Fayemi: Looking at All Parameters, APC’ll Still Win 2023 Presidential Poll

Sunday  Interview

Dr. Kayode Fayemi has been a leading national figure in the last 12 years, providing strategic leadership in different public offices he had the privilege to serve. Yesterday, he bowed out of office as Ekiti Governor amid accolades. Fayemi, who was elected President of the Forum of Regions of Africa, during its inaugural meeting in Morocco on September 10, became the  governor of the state in 2010, when he reclaimed his stolen mandate and returned to the state house in 2018.  Within a year of his second coming as governor , he emerged as the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum. He had  also served as the Minister of Solid Minerals Development between 2015 and 2018 . During the just concluded two-day valedictory conference organised in his honour, Fayemi earnestly reflected on his foray into partisan politics, achievements in the last four years, constraints to his mission to restore the lost values of his people, and his plan for the future, among others. Gboyega Akinsanmi was there

Whether from Ondo State or Osun State, all the federal roads that lead to Ekiti are in deplorable conditions. As the Chairman of NGF, why can’t you prevail on the federal government to fix these roads? What is the real problem? Did Ekiti offend the federal government?

We are unhappy about the conditions of the federal roads linking Ekiti to other states. We have decided as a policy to take over these roads from the federal government and reconstruct them, using my network of influence with our development partners. We secured funds from AfDB to fix the Akure-Ado-Ekiti road and dualise it. We got over $100 million for the reconstruction of the road. But the owner of the road blatantly rejected our plan to take it over. It is not verbal. The Federal Ministry of Works and Housing wrote to me to leave the roads. If you reconstruct it, you cannot toll it and we will not refund you. Just stay off our roads. This is 2022. We started this process in 2018. I was able to get the fund because the President of AfDB came to Afe Babalola University for an honorary degree. On his way back, he called me. I was not in the state when he called me. He said he just travelled on your road to Akure to catch up with a flight and the road is horrible. I said that was very good. I told him I was looking for money to fix the road. We started the process. I went to Abidjan and got the funds. But the federal government asked us to leave its road alone.

Does the Federal Ministry of Works have the final say on the release of the road and not even Mr. President?

Yes, the ministry has the final say. The president does not have the final say. Well, I happened to know that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) took a position that no state should henceforth reconstruct or rehabilitate federal roads within its territory. That was after the federal government paid almost N1 trillion for the federal roads that the state governments either reconstructed or rehabilitated. The FEC insisted on undertaking the construction of federal roads, and it would not have to pay refunds to any government. In fairness, it was only President Buhari that paid refunds for federal roads reconstructed or rehabilitated since 1999. He was across the board. He was not selective. He was not partisan about it. The governor, who took the highest share of the refunds, is Governor Wike. He collected N78 billion for the refunds of federal roads that previous administrations fixed in Rivers State. You can understand why the FEC took that position. However, it is inexcusable in this particular instance because we have money. Because there is a sovereign, AfDB cannot give Ekiti funds unless the Federal Republic of Nigeria signed off the money. So, we conceded to the federal government. I then asked the Ministry of Works and Housing: what if I transfer the money to you? The most important thing is to fix our road. It does not matter whether it is Ekiti that took the fund or not. We agreed on it. I transferred the fund to the Federal Ministry of Finance. This is just the paperwork.

The fund has not come. AfDB then said it was okay for them. It would still be in Nigeria’s portfolio and the federal government can take it. But before taking it, the federal government must comply with our procurement process. This is the global standard procurement process. We had three teleconferences involving myself, the Minister of Works, the AfDB President, and the AfDB Country Director in Nigeria on this matter. So, the federal government agreed to take it over. By the time we got to that stage, the FEC had awarded the road to Dantata & Sawoe at N30 billion. They were reluctant to complete the procurement process, which was not acceptable to AfDB. Meanwhile, out of the N30 billion, the federal government gave Dantata & Sawoe N400 million in 2020. The contractor used N400 million to mobilise to the site. They brought their equipment. They brought their vehicles. The following year the federal government released N1 billion. They started some construction work. If you do not have the information I am giving you, you will make your conclusion. In truth, there was no money to fix the road. We looked for money to fix the road. We ran into headwinds.

 In light of your explanation, why should the federal government lay claim to roads it cannot maintain or rehabilitate across the federation?

