I Want to Banish Poverty in Ekiti State – Governor Fayemi

– Governor Fayemi

Governor-John-Kayode-Fayemi-of-Ekiti-State-3For some, he is a “dogged, committed leader whose style of leadership is by example.” Yet for some others, “he is a forthright and upright person, a committed Ekiti indigene who is passionate about Ekiti’s development.”

As far as Folorunsho Aluko, Director-General, Ekiti State Job Creation and Employment Agency, is concerned, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the Ekiti State governor, “is a wonderful human being. He is deep, meticulous, straightforward and also compassionate.”

Aluko says of the governor, “If you are able to convince him on whatever is good, he will render you 100 per cent support. He is a selfless person who is compassionate, who is disciplined, who is straightforward in anything he is working on and also committed. He is a man who is committed to excellence and a very good leader.”

For those who know his antecedents quite well, such description of Fayemi would not come as a surprise. In what he described as his “previous life” as a civil society activist, Fayemi was a leading figure in a movement peopled by minds, who ceaselessly proffered solutions to the many social ills afflicting the country. They even sometimes used their platform as a tool of engagement with the powers that be.

Now that he is in a new life, Fayemi as governor of Ekiti State holds a vantage position among his activist peers, having been given the opportunity to implement some development ideas he had passionately espoused before assuming the driver’s seat in his state of origin.

And he has so far not disappointed his constituency and indeed the generality of Ekiti indigenes home and abroad. Immediately after he assumed office, Fayemi demonstrated that his would be an open administration where government business would be conducted with utmost probity and accountability. He became the first governor in this present political dispensation in Nigeria to openly declare his assets which he put at N750 million, including those of his wife, Bisi Fayemi.

The assets were what he had acquired in his private capacity as at October 15, 2010 when the court of appeal, Ilorin, declared him the rightful winner of the 2007 governorship election in Ekiti. In the same vein, he also encouraged his former deputy, Funmilayo Olayinka, now late, to declare her assets with her husband’s, including cash in local and foreign banks, buildings, undeveloped property, vehicles, business enterprises and household items, which came to a total N1.2 billion. Fayemi is also on record as the first governor in Nigeria to sign into law the Freedom of Information Act on Monday, July 4, 2011.

Sworn into office as Governor of Ekiti State on Saturday, October 16, 2010, Fayemi’s administration immediately launched a mission statement tagged, “Collective Rescue Mission.” It formed the bedrock on which his government would transform Ekiti in the next four years. His vision is summed up in an Eight-Point Agenda which centres around: Governance, Infrastructural Development, Modernising Agriculture, Education and Human Capital Development, Health Care Services, Industrial Development, Tourism Development, and Gender Equality and Woman Empowerment.

“My Eight-Point Agenda would be pursued with vigour and life would be more abundant for our people. Governance shall not only be transparent and accountable but the good of our people would be the template,” Fayemi said during his inauguration.

But his approach could not have been different considering his vast experience in developmental studies. Fayemi is a Fellow of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Ibadan; Adjunct Professor of Security Studies at the African Centre for Strategic Studies, National Defence University, Fort McNair, Washington, DC, United States, US. He was also a Visiting Professor in the African Studies Programme at Northwestern University, Evanston, US, in 2004. Fayemi had also served on numerous boards including the Governing Board of the Open Society Justice Institute, Baobab for Women’s Human Rights, African Security Sector Network, and on the Advisory Board of the Global Facilitation Network on Security Sector Reform and on the Management Culture Board of the ECOWAS Secretariat.

From a humble beginning at the Christ’s School, Ado Ekiti, Fayemi had gone on to receive degrees in History, Politics and International Relations from the Universities of Lagos and Ife in Nigeria and his Doctorate in War Studies from the prestigious King’s College, University of London, England, specialising in civil-military relations. His research and policy interests include: Democratisation, Constitutionalism, Security Sector Governance, and Regionalism in the Global Context.

