In this exclusive interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) spoke on the need for reforms in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), local government administration, Nigeria’s democracy since 1999, security challenges in the South-West and the launch of Operation Amotekun (shortly before the outfit was declared illegal by the Federal Government), and other important national issues.
At the inception of this dispensation in 1999, there was so much hope that we had begun a journey to good governance, development and progress. But if you look at the groundswell of public opinion today, it appears these hopes have turned into despair. Can we reasonably say that our political leaders, from 1999 to the present period, have actually and largely failed us?
I don’t think it would be fair to say that our political leaders have failed us. I also don’t think you would be completely correct to say our political leadership and process have given us all we would have loved to see in this democraticisation process. And I underline that word ‘process’ because democracy is not an event, it is a process. And when you have a process you want the journey to be linear and progressive. But in any journey, there are bumps, values and undulating lines.
What is most important, in spite of the inadequacies of what we are experiencing, is not to allow the perfect become the enemy of the good. I am not suggesting that we should promote complacency in any way, but we must contextualise this process. Where have we come from? It is so easy to forget that now, particularly if you have not had the benefit of experiencing the trajectory that led us from military rule to the current point we are.
When you look at the bulk of our population, you could say they belong to the born- free generation – the democracy generation. Unless they read it in the history books, someone born in 1999 is 20 now and is able to vote. However, what has been his experience in that period? Also, when you look at the totality of our population, statistics tells us that at least 60per cent of our population is under 30. The media age in our country is 17. So, it means somebody who was 10 at the birth of this democratic experience is 30 now. I want to guess that majority of them may not have experienced what they will regard as ‘my country has done so much for me that I feel this is the best way to go.’ But I think we are all products of our history. Rather than resort to despair, despondency, pessimism or delude ourselves in a democratic optimism, I think there’s a middle ground, which is realism of some sorts.
The people of this age you are talking about see what is happening in other countries. For instance, Ghana conducted elections and not even a bat lost its life. Between 1999 and 2019 we experienced violence during elections; can we reasonably say we are progressing?
I think that in totality, we are progressing, but not at the pace we ought to. You can see that the system is not in denial about it. In the meeting the president had with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) a couple of days ago, it was acknowledged that there are still significant gaps. Although I didn’t see the details, on television I saw the security chief and the INEC chairman talk about the inadequacies of security coverage for elections. I heard Prof Yakubu Mahmood say that henceforth they would not conduct elections if they could not guarantee the security of their officials and the electorate.
Clearly, there are things we must do to address this. I don’t know whether our electoral laws are capable of doing that at this point in time.
We must make public office less attractive than it is at the moment. Why do people resort to desperation that ends up in violence because you are occupying to serve? Service is sacrifice, it is not personal aggrandizement. But that’s what it has turned out to be.
The philosophy of our politics is also something we must address. You cannot have a winner-takes-all mentality, in which I get 49per cent of the votes and you get 51per cent, and the winner takes all without any acknowledgement that the 49per cent who voted for me are also citizens who believe in whatever I presented to them.
One thing people keep talking about is that it is not only about laws. You can make any law you want to make, but governors are so powerful that they dictate whatever happens.
You know people will resort to all manner of reasons. What I am saying is that inclusion is key in multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious societies. If people feel excluded they will resort to self-help. If my 49per cent is worth nothing, they are telling me to go and look for ways of bringing attention to myself and my interest.
The reality is that even after 60 years of our democracy and independence, many still argue that we are many countries in one nation. We are not one nation yet because our conception of Nigeria differs from the points we stand. For many Nigerians who have no idea of what Abuja looks like, they also have a problem with everything emanating from there and affecting their lives in the villages and rural communities. So, on one hand, we have a nation and we are working towards a more perfect union, which is what every nation does. In that process, we must guarantee inclusion of women and the youth. We are talking about inclusion of all the various segments because we are delegated. But that is also the beauty of our country. We take two steps forward and 10 steps backwards. I think we owe ourselves a duty to see the urgency of these things. We are losing the youth of this country to frustration, despondency and despair. And there must be a comprehensive agenda for them. I have a lot of young people around me. I know what they tell me about what is going on out there that I may not know. And it is scary. It should scare anyone in position of authority.
