His defeat at the June 21, 2014 Ekiti governorship election has sent shockwaves through Nigeria’s political firmament. Many have tried to explain the outcome but opinions remain divided as to why a governor widely acknowledged to have performed well went down to such a heavy defeat. Now, for the first time since the polls, Ekiti State Governor, Dr, Kayode Fayemi, tells his own side of the story. He spoke with DAPO THOMAS.
The outcome of the June 21 election in Ekiti shocked the entire nation and even the international community. To what extent were you disturbed by the result?
Very disturbed indeed and worried for the future of elections in our country. Nobody goes into an election to lose especially when you have put a lot into it; when you have worked hard and earned the trust of the people, you should have every reason to feel confident you are going to be rewarded for the hard work and performance. I said in the course of the campaigns that this election, in my own view, would be decided on the basis of character and performance. On those two grounds, majority agreed that we were heads and shoulders above every other candidate in the race. Leaving that aside, no candidate campaign the way we did touching every nook and corner of the state, towns and farmsteads alike. Most of the time we were on the field campaigning, PDP was nowhere to be found. We actually didn’t campaign like an incumbent. We campaigned as if we were the challenger, the underdog.
But I must also say we were not unaware of the desperation of the PDP hierarchy to ‘win’ Ekiti by every means possible. We saw the federal forces at play in the election and they were undisguised in their desperation. Election is a process. An election is not just rigged when you snatch ballot box or when you change result at the collation centre. Election could be rigged by the processes leading to that election itself. When security agents that are supposed to be neutral for example go round picking party leaders the night before an election and party anchors on the day of election in a coordinated and choreographed manner with no charge levied against them, clearly you had a pre-determined end that you are seeking. It is not time to go into any great detail about what we found to be unacceptable about the process which is why I was reluctant to give this interview in the first place. But we have also promised that the infractions will be documented and exposed because we owe Nigerians that.
You don’t want to accept the fact that something went wrong with the APC in the Ekiti election?
The election was not about Ekiti, it was turned to federal forces against APC in the state. If it was performance, head and shoulders we won the election and in terms of mobilization, in terms of campaign, and in terms of issues. As a matter of fact, the PDP candidate had no issues. He was reactive throughout. No issues, no agenda, no manifesto. The only manifesto was I am opposed to any policy issue Gov. Fayemi has raised or is implementing. I even give some credit to the Labour Party candidate who, even though at the last minute, still came out with a manifesto of what he would like to do in office. That clearly did not happen in the case of the PDP. So we were really the only ones with a tested programme that had been implemented across the state. I have heard and read all sorts of “pepper soup joint” analysis about stomach infrastructure and people voting for rice and all that. Attractive as the analysis may be to some people, I don’t think it fully does credit to the Ekiti people. Really, yes there are tendencies of instant gratification that crept into Ekiti politics-particularly in the early days of PDP government in the state; but those tendencies are not so deeply ingrained as to imagine that our people depend on what they can eat here and now in order to determine what happens to their future. It just offers these elements a convenient explanation for the abracadabra that they inflicted on Ekiti state. But again, as I said, time will tell. We may find the opportunity now that the party has gone to court, we would find out from their own side. But I think it is important, as I said in my broadcast, to document all these extraneous elements; the siege on Ekiti by the military and other security agencies, the role they played in instilling fear in the state. There are of course a lot of arm-chair pundits who have argued that the security siege was insufficient to explain the loss of APC. Many of these pundits were not even in Ekiti during the election and had no idea what actually transpired. Two days to election, my colleagues who were coming into Ekiti state were barred. Ten days before then, my party people were attacked on account of the traditional sweep after the PDP rally. I was tear-gassed and ordered to be attacked on the instruction of the Vice President who was in Ekiti on the fateful day, the same Vice President who had boasted that Ekiti and Osun elections will be warfront. Even after I lodged a complaint with the National Security adviser and the Inspector-General, it was my own people who were charged for terrorism. So, this was a very carefully orchestrated agenda driven by the forces, federal forces who have been saying to everybody’s hearing that they must take Ekiti because Ekiti, for them, was the gateway to taking the South west. So there is nothing that happened that cannot be explained.
