the challenge here.

I have been here for two years and three months and in that period, and I believe dispassionate observers can see what I have been able to do to improve the economy of this State. Though the job remains an unfinished business and it will never be done, we make bold to say that those things we promised are being addressed sequentially and simultaneously. In terms of specific accomplishments I think we can say we have done considerably well. We have gone reasonably far. In my New Year speech, I tried to run through all what we have done in those thematic areas.

In the area of governance, Ekiti people are now happy, unlike before, that salaries are regularly paid as and when due. You know I used to say that payment of salaries is not what we should celebrate, because people have worked and they deserve their wages. But as one worker told me, against the backdrop of the backlog of salaries owed by the previous administration, regular payment of salaries is a big deal because they can now plan, determine, predict and organise their personal economy better and urged that I stop trivialising this major accomplishment.

What about the reengineering of the civil service? Has the policy gained traction?
Yes, that also has helped in such a way that we have been able to return professionalism to the civil service and public service in general by recruiting within a period of two years, 2,400 civil servants, the bulk of whom belong to the teaching service. The rest are in the health sector and core civil service. We have also ensured promotion for those in the civil service and clearing backlog of promotion of our workers.

In addition to that, we succeeded in producing the first female Head of Service in the history of this state. We also restored our erstwhile policy of competitive examination and interviews for those who want to become Permanent Secretary or Head of Service. We ensured that everything that we do is governed by process, procedures and extant rules. If you check Ekiti website today, you will see the financial records of this State, the audit reports, contracts awarded and amounts they were awarded for, financial records of the state, the budget of the State including the one I just signed December 23rd, 2020.

You will even get the performance of our budgets, including the most recent one. Budget 2020 had 92% performance. We have insisted on transparency in all that we do and have subjected ourselves to the strictures of SFTAS and Open Government Partnership. We have a clear record of what we have done in the Agriculture sector, which has emphasised the need for public private partnership between our commercial operators and our local farmers.

We brought the Promasidor Company, manufacturers of Cowbell to resuscitate the moribund Ikun Dairy Farm. That’s why when many, who don’t know what is going on criticise governments on the farmers-herders conundrum, I invite them to come to Ikun. Ikun was one of the rural ranches started by the Awolowo government in 1956 but which was abandoned in the last 30 years.

Governor Oni made an unsuccessful effort to revive it but this is the first time this is being done sustainably. We formed a company with Promasidor owning majority shareholding so as to avoid a situation in future when a new government comes and prove problematic. In another few months, we will be producing milk there commercially.

You all know the rice belt at Erinfun, Ado Ekiti, which we are doing with JMK Rice, Stallion Rice and Dangote processing mills, the Special Agriculture Processing Zone in Iyemero, Ipao-Irele axis and if you go to Okemesi, we just commissioned a snail village in – Egbeja village – another private initiative and we are doing all these without neglecting our local farmers particularly, our youth in commercial agriculture – a programme that started in my first term.

We have about 2,000 people that had benefited from the state’s Micro credit scheme and about N1.5 billion had gone into Small and Medium Scale Enterprises since I came on board for the second term. We have also ensured that we develop our rural areas, because it is critical to our agriculture sector. We have our Rural Access to Agriculture and Markets Programme (RAAMP), which deals with the construction of about 1,000kilometers of rural roads for easy transportation of agriculture products to the cities and market places, that is, connecting the rural farms to the feeder roads and to the markets.

Fundamentally, what we want to do is create wealth and you can’t create wealth, when you are dealing with an economy that is majorly a civil service oriented. You have to create opportunities for people to use their skills and create their own businesses.

The knowledge economy is very dear and Key to Ekiti. What impacts have you made in this sector?
In the knowledge economy, we have restored our old policy, which is free education that was cancelled by the immediate past government in public primary and secondary schools. We have begun to see major increase in school enrolment. Primary school enrolment has gone up by at least 40,000 pupils between 2018 when 2020. In the secondary schools, enrolment has gone up by about 25,000.

You have to wonder where were these pupils before we came on board and the answer to that is the lack of opportunities that stare us all in the face. It will shock you to know that all the four model secondary schools built recently by our administration have been filled up. We now have to build at least three more to address the shortfall based on demands. This intervention in the knowledge economy is really working.

