21st February, 2014
In this interview published in TheNEWS magazine this week, Governor of the western Nigerian state of Ekiti, Dr. Kayode Fayemi explains to BAMIDELE JOHNSON and GBENRO ADESINA the implications of credible election in the state and the survival of the All Progressives Congress for the country’s democracy
You’ve formally announced your intention to recontest the governorship. What entitles you to the trust of Ekiti people?
I think I have earned the trust of Ekiti people because I have delivered on the promises I made while I was running for this exalted office in 2007. So, in three years and four months of being in this office, with the support of Ekiti people and to the glory of God, I have certainly restored hope to our people. I have shown what sincerity of purpose is in politics and governance. I have acceded to the people’s ability to hold their government accountable in every sense of it. Apart from the palpable and tangible development that you can feel and touch everywhere in the state, for me, I think it is more to do with really putting Ekiti back on the road to restoration that will, in a sense, qualify me for seeking the mandate of the Ekiti people for re-election. What I embarked on has restored stability, but has not necessarily fully achieved my grand vision of making poverty history in Ekiti State. So, it is work in progress; the job is not finished. There is still more in the arsenal from which we have managed to offer our people the services rendered so far. And to add a legal dimension to it, I am also qualified to run for another term of office.
Could you point out the palpable and the tangible elements of the development you just mentioned?
I campaigned on the very defined platform known as The Roadmap to Ekiti Recovery, the 8-Point Agenda. And that agenda zeroed in on what would pass for a social democratic agenda, ideologically speaking. But you know that Nigeria is not yet at the level where you can elevate ideology to the status of fine art because we are at the basics. Anybody that wants to run a proper government in Nigeria would talk about improvement of infrastructure, qualitative education, improvement in health care, industry development and environmental sustainability. These are elementary. The way you do it may be different. We have those who believe that everything public is bad and everything private is good and the only way to go is to sell all public assets and when you do so, all shall be well. I don’t come from that school of politics. I come from the school of politics that endeavours to improve capitalism. That is what has guided what we’ve done here. We have neither demonised nor lionised private capital. We have insisted that government has a role to play in wealth creation for the people and in regulating equitable development and justice. How do I translate that? We have identified a programme that guarantees the right to access education at the basic and the secondary levels. But at the same time, we don’t extend that right to the tertiary level because we believe that what we owe our people is the basic right to literacy and to functional secondary education. What you then do with that is partially the result of your own individual effort and societal effort. But the first stage of your education, we owe you a duty to give you basic, qualitative, and compulsory education. That is why Ekiti has one of the highest school enrolment rates. In fact, it has the highest enrolment in the entire country and we have the lowest number of children out of school per capita anywhere in Nigeria.
People talk about 10.5 million kids being out of school. Not in Ekiti. I am even sure you can’t find 100 school age kids out of school in Ekiti. If you go to our health care sector, it is the same thing. That mix that I talked about between what government owes the citizens and what citizens also owe as a responsibility to government. So, in health care, we have a free health care programme for the vulnerable segment of our population–children, the elderly, pregnant women and the physically challenged. But we don’t have free health care for able bodied Ekiti people and those that are not in the vulnerable segment. We provide a health insurance scheme that also assists such segment because government also has the duty to have a healthy working population that can enable growth and development to be sustained. For them, we also run a health mission that takes care of them on a quarterly basis. Over 5,000 Ekiti people have benefitted from this mission in three years and four months that we have been in office.
If you go to agriculture, we also believe that this is the most crucial vehicle for economic development in Ekiti State. We are agrarian, we are rural. And because we are rural, we also believe that it is our duty to enable our people move from subsistence farming to agricultural business. How have we done that? We are focused on youths in commercial agriculture development because we have an ageing farming population. When you have an ageing farming population, you have to figure out how best can you be more productive. All the ageing farming population does is to go out and have an hectare and the bulk of the yam you find there is for consumption; just little bit for sale. That can’t enhance any serious-minded agricultural revolution in our state. During our era, we have seen a tremendous rise in the yield per hectare in all of our products, be it cassava, rice, cocoa, oil palm. We have the highest yield in cassava production in Nigeria today and this wasn’t the case before. We have not just guaranteed improving the youths per hectare, we have also ensured that there is a market for it so that the young graduate farmers that we have will not be looking around for who will buy the cassava after production. In addition to that, we are also developing the middle cadre of our agricultural sector and ensuring that they move into mechanised farming. We have set up a college of technical and commercial agriculture in partnership with a whole range of both local and international players. We are improving irrigation. We are collaborating with our esteemed senators and international bodies like UNDP and FAO. They are all involved with us in improving our agricultural sector.