But you conceded defeat
Did I really? We were left with two obvious choices following the announcement by INEC on the morning of the 22nd of June. One was to out-rightly reject what we considered was clearly a blatant manipulation or to accept it. There were a lot of grey areas in between those outright choices. It is convenient to many who want to re-write history to say Fayemi accepted the result. But all you need do is read the transcript of my broadcast and you would come to a very different conclusion. With over 30,000 security agents in the state with clear instructions from the Presidency to do everything to place Ekiti in the president’s corner, it was a critical moment for the state and I believe it was more important to rescue Ekiti from bloodbath than to plunge it into one. I believe it was important to turn a new leaf and fight our case without resorting to violence. That’s what the federal government and the PDP had planned for. That’s the verifiable intelligence I received. And as the Chief Security officer of the state, I had to decide whether to allow Ekiti to be turned into a killing field by trigger-happy security agents already on instruction to mow them down for protesting the abracadabra inflicted on them. Under the circumstances, my decision was clear: peace now, justice later. And really, do we want bloodbath in Ekiti? Do we want our people to be slaughtered? Do we want Ekiti to become the trigger for truncating Nigeria’s fledgling democracy? We felt we have a role to play in protecting this democracy no matter how flawed it is and that’s why I did what I did. Anyone who understands the English language well would know that, that speech was not the concession speech that many people are talking about. Yes, I have said I won’t challenge the election in court and congratulated Mr Fayose, but that’s not tantamount to accepting the result. That’s about saving Ekiti. Anyone who heard me throughout the campaign would recall my consistent remarks that I won’t go to court for any reason, genuine or otherwise over the election. I was only ensuring that my word remains my bond. When Chief Obafemi Awolowo decided he was not going to court over the ‘moon slide’ victory of the NPN in 1983, was that acceptance of the election? In any case, now that my Party has gone to court to challenge the election, the various infractions in the election would be subjected to security.
Even at that, was the decision not too hasty and are you saying you did not regret doing this?
I don’t know what you mean by “too hasty”. I have always argued that for me, my politics is without bitterness. It is politics of principles and politics of service. No sacrifice is too much to make for Ekiti people and I have always said it, from 2006 that I became active in Ekiti politics, I have always said that I would not govern over dead people and I would not allow the blood of Ekiti people to be spilled on the altar of politics. The choice was simple, I could have done otherwise and my supporters were ready. I could simply say to them, you can see the manipulation because everybody was shocked that this was not our vote. Don’t forget, we have 226, 000 registered APC members in Ekiti state. We completed our party registration barely two months before the collection of INEC permanent voters’ cards and the continuous voters’ registration exercise was done. We used the same INEC polling units for our party registration. The simple argument that is being made which defies logic is that at least 100, 000 of APC members did not vote for their own candidate. If as INEC says, we have 120, 000 votes in the election and we have 226, 000 members in APC, I am not talking of sympathizers, I am not talking of outsiders who love Fayemi, who are not card carrying members of the party, I am talking of party members who registered in Ekiti state, 226, 000 so you are either saying that out of those 226, 000 members, 100, 000 among them did not collect permanent voters cards or they collected but they did not vote for their candidate. That is simplistic analysis of what you are saying and these people when they got to the field, when they got accredited, they knew one another, they knew who was APC, who was PDP, we were getting feedback on how many of our members were in each polling unit and yet the results in most cases were at complete variance with the evidence before us. So, it’s not enough to take the result declared at face value. We need to dig deeper into what happened and those alleging ballot Zimbabwean option are probably talking about that. However, on the basis of the declared result, it would simply have amounted to sour grapes and being seen as a bad loser if we didn’t take the initial step we took to calm frayed nerves but with sufficient caveat that the last has not been heard on the election. Here is the simple answer to your question. If I had triggered a crisis by rejecting the result, if I had made a different broadcast, a broadcast that simple says Ifaki people, they said you would vote against Segun Oni and me, Oye local government, they said you did not vote for your son, are you going to let this daylight robbery go? It might have been the beginning of the end of Nigeria’s fledgling democracy and a lot of Ekiti people on sides PDP, APC, non-partisan people, innocent souls would have been lost. What would be my gain in that? I am not hungry. I didn’t come into politics as someone who doesn’t have alternative. I did what I did by making the speech to save my people. So there was nothing hasty about it. I knew the plan that the military had, I knew the plan that the police had, don’t forget I am the Chief Security Officer of the state and I get to hear from all these people. I knew the instructions they had given the soldiers because some of them were relating with me and they were not happy they were given instructions like the ones they got in Ekiti. As one of them told me, if they keep bringing us into these matters that are not our business, then they cannot complain if something totally negative happens. One of the soldiers told me that and it is an elementary principle of civil-military relations that the more you drag the military into civilian matters, you never know how it’s going to end. So it wasn’t hasty and I don’t want you to see it as if it was an acceptance speech….. It wasn’t an acceptance speech. Please read it, if you read it, you would know that it was very conditional in very many ways.
