“We support Fayose because he understands us. He is close to the common man and knows our problem”.
While the defeat of the incumbent governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, in Saturday’s election might have come as a huge shock to many Nigerians outside Ekiti, to Ekiti indigenes or those who understand the politics of the state, Mr Fayemi had it coming.
In fact, I think the governor and his minders were aware of this in the run-up to the election. You are definitely not liked when people celebrate wildly in the streets, and are already pulling down your posters even before voting is concluded across the state.
Though the margin with which the governor was defeated came as a surprise to even the most die-hard supporters of the Governor-elect, Ayodele Fayose, the fact on the ground before and after the election suggests that Mr. Fayemi’s popularity palls beside that of Mr. Fayose.
Though posters and billboards of Mr. Fayemi’s face were ubiquitous across the state with the “Ko duro soke” (Let him remain on top) catch phrase, almost eight out of 10 people spoken to before the election, said they were either going to vote for Mr. Fayose or expressed some kind of indirect support for his campaign.
First, it is simplistic to put his defeat down to his refusal to wantonly share money or goodies, which has since been tagged “stomach infrastructure” by some sections of the media. Most of the people who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES before and after the election said they didn’t ask to be given financial or material hand-outs and never expected one.
The overwhelming concern expressed by them was that Mr. Fayemi’s administration was too uppity for their liking, they did not understand what he was doing and nobody bothered to explain it to them, they said.
Mr. Fayose, won the hearts of many voters in the states due to what many may consider, mundane reasons. However, these are what the people considered important to them.
“We support Fayose because he understands us. He is close to the common man and knows our problem,” said a voter in Yoruba, who did not say his name, at a polling unit close to the Police Headquarters in Ado-Ekiti.
“Who doesn’t have a past? Even husband and wife quarrel and they make up,” he added apparently making reference to Mr Fayose’s previous term as governor and the fraud scandals that characterised it.
“Let him (Fayemi) go back to where he’s coming from. They said he constructed roads; don’t we have roads before he became governor?” said another voter.
In fact, at Ikere, some jubilant voters were singing: “he would go back to Ghana this time. He would go back to Ghana this time,” in Yoruba, highlighting the mood among some residents that Mr. Fayemi was an outsider.
Almost everybody spoken to agreed that Mr. Fayemi did well in the area of road construction. But they had difficulty mentioning other projects he initiated. It is hard to tell whether this is a deliberate amnesia or that they were genuinely not aware of his achievements, which if true is also an indictment on the governor.
From talking to the people, it appeared Mr. Fayemi lacked an understanding of what the people really wanted. He was rather engrossed in giving the people what he thought they wanted rather than asking them what they wanted. This in fact is the major difference between him and his rival, Mr Fayose. Being closer at home with the people, Mr. Fayose understood what the people wanted and would not consider the cost before acceding to their demands.
For instance during his first press conference after the election, Mrs Fayose said instead of awarding a N2 million contract for the construction of tables in schools to a contractor from Lagos who might do an excellent job, he would split the contract up into bits and award them to local roadside carpenters so that the resources of the state will be spread around.
He also said that there would be no form of industrialisation in the four year he would be governor:
“This people know me very well and I know them. I would do exactly what they want. Don’t let us deceive ourselves. We can’t industrialise Ekiti now. Anybody telling you about industrialisation is wasting his time. For me, my four years there will be no industrialisation. I want to empower these people; I want to make them strong to be able to feed themselves. Governors after me, when all the infrastructure are in place can begin to … if you want to build Ajaokuta here, good luck to you.”
It was also clear that the gleaming edifices, such as the Pavilion, and the yet-to-be completed Civil Centre, Mr. Fayemi is building across the state, do not impress the people of Ekiti. A motorcyclist that conveyed me to the INEC office shook his head repeatedly as we passed the mint-looking Pavilion. I asked him if he liked it. “Egbon, e fi’yen le” (Brother, let’s not talk about it). But it was obvious he didn’t think much of the place.
A weird but interesting political tradition in Ekiti State is another reason Fayemi lost the election. In Ekiti State, no governor has been re-elected back to back. Mundane as this may be to outsiders, Ekiti people take pride in this tradition. I lost count in the number of people that told me they will not vote for Fayemi or did not vote for him simply because they think he should vacate his position for a fresh set of hands.
In fact many of them told me that they would have considered voting for the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Fayemi’s party, if it presented a new candidate instead of him.
Further, the incessant quarrel between Mr Fayemi and civil servants also cost him a lot of political resources. A civil servant told me that Mr. Fayemi’s civil service reforms were too frontal and “insulting”.
“He thinks because he lived in the US, he’s better than all of us,” she said.
The long drawn battle with teachers over the competency test, Teachers Development Needs Assessment (TDNA), probably dealt a severe blow to his popularity among teachers. He also refused to pay the new Teachers’ Salary Structure (TSS) until barely a month to the election when it became clear that teachers and civil servants had made up their minds that he would not be getting their votes.
But the damage had already been done. However, many civil servants who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES recounted with glee that Mr. Fayose paid salaries on the 22nd of every month and allowances were paid on time. Mr Fayose knows this and he took it a notch higher promising to pay salaries on 21st of every month.
Outside Ekiti, Fayemi is probably the face of a new-generation of Nigerian leaders not smeared in the do-or-die politics that is the norm in the country. But within the state, somehow, his opponents managed to paint him as the troublemaker who would do anything to cut down on people with divergent opinions. Mr. Fayemi had problems controlling his supporters and APC stalwarts in the state who were involved in violent clashes with supporters of rival parties. Many lives and property have been lost and destroyed in the many political motivated clashes in the state in the run-up to the election.
(Nicholas Ibekwe is a PREMIUM TIMES reporter who covered the election.)