Ekiti State Governor and Chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), Dr. Kayode Fayemi, in this interview, speaks on the state of the nation, call for restructuring and the second year anniversary of his second term in office as governor. FELIX NWANERI reports
What have been the gains, challenges and constrains of the last two years of your second term as governor of Ekiti State?
I am in a very unique position in the sense that I am not a new kid on the block. So I cannot be excused from lack of knowledge of the challenges of returning to office. Indeed, it would be recalled that I said during the campaigns that I had an unfinished business and that was the reason why I was returning to Ekiti as governor.
It wasn’t as if I was without an alternative because I was a minister at the time I chose to go back. But the circumstance of my exit from office was what compelled me to ensure that we reclaim the state and that we hit the ground running on coming back to office. In the four years that I was out of office, there was widespread poverty in the state.
Many will still argue that Ekiti is still a civil service state and when you don’t have regular payment of salaries in a civil state, which ordinarily is not something to celebrate because people have worked and deserve to be paid, it then becomes a big deal to be paid regularly. And you need that restoration in order to get a sense of purpose back to government. If you recall, my campaign mantra was ‘restoring the values and reclaiming the land of Ekiti.’
All the social intervention programmes I put in place, when I was governor were cancelled, so there was no longer free education programme up to senior secondary school level that we had during my first term; the stipend for the elderly or ‘Owo Arugbo’ as we call it also disappeared; the free health programme for under five and above 65 also disappeared. All these are back and Ekiti people are enjoying them now.
That puts pressure on an economy that is not exactly an oil economy and does not thrive on mainstream private sector engagement, but we have not allowed that to deter us.
We have figured out a way to run an economy in the state that has also generated more investment for the state. If you look at our agriculture sector, we decided policy wise that the only way we can transit from being a subsistence agric state was to find a way to attract major commercial investments and that was responsible for bringing in Promasidor to resuscitate the dairy farm that has been there for 21 years moribund.
This is just as we brought back the clay factory in the state and others like Dangote Rice, Stallion Rice, the cassava mills in the agricultural belts because we established an agricultural processing zone that is supported by the African Development Bank and World Bank for rural agric marketing project.
Basically, what that does for us is to open up the state by fixing the feeder roads from the farms to the markets and we are talking about a thousand kilometre roads in addition to infrastructural development that we have focused on in terms of reviving state and federal roads, particularly the Ado-Akure road.
Also, we have our legacy projects, which for me, are the ones that over a long time can be treated more as the gains of the state. That speaks to the restoration of the values that I talked about. First, is our Knowledge zone, which is basically about aggregating the opportunities in the knowledge service industry. This is probably the first of its kind in the country that is focused on intellectual capital and it was informed by who we are.
As Ekiti people, what we are known for our intellect and passion for education but the question is: How do we turn this to wealth rather than just read for the sake of getting degrees. That was what informed the Knowledge Zone, which we created in our education quadrangle, where we have four high institutions feeding this zone in bio-medical, health, agric technology and information technology, among others.
And about a month ago, I was at the Nigerian Export Processing Zone Authority (NEPZA) to discuss with them on granting of a special export processing zone status to the state. Right next to it, we are also working on an airport, which in the short term, may appear a luxury but over a long term, will become more sensible to those assessing the state because of its landlocked nature.
On challenges, resource constraint will always be a challenge in every state and like I said earlier, Ekiti is not really a buoyant state. In terms of the revenue ladder of states, Ekiti averagely earns about N3.2 billion consistently from the federation account and when you earn that amount and you spend N2.6 billion on recurrent expenditure, you have to be more creative in order to deliver on the promises you made to the people.
We’ve been relatively fortunate because we have international partnerships and I have quite a bit reputation with international partners, so we have been able to fill the gap a little bit. For example, we have a comprehensive water project supported by the European Union and the World Bank, which has enabled us to work on all the dams and replace all the pipelines, so that all the local governments will have access to portable water as against the obsession to boreholes.
So, challenges should not be the problem of anyone in public office if you have thought through what you are doing and you are prepared for office. You are bound to have challenges, economically or political because there are those who believe that public fund should be shared; that it should not be evenly spread; that it should not be spent on the population; that it should just be the direct benefit of political players.
If you do not come from that school of thought, you are definitely going to have problems with some elements, who may see things differently but that is the price to pay for leadership. Leadership is not about titles; it is what you do to affect the lives of the people. You have to take a stand on some of these things without any equivocation even though you may run into political problems.
How about the constraints…
I think that we are fast getting to a point at which we must confront our reality as a federation; we can’t continue to run an economy the way we are doing.
We have to figure a structure that is more responsive to the yearnings of the population and this current structure, obviously privileges those who are more associated with a unitary structure rather than a genuine federal structure that is accountable more to the people and responsive to the challenges that the people have.
What that structure should be, of course, has been subject of debate from all sides of Nigeria but clearly, the state structure that we have now is problematic; it is not working as it should and there is a clear justification for more devolution of not just functions.
