Chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi in this interview with MUYIWA ADEYEMI spoke on how to advance the cause of democracy in Nigeria, his achievements and regrets as he prepares to handover to his successor on October 16.
Congratulations on your election as President, Forum of Règions/States of Africa. What is the essence of this forum and what does Nigeria stands to gain from it because we are hearing of it for the first time?
YOU are hearing of the Forum for the first time because this is the first time sub-national entities that are between the local and central authorities are coming together as the engine room of the development of our people and as a unifying voice for the integration of the continent.
The idea behind the forum of regions is really to have sub-national entities as drivers of growth, as well as engines of development and policies.
In many African countries, policies are often developed at the central government level and then they get implemented at the sub-national level, either at the state, province or prefecture, depending on the country you are referring to and at the local level, I mean the council level, policies on economic development, on health care provisioning, on social security, on education at the primary and secondary level, all of these policies get implemented at the sub-national level even if they are regulated at the central level. So, in other words, the subnational entity is really where the rubber meets the road, that is where people feel the impact of government in most cases.
Central governments are often too distant and the engines of implementation are usually the sub-national entities. So if sub-national entities work effectively, the pressure gets inevitably reduced on the central authority, but in a federal entity such as ours, sub-nationals are more critical to development because they are co-ordinated and interdependent rather than subordinate to and dependent on the central authority. They have executive authority, they have a parliament, they have a separate budget, they have institutions of states that are independent, and in some cases they have constitutions.
In other countries, they even have the basis to leave the union if they choose to. And this is the forum of sub-nationals across Africa, we held our meeting where I was elected in Morocco, there were at least 24 countries. The direct benefit of the course revolves around experience sharing, peer learning, exchange programmes and partnership for development. Just like we do now in Nigeria Governors’ Forum.
Are you the first president of the forum?
Yes, I am the first President of the forum because this is the first time an election of this nature will take place. This process was inspired by the United Cities and Local Governments Forum of Africa. This is the Forum of mayors and council chairmen. Even at that, the forum identified a gap. While it is good that we have a united cities forum, cities often exist within a larger sub-national entity, which is not necessarily the central authority. And that thinking coincided with our thinking too.
What will Nigerians gain from the forum?
First and foremost in the era of deepening decentralisation, Nigeria has made more significant progress than many African countries. Given the nature of our union, we are highly federalised. It was the Military that halted our innate federalising tendencies and principles but we are returning back to it, democracy is helping us to deepen and focus more on devolution.
So, this Forum will help our people in building capacity, will work with our own Governors’ Forum, which already exists and we have similar fora in other African countries, it will also enable sub-nationals to engage in peer learning and exchange programmes and various, partnerships for development. In fact, we had four of our governors present in Morocco and four of us signed various memoranda of understanding with states from other countries.
It will help us to learn from one another. For instance, if you are doing urban planning much better than what we are doing here, we will learn from you, if it is ICT development that has gone a notch higher than all of us, we can send officials to understudy that. We shall be working with central authorities and African Union (AU) towards achieving AU Agenda 2063 and also working to advance the cause of SDG 2030. The ultimate goal is to ensure that sub-nationals contribute to the building of a socially united, globally respected, economically strong union.
Coming from Abuja as a Minister to win a second term and now installing a successor from your party and becoming a godfather, what legacies are you leaving behind in Ekiti?
I have always said to people that for me, legacies should not always be seen in terms of bricks and mortar, important as infrastructure legacies are.
What is more important to me, are those things that our government did that made a fundamental difference in the lives of the people. For me, the people are most critical.
I campaigned in 2018 to reclaim the land and restore the values, that is what we pledged to the Ekiti people to work on. So, what’s important to me is what we have been able to do in the education sector, how have we been able to help our people in the health sector, and how have we been able to fundamentally shift the human capital development within our state before we now get to bricks and mortar.
I’m not suggesting we are not leaving lasting legacies in infrastructure. We are building an airport to open up the state, building hundreds of kilometres of roads, reconstructing the water infrastructure in the state and putting in place an Independent Power Project (IPP) in addition to attracting major transmission and electricity generation projects to the state.
We have built a state-of-the-art convention centre, built a state pavilion, and a central bus terminal. We have done projects connecting communities, we have improved the quality of our health infrastructure, we have improved the quality of our education infrastructure, you can see all that, we can point at projects, but it is the outcome and impact that is important, not just the money spent on these projects.
And when you look at that, we have done well, but still, a lot of ground to cover. For example, the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2021 was just released last month. These are independently verified national figures on education, health care, maternal mortality, child mortality, immunisation and vaccination for children, just to name a few.
