Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, in this interview with journalists, including Acting Politics Editor, Austin Oboh, discussed his performance in office as well as the June 2014 governorship poll in the state. Excerpts…
Are you worried by the pronouncement of Vice President, Namadi Sambo, that the Ekiti governorship election will be a warfront?
Quite frankly, my immediate reaction when I saw the statement from the Vice President was disbelief until I eventually read it in about five newspapers and saw that the language was consistent and that the reports were similar in all the papers. The Vice President is someone I relate with very well. He and I are on the board of the NDPHC (Niger Delta Power Holding Company), the Nigeria Integrated Power Project (NIPP). He chairs the company and I represent the South-West in the company. And through that we meet fairly regularly. The Vice President has every right to push for his party in any election. That is his legitimate right but to have said what the media reported was quite unfortunate, because we are not at war in Ekiti. We have enjoyed three and a half years of peace – and we are one of the most peaceful states in this country today.
So, for someone who occupies one of the highest offices in the land, as our Vice President, to reduce the importance of his office and promote insecurity, either directly or by subterfuge, is quite unbecoming.
There is a part of me that still wants to treat it with scepticism and I still would like to take it up with the Vice President whenever I get the opportunity. I hope he would deny the report. But I do think the underlying implication of the purported statement should worry any decent Nigerian who is interested in credible elections, especially in the light of what recently happened at Ilaje – Ese Odo and the role played by a minister of government which has now been confirmed by the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Ondo State. In any decent polity, the Minister would have been asked to leave by now. If you do anything that flies flagrantly in the face of the law – then the maximum weight of the law ought to be applied by INEC. The law is very clear on these matters and even the military is empowered to disobey manifestly unlawful orders. What happened in Ilaje-Ese Odo appears to many people as a precursor of the grand plan to steal elections in Ekiti and Osun States. And INEC ought to be sending a very strong signal that the institution would not take kindly to unlawful interference in the electoral process. I can tell you that there is a lot of intelligence available to me about people sewing fake soldiers and policemen uniforms in preparation for Ekiti election and I hope INEC would be reassuring not just Ekiti people but also Nigerians, because the Ekiti election is even far more important than the 2015 election, because if confidence is lost in INEC’s preparation and eventual conduct of the Ekiti election, that will rub off terribly on the 2015 election. I mean INEC is already on the tenter-hooks, given what happened in Anambra.
To then see Ekiti election going in the wrong direction would totally put paid to any hope, on the part of Nigerians, that anything good can come out of the 2015 elections, and I don’t think President Jonathan needs that. I think he has conveyed an image of himself as a decent politician who is not going to manipulate or resort to extra-legal or illegal ways in election management in Nigeria. So I think INEC together with the Inter Agency Committee on Election Security would need to give Nigerians a lot of reassurance following the Vice President’s careless statement. But perhaps out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh. I think it is very unfortunate. I think it is unbecoming of his office. And I think the Vice President really ought to withdraw the statement and reassure Nigerians that the agenda for Ekiti election is not going to be determined in Aso Rock but by Ekiti people, because it is a referendum on the performance of the government in Ekiti; it is not a national election. It should not be expanded to a national election. But let me also say that whatever evil machinations are in place from Abuja, Ekiti people are fully ready.
That statement, with the determination of the PDP in the South-West to recapture Ekiti, are you not nursing any fear for this election?
This is Ekiti and people who are familiar with the history here would know that this is not a very good place to rig election. You can afford to manipulate elections in Anambra because Anambra has a lot of rich people who are even richer than the governor and do not care too much about who governs the State. In Ekiti, you will discover that everybody is interested in what happens here because we have 2.5million potential governors in this state. Every single indigene believes he has what it takes – that he understands government and that he knows how to govern. So you can’t say such a person should not have an opinion on who governs. And every time election was manipulated in Ekiti, the result was not palatable. Whether you refer to 1964 – 65 wetie crisis which eventually culminated in the 1966 coup detat – Ekiti was even a stronger zone of resistance than Ijebu where Chief Awolowo hailed from and of course, when you talk of the 1983 election rigging in Ondo State, we all can remember what happened here. And of course, my own recent experience has also demonstrated that our people are far too sensitive to allow external interference in their affairs. People will make all sorts of claims – they would do this, they would do that, but the truth of the matter is that even the PDP admits that this governor has done well but it is about gaining an in-road to the South West by hook or crook. Unfortunately for them, the PDP had been in government here for seven and a half years and Ekiti people cannot forget in a hurry what they went through in those years. It was murder, mayhem and crises for the bulk of the period. And don’t forget that for those seven and a half years, there were six governors. So, it was instability galore. That is what would have to be placed side-by-side what happened in our time in office. Federal might is always going to be a factor in any election, but I can assure you that the peoples’ might is bigger than federal might. So, we have nothing to fear. We are ready for the worst but light will overcome darkness.
