Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, on Thursday played host to Executive Management Team of Champion Newspapers Limited (CNL) led by Group Managing Director (GMD), MRS. NWADIUTO IHEAKANWA. On the team also were the Executive Director, Publications/Operations, MR. SAM IBEMERE; General Manager, Publications/Chairman, Editorial Board, MR. SIMON IBE and the State Correspondent, VICTOR OGUNJE. He fielded questions from the team on various issues including governance in the state and other national issues after formally receiving a letter of CNL’s Award of ‘Governor of the Year 2013’. Excerpts:
Leadership has been viewed from different prisms. Could you share with us your thoughts on leadership?
Well, for me, leadership is sacrifice, leadership is responsibility. It is an opportunity to make a difference in one’s community. I don’t believe a leader is born. Often, leaders are made and we are all leaders. We must not necessarily be into politics before we can be leaders. But because of the nature of the world we are, some are more privileged to be in a better position than others. But you can be a leader in your community, in your church, in your association because the same skills are required. One thing that is most important is for leaders to build others, so you don’t be a success without having a successor. I have been so lucky to have risen through the shoulders of many giants who mentored me in the art of leadership, who really tutored me about sacrifice. What some people see in a position of leadership is the glamour.
They hardly notice the responsibilities that go with the office. Indeed, in a position like mine, you are the one that has been done a favour and you have to build a successor generation.
I started my life as the son of a journalist-press officer of a government agency, who always had newspapers around him and with this I became conscious of what is happening in my environment. I became conscious of the concept of selfless service. Later, I became an altar boy in the Catholic Church, and whoever is familiar with what an altar boy does in the Catholic faith and the discipline that comes with that. I mean, coming to church for early mass before 6am built in you a certain sense of responsibility about sacrifice, selfless service and competence. Add this to my background as students’ and pro democracy activist. By the time I came into politics, it wasn’t through a conscious move; it was a product of long commitment to the service of the people that made people to ask me to come into partisan politics. It is also very bad that some people will come into office without preparing for it. There is no trajectory of leadership that has developed them over a time. They were not developed over a period of time and when they get there, they don’t know what to do with the mandate. So, to me, leadership is sacrifice, leadership is service.
You spoke about mentorship, can you tell more about those who may have helped to shape you?
I have been mentored by so many people who saw in me a young man who wanted to make a difference in the lives of the people. Chief Anthony Enahoro who fought against the military was one of those who mentored me and shared with me a whole lot of story of how he was mentored. He never wavered in tutoring young people around him, ditto Prof Wole Soyinka. He was one of those who took a liking for me and who really promoted me. My old boss, the late Dr Omotoso Ogunniyi, who used to be the editorial Adviser of Daily Times and Chairman, FRCN also took a liking for me as a young man. There were also, in journalism, the likes of, Mr. Sonala Olumhense, Odia Ofiemun, Yemi Ogunbiyi,and Dr Stanley Macebuh. I have had a very, very rich mentorship from diverse set of people and this has really helped my course.
Not a woman on the list, Your Excellency?
My mother. My mother was really a tough mentor. I am the last born of the family, I mean a family of girls
who had gone out early in life and I ended up being the cook, the cleaner and gardener; everything rolled into one because my mother is a no non-sense person and she didn’t spare the rod , let me just put it that way.
What is the vision behind the Social Security Scheme for the elderly?
Well, social justice is very dear to the heart of any Catholic person. And, the programme was meant to look after those that were weak among the elderly population. I just believe that politics is nothing if it cannot add value to the lives of the people. A politician of without worth may be subjective, but you cannot be a politician of worth if you think the end justifies the means, if you think the world is a survival of the fittest. My goal is to impact on the lives of the less privileged. People are poor not because they are not smart, but because they lack opportunity, they lack access. So, this scheme is one of those things that can serve as a leveller. I believe I hold it a duty to provide that ladder up for everybody. So, this programme is a product of sacrifice. We have an integrated social security system in Ekiti. We have free and compulsory education up to secondary level, though not up to the university level. We have free health services for the vulnerable group, I mean the elderly, children and physically-challenged. We have to appreciate that those with the ability should be able to look after themselves. So, the system is for those whom we know are weak and vulnerable, who cannot look after themselves. I came here in 2006 campaigning all over the place and I noticed that a lot of elderly people had been left on their own whether because their children have left the town in search of greener pasture outside the State or because they don’t have the resources to cater for themselves or may be their children have travelled and have made good lives without even looking back to take care of them.