He is a former Director of the Centre for Democracy & Development, a research and training institution dedicated to the study and promotion of democratic development, peace-building and human security in Africa. Prior to his establishment of the centre, he worked as a lecturer, journalist, researcher and Strategy Development adviser in Nigeria and the United Kingdom. He was Strategy Development Adviser at London’s City Challenge; research fellow at the African Research & Information Bureau in London, UK; reporter with the newspapers, The Guardian and City Tempo; editor of the Political Monthly, Nigeria-Now, management consultant at Development and Management Consultants and lecturer at the Police College in Sokoto, Nigeria.

At the height of the struggle against military rule in Nigeria, Fayemi as one of the prominent leaders of the opposition to military rule in exile, was responsible for the founding and management of the opposition radios, Radio Freedom, Radio Democracy International and Radio Kudirat besides played a central role in the opposition’s diplomatic engagements abroad.

Among his numerous academic and public policy engagements at home and abroad, Fayemi has lectured in Africa, Europe, the Americas and Asia. He has also served as an adviser on transitional justice, regional integration, constitutionalism, security sector reform and civil-military relations issues to various governments, inter-governmental institutions and development agencies.

He was the main technical adviser to Nigeria’s Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (otherwise known as the Oputa Panel), which investigated past abuses, and currently serves on the Presidential Implementation Committees on Security Sector Reform, NEPAD, and the Millennium Development Goals. He was technical expert to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on small arms and light weapons and United Nations Economic Commission of Africa on governance issues.

He is also a member, Africa Policy Advisory Panel of the British Government. At other times he has served as a consultant to the OECD on Security Sector Reform and chaired the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s Committee of Experts on developing guiding principles and mechanisms of constitution making in Commonwealth Africa.

Apparently looking at his rich and diverse background, Folorunsho Olabode, Ekiti State Commissioner for Rural Development and Community Empowerment, says: “Let me just summarise everything by saying he is a big fish in a small pond. In fact, instead of being a governor, he is supposed to be President of Nigeria.”

Governor Fayemi spoke with a TELL team comprising Adejuwon Soyinka, deputy general editor; Anthony Akaeze, senior assistant editor; Abiola Odutola, staff writer; and Sunday Adedeji, senior photo editor.


With all the projects you have done in Ekiti State since you were elected as the governor, don’t you entertain fear on the sustainability of the projects after your tenure?

Sure, projects by their own nature have long lifespan and if you have to implement projects like in the educational sector, agriculture, in virtually all sectors, you should know the results are not going to come in months, years or even in the tenure of the administration.

The reality of politics is that the political timetable doesn’t often conform to the governance timetable. The tenure of any administration is at best eight years and eight years reasonably allows you to consolidate with norms, culture and tendencies and people can begin to see certain things as a way of life. But the room for reversal is high if you are doing all you are doing in just four years. So there is a level at which you are concerned about the person you are handing over if he doesn’t understand the government framework, then you can legitimately entertain fear that all of it can disappear. That is often why we have laws and legal framework. So when we went to the House of Assembly to enact the law backing up our Social Security Benefit Scheme for the residents above 65 years of age, its because we feel that beyond the tenure of this administration, we don’t want something that would disappear with us.

The way to ensure sustainability is not just to enact the law but also to ensure it is in the mind of our people so that it becomes a political hot sweet potato for anyone to come back to remove it, just as it is difficult to remove the National Health Scheme in the UK. Since 1945, people have tried to remove the Social Security Scheme in England; it’s not possible because it is already in the people’s mind. I am the only governor in our 18 years’ history that has continued with the project of his predecessors. Every governor that came after Governor Adebayo had abandoned previous projects some of which do not resurface again. One thing I have been doing since I came into office is to clear the backlog of past projects. There are roads that were 20 per cent completed, mobilisation fees that are just 10 per cent flagged off and not paid, most of them abandoned the projects. I believe it is not fair; government projects shouldn’t be personal projects.

