The elections in Ekiti may have come and gone but it’s important that there is a sustained and balanced discussion of all that transpired, not just because “a new sociology of the Ekiti people may have evolved” as Governor Kayode Fayemi suggested in his concession speech but because the circumstances of his loss indeed warrant a study. For many like me, it was hard, and probably still is, to comprehend how an incumbent Governor with such sterling intelligence, charisma and enviable record of good governance could lose his re-election bid, considering that the most touted quality of his successful opponent was popularity, not competence.
Nigeria needs more competence and character flowing as a stream from the highest echelon of public office to the very microscopic units of family governance, till all specks of poverty, infrastructural decay, crime and other vices are totally washed away. It is necessary to go beyond the gloating in some quarters about the supposed defeat of idealism, as well as the condescending remarks that limit Ayo Fayose’s victory to Ekiti voters’ preference for matter over mind. Whichever side of the divide we belong, I believe we must ask questions about the competence and character of the people we root for as elected officials if Nigeria must emerge from the woods and be a land of prosperity for all. We must also pay attention to the pulse of the people who constitute the voting public, at all times.
Fayemi has been accused by many of being aloof to the Ekiti populace, especially the poor, while Fayose freely mixes with them, drinking palm wine and eating roast corn on the roadside. This should ordinarily not be a question to be debated about a performing Governor and available facts suggest this is not entirely true. During his tenure, Fayemi went round the state every November, holding forum with the heads and members of at least 150 communities in preparation of the following year’s budget because of his desire “to do development with the people and not just for the people”. If the people did not feel a sense of connection at those meetings because the Governor seemed too intellectual and elitist in his communication as is being currently bandied, then that calls for reflection. It also challenges the popular claim of Ekiti land being swathed by learned and enlightened people. Temperaments differ but maybe the Governor could have done a little more within the bounds of proper reason to make himself more like the people he governs. That however is not in itself an indication of non-performance.
Nigeria does not need a Governor who shares money to the citizens to the neglect of more enduring infrastructural legacies. It is important to draw up plans and let the best hands chosen in all fairness implement them. The argument that the Governor ignored ‘local content’ in the awards of contracts does not lend itself to easy resolutions. If there were equally competent hands in Ido-Osi and the Governor chose to go to Lagos and London, then that may be wrong. I however do not support the notion that he should have opened up the state treasury to every business within the state without regard to competence and best practices. If some people prefer Fayose based on the assumption that money will flow round, not bothering about the consequent blow to proper infrastructure, someone needs to remind them that they may just be joining him to eat up a more rewarding future as a series of sumptuous lunch today. Fayemi’s words during an interview with Daily Independent on October 29, 2013 perhaps reflect that he knew what many people wanted in that regard but that he had chosen to do the proper thing: “…if you are going to look at what our people call personal infrastructure; I think we have done even better than others but not in the way that others did. There is the Social Security Benefit Scheme that we’ve done. We’ve backed it up with a law. Interestingly, if we are to be sharing those five thousand naira on the streets, people will hail us. That was what some people were doing, walk up the street and just throw money around, and the people didn’t know that it was their money that was being thrown around that way.”
Social security benefit scheme is mostly unheard of in this part of the world and for Fayemi to have done it in a state like Ekiti that dangles at the lower rungs of the revenue allocation ladder in Nigeria (N2.5bn), shows the foresight we clamor for in more public offices. He also raised the minimum wage in the state from N7, 500 as at 2010 first to N13, 500 and then to N19, 300. His administration raised the internally generated revenue from about N109m to N600m and coupled with the N25bn bond secured from the stock market took giant strides in terms of infrastructure. The revival of the Ire Burnt Brick Factory expected to generate a billion naira yearly, the massive agriculture drive through Youth Commercial Agriculture Development (YCAD) programme, transformation of Ikogosi springs into a world class resort, ICT revolution in secondary schools, widespread renovation of schools, the legacy projects and world class roads among others speak volumes of his ability. If the people could not see the value of these projects, something went wrong in terms of communication which Fayemi and his team must accept responsibility for. The same applies to his spat with teachers over his plans to entrench quality standards.
Mr. Ayodele Fayose deserves credit for being an amiable man, for connecting to the poor and the grassroots but he should not be given more credit than is due. He is a man with a heavy moral burden yet undischarged. Good governance transcends handing pittances to people from the vast amounts looted, goes beyond disjointed electoral promises at campaign grounds without a cohesive plan to lift the people out of penury and truly industrialize the state. A man who brazenly looted the treasury before, renting chickens to fill up a supposed state poultry and with little regard for decorum is not the best thing in our polity in 2014. His victory in a free and fair election, though a great plus for our democracy is not a good omen for our quest to reposition etiquette in public service. It must now be the duty of those who know to teach and encourage others to demand better from his government. He must constantly be urged to shun profligacy and add Fayemi’s developmental insight and diligence to complement his own populism.
I wish Dr. John Kayode Fayemi well in his future endeavours, especially in politics. Nigeria needs him and more men like him. It is not yet time to quit the scene and I trust him to identify his next assignment after taking a due rest.
Tobi Adebowale, Writer and Strategist.
First published here.