Honestly, that question we should ask ourselves is: what is even the federal road anyway? The people of Ekiti are asking for their rights. They do not know the difference between federal and state roads. As far as they are concerned, the state governor is closer to them. He is the one they will hold responsible. Even if he does not know anything about it, we will hold him responsible. That is the problem we are facing. We are fixing our roads internally. But we were not able to take over the federal roads that we wanted to take responsibility for and fix. Yet, we are the ones being held responsible. The people are right because they do not need to bother themselves that one road is federal and the other road is for the state. It is too much stress for the people. They just want roads to be fixed. That is the context of the problem we are grabbing with. It is unfortunate. Now, we have shifted because the federal government is not ready to follow the procurement process of AfDB. This means the federal government wants to reject the funds. To date, AfDB is asking about the project. We are now chasing the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited because it has started its tax credit roads. We have struggled to put the Akure-Ado-Ekiti road on the list of tax-credit roads just last week with the hope that they will accelerate the work. It will still be under the purview of the federal government because that was what we did for the road between Omuo and Kabba. We got Dangote Plc to sign off for tax credit. That also applied to the road the federal government did from Obajana to the Ekiti boundary. That is the nature of our federal system.

With what you just said now, don’t you think this federal governance structure is no longer serving the public interests? Or put differently, don’t you think it is time for the proper restructuring of Nigeria?

Restructuring is an idea whose time has come. I do not think we will be able to run away from it. It will be a major issue in the 2023 electoral campaign. It is already becoming an issue. I have seen the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, loudly talking about restructuring. I have seen the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi said he wants to dialogue with all the agitators. Of course, as you said, it has always been on our agenda. By way of defending our party, we have done everything we said we would do. The Nasir el-Rufai Committee put it in black and white. But that task is not an executive task. It is a legislative task. The 1999 Constitution only empowers the National Assembly to change the Constitution. We have submitted the report of the Nasir el-Rufai Committee to the National Assembly. We have even engaged the principal officers of the National Assembly when the Nasir el-Rufai Committee submitted it. I have also seen the alteration in my capacity as the Chairman of NGF. After the National Assembly has done its part, it is sent to the State Houses of Assembly. It is now for the NGF to sit with 36 governors and speakers to decide what we are going to support and what we are not going to back. If 24 out of 36 states do not approve it, it is dead in the water because it will not go forward again. We completed that exercise three weeks ago. But we then insisted on the inclusion of state policing in the proposal because we got all governors to be on the same side on state policing. Even though some were reluctant, they had convened the meeting of Emirs and governors and signed off on state policing. We then sent it back to the National Assembly. These things are on, though not as fast as people will like. It may take time to happen. We cannot be averse to restructuring. I have written on restructuring. I have spoken about it. I am on record restructuring.

What are the key areas the pending constitutional review or the restructuring proposal seek to address?

First, the revenue allocation formula is lopsided in favour of the federal government. Our position is that you cannot give me responsibility and not give me the resources to discharge the responsibility you gave me. That will amount to the tyranny of an unfunded mandate. We have argued that there has to be a re-arrangement of the revenue allocation formula in favour of state and local governments. I think the position of NGF is 42 per cent for the federal government, 35 per cent for state governments, and 23 per cent for local governments. We have proposed that the federal government retains a lower share while state and local governments have a higher share. To take care of primary health care is the state’s responsibility. To take care of basic education is the state’s responsibility. They still want to play a role in it. That is why the federal government set up the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) and National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) still spend funds and coordinate what state governments are doing. Yes, these agencies can regulate. But they cannot implement and operate these critical segments that define the lives of citizens. So, our position has always been clear on these issues.

The public perception of President Buhari is that he has disappointed Nigerians in many areas. A lot of people are living below the poverty line. Don’t you think this will affect the chance of the APC in the next election?

I’m sure the private perception of President Buhari is that things have not worked out in the manner he had envisaged or had hoped they would. Without holding a brief for him, I have not been on that side now for four years when I left his cabinet. It is only fair to say that none of us ever anticipated the outbreaks of COVID-19. Not even in our own wildest imagination did we know that anything like it would happen to us and leave us in the paralysis that our country had experienced in the last three years. It is a global experience and not just about our country. That contributed to the deleterious impact that the economy is suffering from today. That is without prejudice to policies and plans that many believe the administration ought to have taken. On fuel subsidy, the governors have come out to say it is no longer working. Yes, we know how compassionate and concerned President Buhari is concerning the lives of ordinary Nigerians. But fuel subsidies are not helping the majority of ordinary people. It is helping you and me. It is only helping the middle-class and elite, who still drive their SUVs around and travel with an entourage. Somehow, we have managed to convince the President. But now it has become clearer. I have seen a statement lately that fuel subsidy is not sustainable and that we cannot continue with it.