So, we are planning to build one more in Ado Ekiti, another one in the South, in Ikere Ekiti, to make up for demands and pressure that are being mounted on the existing schools and another one in Ekiti North, most likely in Ikole. Equally, we have activated our policy of returning schools to their original owners, Christ’s School being the first.

The Catholics, the Methodists and the Ansarudeens have now asked for their schools too. In the Tertiary sector, we have upgraded the College of Education to the Bamidele Olumilua University of Education, Science and Technology, in fulfilment of our campaign promise to Ikere community.
We have also secured accreditation for the newly established College of Agriculture and Technology in Isan Ekiti, which is to produce mid-level career employment in the agricultural sector. We have the Ekiti State University, College of Health Technology, Ijero Ekiti and many others.

In the area of infrastructure, if you observe very well, you will see that we are laying fibre-optic cables all over the state, because we realised that what can give Ekiti an edge and bring us out of being a dependent civil service state is technology as contained in our economic strategy. We have entered into partnership with MTN for the laying of the Fibre optic cabling to guarantee broadband access that will create a regional loop extended to all the Tertiary institutions in the state: Ekiti State University, Federal University, Oye, Bamidele Olumilua University and the Afe Babalola University, Federal Polytechnic in Ado Ekiti and the College of Agriculture and Technology, Isan.

That is the value addition we brought and that we think we can bring to the table to make Ekiti a destination of choice for businesses, where you can stay, play and live to do your businesses and prosper.

In the social investment sector, we are helping the weak and the vulnerable out of their position of poverty and giving them leverage and relevance. Under this, the health sector takes the lead in that area. The primary health centres are being strengthened. Fifty of them will be renovated and equipped within the next six months. We are also planning to renovate and equip all our secondary facilities. This, we intend to do to make healthcare delivery available to our people. In addition, we are strengthening the Ekiti State Health Insurance Scheme, which we launched last year to guarantee universal access. Our health budget has grown exponentially as a result of this mission.

We are also paying attention to our tertiary hospital, improving on infrastructure and provision of equipment. This is a Covid-19 pandemic Era and you’ve seen how we have managed the situation. In fact, Ekiti has done well in the management of the pandemic. With this new strain of pandemic and the virulence, we need to increase vigilance and ensure that our people observe all protocols to halt the spread of the disease.
The next move now is making the vaccines available to our people. And we are looking at alternative way of procuring our own vaccine in addition to what the federal government is able to make available to us.

In the area of infrastructure, you are all here and you know what we have been able to do in that regard. Ekiti is a state with limited resources but with unlimited resourcefulness. We have giant ideas and we are resolute about our vision of taking Ekiti from a backwater State to the forefront of a modern, civilized society.

On water, as of today, we have rehabilitated three dams: Egbe, Ureje and the Ero Dams. We are now about to commence the rehabilitation of Itapaji Dam and the State is also partnering the federal government to rehabilitate the Ogbese Dam in the Southern part that had been abandoned by the federal Ministry of water resources.

Early in the new year, I ran to Mr. President for a special intervention for the completion of the Ogbese multipurpose dam, which is for irrigation, can supply water to the people of the south with the Egbe dam that is being turned around and also generate electricity with its 5 megawatts capacity, which he graciously approved.

In the Northern region, the Itapaji dam is going to be more for irrigation to improve agriculture in that axis, I mean ensuring farming all year round. In the area of electricity, we are also working hard to ensure improved power supply to Ekiti. We are partnering and signing MoUs with private investors. Roads are coming up gradually. We have six roads that traverse the three senatorial districts under construction. We have the Agbado-Ode-Omuo road, two, the road to the tourism belt, Aramoko-Erinjiyan-Ikogosi road, we have Ilupeju-Ijan-Igbemo road, which is 80 per cent complete. We have the Oye-Ayede-Ikun; we have the first phase of the by-pass – Ado-Iyin-Aramoko-Itawure road.

We are signing an Independent Power Project next week with FenChurch, which will focus on providing electricity for public institutions. We have a lot of building projects, the Oja Oba market, which had been commissioned. We will also commission our neighbourhood markets in all the local governments in the course of the next month. We are also working on solar power as an alternative renewable energy platform working with the Rural Electrification Agency. Our knowledge zone and the cargo airport are also continuing apace. We just got a grant of $250,000 from the AfDB for the development of the master plan of Ekiti Knowledge Zone.

