BY EMMANUEL AZIKEN, GBENGA ARIYIBI, DAPO AKINREFON, CHARLES KUMOLU & GBENGA OKE
It was set to be a 40-minute interview with the Vanguard Political Desk that commenced shortly after 10 p.m. in the Governor’s Office in Ado Ekiti last Tuesday. However, as Governor Kayode Fayemi churned out statistics on his adventure in the Ekiti political turf, the time keeping Chief Press Secretary, Yinka Oyebode, lapsed in his duty as the interview stretched beyond the hour.
Governor Fayemi, a one-time democracy activist, and civil society champion is at his most eloquent self when talking about how he is using the platform of office to champion the egalitarian ethos that he at one time could only talk about. The daily soup kitchen for citizens, the N5,000 monthly cash benefit to the elderly and the uplifting of public schools are among indices that would give him attention in the congregation of social democrats. Excerpts:
Did you have the intention of seeking a second term when you sought for election the first time?
I did not seek for election in 2007, as you put it. I wasn’t even in politics in the partisan sense of politics. I was prevailed upon to run. There is no one in politics at that time that would say that I was one of those running around wanting to be governor. I did not set out to be governor which in the true sense of it, is a duty and not an ambition.
So, I was not ambitious. I was not interested but I was eventually convinced of the necessity to put my hat into the ring at the time.
So, if you want me to answer your question properly, this is actually the first time I am running on the strength of my own conviction that I want to be governor in Ekiti State. So, you could call me an accidental governor. But then, that accident quickly stopped at the time I really became active in the race.
I was convinced to run. I moved round the state and assessed the enormity of the challenge and don’t forget, when I threw my hat into the ring the first time, a certain gentleman called Ayo Fayose was governor here and it was not the most attractive period for anyone to want to become governor in this state.
The question then among many of my friends in academia and civil society was: ‘do you have a death wish?’ ‘Why would I want to go and do this in a place as dangerous as Ekiti?’ That was the general feeling. It was almost aimless boldness to venture into the political terrain in Ekiti State at the time I did.
And I was like the most unknown quantity. If you recall at the time I came into the race in 2006, you already had the likes of Ayo Arise, Caleb Olubolade, Segun Oni, Dayo Adeyeye, Dare Babarinsa already in the ring. In my party, we had 20 people, prominent Ekiti citizens, who were in the race for the job.
I was an unknown quantity as far as politics was concerned. I didn’t have the ambition to be governor. I never really had an ambition to be governor but when I was convinced to be governor, I saw it as a duty to the party which was out of office at the time.
One of the people who convinced me to run happened to be the former governor, Otunba Niyi Adebayo.
Now why do you want to go for a second term?
I have an unfinished task. The task is not complete. We have restored Ekiti back to its pride of place. But restoration does not necessarily equate to transformation. Restoration brings Ekiti to a point of stability. I do not delude myself that we have achieved all that we set out to achieve.
First, most of the people I know are no longer ashamed to say that they are from Ekiti now unlike what used to happen.
For me, people make reference to what we have done in the education sector, infrastructure, health care and particularly, the social security for the elderly, but that is not my most profound value addition if you ask me. It is the restoration of dignity and respect to Ekiti. So, when we say land of honour, people know that we are honourable people who have nothing else but integrity to sell. And it is a high net-worth value for me.
That has since translated into practical deliverables in the various sectors because the fact that my word is my bond has enabled me to say that I promised this on October 16, 2010 when I delivered my inaugural address, and this is where we are now on that agenda. We have gone way beyond the 70 per cent mark, but it is still unfinished business because poverty has not been totally eradicated.
The vision as advertised to everybody in Ekiti, which became a mantra in the eight point agenda for Ekiti recovery was that we want to make poverty history in Ekiti State and I don’t think we have fully done that. We definitely dented the impact of poverty in our state but we still have some way to go.
Given the saying that no governor of Ekiti State goes for a second term, could it be suggested that your declaration for a second term is the cause of the heightened tension in the state?
I have already indicated that for me, this is a duty and not an ambition. And I have made a distinction between a duty and an ambition. What am I constitutionally and legally allowed? I don’t believe I am subverting the constitutional obligation that I have as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution. I also think it is actually a myth when people say in this part there has been no two-term governor.
Even though we had seven governors in the last seven years before I became governor, that simply tells you that none of them even completed a term in office, let alone have ideas about running for any other term. You need to complete one term before wanting to run for another. So, when they say that, they don’t add that only one governor completed a democratic term in office, and that is Governor Niyi Adebayo.