A lot happened to somebody who is in office. We may not have the full facts. If I have not told you about the Akure-Ado-Ekiti road and the situation responsible for what has transpired, you will join people having conversations on the road that this Fayemi is useless. He has been in office for years and cannot even fix just one road. Meanwhile, I have fixed many roads within Ekiti State. This one road has become my nemesis. It is truly no fault of mine. As I said, I am not holding a brief for him. I was the Director of Policy and Programmes for the APC Presidential Campaign Council in 2015. A lot of these things are contained in our manifestoes, strategies, and plans. But getting to the office is another thing entirely. Maybe, there was information that was not available to us, but the President was privy to, that did not allow him to take certain decisive steps that ordinary Nigerians were expecting him to take. If you are in that seat, you get so much conflicting advice and recommendations. Even on this little seat that I am on, I get all manner of pieces of advice that are often driven by the interests of the person that gave the advice and not the interest of the overall populace.

That is where your judgement comes in as a leader. You should be able to decipher what will finally be in the interest of the people, having considered all the factors at your disposal. I do not think we should worry too much about President Buhari. He is on his way out. On the impact on our party, we will explain our situation to Nigerians. We do not have a choice. It is a democracy. We will explain our situation to the people of Nigeria. We will tell the people of Nigeria to look at the leading candidates and assess them based on their track records, character, competence, capacity, and commitment to the Nigeria Project. If they do not choose, so be it. It is not the end of the world. But when you look at all the parameters, we are still going to carry the day, perhaps by the skin of our teeth.

You have been governors for eight years. You have also served as a minister. What is your next plan?

We are all instruments in the hands of God. I belong to a political party. My party is in the race for the presidential election. I have no choice, but to support my party to win. As you know, I ran for presidency myself. But I stepped down for the candidate of the party. Naturally, I will work for the party. That is the assignment I have now. But that is not the job. That is just an assignment. I am familiar with such an assignment. I have done it in the past. Our presidential candidate will want to handle a particular aspect of the campaign. That is not the problem. We will work on the holistic agenda to win. We know it is not going to be a tea party. We know this election is going to be tough. But we hope for the best. In terms of what next, I am going to reflect on my experience of the last 12 years in Ekiti State. Maybe, a book or two books will come out of it. But it will be a sequel to “Out of the Shadow.”

What defined your administration when you returned to office again in 2018?

The thrust of my campaign in 2018 was about restoring values and reclaiming the land for the people. There was a context to it. As a people, we have been short-changed. We have received bad press for atrocities that our people did not commit, simply on the account of the way the then governor portrayed us as a state of stomach infrastructure and hungry people, who were just desperate for anything they could grab. He portrayed us as a people without character, integrity, and value. That was the perception of Ekiti and its people then. I felt it was a wrong image of our people and state. I had a duty to be some kind of brand ambassador to rebrand Ekiti and put it in proper perspective as to who we are, our goals as a people, and how things should be conducted.

As Ekiti State Governor, you completed your second term on Friday. What did you do differently between 2018 and 2022?

When we came in 2018, there was a general disillusionment among public servants due to the backlog of unpaid salaries and abandoned infrastructure projects. The projects comprised those uncompleted during my first administration and Governor Ayodele Fayose’s term. If you compare those projects then to now, you will see what we have done. You will see significant differences. For me, bricks and mortar are important because people pay a lot of attention to them. But if we only see what has changed in terms of bricks and mortars, we will be missing the point. I am not saying we have not done that. For example, we have completed Chief Obafemi Awolowo Civic Centre. We completed the market Fayose started at the central King’s Palace. We have revamped Ikun Dairy Farm in partnership with Promasidor Nigeria. We have started the Special Agricultural Processing Zone. Fayose made a lot of noise about the airport. But he never did anything about it. The airport will have its first test flight in a few days.

