Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, speaking at NEXT office last Friday, explained the drive behind his administration and his plans to change his state for the better. Excerpts
What are the challenges that you were not prepared for, but which showed up on assumption of office?
Well, it may surprise you to know that I have come to the realisation that we are indeed unshockable, as indeed our late brother Dele Giwa used to say in his column in those days. Perhaps, maybe because I had a considerable length of time to watch things in Ekiti at close quarters. You know we were three and half years in court and the years before then, but the one thing that is outrageously shocking to me when I got into office was the depth of the rot. I know the enormity of the task, but to a certain degree things were more different from what I thought they were.
I also found, for an example, a civil service that was not bad as thought in its higher echelon, and that was a surprise. I had a sense that it was all together bad, but I got in and discovered that at least the crop of the society was quite professional, was well informed and was quite educated, but because politics had intervened, some of them have become very partisan. When we now introduced our public service transformation to the state and brought in people to work it out, resistance was not as I thought it would be, but at the end, they bought into the agenda and it is going on reasonably well.
When we also started the urban renewal; that is when we started the demolition of illegal structures in Ekiti, I had thought that the population were going to be up in arms against me, even though we gave them quit notice; we organised meetings to explain the agenda to the people, you know a few people raised objection but by and large, it was generally accepted as a way to go and has been seen as the right thing to do. Though many people felt it shouldn’t have happened to me and they do not want to disagree with what the government is doing.
Were you at anytime downcast during the legal course to reclaim your mandate?
Every human being to the best of my knowledge goes through the period of laxity and uncertainty and especially, if you are not a machine politician who is permanently optimistic – because that is one thing that is very good about an average politician – and coming from both an activist and academic background, I have subjected every step of the way to analysis; that many things can happen. For example, my first tribunal was knocked out on the basis of lack of evidence or what they call evidence of crime or evidence of non-compliance with electoral act. So when we had reason to go back to court, after the re-run election in 2009, we then over-prepared, including bringing the evidence of what happened to court and of course the judges scampered when the evidences were presented. You know that at the end of the day we still had decisions against us until we got to the Appeal Court, where the evidence was revealed on point of law and substance and we were found to have clearly won the election as most people claimed.
Though at that time I had a lot of stress, I had family pressure to give it up and just let it be and wait for another day because our society is a very fatalistic society, evidence and logic do not always play frontline roles in such period of uncertainty. You know people will rationalise it and say maybe that is how God wanted this to be and you could have easily fallen into that.
So, I tell people that the God that I know is a God of justice, not a God of injustice, but my greatest strength was the resilience of the Ekiti people themselves. It wasn’t just my determination to go on and on, because if I had gone on and on and the people behind me would have allowed the evil to triumph, then it would have all just amount to nothing. For the years that we were in the court, it was evident on the streets, because everytime they announce them as this or that, the whole community was into chaos including when they had dark horses inauguration after the re-run election, so clearly, you know where the people were, the disappearance and re-appearance of Ayoka Adebayo, so Ekiti case was so clearly understood, even to the blind. It was so clear what happened.
Is it really practicable to attack our fundamental problems when there is serious dysfunction and graft at the centre, considering the overwhelming federal resources?
I think both arguments are right, the centre is overwhelmingly influential in the lives of Nigerians because of the structure of the Nigerian state. It is a structure that was largely borne out of our military inheritance, but it’s also true that if you are determined, driven and dedicated, you can make some differences at the local levels. Now, the jury will be out on whether that difference is truly transformational or just reformist, but you could make a difference that goes beyond just tinkering at the edges with the resources; at least at the state level you can do that. The structure of the state at the centre should not provide you an excuse for inaction, although there are things that could be better delivered if we have the structures that have evolved power in consonance with the responsibility at the local level.
What are the south west governors doing about infrastructural bottlenecks in the region?