What do you mean by the election being a referendum on your performance? And are you sure you have done enough to guarantee you a second term?
First, what do I mean by that statement? An election is necessarily a referendum on what an incumbent has done or failed to do, in the judgment of the electorate. Somebody running for the first time can only make promises and hope that the people will believe his promises. As an incumbent, I am running on the record of the public good that I’ve delivered in every community and constituency. I have been on the campaign trail for over three weeks now and in every place I get to, the people are the ones who reel out what we have done in their communities. It is a much taller order for me in the sense that I must present tangible, palpable, verifiable evidence of what I have done. That is what I have to sell. And in addition to that, with the record that you know that I have, I now want to do one, two, three and four when I come back. So, it is a referendum on my performance. It may not be a referendum of the performance of my competitors. But even in the case of one of my competitors, the election is a referendum on who he was when he was in office in the state and what he did. Even if he chooses not to talk about that, others would talk about his record in office. The record will be set straight. To your second question, have I done enough to earn a second term? I ran in 2007 on a platform popularly known as the Roadmap to Ekiti Recovery – My 8 Point Agenda. At the time, I was very specific about what I was going to do in office – as far back as 2006. When you talk about social security – if you read my inaugural speech, you will find social security benefit to the elderly there. If you read my inaugural speech, you will see laptop per child there. There is nothing that we have done in this state that we have not picked up from the 8-point agenda. And everyone who is objective can attest to the fulfilment of what we promised Ekiti State people. And in the various communities that we are going to meet people, they speak to that. So I think the answer to your question is, yes. My performance has earned me a reason to believe that I would be re-elected. A dimension to this: today a result of one of the polls that we conducted at the various communities came to me – one woman they spoke to basically just said: “We like Fayemi. He has done very well. He has fulfilled all his promises. He has not done anything that we don’t like but the issue is that since he has already done everything he promised, he should allow another person come in”. I found that very interesting. But the thing is that we have not actually done everything. There are areas where I would score myself 70 per cent or even 60 per cent. There are still some things to be done. Seriously speaking, I think we have done reasonably well. Don’t forget that this state is No 35 on the revenue (allocation) ladder of the country. People often forget that. And this is a state that gets N3bn a month against N23bn in Bayelsa, with a smaller population. So I think it is important to put this in proper perspective. We run a social democratic agenda and it is a progressive government. You will see that in many of the policies that we put in place, we concentrate on how to pull up the weak and the vulnerable in our State. Additionally, we have run a reasonably clean government. So, I think we have done enough to earn a second term. But we are also not unaware that performance itself is not the only factor in an election, but it is the most critical success factor for an incumbent.
There are some things you said about the disparity in the money you get from the Federation Account. With that being the case, are you comfortable with the federal system being practised in Nigeria?
We don’t operate a federal system in Nigeria, or at best we operate a distorted, pseudo-federal system which does not operate coordinate powers among the federating units but a hierarchical, subordinate, powers inherited from our military past. If we operate a federal system, then you will not have things like UBEC and TETFUND which give people the impression that states are beholden to the Federal Government, whereas it is the funds jointly owned in the Federation Account that is being shared. If we run a proper Federal structure, you will not have us here spending our meagre resources in sustaining the police – whilst we have no authority over its activities in the state unless our views coincide with or reinforce the instructions from Abuja. It’s simply a distortion of federal system.
As for the disparities in earnings between Bayelsa, or Rivers and Ekiti, I do not have any problem with it. I’m an advocate of fiscal federalism. So, I do not necessarily have a problem with Rivers State, for instance, earning what comes from its soil. However, in order for us not to undermine the nation, for any federal system to work well, we often need equilibrating mechanisms so that one side is not overwhelmingly rich and other sides of the federation so despicably poor. We have to find a mechanism to balance this and if you look at the Australian and the Canadian constitutions – even in the American constitution, you have these mechanisms there. We have them in ours as well but they are exercised in the breach rather than in consistency with the law. So, I hope those who are working on this in the national conference will be able to come up with a federalism that is more cooperative than combative because states are being forced into a combative model. We once heard our President say: “If you are not for me then you will be punished. Your purse would be depleted and that is what is happening. You have states like Ekiti where we have done several federal roads but are being owed billions. You also have other states that are being owed and have collected all they are being owed. So, you would ask yourself why that happens if there is justice, equity and fairness in our federal system?
The state of emergency that was declared in the three APC states of the North-East is due for a review. Are you bothered that the Federal Government may be considering an extension of the emergency rule?