Talking about over-centralisation of power, as the chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum, do you support autonomy for local governments?
Quite frankly, we are a two-tier federal system of government, not three. I know people say that, but it is a misnomer. The reality in a federation is that there should be federating units. In my understanding of federalism as a political scientist, not a politician now, it is a two-tier system – federal and state. A political scientist says the local government system is Nigeria’s introduction into the theory of federalism. When we started the Dasuki conception of local government administration (that was a committee that began this process in 1975/ 1976) you could almost say it was a local government by fiat. The way the military sat in one corner and listed local governments is wrong. It was not done by any consensus. It was done on the basis of who was closer to the authority. Local government headquarters were also created by fiat, not necessarily by any objective assessment.
You can argue that states were also created in that manner. The difference is that in state creation, a set of criteria were used – landmass, population, ethnic mix, and so on. My problem with our current format of local governments is that they are not the products of our people. I think we have gotten to a point where a local government is a subset – an administrative unit of the state. And that should be dependent on the state. If a state wants to have 50 local governments, it will make the bureaucracy easier to manage. I think it is entirely the problem of Katsina State, for example, to have local governments or counties, or whatever they call it, within their structure, as long as those local governments are also the products of their own resources. But because of our feeding-bottle federalism, you give money from the centre to the local government. Some are even agitating that the money should go directly from the federal to the local government.
In effect, you are not in support of this autonomy?
No, that is not autonomy.
But there are allocations for local governments from the federation account. They have administrators, but they are not allowed to administer those funds. The governors dictate what happens.
But that is not true.
But that is the reality in states.
No. Well, I don’t know the states you have been to, I urge you to come to Ekiti. We have elected local government authorities. Even when I came into office, there were elected local governments from an opposition party. All my local governments came from the opposition party. I worked with them for a year before the next election took place. Another set has just been elected in Ekiti. I don’t subscribe to unelected local authorities.
I am saying there are imperfections in the current process. I also do not subscribe to a backdoor unitary system that allows the Federal Government to bypass states and fund local governments that are within the jurisdiction of states. For me, that is a backdoor system.
How best can we handle this situation?
Frankly, the best way to handle the situation is that we must find a way to do away with local governments as currently structured and allow states to decide within their own jurisdiction how many local government authorities they are able to manage for effective administration. This should be so because we must reduce the cost of governance.
That means giving governors more power?
Not necessarily, I didn’t say that governors must make that decision. You see, the issue now is that, as currently put in the Nigerian constitution, states are really responsible for local governance. Why are we pretending? The resources going to local governments go through states. When you read Section 162 of the Constitution, it is very clear. That is why the Governors Forum went to court to seek that clarification when the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) insisted that money should go directly to local governments. That would be a subversion of our constitution. We don’t have a perfect constitution. Some of us are campaigning for that constitution to change. But pending the time that change happens, you really must respect the provisions of the constitution.
You said the local government system in Nigeria was a creation of the military; states were also created by the military. Does that mean you are not comfortable with the present arrangement?
The truth of the matter is that the way the states are, there are challenges. That is why I am a very strong advocate of regional integration, as I am sure you know. You saw what we just did in the South-West.
Before that, I was the initiator of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN). I have always been a strong advocate of greater collaboration and cooperation between and amongst contiguous states because of the advantage it gives you, in terms of economies of scale and the strength that collaboration brings. However, that may not be the view of others. There are those who still think we don’t have enough states now and they are agitating for more. But I think it is absolutely wrong to do that. We may not be able to do anything to reduce the ones we have because there are all manner of interests that will come to play, but if you ask me, I think we have more states than we need in Nigeria.
Why launch Operation Amotekun in the South-West when the police have been given a constitutional role to handle internal security in states?