That is one project that was on Fayose’s agenda and even Governor Segun Oni’s agenda. Ironically, I was the one that was sceptical about the airport project from the start. But I became convinced that the state could use it to accelerate development. We have also added the Ado-Iyin dual carriageway. The road from Ode to Isinbode, Otun, and Kogi’s border was impassable. But we have not constructed the road. The road from Oye to Otun has been completed. Likewise, we have done the road to Ilupeju, Ire, Igbimo, and Ijan. We have also done the road to Aramoko, Ikogosi. We delivered the independent power project (IPP) and knowledge zone project, which has improved our broadband access in the state. If you go to our hospitals, we have equipped and upgraded them all, including the teaching hospitals. The same thing has happened to Ekiti schools. We have constructed eight new model colleges to replace the mission schools that we have returned to their original owners. Many, who want to go to public schools, will not go to Christ School for example because they have returned it to its original owners. As a result, we decided to set up new model colleges named in honour of our prominent patriots. We have rebuilt all the water dams in the state. We have expanded the opportunities in the rural communities with the rural roads that we have constructed.

You talked about your mission to restore the values of the Ekiti people and reclaim the land. Have you been able to restore those values in the real sense?

What has done a lot more for us is the restoration of Ekiti’s values. There is no more a one-week-one-trouble story that you used to hear about our state. We are no longer in the news for the wrong reasons. This has been a scandal-free four-year term, that no one could point to anything untoward that any member of the administration has indulged himself or herself in. I also have the opportunity to preside over my colleague as the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF). It also reflected positively on us as a state because the Forum in the last four years cannot be compared to any previous leadership. We had no issues. We also spoke with one voice. There was no disagreement. 

There were no 16 and19 factions. Everything went smoothly for that period. We were able to achieve a lot from the sub-national governments despite that 18 months out of the four years I spent was completely overtaken by COVID-19. For those 18 months, we had workers permanently at home, just receiving salaries, not working, and now coming to work as well. We never stopped their salaries for one day because of the outbreaks of COVID-19. 

Instead, we cut the salaries of political appointees by 50 percent because it was serious pressure on our revenue both internally generated and allocations from the Federation Accounts. In the last 10 months, as you are aware, we have never received one Naira from NNPC into the Federation Accounts. The pressure had become almost unbearable. It has been a miracle. We have even been asked how we have been able to cope with the payment of salaries without missing a single month even when states that earn more are owing workers’ salaries for five months during this difficult period. For me, it has been four interesting years. It has been a great opportunity to serve our people. Naturally, citizens will always be fastidious. No matter how grateful they are for what you have done, there is still a lot to do. Job is never complete. 

In the last four years, can you give insight into your most challenging day?

The day the Ekiti State Chapter of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners rejected the plan we proposed to defray the backlog of gratuities. We have a backlog of gratuities running to about N12 billion. When I came back, we then entered into a partnership with one of the prominent financial institutions to give them promissory notes that would defray the unpaid gratuities. But that will be a commission for those providing the money. I explained to the pensioners. Your gratuity, for instance, is N5 million. The provider of the service will take a 15% commission. You will get N3.8 million instead of N5 million. It is better for you to take this money than to keep waiting till the state government will have N5 million cash to give you. It is better for you to take N3.8 million at hand, though you are losing N1.2 million out of it. But this N3.8 million is money at hand. It is not N5 million that you are expecting and you have not seen. You may not see it, if you die before the money eventually comes to you. God forbid such happenings. We have done this arrangement. We are the ones who will pay for it eventually. Take this because if you do not take it, this N3.8 million will even become N2 million equivalent because of inflation. That is what happened. N3.8 million then was N2 million because the dollar that was N360 then is N730 today. Somehow, politics got in the way. They got derailed, even though they had agreed with us. For me, it was unfortunate that our pensioners rejected the proposal.

When you came in 2018, you had a plan if you were to tick the box. How did you address the heinous challenges you inherited from your predecessor?

When I came in 2018, I had a five-point agenda – infrastructure and industrial development, knowledge economy, agriculture and rural development, good governance, and social investments. I can say that we have reasonably addressed all the challenges that we saw then. When we came in 2018, Ekiti had moved from the state with the highest enrolment figures and lowest out-of-school children in the country to the last. We were top in the country before I left in 2014, but we had become the last in the South-west in 2018. However, the joint survey of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) just came out last month. Ekiti has come back to the first in the country as the state with the highest school enrolment and lowest out-of-children. This is not rocket science anyway.