Tourism. Everybody knows the Ikogosi story now. Between Christmas and New Year, we had over 20,000 people visit Ikogosi that used to be a base of reptiles and other dangerous animals. When we came, we were clear about our agenda and we put it solidly on the map. In addition to that, we have seen a higher growth per capita in hotel development in Ekiti State than Lagos. That tells you a story and the story is that we have more people who have chosen Ekiti as destination either for business or for leisure because there is peace, stability, tangible development and the road to ply coming into Ekiti from Lagos is not what you used to ply. In addition to that, we have managed to see tremendous improvement in the local economy. If you go out there, by 7pm, the lights would be on and we have our small scale traders selling right up till midnight. Before, this town used to sleep by 7pm.
You have spoken glowingly about young people in farming. But young people in this country are notoriously difficult to get into farming. What exactly did you do?
The point you made is actually right. The reason young people don’t want to go into farming, particularly here in Ekiti, is that they don’t want to go into the kind of farming that their parents are practising. They don’t want to do subsistence farming–hoe and cutlass farming. You can’t blame them for rejecting subsistence farming because they are more interested in ensuring that they can make a living better than what they will make if they were to be in air-conditioned offices. In our Youth Commercial Agriculture Development programme, we have two medical doctors that have gone into farming. They are qualified medical doctors. They are into huge cassava farming. Agriculture is the future, if well positioned and managed. And any government that is in a position to do something about it should better do it. The yield that we have in cocoa is now twice what it used to be. In Ekiti State, we now do 14, 15 tonnes per hectare of cassava. The average used to be much less than that–10 or 12. But we are still not where we’d like to be because the full value chain that we are trying to develop has not been successfully done yet. So, we still have a lot to do in the area of processing. We have succeeded in attracting a number of commercial farming entrepreneurs to the state. We have succeeded also in getting some level of improvement in getting the processing plant in place, but the marketing and storage sites remain challenges we must tackle. We must figure out how to ensure that all of the people involved in this can get this business done in a much more efficient, effective manner than the situation is now. But we are confident that this will be our high internal revenue generating vehicle in the short possible time, rather than civil servants’salaries and the likes.
What have you done in education?
When I came in, one of the very first thing I did in order to realise my objectives and promise to Ekiti people was a total review of the education sector and I had an education summit chaired by the late Professor Sam Aluko, who was well respected and it could be argued that he was the first governor of Ekiti because when Ekiti used to be one district council, he was the chairman of the Ekiti District Council in 1955. He was very passionate about Ekiti and he felt I was right about my concern for the decay in the education sector. I brought in a whole range of people. At the end of the summit, all the issues highlighted, we tackled one by one. For education infrastructure, for example, we put in place total turnaround of the education infrastructure in the state. One hundred and eighty-four secondary schools, 866 primary schools, we fixed everything. People were shocked because some of these buildings had not been touched since they were built in 1955/56 in the days of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s free education programme. We didn’t stop at that. We also put in furniture in all these schools. We, of course, took some tough decisions which earned us either opprobrium or applause, depending on the assessor. We brought in assessment for teachers because the quality of teaching was highlighted as one of the problems we had. We also banned automatic promotion in schools and introduced compulsory examination before SSCE or WAEC examination, which is not new to me. We used to have mock exams in schools and if you didn’t pass, the teachers already knew your school certificate exams were unlikely to produce a radically different outcome. We introduced something similar to that. The only difference with our own is if you don’t pass the compulsory comprehensive examination, which we take in SS2, we will not register you for the WAEC examination and you will drop a class. A lot of parents whose kids were dropped were not happy. But we have good results for this. Last year, our examination result jumped from 20 percent pass rate to 70 percent pass rate, probably the most improved in the entire country. My own school, Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti, moved from 9 per cent pass rate to 99 per cent in 2013. Of course, we introduced IT, with our one laptop per child initiative in secondary schools. We also provided this for the teachers as well with curriculum loaded into those computers and we paid for all examinations as part of our free education programme. We also did something quite interesting. We co-located all the schools. We moved gradually into technical education and tertiary education. Before, Ekiti had what they called three universities. I had my issues with those. I didn’t feel that they were anything more than glorified secondary schools. We needed to do something drastic about the situation. The communities that were affected didn’t like it. We merged the three universities and consolidated them into Ekiti State University, which was the University of Ado-Ekiti. And in two years, the rise of quality in that university has become a model for the National Universities Commission, NUC, now. NUC now uses Ekiti as the go-to place if you want to improve university standards. For the first time in the 33 years of existence, the university here has all its courses accredited by NUC and new courses are being introduced. For the first time too, you will go in there and see additional expenditure by government. Capital funding had never been extended to the university before I became the governor. What government was basically doing was paying salaries of staff. When you go to the university now, you will see what we are doing to the roads, you will see the buildings that are springing up, you will see the partnership they have entered into with a number of foreign universities and clearly, it is a totally different place. Perhaps, that in itself it has provided a basis for what we consider functional education compliance. And it speaks to the value re-orientation that has enabled us to achieve the progress we have in job creation.
