Ekiti State Governor and brand new President of Forum of Regions/States of Africa, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, in this interview reminisces on his two terms in office which will terminate on October 16, the legacy he is leaving behind even as he examines the impact BIVAS is making on Nigeria’s election process. BIYI ADEGOROYE reports
You seem to have had a good run in this your second term, coming from Abuja as a Minister to win second term and now installing a successor from your party and becoming a godfather, what other lasting legacies are you leaving behind in Ekiti State?
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 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, 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, built hundreds of kilometers of roads, reconstructed the water infrastructure in the state and put in place an Independent Power Project 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, 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, immunization 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 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 dropout rate. If you look at immunisation, Ekiti ranked second, 86 per cent in the country.
If you look at school performance in school certificate examination, if you look at 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 South- West, now we are first not just in the Southwest, but first 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 on the lives of our people is what is most important to me.
Fayemi Of course, it’s one thing to ensure that our children are in school and do not drop out, 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.
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 everyone believes we need an airport. I believe many of our people will come round once the airport starts functioning.
The last governorship 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 then concur with any observer who claimed to have witnessed vote buying or vote trading in Ekiti.
The other point I think it 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 breakaway 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 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 7pm, 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 during our election. 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 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 towards 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 in order to retain Ekiti.’ Some even said Tinubu gave me $5 million 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 South-West 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 South-West, three of us were seen to be clearly front runners; Asiwaju, Vice President Osibajo and myself, and of course I had a strong support among my brother governors.
Asiwaju also had quite a chunk of support from the governors’ forum as well. 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 Ekiti governorship election?
I just tried to pooh pooh that. It is not true. I am glad we won the Ekiti election. We would have won 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 woukd 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.
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 N100 million 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.
What is 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 in order 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, 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 term 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 term, 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 Ekiti people, but he is also going to be faced with a tyranny and that is the tyranny of unfunded mandates. He has a 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 in order to meet the expectations of 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.
What are your last words for Ekiti people?
My last word is gratitude to 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, first governor in the state to have a successor from his own party; first governor in the state to become Chairman, Nigerian Governors’ Forum from the South-West 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 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. Neither 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.