Well, the attitude of APC to the current state of emergency is that it has not produced the result that we would have loved to see. I don’t want to pre-judge what might happen. In any case, there is a process for renewal of emergency rule in the Nigerian constitution. I’m sure the President would adhere strictly to the provisions of the law as far as this matter is concerned.
One of your programmes that the opposition has not criticised is the digitalisation of income; I want you to throw more light on it?
You are talking about the Integrated Payroll Biometric System. I don’t know if the opposition has not criticized it. When we started it, they called us all manners of names – that the agenda was to get rid of the civil servants but eventually – you are right – they couldn’t criticise it because the civil servants and the teachers became champions of the electronic payment system and it has saved us a lot of money spent on ghost workers. We are now even trying to use the same system for our Citizen Identity Management System and our social security payment, which is still manual payment, and there is still a level of inefficiency and waste that we have detected in the social security payment. But, clearly, biometrics is the way to go. If you want to run an efficient government, technology has to play a major role. And that is how we have been able to reduce fraud in the system. We now save an average of N200million.
Are you likely to pick another running mate?
You know what they say – if it is not broken, why fix it? The deputy governor has done very well. She did exceedingly well managing the state’s Universal Basic Education Board. My party has a position that the deputy must come from Ado – Ekiti and I cannot go against the position of the party on that. My late deputy was also from Ado – Ekiti as you know. So we just replaced her with another Ado – Ekiti person who happens to be a direct descendant of the monarch here. But that is not what qualified her for the job. She is, more importantly, a professor and expert in education administration.
I was in Ondo State when Governor Mimiko was inaugurated for a second term and you were the only APC governor that attended; so I want to ask you what does that imply, could that also imply that after the election, you may also extend the hand of fellowship to both Opeyemi and Fayose?
But if you know my politics you will know that that is not really exceptional. I’m very friendly with Peter Obi, but I went to campaign for my party’s candidate, Chris Ngige, in Anambra State and I actually called Peter that I was in town to campaign for Chris Ngige. Governor Mimiko is my Egbon, in our local parlance here. I’d like to think he is still my friend. For me, there is a whole world of difference between ideological affinity and friendship. I have many friends in PDP – one of my closest friends was the PDP gubernatorial aspirant in Edo State before he eventually came back to us and became the Secretary to the state government, and even when he was in PDP and was working with President Obasanjo, it didn’t really affect our friendship. For me, my politics is not politics of bitterness. Opeyemi used to be a good friend, I’m sure you know. He chose to distance himself on account of his ambition and he has every right to be ambitious. Every human being should have ambition but that should not turn him into an enemy. He is therefore my opponent but he is not my enemy. Governor Fayose is my acquaintance and I’m sure if you ask him he would probably tell you the same. I may have my own issues with him, he probably has his own issues with me, but he is a former governor of this state and deserves to be respected. For me, I do not think anyone who occupies this seat should do anything to denigrate the office because there is a mystique around the office that we must all protect; whether you are a putative aspirant for the office or you are the occupant, you should not denigrate the position. And you are right, after election is over, governance begins and don’t be surprised if there is any reason for us to come together in the ultimate best interest of Ekiti state and Ekiti people. I’m going to solicit for their assistance and their wise counsel. And besides, Ekiti is unique; we are different from any other state. This is the only mono-ethnic place you can point to in Nigeria. Even Bayelsa still has strands, but in Ekiti we are one stock. We are the same people and we are probably all related in one form or the other in our various 132 communities. In politics, there are no permanent friends and no permanent opponents.
What would really be the focus of your second term in office?
Three things: agriculture, tourism and the knowledge economy, and let me explain what I mean by that. Clearly, I’m not going to stop my focus on education but it is going to be narrowed into the creation of knowledge economy. We have a lot of focus on technological education, on vocational education, on ICT and the knowledge park that we are constructing. We have a 3,000 hectare Ekiti Knowledge Zone in the making. It is probably bigger than the Lekki Free Zone; it is going to be the base for education tourism, medical tourism and ICT outsourcing. We feel that is an area that can give us an edge. Agriculture, understandably because of our own ground but it is expanding and developing the food value chain. We would be focusing on cassava, the revival of our cocoa, rice and oil palm. Three, tourism: we feel that Ekiti can still be the best destination of choice – all of us talk about what has happened in Cross River but we still feel we are better placed than Cross River because Cross River is much more difficult to get to, particularly Obudu. It is much easier to get to Ikogosi than Obudu. And we are building Ikogosi into a tourism hub to serve our grand vision of making poverty history in our state. So, it is more of consolidation of what we have been doing. But it is going to be driven by how many jobs can be generated from these sectors. It is going to be largely job focused.
This article was first published in The Daily Independent on May 29, 2014.
Last modified: May 29, 2014