Former Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, is gradually losing political relevance in his state and party. In May, he returned with zero votes at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential primary, despite having 16 delegates from his state; and under his watch and leadership, the opposition party has now lost back-to-back governorship elections in the state. WALE ELEGBEDE reports
Like a colossus, Mr. Ayodele Fayose once bestrode the body and soul of Ekiti State politics. He was the subject of every news item about the Fountain of Knowledge State. He was loved and loathed in equal proportion. He adulated himself as the friend of the masses; he wined and dined with them on the streets of Ekiti.
For him, what essentially defined good governance at the end of the day is empowerment, which he christened “stomach infrastructure.” With this initiative, he was never short of attention while he served as governor. For a man, who was first elected governor in 2003 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) before he was ousted through impeachment on October 16, 2006, Fayose has remained a recurring decimal not only in Ekiti, but the national political space. He made history when against all odds, he returned to power in 2014 after defeating 18 other candidates including the then incumbent, Dr. Kayode Fayemi of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
That was the second time he would defeat an incumbent for the Ekiti governorship. He defeated the current Minister of Industry, Niyi Adebayo, of the then Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the 2003 elections for the Ekiti plum job. On his return to power, he endeared himself more to the people of Ekiti through his “Stomach Infrastructure” ideology. While Fayose is the only person, who can offer clarifications to what inspired the concept, which received wide acclaim; one point that must be noted is that his electoral victory in 2014 was partly driven by this political philosophy.
Though some analysts have over time derided the maxim, the truth is that the concept focuses on the people’s immediate needs: empowerment programme for unemployed youths and widows; maintenance assistance to the aged, among oth-ers. For him, however, it is about giving governance a human face. Beyond the stomach infrastructure initiative, Fayose has remained vocal when it comes to national issues and has been critical of the APC-led Federal Government. Unlike some of his colleagues, who respond to issues diplomatically, apparently not to offend the powers that be, Fayose is blunt to a fault.
When he was governor, there is hardly any week that passes without Fayose not being in the news and this has earned him both friends and foes. Most importantly, the conviviality he enjoys among the masses was not in doubt. As a public office holder, the former Ekiti governor was easily accessible. He jettisoned the life of protocol, ceremonies, and courtesies that come with the position he occupied and at the same time displayed the humility of dining with people of the lowly trough of life. The man popularly known as Oshokomole by his admirers has equally been the polished cosmopolitan man of the polite society as well as the rugged personality of the jungle.
Although he didn’t contest last Saturday’s governorship election, he was, however, on the ballot, howbeit, by proxy. He had single-handedly anointed his ally, Bisi Kolawole, as the candidate of the PDP, but couldn’t succeed as his familiar foe, Dr. Kayode Fayemi of the All Progressives Congress (APC), had a landslide victory with his anointed candidate, Biodun Oyebanji. Oyebanji, a former secretary to the Ekiti State Government (SSG), was declared the winner of the Ekiti governorship election on Sunday after defeating 15 other candidates and parties including Fayose’s anointed. According to INEC’s Returning Officer in the election, Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan and INEC Returning Officer, Prof. Oyebode Adebowale, the APC candidate polled the highest valid votes cast – 187,057 – in the election to defeat his closest rival, Segun Oni, of the Social Democratic Party, who bagged 82,211 votes.
Kolawole, a former chairman of the PDP in the state, came third, though he won in Efon Alaaye LGA, while Oyebanji won in the rest of the 15 local government areas of the state. The victory makes Oyebanji the fifth democratically elected governor of the state. Upon the dismal outing in the guber election, some members and supporters of the party have started pointing fingers at Fayose for being responsible for the embarrassing distant third position of the PDP in the poll. In the run-up to the election, the PDP was labeled as one of the favourites, including the APC and SDP.
But the lackluster performance of the party last Saturday appears to be propelling the PDP towards massive depletion as all eyes seem to be looking in one direction – Fayose. Although he failed to win any local government area, Oni put up a strong fight and won in many polling units, including that of two lawmakers elected on the platform of the APC. Ordinarily, it was expected that with his bravery and network, the two-term former governor, should have brought his experience and structure to bear and probably give the PDP a better landing or finished a respectable second position.
Fayose, whose presidential bid was short of nothing but a disaster after scoring zero votes, failed to deliver his local government, Irepodun/Ifelodun Local Government Area, in Saturday’s election to his anointed candidate and that cast a serious dent in his political pedigree, especially ahead of the 2023 general election. Last weekend’s defeat is the second time in a row that Fayose’s effort at enthroning a governor failed. After his term ended in 2018, he attempted but failed to produce his successor, using his then deputy, Prof. Olusola Kolapo. Fayemi won the election. Interestingly, Fayose failed to support his ex-deputy in the recent poll but decided to back Kolawole.
For political analysts, the disgraceful outing of PDP and the manner of the defeat is negatively instructive and will have a huge effect not only on the party in Ekiti, but in the South-West, and by extension at the national level. Already, there are doubts over the political clout of Fayose, who is the de facto leader of the PDP in Ekiti, because he singlehandedly anointed Kolawole, who many labeled as a “weak candidate” against the rampaging APC. But some analysts differ, stating that the PDP was not organized at the national level and had little support for the election.
They argued that while the APC bigwigs, including the party presidential aspirant, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, were in Ekiti for the party’s mega rally a few days before the election, the PDP’s flag bearer, Atiku Abubakar, didn’t show up in the state as the party failed to hold a mega rally. However, the conspicuous absence of Atiku in the Ekiti PDP governorship affairs may not be unconnected with the fallout of the party’s presidential primary in May 2022, where Fayose appears to be more towards Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike’s bid, than Atiku’s.
As the PDP battles to crawl out of the excruciating pain of defeat, it is left to be seen whether Fayose will still be leading their procession ahead of the 2023 general election, especially with the no-love-lost relationship between him and Atiku, the party’s presidential flag bearer. But until then, the Fayose’s factor in Ekiti politics appears to be waning.