Ekiti ranked either first or second in the country in all the critical aspects of the survey. If you look at the figure released by MCIS on the state with the highest school enrolment, Ekiti has the lowest number of out-of-school children in the country alongside Imo. It is Ekiti and Imo states in the entire country with less than one per cent in drop out rate. If you look at immunisation, Ekiti ranked second, 86 per cent in the country. If you look at school performance in the school certificate examination, if you look at the child development index, we are in the first ten in all of these categories, though there is still room for improvement, these are the things that matter most to me.
And when you compare this with when we came in 2018, we ranked last in the Southwest, now we are first not just in the Southwest, but in the country. And when you compare that with the resources available to us, you can begin to appreciate why I say for me, how we have impacted significantly the lives of our people is what is most important to me. Of course, it’s one thing to ensure that our children are in school and do not drop out, but the quality of teaching and learning is also very important to me. And we have also seen remarkable progress in that regard too if we go by performance in public examinations.
Also for the first time, we are opening a landlocked state with the airport. Previous governments have tried to do that, but it has been one challenge or the other preventing them from doing so. We have kept the faith, I don’t want to be talking about payment of salaries as an achievement because it is an obligation we owe workers, when people have worked, they deserve to be paid, a labourer deserves his wage, so says the holy book, but if you look at it within the context of our current challenges, it will appear to me as a significant output.
That we are able to maintain payment of pension and salaries unfailingly even to workers who were at home for 18 months, this is my last month in office and we have not failed once in four years to meet our obligations to workers, teachers and pensioners in terms of their salaries.
We have also significantly improved a lot of our farmers and entrepreneurs, despite the fact that COVID took away almost two years out of our time in office. We have also affected our communities significantly just as we did during my first term; there’s hardly any community that we have not touched by funding community-determined projects.
In spite of all this, there are people who have suggested that I worked more in my first term than I did in this term. I don’t agree with people who take that view. On the contrary, we have accomplished more in spite of the pandemic, which impacted negatively on accelerated development.
I will also say that all the indices of physical infrastructure people will talk about is in our favour. We have built more schools than all the previous governments in Ekiti put together in these four years, we have reconstructed more health facilities at the primary and secondary levels, we have put state-of-the-art equipment in all our specialist hospitals and most of our general hospitals, we have recruited more workers and we have built more infrastructure, water, roads, airport, our fibre optic cables for our ICT broadband access, but there is still a lot to do. The job is yet to be finished.
When will the airport project be completed?
I am optimistic that a plane will land and take off at the airport on or before leaving office on October 16. This is an international cargo cum passenger airport. The runway, which is 3.4 kilometers is fully completed. The access road, taxiway and aprons are all completed.
The terminal building is nearing completion. Even after I leave, there will still be aspects of the airport work that will be finished by the incoming administration. The important thing is that we’ve broken the jinx. But as you will also find out, not every one believes we need an airport. I believe many of our people will come round once the airport starts functioning.
The last guber election in Ekiti was characterised by allegations of vote buying. It is said that Ekiti introduced vote buying into the electoral lexicon of Nigeria. As a foremost defender of democracy, how did we get to this stage and how can electoral fraud be tackled at community level?
I read many reports written by credible civil society groups and election observers praising Ekiti elections as the best in recent times. So, I will not agree with you that they concluded that vote buying tainted Ekiti election. And my reaction to that has always been that the allegation is not driven by evidence-based information. I voted in my village and I did not witness anywhere they exchanged money for votes. Although I didn’t move around the state during voting, I received credible reports of what transpired across the state and none reported incidents of vote buying to our situation room. It is therefore difficult for me to concur with any observer who claimed to have witnessed vote buying or vote trading in Ekiti.
The other point I think is important to make is that if you look at the election in Ekiti this year, it is almost a replica of the election in 2018 when I came in, and if you base it on my assessment that SDP is a break away faction of the PDP if you add the vote of the two parties together, it still does not come close to the winning votes of the APC.
Even if we were to assume without conceding that there was vote buying and you said all the parties were involved in it, what came out of that statistical picture I just painted for you by my own assessment is that the people still did what they wanted to do. That is if you want to assume that there was vote buying, it did not affect the conscience of the average voter in Ekiti. If you look at the eventual figure, I think it is 187,000 for APC to 67,000 for the PDP and 82,000 on the SDP side, which brought the two to about 149,000 and compared to 187,000, you still have a gap of about 38,000 between the two of them and the APC
If you go back to my own election in 2018, it was 197,000 to about 170,000. People don’t do this analysis; they just jumped to the notion of vote buying, which is rubbish in my own assessment
How did you feel when the INEC’s chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said there were attempts to hack INEC portal in Ekiti and Osun elections?