So, the old notion of family value that someone can be taken care of by extended family has faded. It no longer exists. In many cases, the older people are the ones supporting their children whom they have spent so much money sending to schools and have graduated and have no jobs to do and this informed our social security scheme. Anyone who is over 65, who is not a retiree or having someone looking after them will be entitled to N5, 000 every month. Though, to Lagosians, N5, 000 is nothing because there are restaurants where you spend N20, 000 . But I want to say that there are records here that demonstrate to us that some elders still make savings from this money. I mean they would not have exhausted the previous one before the next one is paid. It shows you how much poverty we have in the land. What is N5, 000? It is just 45 dollars. So, it means that without this, these people are living under what the United Nations called less than a dollar a day line. And this has had tremendous effects on the lives of our people. Again, people may not be aware of this, every old person above age 65 is entitled to free health, entitled to get raw food from our food banks.
We also have what we called the Soup kitchens where they can get a prepared food once in a day. These soup kitchens dot every local Government Area of the State. It is not limited to people of 65, if you display that you are incapable of taking care of yourself, you will be accommodated. It is being run by a non-governmental organization on behalf of the State government. I am a product of my environment. I lived outside this country for 15 years and I have lived in an environment where I have seen this work. So I know this is something one can do in order to add value to the lives of the people. It is not by accident that Ekiti has the highest life expectancy in Nigeria, this is a product of that background.
For this programme, you must have put in place a strong database. What are you doing to ensure that the drivers share your vision about this programme?
Data is important for whatever one does. When we started, we started with broad information. Later, we went into all the communities with our own designed forms and these have helped the state. If we ask you as an elderly person how many children you have, most elderly persons are very proud to say I have four children, one is a Medical Doctor in Lagos, one is a teacher in Akure , one is a nurse in Ado Ekiti , you are automatically disqualified by telling us all this. We used that to conclude if you can take care of yourself or not. Though, you may have successful children who don’t care about you, but we needed a baseline measure to define who the beneficiaries should be. Though, the bureaucrats drive the programme, we have checks and balances. We asked political appointees to also supervise the bureaucrats in monitoring. The 25,000 people we have as beneficiaries today averagely cost us about N120 million every month though there is an administrative cost to that. In a year, we spend about N1.6 billion. What we believe is that this is money that circulates within Ekiti here, not money taken out of Ekiti. In a community of about 200 elders, you will have about N1 million circulating in that community. The benefit is not just to individuals who receive the N5, 000, but everybody because it will build the local economy.
Election in Ekiti is just around the corner. Sir, how prepared are you and what is your advice to INEC ?
Thank you very much. I think you can never overemphasize credibility and acceptability in the conduct of the Ekiti Governorship election. Recently, we had two elections, in Anambra and the Delta senatorial election. Particularly in Anambra, the INEC chairman acknowledged that the election was an abracadabra in a number of ways. Coming to Ekiti, people here are very wary of a government lacking credibility. I think you know a little bit of our history, you remember the wild, Wild West. This is the zone of the Omoboriowo of 1983 and this is where the problem in Ondo State gravitated from and led to the collapse of democracy in December 1983. Also recall the struggle Ekiti had to wage to reclaim my mandate, Anambra people can afford to ignore governance. My friend Peter Obi, the governor in Anambra used to joke with me that there are at least twenty billionaires whose sirens can overrun his own, so they may decide not to raise eyebrow even with a flawed election because their lives are not dependent on government but in Ekiti, it is not the same.