….But in all this why didn’t you carry the party along?
Who told you I did not carry the party along? You know there is a lot of myth and a lot of suppositions that people make. I did not just make the broadcast, I sat with party leaders. Who is in our party in Ekiti were all with me when I went to make the broadcast. We all sat down and agreed on even the format it would take. This was not a broadcast I decided to take out of the blues. We knew we had not lost an election freely or fairly and we knew the agenda was to annihilate and mow down our people. We love our people more, and our interest is to secure them, to protect them than to just protect our office. It was a carefully calibrated speech.
You mentioned something about “a new sociology of the Ekiti people evolving” in your historic broadcast. Can you elucidate more on this?
It was just an honest reaction that if indeed this was your will, then it runs counter to what we know politics is about. In politics, performance is rewarded more often than not. Yes we have had instances, of Winston Churchill losing an election after he came back as a hero in the Second World War or Pierre Trudeau of Canada. It happens but the fact that it happens does not confer correctness on it. If you say oh this is the view we have of this governor, he has performed, he has demonstrated competence, his acceptance profile is very high, everybody loves him, yes there are things we may not like about him, he is detached. He is not a social animal. But it still will fly in the face of logic unless there is new sociology. Because once you say performance is not rewarded then all you are saying, the message you are sending to politicians is, you know what, you better don’t behave like Fayemi. You better get there and take care of yourself and your family and when it is election time, go out there and start sharing rice and boli and ‘mouth organs’ and jump up on okada and say you are the peoples politician and think it is a very dangerous message that we are sending about what politics should mean to our people. And that is why I said before that I didn’t even accept that, that is what has happened because it is those who are hard” put to explain their own success, this moon slide success, they are the ones saying you know it is because we are on the street with the people-it is a very simplistic, a historical explanation. You will need to dig deeper and that information would come in due cause.
Your defeat in your ward and your local government was disturbing. One writer said this was because people were angry that you built an “imposing structure” in your home town Isan Ekiti in the midst of poor people that you never took care of? What is your reaction?
I think whoever wrote that was ill-informed. One, I didn’t believe anyone would say that I was defeated in my unit and my ward. The result is there; they should go to INEC and check. As far as I am aware, in my unit, I think PDP had one vote, Labour had o and I believe of the 168 people that voted there, I had 167 that voted for me in my unit. In my ward, I had 2022 votes to PDP’s 261 much less for Labour. How anyone would describe it this as a defeat is a way of calling a dog a bad name in order to hang it. And to now talk about imposing structure, it is so disingenuous. I don’t even want to comment on it. The building that I have in my community, I mean my house, was built long before I became governor. It was declared in the assets that I declared on October 16, 2010. This can be Googled. I am one governor who is proud to say I have led an accountable, transparent life as governor. Anyone who can come out and say I have added one block to any part of my house around the world since I became governor, I challenge the person to come out with evidence. I live a very modest life and there is no need for me not to. I have a small family and I have only one child. My politics is not politics of materialism but in Nigerian politics everybody opens their mouth and says whatever they like about you. That is the way Nigerian politics is. You must malign others in order to try and get some kind of foothold. I wonder what is massive about my house. So when I hear about the imposing mansion, I asked myself if he is writing about me or writing about someone else and here was a journalist who said he had never been to Ekiti because I read the piece. So, you then ask yourself, you write this and you have never been to Ekiti, where is your credibility? So this is where hatred blinds credibility. How would anyone take such a journalist who regards himself as a serious columnist serious when you write that? The same person you are talking about wrote that I have a university in Ghana and said that I have denied that my wife has a university in Ghana. This is part of the misinformation that people spread even when they know it is a lie. A university is not what you put in your pocket. I have denied this at every opportunity I get and challenged the peddlers of the rumour to provide evidence, the university authorities that are in Ghana have denied this. They have come out to say that give us the evidence of this university. We know the universities that are in Ghana, we know those they belong to, yet you keep this Goebbelsian lie hoping that if you keep repeating it, it would stick. With time, somebody would now say oh, I read it somewhere and when somebody read it somewhere, what is the name of the university, who is the Vice Chancellor