And there are many people in this state who continue to insist that Adebayo won the election in 2003. Let us even assume that it is true that there has been none, (but) so it was in Kano before Shekarau became a two term governor. So it was next door Ondo where it was also said that no one could be a two-term governor. The choice is very simple.
Luckily, this a state where the prominent parties have both had a go at it. PDP had been in charge of this state for seven and half years. Place the two governments of the PDP and ours side by side and do a dispassionate analysis of what we both contributed to governance. Every asset that is standing on ground in this state, happened under the progressive wing. Whether you are talking of Ekiti House in Abuja, Ikogosi Water Springs that many people are visiting now, or the revived bricks factory among others, you will realise they all happened under the watch of the progressives.
That is in terms of physical infrastructure. If you talk in terms of human development, which involves social security, youth volunteer scheme, peace corps, we have also done much. In Agriculture, the story is clear. If you talk of health care in terms of the state of hospitals, access to healthcare, health insurance, it is only under us that these things occurred.
Of course, if you talk of education, the statistics are very clear. You only need to go to the merged Ekiti State University and see a focused government that has an agenda for educational reform. If you don’t want to go as far as the university, check out what is happening at the secondary school level. The statistics are also clear.
So, I don’t know how that will now be the source of tension. The evidence before us suggests that if you don’t want to arrest development, then continuity is very critical to growth, especially in an environment where every time government has been sidetracked or affected by the term of office, you also almost automatically have abandonment of key initiatives.
This is the only government in Ekiti State that did not abandon projects of previous governments. The projects that Governor Adebayo did that were abandoned, the residences of our House of Assembly members that Fayose never touched are there. This (Governor’s Office) is a hotel built by Governor Adebayo and somebody came and said this is more befitting for me as an office, but we would have been making more money if it had remained in its original state that Governor Adebayo put it.
I came and said I was not going to abandon any project. People thought I was stupid, ‘how could you be doing the road to your enemy’s hometown?’ But I said Governor Oni is not my enemy. I only challenged him because I was convinced that I won an election. The money that was being used to construct the road to Ifaki was not Governor Oni’s personal money.
It is Ekiti money, it is our commonwealth. So, why would I abandon it simply because it goes to Oni’s village? When I came, the road to Governor Fayose’s home town was the worst road in the state. I was the one who did it. Virtually all the roads leading to the supposed enemies’ home towns, I did them because I felt it was right the thing to do.
I don’t see any tension. Naturally, when election is on the way, it is the nature of politicians to exaggerate their own importance and to give a sense of ‘if not me, hell will break loose’.
The urban renewal project embarked upon by your administration in Ado Ekiti seems to have stagnated. Is it paucity of funds?
Work has not stopped. If you go to Ikole or Ikere, you will see that those local roads are being constructed. In Ado, we have had a peculiar challenge with the contractor handling the beautification and the contract has been revoked. And there is a process to that. We cannot get a new person to do it until we legally remove those who were in charge of the original contract, that is the reason for that. I know that the new contractors are about to start work on the beautification of Ado Ekiti.
Your administration initiated community development projects across the state. To what extent have they benefited the populace?
We have spent so far about N614 million on the various projects. The way we went about it was that we had a philosophy that the people are the best monitors and implementers of projects that are dear to their hearts.
Best monitors and implementers
These were projects submitted by the communities and not government projects. They are not really gigantic projects. What we did was to take the presidents and secretaries of the town unions to a workshop. They would bring their projects. They would also bring their plans and the costs.
We will then send people from our Ministry of Rural Development to assess and evaluate projects and we then give them money in phases. 50 per cent to start, then 30 per cent and 20 per cent subsequently.
And the evidence before us indicates that in virtually all the communities where we have projects, it is almost 80 per cent completion, and they have been completed on time and cost. They have done much better more than we are able to do as a government that awards contracts to people outside.
From the assessment I have done, it simply shows that people take ownership of what they implement and it is difficult to steal community money. If it is government, nobody is government. Government money is money for everybody and whoever can grab. I have an unfinished task at Govt House.
That is the notion that has been engraved in people’s mind. But for communities, you need to see the kind of accounting records that they keep. It is one of the most successful project initiatives we have come up with.
Why do you hate Teachers in Ekiti State given the allegation that you are going to use the competitive test introduced by your government to sack them?