I felt that the INEC chairman wasn’t careful in the way he spoke. Because I went back to read what he said, even though he added appropriate caveats that those who attempted to do this didn’t succeed, he ought to have realised that a lot of mischief could be made of the statement he made.
As somebody who is experienced and aware of the mischief that statements could mean, I believe he ought to have been more circumspect in the way he spoke because he had, without meaning to do so, created the impression that the process and technology utilised for the election is susceptible to compromise. That is the impression he has created.
The truth of the matter, however, is that all technologies are susceptible to compromise; it doesn’t bear stating in my view. And the INEC chairman ought not to have indulged in such a careless statement. I thought he was trying to be genuine and he wanted to, maybe give a full sense of the humongous amount of work that they have done for which they must be given credit.
BVAS has turned out to be a game changer in election credibility and I think we must give INEC kudos for this. But the same INEC ought not to undermine the work that they have done by creating the impression that the system is susceptible to manipulation. I will never put it the way he did, if I were in his shoes because I know for example, in Ekiti that by 9.00 p.m. we could all download all the result forms from the INEC portal and we did. We had done our own calculation before INEC officially released the results; we had the figures from our situation room in Ekiti.
We had those figures by 7 p.m. so there was nothing that was eventually announced by INEC that our own agents across the state hadn’t sent to us, that we didn’t have in our situation room. So without prejudice to the fact that people might have tried to hack into their system, I didn’t think it was something that the INEC chairman ought to have made the song and dance around to the point that some now feel the statement is what they are going to rely on in their court cases. It’s an unfortunate remark.
Are you satisfied with the current level of political party development since we embarked on this journey in 1999, with parties behaving and acting more like election-winning platforms than development platforms?
It is still a concern, but parties naturally develop from being election machines to organic parties, it isn’t unique to Nigeria. And I believe we are making progress because elections are going to become more issue-oriented the way it was in Ekiti. The populace is a lot more aware, the average voter is a lot more intelligent and discerning and they are going to hold the feet of politicians to fire. I believe this is a step in the right direction.
However, the truth of the matter is that what we still have are political alternatives, not alternative politics. There is a huge difference between political alternatives and alternative politics, even the one that people are doing song and dance around now, ‘so-called- Obidients’ in the Labour Party. It is a political alternative so, when they say third force or movement or new breed, there is nothing new about my brother Peter.
I like Peter Obi a lot, he is a credible individual who has done well as a governor and we are proud of the record that he had in office but everything about that movement is still a political alternative and it isn’t fundamentally different from APC or PDP or NNPP. It is still the same election machine that you are talking about. Maybe, the contestation will begin to force us to be more serious about alternative politics. Whatever happens in the 2023 election though, a seed has been sown and it is bound to generate new thinking on political party development.
That is the direction we need to head but we aren’t there yet. So, I am not satisfied, but it is a journey and not a destination.
Many Nigerians believe that this is the time the country should go for a young, vibrant leader and that is why when you signified your intention to go for presidency; people thought you were the right candidate in terms of age, experience and education. But they were surprised, if not disappointed by the way you stepped down during the primary for someone who doesn’t have age on his side. How do you explain this?
My political platform for contesting for president was actually not my age but the age of my ideas. I was more interested in offering Nigerians an agenda for Nigeria that I believe will be transformational, progressive, unifying and developmental. That was my agenda for Nigeria and that was what convinced me to run and I agree with you that many Nigerians became adherents of My Agenda for Nigeria.
In party politics, there are always two stages, no matter how well Nigerians are attracted to my agenda, and I needed to convince my own party members first and foremost to buy into that agenda. There will be a time for me to go into the details of how I came to a decision not to go forward with my intention and I do agree with you that there are people who are disappointed, people who had bought into that agenda, who genuinely wanted me to win, but it isn’t the usual suspicion that people always have associated with stepping down.
I even heard some people say, “Oh, Fayemi stepped down because he traded off his presidential ambition to retain Ekiti. Some even said Tinubu gave me five million dollars or I was promised this or that. The truth of the matter is that Asiwaju Tinubu didn’t even know I was going to step down. He heard it on the platform just as everyone did, as I was speaking and he was shocked. He had no idea. I didn’t negotiate with him or anyone and he didn’t offer me anything.