How is Amotekun in conflict with the role of the police?
Are you not aware of the fear that governors may use the outfit to fight perceived political opponents during elections?
If people have obsession with governors, they should declare their interest. You just said you were afraid that governors would misuse the police. Does the Federal Government not misuse the police? I know what happened to me in 2014 during the election. I was a sitting governor. I had immunity, but I was assaulted. Go into the history book and check it; that was federal police. Any police can be mishandled.
What we should be talking about is how to make sure that security institutions are more accountable within the framework of democratic control. That should not be about whether the president or governor can misuse power. Unrestrained power is always misused.
What is the framework on which the police and this regional security outfit would work harmoniously?
These initiatives that are springing up point to the fact that citizens are not happy with the state of security in the land. And governors, whether we like it or not, have a duty and responsibility, which are clearly spelt out in the constitution. The security and welfare of citizens are the number one job of any governor. You may define that in whichever way you want, but that is the number one job we have.
The people within my jurisdiction are saying ‘we don’t know what you are doing, you are funding the police, you are buying vehicles, you are buying security gadgets, you are even paying allowances, yet we don’t get enough security.’
There is nothing unique in what we have done. I am glad with my colleagues in the North-Central. I was reading in the paper where Governor Simon Lalong was saying, “We haven’t seen the details of what they did in the South-West, but I think this is something we are working on, a similar arrangement in our own area.’’ Amotekun is nothing but a confidence building measure to include our people in community policing arrangement. That’s all it is.
Even the Police Act encourages the police to have what they call Special Constabulary.
But these people will manage the outfit and its recruitment process?
Well, that may well be the case. But they also cannot recruit in a vacuum. If it is community policing, they have to work with the community. They have to work with those who are closest to the community. Look, there is nothing we are doing that has not been done. Penultimate Friday, Governor Zulum (it is in your paper) was handing over vehicles to military, police, and the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF). Please, what is Civilian JTF? I am sure you know what Civilian JTF means. Why is Civilian JTF very relevant in the North-East? They know the terrain. They know the culture. They know the people. They have better intelligence than even the security agencies. This is because those who are responsible for this problem live among them. Members of Boko Haram are not from outer space, they are from this Nigeria. And they live among people. Why are we denying? What we are doing is not an exception at all. So, the notion that if you allow governors to do this they would abuse it by using it to intimidate opponents is not tenable. Fine, let them try and intimidate opponents. One of the reasons this Amotekun is regional is that we don’t want anyone to reduce it to a machinery of oppression against their people.
But some governors were not there. Was that an indication that they were not fully behind it?
Every governor was involved. This is not something that happens in an accident. We started the process in June last year after we had a spate of kidnappings and banditry in the South-West. That was when we started. Every governor signed up to this. Every state had their vehicles in Ibadan. I was with Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on Friday, January 10, in Lagos. The reason he wasn’t there was because he wanted to fly down, but the harmattan haze did not allow him to do that. He was the only one who was not there and who did not have his deputy. Every other governor or deputy was there.
You are leading a very formidable team whose voice is very strong on any national policy or programme to be executed, or being executed in this country. Shouldn’t we work together with the Federal Government?
We are working together. Maybe I should give a background. You may not be aware that I chair the National Economic Council (NEC) Sub-Committee on Security. The police are trying; they are overstretched. Depending on the figure you believe, we are a country of 200million people and we don’t have more than 400,000 policemen. You can do the arithmetic. We don’t have enough. Out of those 400,000, it is not unlikely that we have up to 150,000 protecting VIPs. So, what are we talking about? Even if the police put in their best efforts, we will still have challenges. That is the point we are making. And that is what recommends this community policing strategy.
And we were very clear in Ibadan. We are working with the police. In my state, this strategy was put together by the Security Council, comprising Brigade Commander, the Commissioner of Police, the Director of the Department of State Service (DSS), and the Commandant of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). So, if you come to Ekiti, there is nothing we are doing on Amotekun that is not known to our security apparatus.