or president of this university, how many students are there, who exactly gave you this information, where is it written? But you know why they would go for a university, it is Fayemi now, he is an intellectual, an academic, you can’t say he has an oil rig or an oil refinery. That may not be believable; you can’t say he has a power plant. But if you say he has a university, they would say you know he is one of these elitist academics so that is the kind of thing that he would like. Quite frankly, for me there is nothing wrong in having a university, but I do not I do not have a university anywhere in the world. But you then ask yourself, why do people lie? What does it advance? It diminishes them more. Like that columnist, he is greatly diminished now, at least in my eyes, and in the eyes of many other. Those who used to take him seriously before would think twice about anything he writes from now on because they know that his writing is not based on any objectively. It is personal, hatemongering, disingenuous lies that define him and it is unfortunate because we don’t need that for the growth of this democracy. There are some people that you take serious. This is not something you are reading in a junk publication, if you are reading it in one of those funny rags that they call soft sell, it is understandable; but not in a mainstream newspaper in which this person is a respect columnist, it is not just done.
Was there any connection between your defeat and the fact that you were never in control of the party structure in the state?
What do you mean by not being in control of the party? What is wrong in having collective leadership in which other party leaders have a say in the party structure? Don’t forget we are in a party where there are former governors, Senators, House of Representatives members etc. Why should a single individual aim to control a party of several thousand members. My position as the leader of the party is not challenged by anybody. The party chairman and the executives are not necessarily new people to me. In fact, I played a critical role in the installation of the party chairman way back in 2006 when I was not even a governor. I was not even the candidate of the party because we had just formed the AC from the amalgamation of AD and ACD. When Jide Awe became the party chairman, and he had been party chairman for eight years since then, he is somebody I have a great deal of respect for. He is committed, he was a student union activist like me before getting into politics and he has done reasonably well in the position of chairman of the party and I don’t indulge in self-aggrandizement. The party machinery works for the state. I don’t know what anyone means if they say that we were not in control of the party machinery. Who is then? Who is in control?
Do you regret any of your actions, policies, utterances, behavior and programmes considering the outcome of the election?
There is nothing we have done that we don’t think it’s the right thing to do. I have always said that governance is different from politics. When election ends, governance starts and you must be able to, yes, mix both, but at the same time you have a duty as a leader to take firm decisions when necessary in the best interest of the people. Governance is not a popularity contest, election may be a popularity contest but governance is about delivering the greatest good for the greatest number of the people and to that extent there is nothing that we did that we cannot defend in terms of impact on the people. Whether it is our free education programme, we know what has changed now; we know what our hospitals used to look like, people can go there and see what they look like now. We also know what the infrastructure in the state used to be like and we know the quality of infrastructure we have since put in place. In education, in healthcare, in agriculture, in rural development and community empowerment, in social security and women empowerment as well as provision of jobs, there are indelible marks of our administration.
However, there were a number of policies that many deemed controversial and as I said, you hear so many pepper soup analysts who go around saying, oh it’s because Fayemi was doing test for the teachers and was looking for ghost workers in local governments and putting biometrics integrated pay roll system for the civil servants and all that. You know vision is always 20/20 after the fact. In all the steps I took, my primary interest was to better the lot of my people. Though there are aspects of some of our reforms that might have been handled differently, there is none we have jettisoned. There are also aspects of our reforms that might have been communicated differently to the people particularly those affected because change is always difficult to swallow. People don’t like change. Sometimes, the price to pay for leadership is to be firm in your approach to change particularly when you know that, that change would be in the ultimate best interest of the majority of the population. So, sequencing you can argue about and say timing, sequencing of the reform, players, path, processes are issues that we deal with when we are talking about effective and efficient governance. But the reality is that some of what we had to do we did and there is no need to regret anything we did because it was in the best interest of our people and I believe that posterity would judge us right on those policies.
