Our vision for Ekiti as a place to live, work, play is being fulfilled, says Fayemi
• ‘I’m not an advocate of self-help in security matters’
For Ekiti State Governor and Chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who turns 56 today, self-help cannot solve security challenges in the country but argues that states must be empowered to take ownership of security within their boundary. He also spoke on his rumoured 2023 presidential ambition and gave a hint on his succession plan next year with MUYIWA ADEYEMI
How would you assess your tenure as Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), especially the challenge of working with your brother governors?
It’S been a pretty busy tenure and my brother governors have cooperated with me in almost all ways. It’s been a difficult period for the country on account of Covid-19 pandemic. And we are not out of the woods even now, but we have been able to focus on limiting the impact of the pandemic on the livelihoods of our people until the second wave of the virus began. When I assumed the chair of the forum in May 2019, I stated that my priorities would be security, governance reform – particularly public finance management, education and healthcare, with an overarching focus on peer learning among the states. Today, we have made considerable progress. If you go to our various state’s websites, you will find all the 2021 budgets of the 36 states on their websites. You will also find all the audited financial statements for 2019 and budget performance for 2020.
On security, we are still in dire straits, but we continue to work with the federal authorities on the critical importance of local ownership of security systems. Understandably, a great deal of the time had been spent on health, on the pandemic. We’ve been meeting on a fortnightly basis to review developments and agree on steps to mitigate impact. I’ve also worked hard to ensure that some of the indebtedness to states were addressed by the Federal Government. It’s been a busy period.
Why is it difficult for the NGF to discourage open gazing that has been the root of farmers-herders’ clashes and inter-tribal crisis that the matter has degenerated into?
I don’t think it’s been difficult. Governors pretty much agreed at the National Economic Council, chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, that modern ranching is the way to go. My colleague, the Governor of Ebonyi State, Engineer Dave Umahi, chaired the Committee on National Livestock Transformation Programme (NLTP) and they came up with a report, which was discussed at the Governors’ Forum and agreed at NEC. But ranching is an expensive business, whether it’s government-supported rural grazing area or privately run ranches. Even last week, at a meeting held at the instance of the NGF with Miyetti Allah on the issue in Akure, Ondo State, all parties agreed that modern grazing methods like ranching should be adopted, as one of the critical ways out of the parlous state of affairs between our farmers and herders.
Don’t you think the parlous state of the economy is the major cause of restlessness and insecurity in the country?
It is certainly a contributory factor. Crime has sociological underpinnings and poverty certainly pre-disposes some people to crime, especially in situations of extreme inequality where humongous wealth lies astride grinding poverty. But there are other factors including climate change, particularly desertification, proliferation of small arms and bad governance, which has left the country with so many ungoverned spaces. It’s the reason we cannot just be tough in our response to criminals, but even more bullish in our responses to the broader causes of crime. That’s why the government at the centre has focused on security, improving the economy and improving governance and reducing corruption. It’s also why security and the economy feature strongly in the government’s responses at the state level.
How would you react to opinions that your party, APC’s economic policies are not good enough to bring Nigeria out of the doldrums?
That’s one view of it, but certainly not the only one. Nigeria is not an island. Nigeria was already coming out of the woods before Covid-19 struck, dragging us back into recession and many countries even in the global North have been similarly plunged into recession. The approach taken by the government at the centre is the right one, but we must be steadfast and deepen the focus on the weak and the vulnerable people by expanding the social investment programme, by tying it to increased productivity. We must provide added stimulus for SMEs, incentivise local manufacturing for export. It’s also why we need to do more on security as a confidence-building measure.
The focus on infrastructure development is also good, but here again, states have suggested we need to do more in infrastructural development, drawing on a variety of idle funds that can assist in repositioning the economy. We are almost in a World War II situation and we must come up with a Marshall Plan of sorts. The Economic Sustainability Plan, if fully implemented, will go some way in stabilizing the polity, but I do accept that we need to do more as a country. We need a National Plan, not an FG plan. There’s an ongoing, long term planning process – Agenda 2050, to which states are contributing, but it is an expanded stimulus plan that can get people back to work and mitigate the current situation in the polity.
You are almost three years in office. What would you consider as major achievements of your administration?