Anyone who asks you to improve cannot hate you. If somebody is interested in you becoming better and much more qualitative in what you do, then the person loves you. I think I must admit that there are times when good initiatives may be communicated in a way that it does not achieve the objective that you set out to achieve. I don’t think there is any teacher in this state that believes that I hate teachers.
First, I am a product of a teacher and secondly, I am a teacher by training. Thirdly, free education is an obsession for me and at every opportunity. I also want to improve myself and I want people around me to also be improved. Fourthly, I am a product of public school education in this state, not in Lagos or Abuja. You can walk to my school in ten minutes from here (Governor’s Office).
So, I grew up here and I knew what solid public education was when I was growing up, and I really wanted to rekindle that when I became governor here. I can tell you that teachers in Ekiti have never had it so good.
Core subject allowance
So if you teach English, Mathematics or you teach basic science in Ekiti. On top of your normal salary, you get 20 per cent as an incentive. This is an addition to the general teachers’ peculiar allowance. In fact, other workers of government are complaining that teachers in Ekiti are too well treated to their own detriment. For the first time in the history of this state, primary school teachers are getting car loans. We gave car loans to secondary schools and civil servants in. the state. But the previous government did not even give loans to anybody, whether you are primary or secondary teachers. This is the government that has pioneered all these things.
This is a government that renovated and reconstructed 183 secondary schools and 856 primary schools, some of them had not been touched since during the time of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. We received the good news from Abuja of having the best primary school in the country. The Stock Exchange did a competition just late last year and our College of Education Demonstration School in Ikere-Ekiti came first. The state university made the best result in the Law school this year. For the first time in 34years, Ekiti State University has all its courses accredited by National Universities Commission, (NUC).
This was a university that was in the doldrums when I became governor and I took that step that many believed to be foolish by merging three universities. I did what I had to do and I told people that leadership is not by popularity contest, it was about a clear mission, a solid mission and about the deliverable. My interest is that teachers who teach in our schools must improve themselves. Today, we have seen the results because students are leaving private schools for public schools in Ekiti State and we have to give the credit to the teachers for the work they have done but they should not relent because I want the future of our children to be better.
Is there any truth to speculations that you and your one-time political associate, Opeyemi Bamidele are in talks for reconciliation?
If Opeyemi believes that he is not my friend, that is his prerogative. Opeyemi is my friend. He will remain my friend for as long as I live. I consider him more than a friend. I consider him a brother and that is why he could do all of what he is doing without my batting an eyelid. But I also said to you, in times past, that there is nothing wrong in having an ambition, it is legitimate.
The only objection I had was the notion that he was hounded out of the party because there was no space for him to contest. I will give you specific examples and evidence that Opeyemi never approached the party that he wanted to run for any office, not at the ward level, not at the local government level and not at the state level. So, nobody could have denied him the right to run.
Denial of right to run
His objection was that some political leaders in our party had endorsed the governor and you cannot legislate against endorsement. Endorsement is not election, it is not primaries. Chief Obafemi Awolowo endorsed a gentleman named JS Olawoyin as the candidate for UPN in Kwara State. That primary held thrice, some unknown university lecturer named CO Adebayo defeated the giant of Kwara politics.
Chief Awolowo had no choice than to accept the result even though his own colleague and friend, whom he wanted, was the victim of that race. Nobody said Opeyemi could not run. Opeyemi, in his own estimation, looked at the terrain and felt if this man has been endorsed by some leaders of the party, if I run against him, it may be a futile effort. Why don’t I go to another party? And he is right in doing that. I don’t think that should make enemies of us.
Are there indications on ground to buttress claims by INEC chairman that the Ekiti elections would be the best in the country given the fallouts from the recent election in Anambra?
Let’s just say the taste of the pudding is in the eating. INEC is always good at demonstrating preparedness but there is always a difference between demonstrating preparedness and implementing preparedness.
I would like to think that Professor Jega is genuinely committed to a clean and credible process. The little that I know of him gives me that sense that he is genuine about his claims.
But when you do things the same way and you expect different results, it does not come across to me as genuine preparedness. I will like to be proved wrong that I have not seen that qualitative, objective, independent readiness. Maybe I don’t know enough of what is in place.
But I sit in my vantage position, I monitor what is going on and I also talk to those who are somewhat involved in the process and I do not get a sense that we have learnt lessons. But then, my reactions maybe extreme because I have been a victim as you know and I am not prepared to give INEC a benefit of the doubt. My own mantra is to be over prepared for them.