On the airport, we are evaluating the bids for the construction of the runway, cargo sheds and the terminal, and the perimeter fencing had been done. We are also working out the compensation for those whose land has been taken in overriding public interest. I believe the winner of the main bid will move to site latest by March and I am confident that it will be completed before the expiration of my tenure. We have strengthened the public works corporation to be able to rehabilitate some of the township roads our people are complaining about.

You just said that you upgraded the College of Education to a university and established a College of Agriculture and Technology. Don’t you think this may add to the financial burden of government?
You could recall that it was my government that consolidated the University of Science and Technology, Ifaki, the University of Ado Ekiti and The University of Education, Ikere Ekiti (TUNEDIK) during my first term in office. Let me say this, the Oni government had returned the licence of TUNEDIK to the National Universities Commission before I came in 2010 due to irreconcilable differences with the community. It was my merger of the three universities that gave rise to the establishment of the Ekiti State University. Since then, the Federal University had been established in Oye and Ikole, taking care of the interest of Ekiti North.

However, there has been a serious agitation from the South about the need for a University to cater to the growing population of students in the South. Already, the College of Education has been an affiliate of University of Nigeria, Nsukka awarding Nsukka degrees in the last decade or more. This has inevitably reduced the population of students pursuing NCE and increased the population of degree students. Given this reality, one could justify the upgrading of the college.
However, I made myself clear that the government won’t increase subvention to the university for now, and I am particularly happy that we have a resourceful management and the governing council, who have been working hard to ensure that things work out in this regard.

I am glad to note too that the community has been living up to its promise to ensure that the university is funded through public-private partnership. I’m told the community is contributing about N500 million to fund the university. So given the above, granting the request for the upgrading of College of Education, Ikere is understandable.
About the College of Agriculture and Technology, there has been a serious gap in the development of human capital in the Agriculture sector in the state. Even in government, we have a dearth of extension workers to help our farmers. These are the people who used to train farmers in modern farming techniques in the olden days and we have to return to that era whilst enabling our farmers become Agripreneurs.

I believe this College will help in training middle cadre technologists that will be of help to our many commercial agricultural businesses in the state. So, it is going to be a win-win situation for the state if we make use of the institutions very well. It will put education and agriculture as the unique selling points of Ekiti people.

Are you not worried that the Nigerian Governors’ Forum is divided on the issue of Covid-19 Pandemic?
Not at all! We are not in any way divided. We have 35 governors on one side. Only one of us had a divergent opinion and that is the beauty of democracy. But a situation whereby our people are dying, and the whole world is worried and people still doubt the existence of the disease is unfortunate.

Let me tell the public that my very dependable and reliable ally, a member of the Ekiti State House of Assembly, Hon Juwa Adegbuyi just died of complications linked to Covid-19. Everyday in the last three weeks, I lost at least one person personally known to me to Covid-19. So, it is very unfortunate to say that the pandemic doesn’t exist. As democracy demands, we can hold our views, but as leaders, the welfare of our people should be paramount to us.
We shouldn’t take anything that has to do with welfare and wellbeing of the people with levity. For whatever reason, we shouldn’t mislead our people and if we do, we must hold ourselves vicariously responsible if they become careless on account of believe us as thought leaders and influential opinion moulders. Some are even saying the vaccines are out to eliminate Africans. It is just unfortunate. We will continue to appeal to the people that hold this view so that they won’t blame themselves for whatever calamity befalls them.

I can assure you that every governor is conscious of the seriousness of this pandemic and we are working assiduously to curtail the spread, but every single death we recorded brings sorrow to all of us. But for those, who have contrary opinion, we will continue to appeal to them. My duty as the head of the Governors’ Forum is to convey the totality of our agreement to the President and I can tell you without any shadow of doubt that we don’t follow opinions, we follow science.

The reason things have been better for us in Ekiti is, because we were strict, probably even more than Lagos, Abuja and other states. I want to tell our people that we must follow science on this issue of Covid-19. Let me say this, I experienced it and I knew what it means and I will never wish what I experienced with Covid-19 on my enemy. At least 10 of my colleagues have also experienced it.