Yes, party elders in the Southwest had tried to pull all of us together to agree on a common candidate and maybe step down. But to the very last, out of all of us from the Southwest, three of us were seen to be clearly front runners; Asiwaju, Vice President Osinbajo and myself, and of course I had strong support among my brother governors. Asiwaju also had quite a chunk of support from the governors’ forum. And that became a factor in what eventually transpired, but at some point in future, I would talk more about what happened.
Did you step down for Asiwaju Tinubu to get his support for the Ekiti governorship election?
I just tried to pooh that. It is not true. I am glad we won the Ekiti election. We would have won the Ekiti elections anyway if you go by the analysis above.
Our opposition was already split and we didn’t experience any major crack in our party, even with those who were unhappy with the outcome of the primary in our party. So, presidential primaries or not, we would still have won the governorship election. We, of course, were delighted that Asiwaju came with other leaders to endorse the candidate and campaign for us, but that wasn’t the overriding reason for stepping down for him.
So, what is the overriding reason?
As I have said, there will be a time for me to talk a little bit more about this. I am focused more on our party winning the coming presidential election. I am a party man and I came to a conclusion at that particular point in time that the most likely person to win that primary was Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, having studied all the nocturnal and clandestine moves that transpired. There is always a point you reach in politics when one must rise above self and do what one considers to be the most pragmatic outcome.
When you stepped down from the presidential race, was your N100 million refunded to you by the party?
I didn’t think the party really ought to have refunded the N100m because I contested but only withdrew. I don’t think it will be fair to tell the party to do that, the party has factored me in all the calculations and I actually came out to contest. I offered myself to run; I only stepped down at the last minute.
In your first term, you introduced Youth in Commercial Agriculture (Y-CAD), considered to be a model that will encourage many youths to take into agriculture. Even a medical doctor dropped his stethoscope for farming. Why didn’t you continue with this programme because people believe Ekiti should be able to feed the whole of Southwest?
The medical doctor, Tope Aroge who put down the stethoscope now has a full-fledged cassava processing mill in Ekiti. So, he is a processor, not just a farmer. Maybe, that is one of the successes that we have achieved now because he started as a farmer, but by the time I came back, we were able to support him and others to set up a full-fledged cassava processing facility. It isn’t correct to say that we stopped the Y-CAD, it has continued. But it stopped being a government institution, the young farmers came together and set up an independent cooperative and they have continued to run it. But we have also gone beyond that and attached them to other commercially successful farmers. That is, we have had some of our Y-CAD graduates who work with Promasidor, the company responsible for reviving our dairy farm where you have the production of fresh milk.
Some of them have gone into partnership with SWAGCO – the South West Agriculture Company that came out of the Oodua investment company, partly because my Commissioner for Agric in that first term, who was the driver of Y-CAD, is now the managing director of SWAC. And given his institutional knowledge; he has been able to link up with the Y-CAD farmers that are operating. So, I don’t want you to reach a conclusion that we stopped Y-CAD but we folded it into the wider national Youth in Agriculture programme which former Minister Akinwumi Adesina started. Don’t forget the Buhari administration started something along those lines too when it came into government.
How will you say Ekiti benefited from being chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum?
Ekiti benefited a lot. The truth of the matter is that our image was at the lowest ebb when I came in as governor in the second term. There were some clear positions that I held and I still hold that leadership defines everything. It also defines perception, Yoruba people will say, “Iri ni si, ni iso ni lojo.” (It is how you portray yourself that people will internalise and begin to perceive you).
A position I have held for over three years now without any contention or division in the ranks of governors. You will always hear us speak with one voice on all issues, even the most contentious issues; we disagree with the Federal Government on many things without being disagreeable.
The President put us on the highest reckoning because he respects the positions we hold. Only recently, a new emergency economic committee was set up to address some of the challenges the country is experiencing, and out of about seven members, the chairman of NGF is a member to look at the problems of oil theft, subsidy regime challenges, foreign exchange management challenges, the external shock brought by the war in Ukraine on crude security and the internal challenges that our security situation has brought upon us and its impact on the economy.
There is hardly any serious thing happening in this country today that you will not have the NGF position on and that in turn has affected how we are seen in Ekiti, we are far more respected. I don’t want to go into the nuts and bolts benefits that we have gained simply on account of my being the chairman of the NGF because as the chairman I am for all states, not just Ekiti. I don’t want to go into details but I Ekiti people know the kind of benefits that have come to the state as a result of my being chairman.
What next after October 16 when you will hand over to your successor?