Many are of the view that you have a mountain to climb in the next election, especially with the defection of Opeyemi Bamidele from your party, if he ever was in APC, and the challenge of the PDP.
I never underestimate any challenge. Many also believed that I had a mountain to climb when I ran for the governor the first time. I was the popular underdog. There were many known names in politics that I ran against. In fact, I was the most unknown at the time because I had not been around much and when I came, I was very much known with activism rather than with politics. I was seen as one of those rabble-rouser and noisemakers in the civil society, who thought they could try their hands in politics. But we are where we are today. I guess one of the strengths that I will attribute that to is that I never underestimate. In fact, I under-promise in other to over -deliver and I look around for how to constantly improve my game. Clearly, Opeyemi Bamidele was a valued member of this party when we were in the ACN. That was why we presented him to run for office. But then again, people must know the political history, which will help you to understand that even when you are popular, seemingly, within the fold, once you step out of this fold, at least in Ekiti, even the people who love you will not follow you. When you check out what happened to the trajectory of Opeyemi since he embarked on this journey, you will reach your own conclusion as far as that is concerned. But it is a rich history because we are a people defined by our loyalty and integrity. Treachery doesn’t sell here. Whether you go back to those who went with NNDP in the days of ‘weti e’ and left the Awolowo camp, find out about the history in Ekiti or you go to 1983 and see those who went with Omoboriowo, who was our darling son in Ekiti. Even, my own experience is a very useful one. Those who left the camp when I won the primaries in December 2006 and thought that was the end of the progressive movement were shocked that the people, who were really with them at the primaries and even voted for them, abandoned them when they decided that they were going to the PDP. If politics and government is about people’s satisfaction, there are many people who believe that I shouldn’t even campaign in this state because of the tangible and palpable benefits that each and every community can point to that we have realised. Everytime, you use external power to ride roughshod over the will of the people in this country, the trigger for the demise of that fledgling democracy was always in the West. I feel that good students of history will advise those who are on this journey to perdition that the only antidote to crisis is to defeat this man freely, fairly and credibly. If you think the vehicle to smuggling yourself into office is via manipulation and ‘Anambracadabra’, Ekiti is not Anambra. We are small, smaller than Anambra, but, we do forget things easily. The Mama Ayoka story is still fresh. For me, if I am defeated in a free and fair contest, I am the first to congratulate the winner of that election. What I resent is the kind of contemptuous noise coming from the federal centre about the plan to take over the state, to capture the South-west and Ekiti and Osun states being the entry point, the gateway in that ‘operation capture the south-west’. You may succeed in capturing and you may also succeed in sounding the death knell of this democracy. It is not a threat really; it is more of an advice to anyone who might be confusing the President. Ekiti election and the presidential election in 2015 are two different things. This is an election that will be contested on the basis of where we have come from, where we are now and what the future holds for our people based on performance or lack of it. Using externalization, which has nothing to do with the Ekiti people, to manipulate the election will spell doom. No amount of soldiers, police and intelligence agents can stop an idea whose time has come. President Jonathan will go down in history if he allows the will of the people to be respected because we have no issue with the Federal Government. We even have no issue with President Jonathan. Yes, I am an opposition figure, but I am not an enemy of President Jonathan. I have tremendous respect for him and I actually relate well with him. But that is a totally different issue from my own politics of conviction. If I do anything that seems to be at odds with what the President or his party does, it is out of conviction that this is better for my people, not out of hatred or disregard for presidential authority. I believe that at the end of the day, if this election is determined by the will of Ekiti people, the minimum that I will win the election with is 70 percent. I can comfortably go out there and say that, because I know where the people are.
One thing your critics continue to do is to present your decision to borrow as profligate and a way of selling the state into slavery. How do you plan to get the state out of bondage?
