Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti recently spoke with members of the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP) in Ado-Ekiti about his return to office and development in Nigeria.
You have been running the government for 100 days without complaining that the last government rendered you ineffective. How come governance has been running smoothly?
Second missionary journeys are by their nature not given to excuses. If I were to start giving excuses you will ask me that you were there before don’t you know that is how things would be? And if you know that’s how it would be, are you not prepared for the eventuality? Not making excuses is not to suggest that things were in absolutely perfect condition. They were not. Things had degenerated but I was not elected to reel out what’s bad about the situation. I was elected to make it better and that’s what we’ve been trying to do. The resources are not what they used to be; they are much lower but we managed within the available resources to make life better for the people.
I’ve been here for less than three months and we’ve paid four months salaries for that period. We’ve settled pensions for that period. We’ve even started paying severance of past political office holders who were not in a position to receive their severance in that period. We’ve re-introduced free education in the state. We’ve introduced free health programme. We are starting a health mission across the state. Our empowerment programmes are restarting, putting back about 10,000 school leavers back to the school volunteer programme that we used to run.
Basically, for us, we just feel very strongly that our people deserve a new lease of life. They have had a pretty rough ride in the last four years. Lessons have been learned across the board. So, to start giving excuses or to start explaining away the challenges that we have… Challenges will always be there but our duty, and if you recall in my inaugural speech the day I was sworn in, we made a pledge that on our 100th day I will give a state of the state address that will explain in details what we met here.
Part of the reasons why we have been talking or giving interviews or saying this is what went wrong in the past is that we felt the people needed to have a full picture and we didn’t want to do it by our own reckoning so we hired Pricewaterhouse Coopers to do a forensic audit of the state. They are still here and by Thursday we will make the outcome of their investigations public. It is then up to you to do independent verification of what they’ve come up with in terms of the finance of the state particularly and in terms of the way things have been run. We want an independent, credible audit firm to do this and release that information.
Are you confident President Muhammadu Buhari will be re-elected?
It is in my own personal interest for the President to be re-elected. So, let me put my interest upfront so that there is no doubt in my mind. I am also a political scientist and to the best of my knowledge – I don’t want to be complacent – I think the President has a very good chance of being re-elected. Every evidence I can see before me, in spite of the feelings that may be one of disappointment in certain circles because the expectation was much when we came in. Have we met the expectation of the public in its totality? Absolutely not. But, have we done a much better job of protecting the commonwealth of the people? I’d like to think we have. I think it’s going to be a question at the end of the day for the voter who is best placed to protect our interest across the board.
I think the President will win the election.
What is your agenda for women in the spirit of balance for better and also against the backdrop that your wife is a champion of the cause of women?
I would like to think that for us we operate by law to the best of our ability. We were the first state, before it even became a national debate, to pass the equal opportunities law in Nigeria. That was informed by our belief that there is no way you can build a better society by reinforcing patriarchy. You just have to find means of broadening the base, protecting the minorities, creating opportunities that will enable us to have a better society.
Unfortunately, things have gone pear-shaped, in the four years that we have been away here, some of the things we’ve noticed are quite shocking. Rape incidents had increased in Ekiti yet Ekiti was the first state to actually put in place a sexual violence register.
We’ve also noticed that we’ve suffered significantly from either disinterestedness on the part of the government or general malaise in the society. Fifty-five percent of our girls are now out of school in the state that used to have the highest enrolment in the whole of the country – 96 percent enrolment as of 2014 when I was leaving. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know why we have those problems.
If you don’t pay workers on the one hand, and on the other hand you impose an education tax, somebody who has not eaten will not send a child to school especially in the rural areas and that’s why one of the very first things I did the day I was sworn in was to cancel the education levy and reintroduce free education in the state because that’s one of the basic ways to create equal opportunity.
If there’s no equality of access there’s no way you are going to create opportunities for all particularly for the girl child who is disadvantaged anyway from being educated.
So we start from that and I know we like to play a game of numbers. How many people do you have in your cabinet who are women? How many do you have in your House of Assembly who are women? How many do you have in this and that? Whilst I think it’s important to recognise presence and more because if you have people of a particular gender they tend to understand the problems of the gender better than others, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s going to be like that. I don’t really have a cabinet per se yet. But I’m going to and it’s not going to take too long.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) is presently not as coherent as it was in 2015. You had members in the National Assembly who were more like opposition and you have governors sponsoring candidates in parties. How do you think the electorate who fought to see the APC come into power, would feel?