We have an election in which my party is a leading contender and I will be working for the party in my own way or in the way that the party asks me to work to make sure that we accomplish the goal of winning the presidential election and other elections. That will be my primary responsibility but I am also President, of the Forum of Règions/States of Africa and I also have my own interest to pursue, setting up a policy think-tank, to reflect on my time in office and to help develop my mentees, who want to go into public office.
If you were to mention one thing that made you happy for the first and second terms as governor, something that makes you happy each time you remember it?
I will mention two; social security for the elderly (Owo Arugbo) and free education, which led to the highest enrollment figure that gave Ekiti that number one position in the country. I want Ekiti to always remember me for that.
How will you advise your successor in office?
It is in the nature of people to talk about the departing governors advising incoming governors. Well, the governor that is coming into Ekiti is from my own party and I will like to think he shares my world view and also shares the same ideology that our party presented to the Ekiti public. Having been part of my government’s first and second terms, he is also fully aware of the trajectory of our governance and would be aware of the areas where there were gaps as well.
Part of governing being a continuum is that he will continue to deliver the goods even better than we did to the Ekiti people, but he is also going to be faced with tyranny and that is the tyranny of unfunded mandates. He has the mandate to deliver on virtually everything but he is not going to have the resources to deliver on all those things. So, the challenge is how to prioritise meeting the expectations of the Ekiti people.
It is always a tough challenge but I believe he is up to the task. He will find a creative way to generate more resources to accomplish the task ahead. I will try not to interfere, but if he asks me for advice that is something that will be personal, I will offer it beyond the general picture that I have given you.
My joy is that he will be a better governor than I have been and increase the fortunes of the party to remain in office so that we can keep building on rather than subtracting from the legacy that we put in place.
How do you feel about people calling you a godfather now?
Well, I will say it is a mistake because there is nothing in my DNA that will put me in that mould, particularly the negative connotation of the mould. I am a Catholic, for me, the Almighty God is the only godfather. However, am I going to be an influencer? Leadership is about influence. I have occupied this seat by the grace of God and the generosity of the Ekiti people and to that extent, I think I will have a measure of influence in the political realm in this state and nationally as well. But it isn’t something that arrogates to me the right to impose any view I may have on those occupying offices that I have held in the past.
Your critics claim you’ve done nothing in all your years in office. What do you say to them?
Frankly, I just get on with the job. It is not possible to do this job without a fair amount of criticism because oftentimes the average critic is not privy to the information at your disposal. So, many of them labour in ignorance, some are genuinely constructive while others are malicious outright. It is the malicious ones that I frankly choose to ignore. And I have a favourite quotation for such people. It’s a popular saying by a former President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt from a speech he gave entitled: ‘Citizenship in a Republic’ which was popularly labelled The Man in the Arena. It says it is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles… the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again because there’s no effort without error. The speech is long but I urge your readers to check it on Google.
What are your last words for the Ekiti people?
My last word is gratitude to the Ekiti people because they have been very gracious to me. They offered me a job of a lifetime; they took me on without really knowing me that well. I was the “Tokunbo” candidate in 2006 when I came on the scene and people gave me a chance, voted for me in the 2007 election and stood with me through the tedious process of retrieving my mandate from the court. Even when we got the abracadabra result of the 2014 election, they never really departed from that stance. They knew that I had something good to offer them and it wasn’t a surprise that they came back and supported me in 2018.
So, I have had a good run; the first governor in the state to complete two full terms in office, the first governor in the state to have a successor from his own party, the first governor in the state to become chairman, and Nigeria Governors’ Forum from the Southwest and the first governor in Nigeria to be the first elected President of the Forum of Règions of Africa. If Ekiti people hadn’t given me the first chance, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity of showing myself and the capacity to undertake all other subsequent assignments.
But it isn’t so much about the assignment because as I’ve often said, leadership is not a title, nor is it the office, it is what we do with the office that matters. What makes me immensely proud is that we have been able to impact the lives of our people. I mentioned Owo Arugbo and our education work, but there are many areas where I would have loved to do more. For example, I would have loved to wean Ekiti more from the dependence on federation allocation and grow our IGR more than we did. I would have loved to accomplish the vision of making Ekiti the Bangalore of Nigeria that I pledged in 2010. Even though that journey has started through the Ekiti knowledge zone, it’s been slower than we planned. I’m hopeful the new government will build on current efforts.
So, there is a lot to thank God and Ekiti people for, I have done my duty and I pray that our state will continue to grow in leaps and bounds.