The Governor-elect, Ayodele Fayose, has described himself as a grassroots politician and said you as an elitist politician. Did this make any difference in the outcome of the election? Was there really a disconnect between you and the grassroots?
Well you know, I don’t want to comment on anything that Mr. Ayodele Fayose says. He is, as I have said to Ekiti people, my brother. I have a duty to weld together everybody who had been fortunate and privileged to occupy this very important position and they are not many. In a substantive manner, we are only talking about four: Niyi Adebayo, Ayo Fayose, Segun Oni and me. So, I would love a situation in which the office would not be desecrated no matter who occupied it and the people who have occupied it would have to display sufficient maturity to always come together in the interest of the Ekiti people. But some of the things that people say must be analyzed, again in the interest of those who are gullible enough to believe these simplistic soundings; like grassroots, elitist, and other nonsensical terms. These are terminologies which have been bastardized by those who do so for reasons best known to them. No government can be more grassroots than the government we run in Ekiti. For the first time in Nigeria’s history, a governor does not do budget until he has visited communities and I have done this thrice now, for 2011-2013 budget. So, it is not by accident that over 1200 projects dot various communities in Ekiti which were specific requests made in those town halls and village meetings held in those communities. What could be more grassroots than that? I don’t make budget by sitting in Ado Ekiti. I go to various communities, in-spite of the fact that I have a plan, I have an agenda, everybody knows the agenda, it’s something the people can recite and they recite it all the time. The eight point agenda, the road map to Ekiti recovery. It was like a mantra. I don’t just stand on my agenda, I also go into communities and discuss objectively with them; what are your priorities for next year? What would you like me to do? There is hardly a single community that you can get to today that you would not find five, six or more projects determined by the people not imposed on them from Ado Ekiti. When people talk to you about grassroots and elite they are talking about somebody eating roast corn on the road-side or hi-fiving an okada rider. Excuse me, that is bastardization of governance, that is not grassroots politics. Grassroots politics in my view means affecting the lives of people at the grassroots in a fundamental way and improving their lot. The 25, 000 elderly people that are collecting N5, 000 every month in an institutionalized manner live in the grassroots, they don’t live in the air. The youth in the volunteer corps, the ones in the Peace Corps and youth in commercial agriculture, they are not urban based, they are mostly in the grassroots. I ask people how many times people saw Chief Obafemi Awolowo eating boli on the road side just to demonstrate that that he was a grassroots man. The person who used to do that then, of course quite popular in his own sense, Adegoke Adelabu, the penkelemesi man. Yes, very popular, a rabble-rouser, he knew how to rouse the people but he also genuinely loved the Ibadan people. For him, it was a two-love engagement because he was an intellectual. S.L.A Akintola too. Awolowo was seen as standoffish, an intellectual not a social animal. I am proud to follow in that footstep. I have actually no regret if that is what it means to be elitist because the policies that we implemented affected people in the rural areas more than people in the urban areas positively. But honestly, I don’t want to engage in any political brickbat over the definitions of elitism and grassroots.
The Governor-elect referred to you as an honourable man yet he said your achievements and performance were media hype because you built on his previous projects. He also said the Pavilion and the government house were of no economic value to the people. How do you align his description of you as an honourable man with this seemingly sarcastic remark?
You have tried as much as possible to make me talk about Mr. Ayo Fayose and I have tried as much as possible to avoid desecrating the office because there is no way I am going to talk about him or some of the remarks he makes that I would not have cause to question the extent of his readiness for the office he wants to occupy. Honestly, I find it strange that anyone could say that a Pavilion, that has sitting facility for 12, 000 people, in a state where people come to do crusades, concerts and so on, and occupy secondary school pitches would not find use. This is something that is bound to generate funds for the state if well managed. And I would be surprised if my brother said he could not see the economic impact of that. There is nothing that we have put in place that is not regenerating whether you talk of Ikogosi of his earlier period in office. I would hope not. Ditto, the Government House, the Civic centre, Oba Adejugbe Hospital, Ire Clay Factory, the 700 kilometers of road. So if he says I have built on what he did, well that’s what government is all about. It is a continuum. He should come and build on what I have also done now.