Governor-John-Kayode-Fayemi-of-Ekiti-State-1So, if I leave government, it shouldn’t be a huge disservice to the people. If my predecessor does not complete a chunk of the projects I started because he feels he is not going to take the credit, the word therefore isn’t fear but concern for what happens to initiatives four or more years down the line. But I am confident that many things would have become norms and way of life for our people. They will then see the tangible benefits of what we are doing now that some are not seeing. Four years from now, the ICT, housing and the work we are doing in the university would have been fully established. In the ICT sector, Samsung Academy would have been fully commissioned. The work we are doing in the university would have been fully up. People can then see jobs that are worth the while within Ekiti by getting trained in MSCE and Microsoft programming among others. From the partnership with the World Bank, our youth can now work with companies in Washington DC, India and England without leaving Ekiti and earning more than they would earn here. So, it is more of concern than fear.


From all the projects, which one would you consider your legacy?

I see legacy in two ways, there are ideas that are legacy and physical initiatives that can be regarded as legacy. The physical one is what we are doing with the 300-bed general hospital, the pavilion, the Covernment House, which we have completed the first phase and moving to phase two; Ikogosi Resort and the Civic Centre among others. Those are physical legacies for me. But if we talk of ideas, we talk of the Social Security Scheme and that is a legacy that I would want replicated nationally.

I hope for a day that the federal government would enact a law that every aged individual is entitled to assistance. Indeed we owe all our elderly people legitimate assistance. It may not be much and could be like N5,000 like we do in Ekiti. If you would observe, my party has just unfolded in our manifesto to pay 25 million Nigerians N5,000 each. That same initiative in Ekiti would be adopted in the national level if we win and we hope that 20 per cent of Nigerians would have access to such assistance through the Social Security Benefit Scheme. You can ask some of the beneficiaries, some of them still go ahead to do their local savings with the money. Out of the N5,000, some manage to save N1,000 even N500 into the saving scheme. Five thousand naira is not really much but some people don’t have anyone to look after them. For such, it is a lot of money especially with the other benefit we provide like free health care, food supplies, and Soup Kitchen run by my wife’s foundation in all the local government areas. So, it’s not just the money they get, which is a decent allowance for them. It may not be enough for you and I for lunch but here it is very significant in the life of the elderly.


Governor-John-Kayode-Fayemi-of-Ekiti-State-2How have you been able to address youths’ desire for quick returns on investment syndrome in the state?

The story that comes out from the Youth in Commercial Agriculture and Development, YCAD, project beneficiaries is heart-warming, one that other youths should take a cue from. I know the youth want to make ‘quick money’ and I am taking it into consideration. It will take us time but we will get over it.


Some critics say you don’t invest in stomach infrastructure. Don’t you think that may hinder your second term ambition?

I think it’s a communication challenge, not a risk to go for second term. A communication challenge because to them, maybe I have not succeeded yet if you are still getting such feedback, maybe they don’t understand stomach infrastructure. What I have just described to you is stomach infrastructure. If the Ekiti government is paying 25,000 elderly people N5,000 each every month circulating within the local economy of the states, what more stomach infrastructure could you have? The teachers too are not left out of our programmes because if you get to teach in the rural areas, you get 20 per cent allowance to your salaries. If you are teaching core subjects like English, Mathematics, science subjects you get another 20 per cent. If by stomach infrastructure, people mean a governor throwing money from a moving car or drinking at a joint, of course I don’t come from that school of politics. I have never hidden my contempt for such attitude to the citizens of this state because I believe it is an insult on their dignity if anybody does that to them.