There are many things to point to: tangible and intangible. First is that we have successfully returned our state to sanity, and one worthy of its epithets – ‘Land of Honour, Fountain of Knowledge.’ We are no longer a state of one week, one trouble. Two, our vision of Ekiti as a place to live, to work and play is gradually being fulfilled. The pledges we made to the people are being adhered to. Free education is back, right up to senior secondary schools, and enrolment has gone up by 40,000 in primary schools and 25,000 in secondary schools.
Our dream of a digital state living on its knowledge economy is also being realised. Following the crashing of the right of way tariffs, we are now connecting the state with fibre optics cabling and broadening broadband penetration. We are welcoming commercial farmers and linking them to our local out-growers. Several of them are in Ekiti now: Promasidor, Stallion Rice, Dangote, Farmkonnect, FMS, JMK, just to name a few. We are fixing our road infrastructure, building a cargo airport, constructing a ring road in Ado-Ekiti; we flagged off an independent power project. We’re reconstructing dams and laying pipes for water supply across the state.
Our health system is receiving significant attention both in terms of infrastructure and personnel and our social investment programme continues to have a pride of place as a way of uplifting the weak and the vulnerable, especially in this era of coronavirus pandemic. The truth is that we are working on all the five pillars of our delivery framework and we have made significant progress two years down the line.
At the end of your first term, there was impression of total disconnect between your government and the people. Has that impression changed now?
I’m glad you said an ‘impression.’ When people want to manufacture a point of view, they create a make-belief impression to get other people on board their fiction. I think Ekiti people know Fayemi better than the social media caricature. I have said it many times that I’m not a boli (roasted plantain) eaten on the roadside type of leader. In my humble opinion, the best way to graft yourself onto the people’s consciousness is to do that which pleases them. In two years of being in office, Ekiti workers have not been deprived of regular salary, unlike their experience before I came on board.
Our schools are filled up, all wearing new look, enrolment is on the increase – WAEC/SSCE and JAMB are being paid for by the state; running grants are regular in schools, yet no one demands any levy from the pupils. And we have not neglected development projects that touch the people. That, in my opinion, is the way to stay connected with the people. And if what people want is to see their governor, I’m often on the streets inspecting projects and engaging the people on their concerns. I may need to do more of that to meet the demands of those who feel strongly about that.
What qualities should your successor in office have?
Character, competence, compassion, and commitment to the values that undergird progressive politics.
There are groups clamouring that you should give the presidency a shot in 2023. Would you bow to their pressure?
2023 is at least two years from now. A week is a long time in politics. My focus now is to finish my assignment very well in Ekiti in such a manner that my party will have an easy ride into Oke Ayoba come 2022.
How would you react to critics that believe you running for presidency amounts to betraying Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who they say made you governor of Ekiti State?
There’s a lot of marketplace noise in politics all aimed at making one lose focus and become distracted. I don’t listen to the noise coming from the marketplace. I’m not distracted from serving Ekiti people. That’s my job now.
How would you react to ‘strong forces’ from Ekiti State working against your perceived presidential election?
You’re asking the same question differently. To the best of my knowledge, I’m not aware of any strong forces working against me in Ekiti. You cannot seriously work against a perceived ambition. At least, you will wait for me to declare the ambition before you work against me. If anyone is however doing that, the person deserves pity.
What is your take on self-help by some Yoruba people in the quest to settle the herders-farmers face-off?
I’m not an advocate of self-help in security matters. But the state must be strong enough not to lose its monopoly of managing the instruments of violence. Once that occurs, non-state actors always jump at the opportunity of providing alternative security. More often than not, such non-state actors become agents of insecurity themselves because discipline and accountability are very hard to come by amongst such non-state actors.
Obviously, there’s a lot of anger in our communities against the perception of nonchalance or even collusion with criminal elements on the part of security agents. Government has a duty to restore and rekindle confidence of the populace in the security institutions to reduce incidence of self-help.
At 56, are you fulfilled?
I’m a product of God’s grace and I have a lot to thank God for. Well, at 56, one is not getting any younger and one is not now with that strength, which in old days, moved earth and heaven, but that which we are, we are, and we must thank God for it. If you’re a student of literature, you’d recognize those famous lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses,’ which says: ‘But we remain strong in will and we shall continue to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.’
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