Unless you want to suffer from the tyranny of unfunded mandate, you can devolve functions and not support it with resources and that is what we are faced with. Thank God that we have a president in Muhammadu Buhari, who is a bit more responsive.
Federal roads that have been fixed by states in the last 20 years and not one naira was paid either by Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua or Goodluck Jonathan, President Buhari, without looking at the politics of it, decided that the Federal Government will pay and it paid if you can justify that you have done the roads. That is not what we have experienced since the dawn of this present democratic dispensation.
Frankly, if you ask me, I will say why do we keep having federal roads; what is a federal road? The people who are plying the roads in my state might not know the difference between federal and state roads; all they will say is that the governor is not doing his job. So, we hope that Nigerians would be able to push the argument for the resources and power that reside in Abuja would be devolved to states with revenue also devolved to support the responsibility placed at that level.
So, you are invariably asking for fiscal federalism?
I am a known advocate for fiscal federalism but I must also say that even those who were reluctant before are being confronted with the realities and they are asking themselves ‘how long can wecontinue to be in this; am I elected just to pay salaries?’
It is not just about revenue but also aboutcreatingtheenablingenvironment thatwillallowinvestmentstothriveinour various states.
Can there be fiscal federalism without restructuring as some people are calling for, and don’t you think that it was time for Nigeria to have a new constitution, so that even the fiscal federalism you talked about can work?
I don’t see a conflict between the pursuit of fiscal federalism and expanding the devolution project. Whether you call it restructuring or constitutional reform; I think it is just a nomenclature issue. For us as APC, we have a comprehensive report – the Nasir el-Rufai committee report, which has not only articulated in clear terms what are views are on what you call restructuring but also had proposed bills attached to it, which we then took as APC governor to the leadership of the National Assembly – Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila and handed it over to them and said that ‘we do not have power to make laws but these are our proposals as governors of the APC and we believe that when you start your constitution reform process, this is one of the materials you should treat as a formal memorandum from us.’ So, APC at either the executive branch or the governors is not averse to constitutional reform. At times, I read that APC as a ruling party is opposed to this issue but that is not true. If you read the manifesto of the party, our position on the issue was clearly stated and we followed it up with the el-Rufai committee and we have given the report of that committee to the leadership of the National Assembly. Now that legislators led by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, have started with the constitution reform process, it is our hope that it will not go the way of previous constitution review processes. As governors, we do not have the power but we can propose and encourage members of our party, but ultimately, the power resides in our National Assembly. A few alterations have happened since 1999; may be alteration on judicial autonomy, legislative autonomy, electoral amendment and a few other things, but the root and branch of constitutional reform has not happened and that is what I think the National Assembly really ought to spend bulk of its time on; pull together all the various constitution reform processes – the Niki Tobi process, the Jonathan process, the one by Obasanjo and the APC report. Let us all these be consolidated, get some technical people to sieve through them and subject it to a national referendum and we have a constitution. I don’t think it is a rocket science, may be there isn’t that political will in the National Assembly but they cannot say that it is Buhari or the APC governors that have stopped them from doing this because we have done our bit.
Are you not worried that entrenched interest, particularly some political leaders in the North, who are not disposed to restructuring, will frustrate efforts to have Nigeria restructured?
I wouldn’t say that people are not interested because if you look at the Nigerian state today, challenges are coming from everywhere. Take security for example, a couple of days ago, I was in Maiduguri, you cannot go unescorted. The governor told us this. Majority of the people who live in the north eastern part of the country are the Kanuris and they have seen the horrible impact of insurgency. The Kanuris and the various minority groups in that area used to be very assertive people when you look at nationalist history. They didn’t even follow Northern Peoples Congress politics as they mostly aligned with the progressive family of United Middle Belt Congress and Action Group. If you also remember, during the Second Republic, they were essentially in the Great Nigeria Peoples Party that aligned with Unity Party of Nigeria. So, sometimes, we exaggerate this monolithic North but there is no monolithic North in my own view. People come into this with different interests and even if there was a monolithic North in the past, it is no longer the case. There are different interests, different challenges and different ideas on how to make the country work for everybody. To that extent, there may be entrenched interest but there is also entrenched interest to reform Nigeria. There is entrenched interest to keep Nigeria the way it is, no doubt, but there are also people who are determined that this country must change and the it must change for the better. So, the contestation, the struggle, has to continue.
Some individuals are of the view that the 2023 general election might not hold except Nigeria is restructured. Their position is that the country is likely to disintegrate if not restructured. What are your thoughts on that?