At Fajuyi Park, where we have people hanging around all the time, they complain that I don’t throw money at the Okada men and the newspaper vendors. I don’t do that but I occasionally sit with them and have conversation with them, which they find interesting. I ask them about their ambition, what their qualifications are, what they intend to do, would they work if I ask them to work elsewhere? You will be shocked because they appreciate that conversation. At the end of the day, I give them an envelope and that is better than throwing money at them. With this stomach infrastructure, I don’t insult the dignity of our people; I improvise instead of throwing money. I give people clothes; if you were at my flag-off, you would see Ankara with my name and photograph. I am a politician but I also like to think I am an intellectual and there must be something that distinguishes me in a state like Ekiti from the politics of decades of emptiness which appeals to some people. If you listen to them on the street, I also think some people appreciate the respect given to everybody in Ekiti State. They are human beings and it is not all about eating crumbs from His Excellency, the governor, and superficial attachment to high office that has so messed up our country.


Being on the campaign train again, what is the difference between the first time and now?

There is a huge difference. When I went out for vote the first time, it was pretty much about running on the record and office of my colleagues who are members of my political tradition and in one part the antecedent of my parents. You know there is a huge importance attached to your name, you hear “oh is it Fayemi the son of the chairman, he must be a good boy o, we will do whatever we can to make him get there because his father was a good man.” It is as simple as that. Or you hear “oh he is from the Awolowo tendency, Adebayo was in his party, and he is with Tinubu. Another group voted me on that basis. There is another group that just found it interesting to see a strange character, who came from nowhere and didn’t see me as a politician at that time. I was known mostly as an academic; some knew that I had led democratic activities, lived outside the country for a considerable number of periods and associate myself with people they respect and they know, and they decided to give me a benefit of doubt.

Governor-John-Kayode-Fayemi-of-Ekiti-State-6The difference now is I am running on a record of the last three and a half years. Everyone can recite the Eight-Point Agenda around the state because it was like I first fed people with my plans, so people knew what I wanted to do in infrastructure, tourism, agriculture, education, health care, they knew the specifics. It’s like a referendum on my performance. But I am also not carried away by performance alone; I know the way politics also works. Performance is good, that can get you credible return to office but the mood of the nation also infringes on that. If these were to be a pure referendum on my performance as Ekiti governor, I probably won’t be campaigning.

Can you share with us some of the things they told you?

Everywhere I go, people could point to specific things I did. I am going from town to town since my flag-off and people have had something to point to. Some say, thank you for our Kabiyesi’s palace, our health centre, schools that had never been touched since the days of Awolowo and the five-kilometre roads in our local government that have never seen asphalt. This might not be tangible to people outside their community but these are what these people asked me.

As I said earlier, if it is my performance I would probably not be campaigning. But by some logic, it has become the litmus test for 2015. There are some that see Ekiti as a gateway to carry out their desperate agenda to forcefully enter the South-west. There are also those who feel Ekiti is the opportunity to prove there is a new party for a new Nigeria. So, there is a clash that has nothing to do with the Ekiti people. This would now necessitate my campaign that I would not necessarily do because all of a sudden it is not a local election again; it is rather a local election with a national implication.

Your opponents feel they can do better than you?

My opponents might feel such. One of the lessons I have learnt from Harold Wilson, former British prime minister, is that “I might make a lot of mistakes but one mistake I don’t make is to take my opponent for granted.” So all opponents are important to me and I am considering them to be serious. That is why I am campaigning more than I would ordinarily do because if it were to be by work, no governor in this state has done what I have done.

You had a running battle with teachers sometime ago and considering Ekiti as a fountain of knowledge, how would you assess progress in the state?