Parties are not paragons of excellence. Parties are products of the social milieu too and they would always contain the good, the bad and the ugly. So, the reality is that APC is not different. We are not organic enough yet partly by the nature of our formation and coming together, partly because of the exigencies of the times and those who are not fulfilled by nature. Nigerians are not particularly promoters of delayed gratification whether in political parties or in government or in journalism. We want quick results, we want quick wins.
Every journalist comes here and asks me about quick wins. They don’t want to ask me about long term development goals. We are victims of that in the APC too. You can say we are victims of our quick success. Our party was formed in 2013. By March 2015 we won an election, even though we were still at the time not organic, there were still variegated interests being pursued by members of the party. You then ended up with different centres of power in the party and people started hobnobbing with different centres of power. It’s just the nature of politics but then it’s not unique to us.
Even parties that are long established, I mean there is a civil war going on within the Republican Party in America. There is a massive civil war going on within the Tories in the United Kingdom. Even in much more mature, settled democracy, it’s taken four months for Sweden to form a government. So maybe we are not as bad as it seems but we are not as good as we would like to be. But APC is a party of the future.
President Muhammadu Buhari said some time ago that the economy is in bad shape. If he should win the election, with what you know about the economy, what would you advise him to do to ensure that we keep the economy running for the society to be better?
For me the greatest challenge in this economy is inequality. It’s not even poverty. This is not the only society where you have poor people, but it’s the gap between the mindlessly rich and the hopelessly poor that I see as the greatest challenge that we must address. How do we address that without focusing on social investment? We are only scratching the surface.
I don’t like to take credit for it but many of the things we were doing here before I went into the wilderness. When I went into the wilderness I had the opportunity of serving as the person in charge of policy and manifesto in our party. We tried to introduce all of that, our social security for the elderly, our youth volunteer scheme, those are the things that are now known as N-Power, conditional cash transfer, Trader Moni and all that. But we are only scratching the surface.
All together in the last three years that government have effectively run the budget, we haven’t even spent N300 billion on the social investment programmes. And in that same period, we have spent N700 billion to rescue Keystone Bank. We are probably going to spend more to rescue Skye Bank in its latter-day form as Polaris. If you consider how much we spend, N6 trillion to rescue banks in the previous era, if we pour that into the hopeless and hapless segment of our population maybe we begin to address this disempowering impact of inequality on our society but it’s not just by dashing out cash to people, it’s by creating opportunities for our people as well and I think that’s where we have not done enough.
We’ve scratched the surface as I’ve said. We’ve done a lot. We now earn 60 percent less than what we used to earn and yet we are doing a lot more. People don’t give us too much credit for what we are doing and I don’t think it’s your fault. It’s also partly our fault. We are not as friendly with the media and we are not giving information as we ought to. Maybe we need training from you on how to package our views so they become more accessible and readable and available to the public but all of the things that we said we were going to do in our manifesto, in terms of concrete impact on the population, we’ve actually started.
But the way to juxtapose that is – What was the situation beforehand? Where were we? Where are we now? And where would we like to be? So for me, the advice that I will give first is that we must not let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Some good is going on in this country but our search for the perfect is probably beclouding our own honest sense of perspective of the good that is happening and that cannot be blamed on the citizenry. It has to be blamed on leadership.
We have to make that information as available as possible. Is this the best that we can be? Absolutely not. So when I hear objective criticisms of our government, I take it. I’m a local politician I’m not an Abuja minister so I hear a lot more. I spent the entire day in the market today with the Vice President and people genuinely expressed their concern. I went on a home visit with the Vice President this afternoon and an old man, 80-year-old, actually spoke from the heart about what we are all experiencing. I don’t know anyone who is not experiencing it in the country. The man told us that “Look I’m 80 I really don’t need anything. But Mr Vice President, can you just make sure that my children get jobs? They are graduates, they don’t have jobs.”
I don’t know any home in this country where you don’t have two, three, four unemployed graduates. I know the number of text messages I get even in small Ekiti from our people. Those are the areas that I think we can make a difference and we can lift our people out of poverty. It’s been done in many other places, so there’s no reason why we cannot spend the next four years focusing on that.
There are some things that we have not paid enough attention to. We need a quicker turnaround in decision making and implementation. We need to be more responsive to the yearnings of our people so that they don’t feel we are taking them for granted and we need to focus on better alternatives than (crude) oil and I don’t know any better alternative in other countries that have found themselves in our situation – Vietnam, Indonesia, China – you name it, the first route is agriculture, out of poverty. It’s when they’ve done that that they then move on to manufacturing, industrialisation.
But we can jump the hoop. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel because these things have been done elsewhere and I believe that Nigeria holds the hope for black people in the world. We need to demonstrate by example.