By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
AN honest disclosure is the appropriate way to start today’s piece. Kayode Fayemi, the outgoing governor of Ekiti State, is my friend.
Not only that though; on this page a few weeks ago, I wrote an endorsement of his re-election in last weekend’s gubernatorial election.
My endorsement was based on what I saw of his achievements in power over the past four years, as well as my knowledge of his commitment to the development of his community; his passion for our country and his intellectual and human decencies. Fayemi is the quintessential activist who made the transition into the world of politics with the unique opportunity to make a difference.
Naturally, for his friends and comrades, we hoped that in a small corner of Nigeria, one of our own could plant the mustard seed of development to vindicate the alternative vision of national development we have espoused over decades, often from the barricades of struggles against dictatorship and underdevelopment.
With the complete routing that our friend suffered last weekend, it was obvious that he did not properly understand the cloak-and-dagger propensities of Nigerian politics, especially as they manifested in his state. Many have been so shell-shocked about the Ekiti gubernatorial outcome, that those who should have commented, have been unable to rouse themselves from their shock.
But politics never allows for self-pity. Our duty is to carry out a dispassionate post-mortem, in order to draw lessons for the future. Lenin used to say that the occurrence of great historical events breaks some people and teaches others.
We must confront Kayode Fayemi’s political annihilation, learn its lessons, while underlining his stoicism and decency in the face of defeat; because it took the outstanding patriot he is, to accept the verdict and to respect the choice made by his people. Bourgeois democratic politics can be a pernicious school of learning; and it is not always the best man that wins.
The factors that differentiate defeat from victory can often be so subjective and flimsy, that those who track political psychology are obliged to learn its lessons with the detachment of science. And Ekiti taught some remarkable lessons last weekend, which must still be reverberating within the nation’s political circles as I write these lines.
This is because since the 1999 transition to civil rule, we have NEVER witnessed as comprehensive a defeat as Kayode Fayemi suffered in Ekiti state. Not only did he lose to Ayo Fayose, the PDP candidate, by 120, 433 votes to 203, 090, it was very significant that Fayemi did NOT win in ANY of the 16 local government areas of the state. Something was certainly wrong!
I have spent time since the election reading EVERYTHING that I have seen on the Ekiti polls. I have also spoken with many civil society activists who were on ground in the lead to the election and were also monitors on Election Day and after. I spoke to some of Fayemi’s strategists and it became clearer to me, that we allowed our subjective wishes for Kayode’s re-election to cloud an objective assessment of Ekiti’s realities.
We failed one of Lenin’s basic requirements for understanding social phenomena: “Concrete analysis of concrete situations”! Hindsight is 20/20 and with hindsight, it seemed that Fayemi never connected with the mass of his people. He was seen to be elitist, an intellectual who lived in the rarified world of the intellect, unable to come down to the levels of the mass.
Politics and perception
And in politics, perception is everything! This contrasted with the populist, even lumpen propensities of his opponent, Ayo Fayose, who understood mob psychology and would, without batting an eyelid, stop to drink palmwine with Okada riders or eat pounded yam with taxi drivers; dance on the street and if needs be, brawl and pick a fight.
In a society where the majority of the population has become very young, Ayo Fayose was able to mass mobilise the youth and the most iconic picture of the Ekiti election, was that queue of very young people, each holding a bag of rice, emblazoned with Ayo Fayose’s name.
It was poor imitation and a desperate one, that a few days to the election, Fayemi and his wife Bisi, started serving elderly people cooked rice. It was too little too late. Cooked rice was no match for the bag of rice that people could cook in their homes several times! Fayemi clearly lost the Ekiti “Rice War”, as prelude to losing the electoral battle.
I think a missing factor in our practice of liberal, bourgeois democracy, is the careful analysis of the political psychology of the demographic groups in our society. Today, 63% of our population is under the age of 25, while 75% is under 35.
This broad demographic group was born under military dictatorship, with its cultures of violence, impunity and worship of the cult of ill-gotten money. They never experienced a Nigeria that functioned with an ethos of decency and hardwork.
They have grown up within a political and economic culture where those able to exploit the frailties of society have excelled; where honest labour does not seem to pay and those who have succeeded are brigands and crooks. So an ethos of grab what you can, how you can, when you can, has become very much ingrained in many of our youth, who do not have many positive role models to look up to and copy.