The best way to access progress is to look at the result. When I came in as governor, the WASSCE pass rate in Ekiti was 20 per cent but in 2013, Ekiti had the highest pass rate at 70 per cent. What happened was the improvement of our teaching and the learning environment. [A total of] 183 secondary schools were rebuilt, renovated, reconfigured while 856 primary schools were also rebuilt. We didn’t stop there; we also cancelled automatic promotion in our schools and introduced a unified compulsory examination for students in SS2. So if you do not pass the unified examination, you are not presented for WAEC. But if you pass the unified examination, the likelihood of passing WAEC with five credits, including Maths and English, is very high. Of course, we have since added some other things because we find it difficult retaining teachers in rural areas and we are a rural state. So we added 20 per cent rural teachers’ allowance. We also had challenges retaining teachers in critical subject areas like English, Maths and science, so we introduced core subjects allowance like another 20 per cent for teachers taking these subjects. If you teach in this state you can always be earning more than your mates in other states.

What is your opinion about insecurity in the country?

I think we are in a serious situation and we must not make light of it. I have argued in the past that you cannot tackle the Boko Haram menace with a force response. Yes, there is room to punish those involved in terrorism under the Terrorism Act but when you are tough on terror then you have to be tough on causes of terror. I have argued in the past that you need economic strategy to deal with this. Indeed, in my interview with TELL about two years ago, I talked about a Marshall Plan. About two or three weeks after (the interview) the national security adviser came out with a new strategy, which had an economic note. It is that simple.

Poverty relates with violence. If you do not tackle poverty a poor man has nothing to do. There is poverty study that tells that poor people are averse to risks; they do not want anything to happen to the little they have. But that only happens when there is still a thing of hope that something will come. The problem in the North is not a religious problem; it’s an economic problem and probably a political problem emanating from the economy or a political economic challenge. The response also has to be driven by that. In addition, the response has to be international because it involves a large expanse of lands that are ungoverned, probably ungovernable in Chad, southern Sudan, Libya, Central African Republic, Cameroon and North-east Nigeria.

If you would recall, the five countries that I describe are regions that have been at war for the last 40 years. You probably recall the Awuzi Strip in Chad and the war that has been there for so long, the war in Darfur in South Sudan until now; Libya has just unravelled; Mali next door to Niger and Nigeria and Sudan ended up in conflict two years ago. We also have the proliferation of small and light arms and weapons in this region. You don’t need a rocket scientist to tell you that it is a Molotov cocktail that would unleash itself on the populace if we don’t take action.

Of course, the local politics cannot be separated from all of this. They are intertwined. So we need a strategy that is short term, which will be to maximally reduce the presence of these people. In the long term, the strategy cannot be law and order. In any case, how many people have been convicted for Boko Haram as a crime? We are in security and governance crisis. The security of governance is a whole new ball game that we are not addressing effectively. Then, it might be that we don’t know what the security agencies are doing but the little we see does not give confidence to Nigerians like me.

With the YCAD initiative, your administration has empowered hundreds of youth in the agricultural sector. What are the details of this initiative?

My vision is simply to make poverty history in this state. I feel very strongly that one critical sector that we can make poverty history is agriculture. In order to do that, I believe we need a combination of approaches. One, the approach is YCAD, also School of Technical and Commercial Agriculture that we are trying to set up by September. You don’t want people to go into agriculture for that sake. You need to provide them the basic equipment needed to be able to function in a manner that would be sustainable. It is business for them so they are able to develop value chain of the business. Those who are planting are not necessarily those who are harvesting or selling or processing or those who would engage in the partnership of our schools when we start our free meal programme. The Ministry of Agriculture enters into partnership with the companies to offload whatever is coming out of the YCAD farm. For the fish producers, we connect them with Ikogosi Hotels for supplies. Although it is sold at a lower price than they would sell it in Lagos, still it is adequate to make their profit. It is through this initiative that we can help them sustain their business until they are fully developed and they can be on their own to launch out to wider horizon.

So it is not as if we have one side approach to operate. We also helped them to partner with commercial operators who are coming into the state to set up larger farms. So that in partnership they can enrich their knowledge on how to do business, they have the privilege of interacting with big players of that market. But ultimately the reason we are part of the regional integration with other states in the West is precisely because we know the market is elsewhere. Ekiti sits right in the middle of Lagos, the commercial capital, and Abuja, the administrative capital of this country. If we fully develop our infrastructure, then it is easier for us to take the product from here to the Lagos market.