Like you rightly said, the power at the centre is slowing us down, like what can we do effectively within our space that can fastrack development? Ekiti has been playing the role of the secretariat for that regional integration agenda in this dispensation and we at the moment have a technical committee working on the nature of the coordinating mechanism for the regional development strategy. Should it be a loose one, should it be a tight one or should it just focus on a specific thing? For example, agriculture; we are very kin on that, because we look at the market, not even the export market, the local market, the Lagos market is huge. The Lagos agric market by our own analysis in the regional development meeting is a three billion naira market a day and this is a very conservative estimate that we have done on people just surviving on a dollar a day. One hundred and fifty dollars a day with a population of 15 million gives you three billion naira and the bulk of the food comes from the north. If properly organised, Osun, Ogun, Ondo, Edo, Ekiti, Oyo, could be making a lot of money, because Lagos is not a food-producing state, though there is a bit of aquaculture. So if you really develop the value chain of agriculture and as rightly pointed out, the party in Lagos is also one of us, so it is easier for us to structure a way to help take an advantage of the huge market.
So, we are doing that and we are also zeroing in on infrastructure, particularly rail transport. So, one of the mandates that we have given our people at the National Assembly is to make it number one priority to remove rail from the exclusive list and place it on the concurrent list and also power, because we believe that it is another means to fast track development.
Why the change in the catch phrase for Ekiti?
Change of the state identity from fountain of knowledge to land of honour is not just a branding gimmick. We are convinced in our party that the rot that Ekiti had experienced in the last few years was also as a result of the lack of respect for the core value of Ekiti, our people. The value of character, honour and integrity and hardwork and compassion for the ordinary people. We felt fountain of knowledge is great, there is nothing wrong with that and it is true we love education, but you can be brilliant without honour. Many of us know many people who are brilliant and who have absolutely no shred of integrity in them and our view is that we need to combine both.
What challenges do you have paying the n18,000 minimum wage?
Ekiti has said that we will honour the law; we will pay. It is the mechanics of payment that has resulted in the problems that we are experiencing in Ekiti. For us in Ekiti, we have said that we have a number of issues with the minimum wage. The agreement signed with labour by the governors’ forum stated explicitly that we will honour minimum wage in accordance with peculiarities in our states. It is a signed agreement with the NLC, that means the NLC acknowledged it that states are different. The resources available to them clearly are not and cannot be the same and in line with that they should go and work out the modalities for payment of minimum wage according to local peculiarity and that is what we have been trying to do. We have said that to our people.
Are you satisfied with the way the President runs the country?
I like the President as a person. He is very consensus-oriented, but there are serious issues. I think there are competence issues, but the strength that I see in the President is that he recognises that and has decided to do something about it. I have met with the Agric Minister, I have gone round to see many of the ministers and I actually think that the media has not done justice to his team. It is a far more competent team than the team that was there before now, especially with the one that I know. Imagine you go into a meeting with the ministers and they were prepared with the details of projects in Ekiti. When I got there, I say mine and the minister goes into his own list and says no I understand the project has reached 30 percent and I said, no Mr. Minister it has not even reached 5 percent. So, I don’t know who wrote that for you, but the fact that he has taken that pain to look into issues before getting there is commendable.
What do you think of the boko haram and insecurity challenges?
You know, you wouldn’t know if the President was doing anything on security, because he is not going to announce how he is going about it, but where you are right is that the perception out there which is as good as reality is that he is not doing any much. I think the country was not prepared for this and that is what is responsible for the seeming lack of coordination and lack of sense of direction in the presidency about the current challenges. But I think they are trying to do something to re-organise and check some things. It is a bit overwhelming and the reason why I say it is a bit overwhelming is because crime detection has become a problem in Nigeria. Forget Boko Haram;, we have been consistently seeing murder in this country of high political officials in the last decades. There are obvious reasons why these happen, when I was in court, I had to bring fingerprint analysts from the Scotland Yard. This country as far as I am concerned does not have a forensic laboratory or national crime database in this country.