So sundry criminal activities have become the avenue to live a life of unearned luxuries. This cynicism also percolates into the political culture. Politicians are followed, especially when they have the populist tendency to dole out money and bags of rice.
Knowing that there won’t be accountability once they get into power, these young supporters try to grab as much as possible in return for their votes. It is what in Hausa is described as “Sha Yanzu, Magani Yanzu”! Fayemi was unable to mobilise this constituency of cynicism that his opponent, Ayo Fayose, did magnificently and reaped aplenty!
Incumbency literally became a disadvantage for Fayemi, as many of his confidants became albatrosses who lost in their various local governments, revealing how much they had alienated their principal from the people. Kayode Fayemi ran a very beautiful campaign on social media, and would certainly have won, if that was a vital factor, but it was clear that the effect was almost nil on the ground in his state. And when the Ekiti diaspora in Lagos and surrounding states returned home to vote against their governor, it became a total rejection of what he stood for and the message of development that he was painfully unable to communicate to the people in his state.
A civil society activistwas told in Ekiti, that intellectuals like Fayemi, loved humanity so much, that they couldn’t translate that love to real human beings!The assertion was in respect of the difficulty that Fayemi had with teachers over the Teachers Needs Development Assessment Tests; the restiveness of civil servants and those who were hurt during his urban renewal programme.
Anything that negatively touched livelihood in a basically civil service and peasant society was likely to be severely punished at the polls. And it was!
Loathing and rejection in Southwest politics
The new theme in the politics of the Southwest is the increasing loathing for and rejection of the domineering presence of Bola Tinubu. It manifested in neighbouring Ondo state during Olusegun Mimiko’s re-election and was also a factor in Ekiti.
I have read a correspondence, where people said Ayo Fayose was not a credible candidate, but they voted for him, as an expression of disgust with Bola Tinubu’s overbearing presence. They did not want to be vassals of a lord based on Bourdillon Avenue, Ikoyi, Lagos. And so complete was Fayemi’s rout, that Bola Tinubu who had threatened election riggers with lynching, has been unable to find his voice to comment on the Ekiti debacle since Saturday.
He is still shell shocked! But going forward, the deceitful Tinubu factor must be carefully interrogated so as not to haunt the APC into the future. There were reports in the days before the election of the militarisation of the state, while APC governors were prevented from entry into Ekiti to attend Fayemi’s final rally.
They were also unable to take in money for a last minute inducement of the voters, which left the scene completely to the PDP and Fayose. But in truth, the background of the total rout had been laid in the months and weeks before the polls. It was instructive that elections monitors commended the preparations for and the conduct of the polls by INEC. So that was not an element of worry at all in Ekiti last weekend.
It was the complete nature of the defeat, which made it easy for Kayode Fayemi to graciously accept defeat thus helping to open up a new vista of development of Nigeria’s political process.
That act will resonate into the future and will help ensure his legacy as a patriot and democrat. But the painful lessons of a complete electoral rout, the type of which we have never seen before in Nigeria, since 1999, must be learnt by all those dedicated to a politics of principled alternatives in Nigeria.
Understanding of real politik
No one in politics should take the people for granted. This is especially important for those who come from a progressive background. There must be an understanding of ‘Real Politik’; while the felt needs of the people should be central to political decision and policy thrust.
In the long run, as Amilcar Cabral used to warn, people would not make sacrifices for ideas in our heads, no matter how lofty those ideas might be. Ayo Fayose has taught very poignant lessons in mobilization and the practice of politics as an art of being in touch with the mass of the people.
Charismatic individuals are able to build organic links to the feelings of the people and can sway them in directions of their choosing. It is not often or necessary, that those abilities are directed in progressive directions. But those who make claims to progressive politics must learn how to effectively connect with the felt needs of the people to build the blocks of the different politics they talk about.
Kayode Fayemi had the best ideas but unfortunately, he was too alienated from the people and was therefore unable to get the people to buy into and own his vision. He was ruthlessly exposed and fatally routed by the same people he wanted to work for.
It was a sad political knockout for a genuine patriot. But those who are politically wise must learn very useful lessons from Ekiti state and Kayode Fayemi’s annihilation into the future!