I always appreciate this opportunity for clarification. In Ekiti, the argument has moved from He has not done anything to We know he has done, but he borrowed money to do it. I want to thank them for that. When I came into office, I met a debt portfolio of over N40bn.
But it has been contested?
There is nothing to contest because the records are there and this included an N8bn direct borrowing from banks for non-regenerative projects– for paying allowances and salaries and all manner of funny things–to N32bn unpaid money to contractors. The Accountant-General of the state then and the Head of Service made that presentation and they were the members of the previous government. I was saddled with that debt and I have been paying that debt since I became governor. But since I was not elected on a platform of debt repayment, there was no way I would not go back to my promise to Ekiti people. What were those promises? I promised that I will connect all communities in Ekiti by motorable roads, that I will run a free education programme and it will be compulsory, that I will run a free and qualitative health care service for the vulnerable segments, that I will support communities in their self-help projects, that I will revive tourism and agriculture in our state and that moribund industries will come back to life. Go through my 8-Point Agenda paragraph by paragraph and tick yes or no. He has done this, he has not done this. You will tick 70 per cent of what I promised and I have not reached the end of the four years. What is the place of Ekiti in the federal revenue ladder? Some people call me and ask if I am a magician? We are number 35 out of 36 states. We have an average of N3bn from the Federation Account. We have put in place a robust mechanism that has increased our IGR from about N100m per month to N600m. Basically, we have N3.6bn and the bulk of it goes to salary payment. This state has one of the largest civil service establishments in the country. We pay between N2.5bn and N3bn on salaries and operational expenses of the state. Yet, we run a social security scheme, the first of its kind in the country. We attend to security challenges, purchase vehicles, armoured personnel carriers and equipment in other to make sure they deliver to us the service that we expect. Rationally speaking, when you have to do all that, do you then sit back and say I can only pay salaries from the money available to me? Yes, we went to the capital market. We factored this into our overall equation because we were very clear that we are not going to use short term funding for long term projects. It is a mismatch. I can’t be building a stadium or road that will last 10 to 20 years and then I go to borrow from a bank at 22 per cent, which is the rate. If there are other creative means, why won’t I take advantage of such?
What are my creative opportunities? One, we have developed robust partnerships with the international development agencies. Every single development partner is operating in Ekiti today, which was not the case before. Are UNDP, FAO, European Union, USAID, African Development Bank in Ekiti because they like my face? I understand what they require to get them in because they were not here before. If I have been able to do that by running an open, transparent and accountable government, I will actually defeat this silly argument that is coming from the other side. Here is one state in the federation where you can get government records because there is FoI Act has been domesticated. Here is one governor, who declared his assets publicly, not privately. It is clear that we are not interested in hiding anything. Yes, we struggle with our finances but through creative efforts, we’ve managed to put in place a robust financial relationship. We took N25b from the capital market. In fact, we just took the balance in December. We took the first tranche barely a year into my office in November 2011, at the rate of 14 percent as against 22 percent if I were to go for a commercial loan. And the projects were specific. They are regenerative. I just told you 20,000 people were in Ikogosi during the Christmas period. Where were those 20,000 people before Fayemi became governor? If I hadn’t done what I did with the Ikogosi Resort, could we have had such patronage? There have been governors before me. The only governor that touched anything on fundamental infrastructure renewal that can be pointed to today was Governor Niyi Adebayo. Ikogosi, is not even up to a year that it was completed, if you go and value it now, I can tell you now that the value would have doubled. People should stop being petty because governance is too serious for one to be petty about. I would have thought that the legitimate question to ask is if the projects for which the loans were obtained have been delivered. We have had stories of bonds that disappeared. But has that been the case here? Every month, we pay about N500m and this is deducted from source. That is the thing with bond. It means that in two years of obtaining the bond, we have paid about N10bn out of the N25bn and in another two years, we will be on our way to paying up everything. And before this government comes to the end of the second term, by God’s grace, everything would have been cleared. I will pay all the debt incurred before I leave. At the end of my second term, there will be no debt passed to my successor. What is the bondage that I am throwing Ekiti people into?
You said that about 70 per cent of what you want to do is completed. Should we expect less activity in your second term?
I know that there is feeling out there that second term governors go into slow gear. I actually don’t think so. I have carefully studied my colleagues who are in the second terms. I have seen they are working harder than in their first term in office. You know media are more concerned about what is new. As such, the activities of second term are under-reported.