You are a representative of the South-west on the board of National Integrated Power Project, NIPP. What is your opinion on the privatisation of the sector?

The truth is that the privatisation of the power sector is not working and that is the reason we have been meeting the management of National Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC. I am not saying it won’t work tomorrow or in nearest future but right now, it is not working. The supply has gone down considerably. In fact, in this state, we barely receive 20 megawatt from the national grid. We are part of the Benin DISCO, which was bought by Vigeo. In fact, I had to complain about Vigeo to NERC when an entire area in my state was shut down and that almost caused a major crisis. According to Vigeo, the community owed money running into millions and they had not paid. The approach was to shut the entire community down including those that do not owe and that led to a riot.

Governor-John-Kayode-Fayemi-of-Ekiti-State-4Later, NERC intervened and restored the electricity and I advise a negotiation between the two parties. It is not only here. Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State also complained about his experiences with the Benin DISCO for not serving his people. I think the problem is that many of these companies went into the exercise borrowing money to invest in the sector but they are not making as much money as they expected at the initial transition stage and they are not coping very well. I believe the board of NIPP will have to sit down and ask ourselves where we are going with this. Most people think everything private is good and everything public is bad; that is absolutely false. At a point people thought the power privatisation would go the way of the telecoms sector; it is not happening and if you don’t want people to lose confidence in power privatisation, then the regulatory agency should be tougher on the privatised companies. NERC needs to do its job in a tougher way than it currently does. That is my layman’s advice.


How have you been able to manage politics and governance of the state?

I spend more time at work to do what I am paid to do. When I started this journey, I appointed competent hands. I told Ekiti people that I was not going to allow my politics distract me from governance. That was the promise I made. I still come to clear my files every evening and go back to my campaign in the morning. I don’t see the contradiction. Alternatively, the problem is the dwindling resources in the states. We are faced with a much bigger challenge than we can handle in the sense that our budget was calculated on the basis of our expectation because that is what a budget is. A budget is just an estimate of our own expected income and expenditure. But if the income doesn’t measure up with the expectation then the expenditure is likely to be affected. This has happened across the board in the 36 states. I am sure we have governors crying that they have lost about 30 to 40 per cent of their earnings. So, that has affected capital projects because if you don’t pay people’s salary they would chop off your head. So you keep the recurrent going, capital projects can wait until you are able to stabilise enough to fund them.


What would the electorate in the state lose if they don’t vote for you for the second term?

The business of electing rests with the people of Ekiti State and I believe they are intelligent people who can compare what the situation was before I came in and the way it is when I came in as governor and what the future holds for our children and people. When they look at that, they see stability. Don’t forget the progressives have governed this state at exactly the same period the conservatives did.

What is your position about the ongoing National Conference?

My party really never stated a position about the National Conference. My party has a reservation about the confab and I agree and respect it but as a governor of Ekiti State, I am a governor of all not just APC members. Even then, I said nothing might come out of the conference but there is the confidence that the Ekiti people are part of the jamboree and they contribute their own quota. Before they left, we had a mini Ekiti conference that outlined our own position. Interestingly, Osun did its own; Lagos did its own and two other states that had mini conferences and we produced position papers that we handed to our delegates that this is what you are taking to Abuja that this is what you are going to argue for.


Most of the people working with you describe you as a workaholic. What legacy do you want to leave behind?

I have a lot of work to do. If you are going to do this job, it is with passion, commitment and sincerity of purpose. It is a duty not a favour to the people that I am governor. I would like to think that when I leave this job, it would be said of me that I actually put my best into it and people appreciate it. The way people talk fondly of Obafemi Awolowo, at least in this part of Nigeria, is what I crave for. Hopefully, there would be such legacy that lives after me and continue to make a difference in the lives of our people in the state.


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