There’s a misconception that has been promoted because of the proliferation of distorted views on social media. If a narrative is distorted and people choose to believe what they want to believe, of course you will end with different understanding of what we are trying to do. Somebody said they saw a photograph of people carrying guns in uniform. Where? The operational guideline is clear. Uniformed guns for what? These people are working under the framework of the conventional security services. The primary role they have is to gather intelligence and provide it. If they have the capacity to arrest, every citizen has that right. You and I can arrest. You don’t even need to be Amotekun to arrest and hand over to the conventional agency responsible for internal security. I don’t know why we pretend. We all know that our policing arrangement in the country is less than adequate. Even the Inspector General of Police (IGP) should admit this. He is a fine gentleman and brilliant officer. He was with me in Ekiti during my first term. So, I know Mohammed Adamu very well. In terms of competence, you can’t fault him. And he is a promoter of community policing. Go and talk to him, he will tell you that this is the way to go.
Let’s talk about politics or governance in Ekiti. You were governor till 2014 when you lost election. Now that you have returned, has anything changed? Did you learn anything from your first tenure?
Well, nature abhors a vacuum and change is constant. In my four years out of office, another governor who had a different conception of governance was there. There were things the former governor did that had implications on what I met on ground. I will give you few examples. I ran a comprehensive and compulsory free education programme when I was in office, up to Senior Secondary School (SSS). During my time in office, as at 2014, Ekiti had the highest enrollment rate in this country. It had the lowest maternal and child mortality. Those were products of deliberate policy on social investment, education and infrastructure. But my successor came and had a different conception. They started paying fees in schools and enrollment went down. Naturally, Ekiti is not Lagos. Yes, we are very conscious, particularly about education in our state. If the resources are not available to the people, they will take their kids out of school. If you check the statistics, by the time I was coming back in 2018, Ekiti had become the lowest in school enrollment in the entire South-West. And that was just a period of four years. So we brought back our policy of free education, school feeding programme, and other elements, including payment of WAEC and JAMB examination fees; and enrollment is climbing.
We have brought back all the things we were doing before I left office during our first term but stopped by my successor. And you can begin to see the effect of that in the educational standards of the state; ditto, health care, infrastructure, and even administration.
I came back and met a backlog of salaries going to 11 months in the local governments and six months at the state level. Naturally, if workers were not paid regularly, you can imagine what that would do to their morale and to the general performance of administration in the state. Since I got back, we have kept faith and paying salaries as at when due. We started minimum wage in October 2019 and progressing at best with the running of our administration in an open and accountable manner.
But there are still challenges because the resources available to Ekiti are very limited. And there’s no way you can govern a state with limited resources, no matter the power of your ideas, the beauty of your commitment to improving the lots of the people and your creativity and innovation. You will still have to deal with these resource gaps. We are still dealing with them in Ekiti.
Opposition politicians are complaining that you spend too much time away from the state, especially with your engagements in the Governors Forum. You travel quite a lot while the state suffers.
It is the legitimate job of the opposition to complain. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Yes, I travel quite a lot because I have obligations that take me out of the state. But what you should ask yourself is: Does the job stop because I am not in the state? I have an institution. I have a deputy. I have commissioners superintending over affairs of every ministry, department and agency. And technology is a very key vehicle of good governance in the world, not just in Nigeria. I actually shudder when I hear people saying, “Oh, the governor is not around.” How does that stop me from approving things that are of immediate need to my people in the state? As much as possible, I am physically present when it is absolutely necessary for me to be present in the state. And I am out of the state if it is necessary. I don’t enjoy travelling, it is the job.
Looking at the terrain in your state, what do you want to achieve with the ambitious agricultural programme? Is it private sector driven?
If you talk to an average individual who doesn’t even know Ekiti very much, probably, the person would tell you two things – ‘It is a state of professors, they are academically inclined;’ and, ‘that rustic farming state.’ Those are the two things we are primarily known for: agriculture and our passion for education.