Posturing is part of politics and people will always posture and use that to gain the headlines in the media. Those people talking about Oduduwa Republic; who are the speaking for? Did they consult Yoruba people and did the people give them their mandate? Did Yoruba people tell them that they want Oduduwa Republic? If you have Oduduwa Republic, where will the capital be? I think what Nigerians want is a country that works for everybody. I don’t think there is any reasonable Nigerian who wants the country to break up; people just believe that Nigeria is not working the way it should with the human and natural resources God has made available to us. So, if they are agitating, I don’t think they are agitating for a breakup although there may be some loonies and extremists, who would always go in that direction though it is within their right to do that because it is a democracy. However, most reasonable and serious Nigerians don’t play this game. Look at the demography; 65 per cent of Nigerians are under 30 and they are not interested in whether you are Hausa, Yoruba or Igbo. Look at their music; look at their work in information technology; look at the other areas that they are excelling. They are marrying one another, so they are not sold to this agenda. All they are talking about is opportunities. These kids have opted out of Nigeria physiologically; they have deserted Nigeria and that is what should worry us because they are the bundle of talents and the ones with the energy, and poverty is violence. When you also look at the issue of insecurity, there is a nexus between lack of development, lack of jobs and insecurity that we are grappling with whether in the insurgency infested North-East or the banditry infested North-West; kidnapping infested South-West, South-East and South. There is a direct correlation between poverty and violence and if we want to reduce violence and insecurity, we need to do something on human capital development. So, I think that we need a Nigeria that works for every Nigerian. For those, who are just entertaining themselves with Oduduwa Republic or Biafra or whatever republic, I wish them luck but I know that is not where real Nigerians are.
Do you believe that most people in the North and South, who have been displaced by activities of criminal elements, still believe in the Nigeria you are talking about?
They are Nigerians by virtue of the fact that they were born here and they live here. Whether you are full blooded citizen or resident, you want peace and security. Nigeria is not just a geographical space to you, it is also a living space and you want derive benefits from it, but the reality is that if we do not fix this country in a manner that it responds to the yearnings of all us, it will consume all of us. Yes, people have deserted their homes because of insecurity, but is that the solution? The solution is that we must make our country livable, and in making our country livable, security cannot be unitarised. That is one of the things that must be devolved, so that it can respond to the immediate challenges in our local communities. You cannot manage security from the confines of Abuja; it won’t work and it has not worked. So, let us look for a creative and effective mechanism that would be responsive to the immediate need of the people in every community. If you don’t do that, you won’t even know the connection between the bandits, who they claim come from outside Nigeria and the network they have in the country.
Is your attention not been diverted by the semblance of crisis in Ekiti APC, and what measures are you taking to ensure reconciliation?
Any situation that you have agitation is not helpful to any leader, and clearly, when you have a contest, somebody must win and somebody will lose. The ability to pull everybody together is also a hallmark of leadership and I believe that is what we have done in Ekiti.
But we still have some people, who have issues with that. If you check my cabinet, you will see that five of those who contest the primary election with me are commissioners, another two as special advisers, one as a commissioner in the Federal Character Commission, one in the Senate and two in the House of Representatives. So, we’ve almost closed the circle.
Naturally, there are those who still feel that they are not getting their due, but I have explained to you the resources available to Ekiti State and the promises made to the people. It is always a constant struggle for any political leader to manage resources in the overall interest of the state and to share with people who feel that they deserve more than they are getting. The semblance of crisis that you referred to was not one brought about by us because there seems to be a misconception in what transpired; the socalled suspension or no suspension.
The party at its National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in June made a general pronouncement that is not limited to Ekiti State and I urge you to read President Buhari’s speech as the leader of the party in that June NEC. What he said in it was that ‘we have issues in various states and the party has a constitution that says exhaust all internal mechanisms in resolving issues.
It is only when you exhaust them and there is no headway that you can say you are going to court. But for us in APC, we do not encourage court litigations and as a result of that, I am giving every member a deadline to withdraw all cases from court.’ I am not quoting him exactly but you can pick that from his speech.
And once the caretaker committee that was set up, following the exit of the national chairman and National Working Committee (NWC) came on board, it wrote to all the 36 states, directing that everybody should withdraw all cases from the courts on the directive of the leader of the party. A month after that, it wrote another letter, asking all the state chapters to ascertain who has withdrawn and who has not withdrawn and the reasons they are still in court.
After that, it wrote to states that are affected, including Ekiti, where some had gone to court on account of their previous collusion with the chairman that was removed because he thought that some of us were fighting him and that the way to deal with us is to create division in our state. The national headquarters said that the party at the state level should set up a disciplinary committee to examine why they’ve not withdrawn their cases from the court.
The committee did its job and sent its report to the national caretaker committee and it is up to the national headquarters to do whatever it wants with the report. However, there is no faction in Ekiti APC; there is only one party in the state and the leadership of the party is known by everybody.
So, those who decided to entertain themselves by claiming that they have suspended some people are the ones to explain why they did that. The party’s national leadership has made a pronouncement on that but because we feel that we should have a united party, we told those who said that they have grievances to come and ventilate them before a local reconciliation committee that we set under the chairmanship of a former chairman of the party in the state, Chief Jide Awe, so that the party will look at what their grievances are and take appropriate action.
That committee submitted has submitted its report to the party. So, without prejudice to whatever steps to the national caretaker committee has taken, the party in the state has also taken some steps in order to manage these grievances, but you can understand why this is happening. I have two years to go as governor; I am not running again, but there are people who are already positioning themselves to become governor.
So, they have to shake the table in order to create opportunity for their respective gubernatorial projects. I wish them well because there is nothing wrong in that but they shouldn’t do it to the detriment of the party.