When Fayose was here, students were forced to pay tuition in primary and secondary schools. They were also forced to pay for their public examinations. I came back in 2018 and restored all our policies of 2014. That is what resulted in the significant rating of Ekiti State. People, who could not afford the cost of education under my predecessor’s administration, withdrew their kids from schools and kept them at home. Those who got to SSIII could not afford N20,000 WAEC fees. We came back to take the burden off the neck of their parents. This is not to encourage the parents to abdicate their responsibilities. The parents are still getting uniforms and other things for their wards. By taking those critical things out of their limited funds, they quickly started returning to school. We were even getting a drift from private schools to public schools because of the new schools that we built across the state. In public examinations, our students were doing very well. Students had even deserted our technical schools. We now have an aggressive drive towards vocational and technical education. We improved the schools because we could not force students to schools where equipment was not available to practice what they were being taught. If you go to the Technical College, Ado Ekiti, the equipment there is better than those in some universities. We have Technical Colleges in Otun, Ijero, and other places.

That also is the advantage of our coming back. All our development partners that left these states during Fayose’s administration returned. Within the space of four years, I have been in the office, Ekiti has received $350 million from the World Bank. People asked how we were able to do some of the things we were doing. It is basically because I use whatever I have to pay salaries. Every project you see here is mostly development support from our development partners. The roads we constructed, the dams we overhauled, the IPP we built, and the new schools we introduced, among others, are initiatives that were supported by our development partners – African Development Bank (AfDB), French Development Agency, and the World Bank. But they will not support you if they do not have confidence that you will deliver because it is not a favour. This is still our money. It is only that the money is being lent to us at a concessional lending rate. Instead of paying a 30 per cent lending rate to a commercial bank, we are getting it at one per cent with a moratorium of 10 years and a total repayment of 30 years. It is like we are paying zero for this facility we have been able to attract to the state. In healthcare, it is the same thing. In agriculture, infrastructure, and all those schemes that we had in my first term, we were able to restore.

Beyond what your administration has been able to achieve between 2018 and 2022, what are key things you have not been able to do due to circumstances around you?

I still regrettably feel that my agenda to reduce our dependence on the Federation Accounts has not completely succeeded. We have reduced it to some extent, but not at the percentage that I promised. That is partly related to COVID-19. It is also partly related to our people’s attitude towards tax. It is not unique to our people because nobody wants to pay tax whether in Lagos or Ekiti. In a state like Ekiti, there is a level to which you can be aggressive when you know the per capita income of the people is low. That is one area we still need to do more work for the state to earn its full status as an independent autonomous state that is not waiting for the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) before moving on its development agenda. That is one area we have not completely achieved our target. The second, for me, is creating opportunities for our small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups in the state for job creation. That is another area we have a challenge. There are a lot of people who are out of school and not gainfully employed. The tendency that such people may resort to nefarious activities is high if they do not have any means of livelihood and they are depending on people who can support them. That is what my successor is focusing on, majorly.

Even though we have done quite well in most of our infrastructure projects, maintenance will still have to continue. Essentially, I feel the new government can concentrate on human capital development. That will be a critical success factor for the incoming administration. Even if we have improved the health condition and nutrition of the people, we still need to ensure that they have a sense of self-worth by being gainfully employed in their right to do things. We need to make Ekiti a destination for investors and people who want to spend time, tour the state and make it a conference capital. That is the reason behind our civic convention centre. If we have a hotel capacity of about 5,00 rooms in Ekiti, it is not difficult for the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to hold their conference here. The NBA, for instance, cannot come to this place because we cannot host their convention. They either go to Lagos, Port Harcourt, or FCT. These are the states they go to most of the time. But we can consciously make Ekiti a destination for conferences, investments, and tourism with the various facilities we are putting in place. Ekiti is 30 minutes by flight from Lagos and also Abuja. It is well-positioned to serve in that capacity if we keep building on rather than subtracting from it. That is one of the things we did. I could have abandoned a lot of the projects that Fayose started too. But I completed them. First, it is Ekiti money. It is not his money. Second, I am not on an ego trip with anybody. I started this project. He did not complete it. It was 80 percent before he came to complete it. For me, it is pointless. I think our politics needs to move away from such finger-pointing. I do not think the new governor will have any sense of competition at all. He will want to continue where we stopped.

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