In Ekiti, everybody is interested in what government does every second because it a civil service dominated State. We don’t have that industrial hub. We are all Professors. There is no home without a graduate and they know their rights. So, they are ever prepared for any eventuality especially if they perceive external influence coming into play in this election. What I am saying is that, external influences are the major worry for our people. In the first instance, the people think something is fishy with the lumping together of this election with 2015 presidential election. It is not in the electoral Act that the election in Ekiti and Osun must be announced with that of the presidential election coming up February, 2015.
What the Electoral Act says is that the election must be notified four months to the date of election but it was lumped together to create the impression that this is the beginning of presidential election. It is an internal affair, so the way everything was done smacks of external influence because they see Ekiti
as the gateway to the southwest. They believe that if they break into Ekiti the stronghold of the opposition can be broken and this can be an easy way to win the presidential election. I believe that the 2015 presidential election is a bridge that must be crossed separately while the election in Ekiti and Osun must be decided by the people.
Given the way you have spoken, do you still believe that credible election can still be conducted by INEC in Ekiti?
Given our experience here, I don’t think any Ekiti person wants an election that is flawed. They want an election where people can easily participate, I mean people of honour and integrity because that is what we are known for and they don’t want to be afflicted with anything, so there is no doubt in my mind that our people want a free election and can they get one? Yes because I believe INEC must have learnt one or two lessons from Anambra election.
INEC must prove to Nigerians that there is no hidden agenda in whatever they do because the West has always been the trigger to the collapse of democracy in Nigeria.
Aside incumbency factor, what other things give you edge over other contestants?
Today, I am one of the few Nigerians in government the people will like to give the benefit of the doubt that would uphold decency in public. I have conducted myself in respectable manner as my background and Catholic faith would expect me to do. Over and above that, no government has been able to put in place what we have been able to do in Ekiti since inception. In three years, all routes connected to any part of the state have been made motorable.
We have refurbished and reconstruct all schools with decent furniture in place. We have rolled out free education. We moved from 5 percent to about 70 percent on WAEC ladder in 2013. We have one of the best remunerated teachers in Nigeria and we give teachers 20 percent rural allowance because we have many rural communities here and we want teachers to be there. We also have special remuneration for English, Mathematics and Basic Science teachers. Our teachers are better remunerated and better educated than the private teachers, so we want a situation whereby attention will be shifted to public schools in Ekiti. We also have a-laptop -per-student programme. People are familiar with Opon Imo in Osun. It actually started here and we have curriculum loaded with computers. We are almost concluding our computer academy as part of our partnership with Samsung. Our computers are from Samsung and are solar-powered because of the situation of electricity. Right now we are renovating all the general hospitals in the State while we are building a major General Hospital in the State Capital to complement the teaching hospital. We have also established a cancer screening centre in the teaching hospital for early detection so that we don’t suffer so many losses as cancer is wrecking on the populace these days. I can go from there to tourism sector where we have brought glory to Ikogosi warm spring and other tourist centres. Also, our industries that have been moribund for over twenty years are being revamped and are now coming back to live not to mention what we are doing in every community. We are almost running a town union government. Under this, we ask the communities to tell us what their priorities are and we gave them the money.
They supervise those projects themselves, so people are taking ownership of government here in Ekiti. Though we started the programme not thinking of election thing, but now that election is coming it becomes a campaign issue. The people are the ones doing the campaign that Fayemi must come back because this is the first time a town will be asked to handle projects. In the past all you will see is the contractor coming into the town to start a project and more often than not, the contractor will do the projects to a certain level, take the money and run away. We have not abandoned any single project. All the roads, hospital and housing projects that we met, we completed them. The projects that Governor Adebayo started, his predecessor, Governor Ayo Fayose abandoned them. The projects that governor Fayose started were not touched by Governor Oni’s government. All those projects that I completed are made available for the use of the host communities. They have benefitted from them. So, with all sense of modesty, Ekiti people have never found it this way.
What about the challenges?