I came to a conclusion long ago that this is our value proposition to Nigeria. We are creating a knowledge economy. How do we make our state the go-to place for agriculture? There’s no way we can do that with government in the driving seat. It has to be private sector driven. The staple crop we are known for is cassava. We are also very fortunate to have two climactic belts in our state.
We have the savannah up North because we are the boundary state to Kogi, Kwara, and a number of the northern states. And we have the rain forest in the South. So, just as cassava and tubers do very well in our state, oil palm and cocoa also do well. We have decided to focus on these growth areas and do it in partnership with those that are already very successful in the field. You may have heard what we are doing with the Cowbell Milk people in our state, or the mill that Dangote Farm is setting up in partnership with Stallion. And we are doing the same in cocoa.
We have created an agricultural processing zone where we are improving infrastructure. Luckily, we are part of the World Bank initiative – the Rural Access to Market Programme (RAMP) – which helps us to develop our rural roads, from farm to the market. And we are working with the African Development Bank (AfDB) in the processing zone, both as a statewide programme and as a South-West initiative under the DAWN programme. So I don’t see it as ambitious. It is something that ought to have happened long ago.
We ought to have moved significantly from subsistence farming to agriculture entrepreneurship. But for very long, we were stuck in subsistence farming. During my first term, I started a programme called Youth Commercial Agriculture Development (YCAD). Some of the young farmers have now become processors. They now have cassava mills. They have big fish farms and other things. They are also in a position to help the out-growers. So, for me, Ekiti can move itself forward and reduce its dependence on federation allocation by doing more in agriculture and education.
Looking at the politics in your party, why are governors on the platform of the APC against the leadership of your national chairman?
I think people are making a mountain out of a molehill. The governors were instrumental to the emergence of Adams Oshiomhole as the chairman of the party. He was their colleague, so they worked together. Adams and I were governors the same time before I went on sabbatical and he continued with a second term in office. He is also my personal friend. I am not the chairman of the Progressive Governors Forum (PGF), but I am an active member. I don’t think there’s a view about the leadership of the party in the PGF. I think there’s a clear view that the party can do a lot more than it has done.
If we are not careful; if we do not institutionalise processes and procedures in the party and make it more inclusive than it is, we will not have a party when President Muhammadu Buhari leaves government. This is because he is the unifying force of our party.
Is the national chairman opposed to this position?
I have not suggested by any stretch of imagination, or in any way that he is opposed to it. I am saying that governors are very interested in the party becoming organic, not just as an election vehicle. It is when the party is organic that it can outlive the present support we are enjoying because we have a president who has his own personal popularity, which has helped our party up to this point. And I would imagine that one of the strong legacies our president and party leaders would want to leave behind is that it continues to grow in leaps and bounds, even when he is no longer in office.
Is it true that you and Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State are determined to unseat him because of the politics of 2023?
I think newspapers, by their very nature, indulge in a lot of speculations. Our government is not six months in office and people are talking about 2023. Who knows tomorrow? Who knows whether El-Rufai, Fayemi or whoever, would even be here in 2023? I have a job. I have just started a second term. I am focused on what I am doing in Ekiti, and I don’t see how anyone can even link what is happening in the party to some so-called politics of 2023. I have just laid it out for you. Even Adams Oshiomhole, the chairman of the party, would agree that we need a stronger, more accountable and an inclusive political party.
The governors want the party structures to function effectively and more regularly – that is the caucus, the National Executive Committee (NEC), the National Working Committee (NWC), the various state chapters. That is what a political party is. Adams will also say that some of us have been at the forefront of pushing for even policy convention on an annual basis. Let us review as they do in other places. How are we doing? What policies are we putting out? I ran the Policy and Research Directorate of the party before I became minister. So you can understand if I had an interest in what happens to our manifesto and how we are implementing what is in it. Adams is a veteran, passionate and an ideological politician. I have worked with him closely. So I don’t see a divergence in these views. But governors also want to be respected as leaders of the party. They don’t want their views to be given a short shrift.