The 2023 election has started generating ripples in Southwest APC with those loyal to you and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu fighting on the social media. Where do you stand and how do you douse the raging tension?
Asiuwaju Bola Tinubu and I have no reason or business to have any altercation on any issue, not least on 2023 election as you put it. Politics, to me, is not played on the social media. It is not a twitter game or a social media business. There is no basis for any altercation. I have not told anybody that I will be running and Asiwaju has not told anybody that he will be running. This is just a storm in the teacup. Some people are just creating this crisis for themselves even when they have not been sent by anyone.

I am sure that the future will sort itself out. APC is one big political family and I don’t think it will be right to start fighting over ambition or engaging in character assassination. This kind of politics or war of attrition will not help us in APC either in Nigeria or in the Southwest. It is not helpful to the development of democracy, not helpful to our zone, and our race. My own belief is that things will sort themselves out in the future.

So, there’s really no tension to douse. 2023 is at least two years away. I’m sure you know what they say about a week being a long time in politics. My primary interest now is to finish well in Ekiti and complete my legacy projects in the process of restoring the values of Ekiti people and reclaiming the land back to sanity. Every other thing is speculative.

The 2022 governorship election in Ekiti is around the corner. Are you confident of retaining the state for APC despite the crisis in your party and in view of this widespread impression that APC has not fared well at the federal?
You remember what people said in 2019 that APC would lose presidency and this same president won. In 2018, they said the same thing in Ekiti and we emerged victorious. We are politicians and we can say anything to discredit a government in power in order to manufacture consent and popularity where none exist. When I came back in 2018, I told the people that I will make a tremendous impact in their lives and it is on that record that whomever that would succeed me will run.

One thing I know that made me won the 2018 election was that, there was no community that I got to where I could not point to two, three or four projects that I did in my first term. When the time comes, it is my record that the candidate of my party will run on. Two, where is the crisis in APC. What we have are agitations by those, who have their views about me and about the party.
What we have are tendencies within a vibrant political party and any party that is truly democratic must have that. I am very confident without a shadow of doubt that we will have enough to sell to our people. Campaign is a market place; we will all go out and talk to Ekiti kete on why the candidate of APC should be voted for, because we are going to run on a record.

What of the impression that the APC at the centre has failed the nation?
Like I said earlier, they said more than that in 2019 and we won. The APC has not done badly at the federal level. We have not in any way disappointed and the records are there for everyone to see. Is it the second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan road, Abuja-Kaduna-road, Ibadan-Lagos rail line, Abuja-Kaduna rail line and so on? Even the dualisation of Ado-Akure road has been awarded and the project will begin soon.

The federal government is doing a lot of projects all over the nation. However, has APC met all the expectations of the citizens? Absolutely not! We still have a lot to do in the two and a half years left. But let me say it expressly, the APC will win the 2023 presidency but if you’re in doubt, let us all wait and see.

What modality are you putting in place to ensure that the APC has a hitch-free membership registration in Ekiti?
This APC membership registration is an open and transparent exercise and it is the right of every member to revalidate his or her membership and the right of new members to come on board. I also think it provides the opportunity for those who had been agitating from the outside to come in and deepen their engagement with the party.

The process is straightforward and I believe the Registration Committee will explain this when they come to Ekiti. All of us will be part of this process and we even want others, who are not part of us to come and join our party. A week ago, the former state secretary of the PDP defected to APC in his ward in Iyin Ekiti. So, all members have the legitimate right to register without hindrance. The constitution of APC mandates the party to update its register every six months, but this is the first time to my knowledge that we are doing this since 2015.

You will be 56 on Tuesday, February 9. Looking back to your childhood, would you say you were over-pampered being the last child?
I was not in any way over pampered, but I grew up around women with my mother and four sisters, who all contributed to who I’m today. There’s quite a considerable gap between my siblings and I, because my parents lost two daughters before I was born. My eldest sister is 70 this year, that’s a fourteen-year gap and my immediate elder sister is 62 next months. That’s a six-year gap.

I was quite close to my mother and by the time all my sisters had left home, I was her journeyman, driver and shop attendant, running errands for her in her store. But my mother was hot. She never spared the rod – and that rod could be the hot soupspoon or her pounding yam pestle. I learnt how to escape from what would be seen today as child abuse and thankfully, my sisters provided me with space every time I felt bored at home or at odds with my parents. I also grew up to enjoy my own company and I was a very studious child but not really a pampered child.