The major challenge now is that we are having a retinue of jobless youth and I believe it is my responsibility to provide them jobs, but we have tried in area of youth involvement in commercial agriculture because we are agrarian. Our young people are being brought into it because agric is a long term investment. Unemployment is the enemy we must crack but we have to take the advantage of what we have as a knowledge-based zone. We are highly educated; we love education, so we can make Ekiti a knowledge economy. When we were campaigning, I said we will make Ekiti the Bangalore of Nigeria. Ekiti is the only State in Nigeria today that is laying Fibre-Optic across the State because we know the value broadband internet service is going to give to people who want to go into individual businesses, education service and telemedicine if they have that structure in place.
NCC is making Ekiti a pilot state in Nigeria in this regard. We are not attractive in terms of population and we don’t have what we call disposable income, I mean money to throw around like people in Abuja, but we can make this place beautiful. But we know it is a long term investment but we know we will make a major impact in that. Everything we promised in our eight -point agenda are being followed religiously. We have eight-month plan, we have twenty-four month plan, you can even take my inaugural speech when I was sworn-in and ask, has he done this or that or what it is that he has not done. It is not about doing things haphazardly, we have a plan. It is not that we have the resources. We are number 35 on the revenue ladder in Nigeria. Bayelsa with population of 800,000 takes N22 billion monthly while Ekiti with 2.5 million takes N3 billion. But this should not be an excuse because I cannot now become Governor and be coming up with excuses. I knew that Ekiti takes N3 billion from the Federation account. To the glory of God, we take care of our civil servants even more than those states with more resources.
Are you not at all worried that violence is creeping in the build up to Ekiti elections?
I am. But I owe it a duty as the Chief-Security Officer of this State to ensure that people don’t manufacture violence in order to give the state a bad name. If I have been here for three and half years and this place has been largely peaceful, no incident of killing and suddenly four months to election you have all these putative aspirants, who think the best way to draw Abuja’s attention is to manufacture violence and generate noise in a manner that Abuja can then unleash its own apparatus here. We know what the agenda is and we will not let it happen. Our agenda is to work with the security agencies to ensure the conduct of violence-free election in Ekiti because if we don’t, the excuse is there for those with evil intention to latch on such opportunity to exacerbate tension in the state. I have no doubt that majority of our people want peaceful election and I am not also unaware from intelligence reports, sitting in a vantage position that there are those who are very, very determined to import violence to Ekiti and we will ensure that we block them and make Ekiti a no-go-area for them.
What advice do you have for other aspirants on the need to maintain peace?
I want to tell them that it is constitutional and legitimate for people to challenge the incumbent. Even if you look at my statement of intent which I released a couple of weeks ago, I said I look forward to a robust and issue-based campaign from all contestants. Ekiti people will be better for it if we have a genuine competition. I want to say today that what is causing problem to many political parties in Ekiti is who to present against Fayemi in terms of integrity, antecedents. I am not talking about the PhD thing, but in character and competence, so they will measure the person on the basis of these because you will meet someone who will say one, two, three , four, I have done these, I have done that. You can go there and confirm what he has done in this sector unlike someone who is coming to say I am going to do this, I will do that. Our people always say that you don’t leave certainty for uncertainty. Even the devil you know is better than the angel you are expecting but I believe in competition to build a virile democratic system. As at today, I don’t know who is running with me yet because no party has come out to say this is our candidate. At the last count, I heard the PDP has about 32 contestants and that means there is something that I have done that has brought glamour to that office and made it very attractive and I have to take credit for that.
Your Excellency, is it all work? Do you find time for some other pleasure?
Let me just say that governance is too serious a business to be left in the hands of those without stamina or those that cannot carry the burden. I don’t have that time to play like I used to, but it is not all work. If you see my wife, she will probably tell you it is too much work. She cannot complain because she wants me to succeed. So, governance is not a tea party and if you don’t do this by walking your talk, it will be difficult to get people who will be ready to serve the people selflessly . I will love to be on golf course constantly and I will like to play my favourite badminton. I am not regarded as a social animal and I plead guilty to that. I will learn to improve on my dance steps, attend more Ayefele and Ebenezer Obey concerts.
This article was first published in The Champions Newspaper on Monday, 24th February, 2014
Last modified: February 25, 2014