And Adams is not taking the governors’ views?
I have not said that. I just told you that the governors want the party’s views to be respected.
At some point you literally forced him to call a meeting of the strategic organ of the party. More or less, you are working in harmony with him.
Adams is our colleague; don’t get that wrong. I have just said to you that when the party decided on this succession, governors wholeheartedly supported him. I wasn’t even governor then, don’t forget. But the governors did, I was aware, having been a member of the PGF. By the way, you may be aware that I was the first PGF coordinator. I started with my colleagues then. So we cannot be averse to one of us leading the party.
Would you say he is the right person to continue to lead the party to the next level?
That is a matter for the party organs to decide?
You know him personally and have worked with him; do you believe in his capacity to continue to lead the party?
Absolutely, Adams has capacity and very strong credentials. But as with every human being, he also has very strong weaknesses. We all do.
Do you think he has the ability to continue to lead the APC?
I don’t want us to reduce this to personal opinion because it really doesn’t matter; what I think is immaterial as an individual. What is important is: Is this the state we want our party to be? If it is not the state we want our party to be, what can we do to improve its lot? What can we do to energise our base, which is quite frankly at the moment unhappy with a lot of things? What can we do to ensure that this party outlives its founders and current leaders? I go around Africa as an activist and see that the old parties – independence parties in Ghana, for example – are still the there. This is also the case in South Africa and Zimbabwe. I can continue to name places. This notion of changing party colouration with every change of government is also partly contributing to despondency because political parties are central to democratic deepening and consolidation. If we don’t get internal democratic issues right, what moral authority are we going to have to sell ourselves to the Nigerian public?
Are you suggesting that you are opposed to the ongoing discourse about who becomes what in 2023?
I have just told you that I am focused. I have spent only a year in office. My primary responsibility is to the people who elected me into office. I have a secondary responsibility as the chairman of the NGF. And in that position, my duty is to ensure that I protect, promote and defend governors and present the issues to the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria when the need arises. That is my job now.
So, all these stories we have been hearing about the possibility of you being thrown up a candidate in the presidential election in 2023 is just hogwash?
Frankly, it is hogwash. I am glad you described it that way. 2023 is too far away, in my own understanding. And that is why I said to you that although I don’t pray to die, I really do not know what is going to happen tomorrow, let alone 2023. So, how can I start plotting, planning and organising to be thrown up. Thrown up by who?
What is the position of the national leader of your party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on the ongoing efforts of the governors to ensure that the party is put in its right place? Have you ever been in touch with him?
Former Governor Tinubu is one of the key founding fathers of this party and his views are extremely important in the direction the party would eventually take. I know him to be a democrat. There’s nothing I’ve said that would not be of concern to him – the unity of the party, the need for the party to become more organic, the importance of inclusiveness in the party and ensuring that its organs function effectively.
I don’t see Asiwaju Tinubu opposing any of these views because I have worked with him, even before the APC. I worked with him in the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO). I worked with him in my days as a young activist. He is my mentor and leader. So there is no conflict. The fact that we necessarily agree on what the issues are and the challenges the party is facing does not necessarily mean that all of the solutions can be proffered by just one individual. That’s why I said we should not reduce this to my personal views. It is important to take the aggregate of the collective views of party people, leaders and members alike because this is not a party of leaders. This is a party of change that I think we promised Nigerians when we came into office.
This question was asked because we understand that the governors who want Oshiomhole to stay as APC national chairman have close relationship with Tinubu.
Who has a closer relationship with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu than me?
What is your current relationship with Asiwaju?
It is very good. He is my elder and leader.
We learnt there is a kind of frostiness in the relationship.
There has never been any kind of frostiness in my relationship with Asiwaju.
It was widely reported in 2014 that he didn’t support you, and that was why you didn’t get your second term then.
Really? I was the candidate of his party. And I am sure he supported me in the election. If anybody told you that he didn’t give me support, well, I am hearing that for the first time.