Some people said your government was being run from “Bourdillon”, others said you alienated Asiwaju Bola Tinubu from your government. Can you tell us the true version or what kind of relationship you had with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu?
One version says I am being micro-managed from “Bourdillon”, the other says he is his own man; he thinks he is an intellectual, he is independent, he has distanced himself from “bourdillon”, from Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Asiwaju is my leader, I have never denied that, he has done a lot for me personally and politically and I owe him a great deal of gratitude for that. But our relationship is also based on mutual respect because it is not a relationship that started in politics. I was never a member of the Lagos crowd as you know. I was never a commissioner in Lagos. I was never a senator or even a resident in Lagos. I knew him way back, I knew him in exile and we forged a common bond that was dedicated to the removal of military rule in Nigeria and that relationship continued. He played a critical role when I was asked to run for the governorship position in Ekiti. He supported it with everything he could muster and when we went to the election and I won, we ran into roadblocks that eventually led to the tribunal. He was also very central and supportive of all that we achieved. But what many people didn’t give him credit for, for those who don’t know him well, is that they expect him as our party leader to send them my way all the time and for many people he refused to do that. He said look, let these people run their government, if you have any advice to give them, you go to them directly but if you pass it through me, I would be endeavor to deliver your message to them. But no matter what steps he takes, he would be analyzed, analyzed and analyzed. Whatever steps I take, I would be analyzed and over-analyzed. Therefore, it’s a no win situation. They will say he is running Ekiti. The truth of the matter is that when it comes to specifics, I have enjoyed a great deal of advice from him because he was a governor before. There were things that I have done that if I asked him for advice, he would give it. That, this is how I did it during my time but you know your area is different, it is not as cosmopolitan as Lagos. You may need to manage some tendencies much more carefully. He was always willing to give us advice. You would always have this and all my colleagues also faced the same issues. But the same people would say that oh he has abandoned Tinubu, he has embraced Adebayo. I don’t run my life on a zero-sum game basis. I have several leaders, and I have a lot of respect for them and they have a role to play both in my emergence and in the success of our administration. I just consider it “beer parlor” talk when they say all these things and I know that Asiwaju himself knows that that is what it is. When these people sit down and concoct stories, and peddle rumors you can’t stop them. You can’t legislate against rumors unfortunately, particularly against political leaders. There would always be all manner of things being peddled. Am I my own man? Of course I am my own man. Do I have leaders I respect? Absolutely, I have a lot of leaders I respect and they need not be mutually exclusive. I can be my own man and still have leaders I can take wise counsel from.
Why did you create LCDAs when you have only few more days in office?
The process leading to the creation of the LCDAs has been on for one year. I set up a committee that took memoranda from various communities and I also invited them to come and defend their memoranda. This is a process and we are just getting to the end of the process. And what do you mean by few more days in office? I still have 3months left in government. So there is nothing that says we should not do something that our people are very desirous of and that is why I am creating the LCDAs.
INEC, the Police and the Federal Government are all contemplating adopting “The Ekiti Arrangement” as a template for elections in other states. Do you share this sentiment?
Well, I do not know what they mean by “Ekiti arrangement”. What is “the Ekiti arrangement” Is it harassment? Is it the siege? Or the intimidation? Oh yes, they don’t even have to contemplate, that is what they want to do. Their arrangements are in top gear for Osun too. That “arrangement” allows them to impose their will on the people. I think the country is in for a long and tortuous journey because once the will of the people is discounted and you do it in a seemingly appropriate manner, then it becomes a fait accompli that would halt this democracy and I think that is what we all must be careful about. The abracadabra in Ekiti is not a template that can endure. It is a template that they would love to use but it is a template that would drive the country into perdition because people would wake up to the reality sooner rather than later that a government that has not demonstrated any capacity to make a difference in lives of the people, a government that has desecrated everything that is decent about Nigeria yet wants to keep itself in office by hook or by crook can only be asking people to resort to other means to rescue the country.
What next after office? Where do you go from here?
I am a politician, I have to continue to tend my sheep and Ekiti remains my theatre of operation. First, I am still the governor of Ekiti State and I have a lot of work to do to complete the agenda that I set for myself and that I set for Ekiti people. So that is what next. And I would always remain in the service of my people, my country and humanity at large.
(PUBLISHED BY THE NATION JULY 20, 2014)